The Company Shutdown
Continued from: The Panic Attack: Jay, Part I
Jay* was in the middle of telling his story to me when he brought up depression:
What were the scariest moments in the company?
Shutting down the startup was definitely the worst moment. Over the course of the company, I dealt with anxiety and I learned how to manage it. But when we shut down the company, I was definitely depressed for at least 6–9 months afterward.
I hadn’t expected him to tell me this. Jay had mentioned nothing about depression before or during the interview. But I was so glad that he did because it’s incredibly common to go through both. The statistics are all over the place; studies cite comorbidity rates anywhere from 30%-75%.
Woah. What happened?
This startup that was my baby–it took up all of my time and energy–was no longer in my world. I no longer had a job. I had a relationship fail at the same time largely because I was so focused on my startup that I wasn’t very present. All of these things were related. And so I was dealing with both of those things and, in my life all of a sudden, I had all of this free time. I had way too much free time. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next.
Did you have symptoms or behaviors that other people could be feeling and could recognize that they need help?
I lost my appetite. I lost 15–20 pounds in the month or two after shutting down the company. I sulked around a lot. It was obvious to me that I was depressed. Anxiety was something that I was unaware of and maybe through the life of the company I had dealt with some depression but it was way minor than anything that I had dealt with related to anxiety. But after the company shut down, I was just super bummed out. I needed to vent a lot about it. I couldn’t stop thinking about something for more than an hour or two. Because of what I had gone through with anxiety, I knew that I just needed to go and see someone a few times a week before I would start feeling better.
My sleep patterns definitely changed, too. I remember getting heartburn–that was weird. I had never had heartburn before but it’s a common effect of anxiety so maybe I had anxiety and depression when the company shut down. Some of the same things that I had dealt with earlier came back. I drank more and socialized more because I just wanted to get out and be with people. Being with people, actually just being around people was really good for me, but I sulked by myself a lot.
Therapy definitely helped me through this period. Talking to other founders who had been through company failures helped me through that, too. They would remind me that startups are hard and you probably messed up in a million different ways but most startups don’t make it anyway. It’s so easy to go into denial about that or pretend that that doesn’t apply to you, because you went through a top accelerator program, you had great investors, you had a dream team. There are so many reasons that you can come up with to justify why you shouldn’t have failed. Talking to other people and in particular other founders who had been there and could understand what I was going through was hugely important.
“I think for them, it helped them heal their own wounds, too. A lot of smart, driven people fail in the startup world. It may or may not have been your fault that you failed but it’s just part of this game that we are all playing. And it’s okay to fail”
How did you meet these other founders?
That’s a good question. A handful of people reached out to me. We had some nasty press written about us after we shut down the company that placed the blame on us, the founders. That was salt in the wounds for us. The last thing you need after admitting failure is bad press.
People saw the press and a few founders from the Y Combinator community emailed me and said, “Hey, I’ve been through this. It really sucks. Do you want to grab a beer or lunch?” And so we did. I started to network with more and more people who had been through the same pain I was going through.
I think for them, it helped them heal their own wounds, too. A lot of smart, driven people fail in the startup world. It may or may not have been your fault that you failed but it’s just part of this game that we are all playing. And it’s okay to fail. You’ll go on to bigger and better things. But even so, there was like a grieving process for me for at least half a year.
What else helped you get through it?
I took a trip–a solo trip to Europe. This was both really hard and helpful. I just told myself, when in the hell else am I going to get a chance to travel with so few obligations. I had no job, I didn’t have a place to live because I had been living with my girlfriend and we broke up. I had some savings and I didn’t have an apartment or need to pay rent.
The first couple of weeks were really hard because I was just thinking about all of the things that had happened. But it ended up being a really good experience for me. There is so much for you to do out there in the world. Your life is more important than this or any startup. It made the startup failure and everything that I was upset about back home seem kind of silly. These people in these different countries didn’t care, didn’t give a shit about it. I realized that my startup was this small world that I was obsessed with. The time away gave me perspective and healed me a little bit.
What are you doing now?
I just started a new company. I worked at another startup in-between and did some consulting.
Do you think therapy should be required for startup founders? Do you think it should be a business expense?
I totally would support that. It’s good for the company. It’s good for investors. I think it absolutely should be, in particular in the beginning. The more you do before it’s an issue, the better you’ll be long term. Therapy is preventative healthcare, too.
I think it’s really important to learn how to deal with your own stress and learn how to deal with one another. There were times when we were all fighting. Or one person wasn’t performing as well as other people would like. And that rotated around and we kept pointing fingers at each other. So there is something similar to relationship and marriage counseling that needs to happen. And that should happen before there are big issues . That should happen early.
What do you do when you see a friend who needs help?
I’ve definitely recommended therapy to friends. I had some people come to me who were suffering with anxiety and depression and knew that I had dealt with it, too. Also, if I see a friend going through a breakup or a friend who exits a company poorly, is upset and looks depressed, or needs to vent, then I’ll be there for them and let them vent and talk to them as much as they need to. I always tell them that they should really go talk to somebody who is a professional, who can really help. I definitely recommend therapy to people, I advocate for it. Only so many people will follow through because of the stigma around therapy. It’s really common for people to think that therapy is only for “crazy” people. That’s just not true.
Thank you again, Jay, for sharing your story. I’m grateful for your trust and willingness to revisit hard times in your life with the shared belief that by sharing our stories we can help someone else.
Need help now? You’re not alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273-TALK. It’s available 24/7 and staffed by crisis response professionals.