Dirty Little Secrets
LAS VEGAS, NV
I had been brought to my knees again. I was ready to throw in the towel and call it quits on life.
Just as I thought I was finally done fighting my “black dog” for good. I have attempted to outrun and outmaneuver this cruel beast for more lost time than I care to remember.
Everything had become overwhelming and seemed like a complete farce to even carry on with the simple business of living. Let alone trying to grow and manage a business.
Those of you that have ever experienced severe mental illness first hand know exactly where I’m coming from.
At my breaking point, I was nearly catatonic, hidden in bed until 2pm, avoiding the outside world and everyone in it — especially people that cared about me.
I couldn’t muster the strength to shower or even brush my teeth for days at a time. I had stopped eating & was overcome with dark the thoughts swirling around my brain every waking moment of the day.
All I could hear in my head was how it made perfect sense that I should end my own life.
Logically, I attempted to rationalize with my broken brain.
It even made sense. If life is devoid of all joy and filled to the brim with nothing but pain, misery and struggle, why would anyone choose to willingly participate?
Like a sinister version of Groundhog Day, each excruciating day melted seamlessly into the next. I was caught in the middle of the cruel joke that had become my life. Each night hoping that tomorrow I’d be able to face the day and feel even a modicum of pleasure.
No. This was not how it would play out for me.
For nearly two agonizing months my life was stuck in a perpetual feedback loop of despair -a wet, grey blanket of empty emotions and crushing, self-induced isolation.
How did I get here?
Was it my fault?
Would I live to see another birthday?
Would anyone even care if I were gone?
I sure as hell couldn’t care less. All I could envision was making the pain of pure existence simply melt away –whatever it took.
Hiding Mental Illness
I’ve spent the better part of 15 years trying to conceal that I have an on-going struggle with a mood disorder that can be nothing short of crippling.
There, I said it.
I’ve swept this skeleton under the rug more times than I’d like to remember. Sidestepping the beast is a part-time profession. Like a nimble prize fighter, bobbing and weaving for his life, I’ve always feared being labeled an outcast, loser, lazy sack of shit or even a big fat failure at life.
Losing the genetic lottery
Instead, surprise! You’re now susceptible to experiencing debilitating bouts of depression, anxiety and thoughts of impending doom, even when everything seems to be going “right” in your life. Thoughts of your own demise start to make sense. You begin to fantasize of an end to the excruciating pain.
I’ve taken more medications than I can count. All while enduring horrific side effects while waiting in agony for them to “kick in.”
- Insomnia? Yep.
- Dead-on-arrival libido? Yes.
- Excessive, embarrassing sweating? Si.
- Random muscle twitches? Do it.
Psychotherapists and psychologists have been a mainstay in my Rolodex over the years, no matter where I’ve found myself in the world.
When things got really bad, I could no longer pretend to function. The jig was up. If I was to have any hope of regaining what mental illness had taken from me over the years — as a small business owner, graduate student, athlete, expat traveler or human being — I knew it was time to get over my feelings of shame and participate in my own damn rescue.
Calling in Reinforcements
It was time to tell my image-conscious ego to simply pound sand.
I called a psychiatrist because I could no longer lie to myself that I was truly capable of handling this on my own. The fact that depression or mental illness affects every area of one’s life is an obnoxious understatement at best. The sad fact is that nearly 1 in 4 people will have first-hand knowledge of this agony in their lifetime.
On the surface, I’m like many of the other “successful people” you’ve probably read about with mental illness.
I look good on paper.
I went to the “right” schools. Scholarships were won. Exercise is a mainstay. I have interesting, supportive friends spread all over the world. I’ve managed to fool people into giving me great jobs.
Thing is, none of it means dick once your emotions and ability to connect authentically to others have been destroyed.
Mental Illness is Equal Opportunity
Politicians, astronauts, billionaire entrepreneurs, award-winning writers, TV and movie stars, famous musicians and professional athletes rolling in bling– nobody is immune.
If these highly-visible talents can muster the audacity to come forward and bare the most vulnerable aspect of their lives — their struggle with just deciding to KEEP ON LIVING — who am I to be a shrinking violet?
That’s why I’m staring down the twin barrels of my own disapproving ego.
Maybe it’ll help just one person.
The Price of Mental Illness
The list varies from person to person, but its typically both long and traumatic.
Some people drop out of prestigious graduate level programs. Others lose big scholarships. Relationships can be left in tatters. Many are fired disgracefully from prestigious careers. Finances descend in to chaos with crushing debts mounting. Devastating divorces. Social status crushed.
All par for the course.
Any sense of community is wiped out — due to the hermit-like and erratic behavior.
Some of the afflicted lose massive amounts of weight due to not eating, while others pack on the pounds like a husky offensive lineman in the offseason. The phases “eating your feelings,” is appropriate.
I’ve experienced nearly all of the above, to varying severity.
Depression Emerges From the Shadows
Stigma is starting to recede, thanks in no small part to the massive number of public figures that have gone public with their own private struggles with the pain of mental illness.
No longer do informed people view mental illness as a personal failing or weakness. We’ve proven the science behind the truth, that brain chemistry can run dangerously amok for a variety of reasons, both genetic and otherwise.
Those afflicted by severe and chronic mental illness aren’t lazy nor are they lacking in willpower.
Does that mean we’re out of the woods and mental illness is now on par with diabetes, cancer or a broken leg?
Much like the idea of slave ownership and the legacy racism that lingered for another hundred years, there are still sects of uninformed masses who refuse to accept mental disorders as an actual disease.
It’s not all bad news.
Some of the most inspiring, driven and financially successful people I’ve met have confided in me their own or a family member’s struggle with mental illness.
Often times, the most charismatic among us are hiding profound pain they believe would ruin their influence and standing in the world.
You know what sucks? Sometimes they’re right.
However, I’ve seen the level of emotional intelligence that these kinds of people can bring to business, leadership, relationships and the world at large. It can be nothing short of fucking inspirational. That infectious inspiration is often a byproduct of having experienced unimaginable suffering.
Those that have suffered the slings and arrows of acute mental illness are more in tune to the emotional states, struggles and aspirations of others.
Honestly, it would be nice to have the power to turn off this torrent of amplified sensitivity off once in a while.
How Mental Illness Creates Inspiring Leaders
Two words: emotional intelligence.
Those that have the gift of communication by imparting authentic human emotion and insight to those around them will never lack for people willing to go “all in” on them and their ideas.
When people feel truly heard, they will often follow you to the ends of the earth.
This is no small feat in this age of information overload, digital distraction and non-stop noise competing for our hearts and minds.
Those that have emerged from the depths of despair tend to take less for granted.
We know on a visceral level that tomorrow is never promised, and health is not a given. Sometimes, just feeling normal with the ability to meet the demands of the day can be a godsend.
A Call to Serve
Many feel a strong calling to give back to those around them and the world at large.
It starts to bleed over into their work and mission.
There is nothing more satisfying and divine than extending a hand to help a fallen comrade, mired in that all-too-familiar darkness, back to their feet.
I can say without hesitation that the few times I’ve helped someone escape their own mental torture chamber has been 100x more gratifying than any business success or accolade that’s come my way.
Ignorance Feeds the Beast
Are people in your life telling you to “cowboy the fuck up” and telling you to just think positive and get on with it?
This type of dumb rhetoric is one of the reasons why mental illness is still shrouded in a blanket of secrecy.
What Idiots Do:
If you had a broken arm, leg or noggin, would you just “think positive” and “man up” by refusing a cast, crutches and pain meds?
You’d be a damn fool, and people would likely be sure to let you know it.
When you take ego of the equation and reach out to other humans that are appreciate these unseen struggles, you’ll get the instant gift of realizing….
You’re not alone.
When talented entrepreneurs let go of go of the need to be the “smartest person in the room,” choose to learn from the experience of others and have the gumption to ask for help when stuck, magic begins to happen.
The darkness begins to fade and their path will start to light up.
Mental Illness and the Limelight
Mental illness, when confronted and exposed to the bright light of day, is no longer a death sentence.
Rather, those of us facing this disease are in damn good company.
The list of successful people is too long to share here, so here are a few highlights you might have not expected. When you see these names, you’ll begin to realize that having this illness is no longer an excuse to play small in life.
- Ted Turner
- Buzz Aldrin
- Sir Isaac Newton
- Ricky Williams
- Mark Twain
- Robin Williams
- Johnny Depp
- Russell Brand
- Jon Hamm
- Jim Carrey
- Sheryl Crow
- Ellen Degeneres
- Mike Wallace
- Owen Wilson
- Ernest Hemmingway
- Heath Ledger
- Marlon Brando
- Terry Bradshaw
- J.K. Rowling
- Winston Churchill
- Abraham Lincoln
Plenty more can be found by diving down this rabbit hole.
Multimillionaire Joe Roberts has first hand knowledge. In 1980 he was living under an overpass in Georgia, addicted to hard drugs and surviving by recycling cans.
He had to hit rock bottom before he could ask for help. He reached out to family, got professional help and got his life back.
So he made it back to living a normal life, holding down a respectable nine-to-five?
At the age of 35 he had generated his first million dollars of revenue. He went on to become president of a multimedia firm, which he sold for a major lump sum in 2004.
“There’s a fine line between batshit-crazy-pushing-a-shopping cart and multi-millionaire. There’s little variance between my life before and now,” Roberts says.
Have you ever used the website Reddit? Millions log in each and engage every day.
26-year-old multi-millionaire co-founder of Reddit, Aaron Swartz killed himself on January 12 of 2013, after being prosecuted by U.S. attorneys over his public use of documents from MIT.
Swartz suffered in relative silence with a mood disorder for many years, and it ended up killing him, regardless of his newfound wealth and deified status in Internet culture.
Nobody is ever immune.
You can’t out-achieve, out-run or out-smart mental illness. You can however, choose to accept it and fight tooth and nail for your freedom.
Fighting for your life is something everyone should experience just once. It just might make you a better person, with a story that can light the path for others.
If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.
-Martin Luther King
Still with me?
In Part 2, we’ll dive into the 9 irrefutable pillars to conquering mental illness and emerging not just a successful entrepreneur, but also a happy human.
In the mean time, if you’re feeling brave, share with me your own experiences with mental illness, in whatever form it has shown up in your life.
When we shine a collective light on hidden pain, we can begin to beat back the blackness.