Therapy for the therapy founder

Why I decided to go to therapy

My therapy story starts with a really bad night. Six weeks ago, I left my office and cried for 40 minutes as I walked to Super Duper, a burger chain in San Francisco. I’d meant to walk home, but my god, do greasy garlic fries taste good when you’re in a terrible mood.

I knew something wasn’t right. For a few weeks now, I’d noticed a sense of ever-present anxiety. I’d wake up anxious and stressed out before getting out of bed. I got agitated more easily and had frequent disagreements with my co-founder. I felt more distracted at work–fighting not just the typical startup fires but a wandering mind. Confidence gave way to self doubt and my productivity slowed down. Something that I used to accomplish in 10 minutes became a one hour chore. I started feeling less like a founder and more like someone who was failing at everything I tried.

Things hadn’t been great outside of work, either. I’d broken up with my longtime boyfriend. My grandmother was sick. My family didn’t understand what I was doing and constantly asked when I would ‘quit and get a real job.’ My friends were as busy as me and I hadn’t made time to see many of them in weeks. As I cried on my walk home, I went through a mental Rolodex of people I could call–probably 30 of them–yet I didn’t think I could reach out to anyone. There was no way that they’d understand what I was going through (even though many were also founders). So I walked into Super Duper and ate my burger and fries alone.

What I’ve described above are cookie-cutter symptoms of anxiety and burnout. We’ve all experienced these moments. Often, we recognize something is wrong long after we should have reached out for help. Founders like me tend to notice changes in their mental health when our productivity declines. That’s what got my attention–my work wasn’t as high quality as it had been before and it took me longer to get things done. If I kept working at this pace, we’d run the startup into the ground.

The morning after my Super Duper meltdown, I did what I thought was the most reasonable thing: I tried to fix it on my own. In hindsight, this was a weird mental trap to fall into given that I’m the founder of a therapy startup. For a couple weeks, I attempted and failed at ‘curing’ my stress and anxiety through sheer willpower and meditation. When that didn’t work, I followed my own advice: I booked an appointment with a therapist.

I started therapy on March 28, 2017. I’d been through therapy before but nothing had quite worked. My bad experiences were part of the reason that my cofounder and I built Kip because it is so hard to know what to look for in a therapist and whether care is working. At Kip, our therapists practice data-driven therapy, which means you and your therapist track and regularly evaluate your progress. Kip therapists practice evidence-based methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), techniques that are proven to work quickly and backed by tons of scientific research.

In three weeks and four therapy sessions, my stress levels dropped in half and my anxiety eased to a normal range. My therapist and I tracked this progress through Kip’s app and with a survey called the DASS-21, which asks 21 questions to rate levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. At work, I started to gain more confidence, think more clearly, and make decisions more quickly. I started to feel like myself again. Therapy worked. I’m still going to therapy every week and learning tools and strategies to manage anxiety and stress in healthy ways.

Every week I take the DASS-21, a standard measure that rates my levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Startups are uniquely stressful because of the sheer amount of responsibility and uncertainty involved. Almost every founder goes through periods of overwhelming stress, anxiety, depression, and self doubt. Unfortunately, it’s not commonplace for founders to seek therapy in these moments. We power through. We try to hack our minds, bodies, and environments to keep stress, negative emotions, and unhelpful thoughts at bay. We avoid problems instead of dealing with their root causes or building healthy coping strategies. We focus on the startup and forget to take care of ourselves.

Even I fell victim to this thinking and I run a therapy startup!

Founders would be more effective and stronger leaders if we went to therapy from day one. Stress, anxiety, depression, burnout–these are predictable experiences for anyone going through the rollercoaster ride of running a startup. It’s hard to face rejection on a daily basis in sales and fundraising, and deal with the ever-present risk that you’ll run out of money before making your dream work.

In fact, I think everyone in the world should have a therapist. We should have mental health check ups in the same way that we have yearly physicals and routine dental cleanings. There’s a common misconception that therapy is for moments of crisis–when we are so depressed that we can’t get out of bed. There is no reason to wait that long. Therapy can help everyone at any point. Therapy is an amazing tool that helps you navigate your feelings, build better behaviors, and relate to your thoughts differently so you can live a better life. Who doesn’t benefit from that?

One reason therapy is still stigmatized is because many of us have no idea what therapy is or how it works. We fear being labeled as someone who is broken, because we think of therapy as a cure for mental breakdowns. Therapy is a scientifically backed process that changes how your brain works, for the better. While it can be crucial in moments of crisis, it’s incredibly effective at helping you build emotional resilience and teaching you skills to weather stress and manage feelings of anxiety and depression.

Starting this week, I’m blogging about what it’s like to go to therapy, session by session. I’m oversharing. I’m getting into the personal details. I’m still going to therapy–6 sessions in–so we’re taking this ride together.

I’m sharing my experience of what it’s like to go to therapy for many reasons. One is to end the stigma. Also, I personally have found it very powerful to understand the nitty gritty details: what happens in a therapy session, what skills do you learn, and the science behind how your brain changes because of therapy. I’ve also found comfort in seeing that other people–famous people, successful people, friends who I admire–go to therapy, too.

Read more: My 1st therapy session: Anxiety is a bitch

Ready to learn more about therapy? Here’s how it’s worked for me, session by session. Follow me or subscribe to the Kip Blog for updates.

CC: Ami, Symbolon, Simon Child at nounproject.com