Seven insights into depression — a founder’s story

On Wednesday I read a blog that surfaced many of the thoughts and observations I have had at different points over the past four years — both from my own experiences and those of others, especially those in the ‘startup’ world.

The blog was penned by Rob Symington, co-founder of Escape the City, a London company that aims to improve lives by helping its customers find meaningful work and improve their overall happiness. As I experienced personally at the end of last year, Rob is a supremely compassionate individual.

His blog is in fact the publication of an email that he wrote to his team at Escape, explaining the reasons behind his absence from work since February.

Rob opens up on the burnout he suffered, how it happened and his reading into what causes depression — he indeed takes the brave step to use that word as it has affected him.

Rob (right) with his co-founder Dom Jackman

It’s also a stark reminder of the often unspoken, dark side of running a startup over the last six years.

Rob’s articulation of his experience is meticulous in my view. Then again it would be: I have felt exactly the same.

Here a few passages that I believe everyone can learn from.

1. Own your shadow

“I don’t believe we can flourish unless we properly know ourselves and take responsibility for both our light and our shadow, our strengths and our weaknesses, our brilliance and our demons”

2. A simple ‘answer’ is unlikely to be the right one.

“Not to worry, it affects XX% (insert absurdly high statistic) of the population every year. Just take this pill and you’ll feel better within 4 — 6 weeks. There are so many problems with this view that it would take another essay just to scratch the surface. In short, for me (and I know this is different for other people and certainly for other forms of mental illness) this wasn’t a satisfactory explanation of what was happening…”

3. Depression is a necessary call for change, to grow

“And the narrative that made most sense to me based on what I was experiencing was that burnout/depression is a self-protective mechanism, a caring force from beyond your conscious mind that is telling you that you can no longer live your life in the same way, a call to change that you cannot ignore, and — if you can embrace it — an amazing opportunity for personal growth.”

4. Looking after yourself is a ‘drug’ that can make a huge difference, and quite quickly.

“I think that sleep, exercise and eating well gave me enough distance between how I was feeling and the part of me that could assess the situation and feel a desire to get better.”

5. Self-torture is the worst form of pain and it becomes addictive

“ The great thing about depression (can’t believe I am able to write that) is that it strips you bare. There is no hiding from all of your demons. Imagine someone who truly loathes you and wants to do you harm. Now equip that person with every bit of negative information they need to have about you — all of your least attractive characteristics and all of your least generous thoughts. Then give them the sensationalist, exaggeration skills of FoxNews + Daily Mail put together. And then put them inside your head and imagine that their voice is 10 times louder than your own sane, compassionate, rational voice. That’s the beginning of what it feels like to torture yourself with all of your imperfections.”

6. Not knowing what the new ‘normal’ will be is scary

“I don’t want to go back to how I was before. So recovery is a challenging concept. I am trying to get somewhere that I have never been before in my life… and, as a result, I don’t know what that feels like”

7. The best partners in business are real friends because a business is like a child that needs a lot of love

“it was Dom’s unconditional understanding and support that has brought me back to my love affair with this idea called Escape and — as a result — has helped me save a huge part of my identity that I thought I would have to sacrifice in order to ever feel normal again. And to think that he was showing me all that compassion at a time when he could understandably be feeling really hard-done-by and abandoned makes me appreciate it even more”

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