Mental health is a fairly new topic, both from a public perspective — who can or should talk about it, and from my personal perspective.
Being born in Soviet Union in the 80s is similar to being born in the United States in the 60s, when it relates to mentally ill — it is easily dismissed and ignored, people are called “nutjobs” and the conversation is generally over.
Throughout my, admittedly, limited experience, I have been exposed to mental health illness in my friends’ circles, within my family, and in professional environment too — it knows no borders and affects people you would think are immune.
Even today, though a lot of has been written on depression and other mental health issues and importance of that is generally recognized, one will either receive a courtesy nod with hush words “I understand” or, worse, will try to shush others who might have different opinions on the issue.
It seems to be widely misunderstood, even though it affects a lot of people. It affects people in technology and startups too, of course, maybe even more so — for one, we tend to spend a lot of time with our computers, and that at times feels lonely even when we are in the room full of people.
Do a simple mental experiment, visit your favourite coffee shop and count number of people alone with their laptops (today I’m one of them).
As an entrepreneur and a founder, I have seen firsthand depression (and to my disappointment, I haven’t recognized it at that time), isolation, and mental stress that comes with being in a shaky uncertain world of startups.
Few articles and books I’ve read talk about contradictory nature of founders: while everything inside is falling apart, they have to project success and happiness — in short, “fake until you make it” attitude.
If talking about failures is acceptable in Silicon Valley, it still puts a lot of stress on founders to “make it”. You can talk about failure all you want, your mom, friends and investors still want you to succeed, signalling, sometimes unconsciously, that in words or actions.
But that part really never bothered me — everyone will tell you they are okay if you ask them on the street. This part is embedded in western culture (and actually it’s not normal for a soviet union-born person).
What has put a lot of pressure on me came from an internal battle. As a founder, I kept asking myself a lot of questions throughout the years:
- Am I doing the most I can?
- How do I grow up faster then my company does?
- How can I help my team and my people the best?
- How can I be content with what I have and reduce my jealousy?
- Am I additive or destructive to the process of growing my team?
- Is what I am doing actually makes a positive difference?
The list of questions goes on and on. It’s all happening in my head, and the answers go from solid enthusiastic yes to a depressing no in matter of hours or days. This battle is the worst, because you are fighting it with yourself — not with anyone else. It’s damn hard to win against someone who knows you inside out and knows your every weak spot (which are plenty).
Worst yet, there are almost no chances of winning this battle. The only way I think one can win is to be content with these questions, be in peace with the other self, be understanding of own feelings and emotions, and have a strong group of friends to support and care about each other.
Unfortunately I don’t have a solution to these issues. But what I found is that few things add to the inner peace:
- Meditation or simply rhythmic breathing with eyes closed
- Yoga and psychical exercise
- Competitive games, like ping pong, squash, or dodgeball
- Long walks, alone or with friends
And a few things that detract from the inner peace, like:
- Endless swiping on Tinder
- Checking Twitter, Facebook, etc. every hour
- Reading unrelated news (i.e. news that happen too far away or celebrity gossip) and watching unrelated anger-infused videos
- Waiting for likes on Instagram, Facebook, et al.
- Talking to people that make you angry or sad