What Happened When I Tried to Start a Business While Struggling With Depression
It was the start of spring in 2012, yet my heart felt nothing but the cold and loneliness of a harsh winter. I was burnt out from a taxing corporate life and have been balancing a second task of building a travel start-up after my work hours. Being the ultra go-getter I am, I felt I was invincible. I knew nothing about tech nor start-ups, yet the idea of scaling an impossible mountain excited me no end. It felt like the ultimate competition against myself, how quickly I could pick up things in an unknown world. Every single minute I was awake, I was hustling and learning. While I was evolving, I was also burning out. And I had no clue at all.
Looking back, it was brutal. I was on a 50-odd hours work week, had put in time just after I woke and after I got back home to work on my second spring. Weekends and holidays were burnt. Whatever corporate leave I had, I plowed back into my start-up. I was constantly on edge, thinking about how to build the best travel start-up I could. My huge dreams camouflaged the reality and I was blind to see how badly burned out I was becoming. I started to snap at people who cared for me, mistakenly grouping them with the crowd who did not believe my vision. I lost my cool multiple times with partners whom I thought were not pulling their weight, when it was me who was obsessed with perfection. And I started to shun people in my everyday walk of life, thinking they did not believe in what I was attempting.
As my circle of friends and family shrunk, I was rapidly getting jaded. The warrior in me did not accept “no,” but three years on, I finally did. The idea of being burned out was real to me and I wearily accepted it as a possibility. Of course, the travel start-up did not go anywhere. Instead, I went downhill and spiraled into a ball of depression and fatigue. I went to work as usual, but with the least interest in what I was doing. Through years of experience on the job, I was able to get through the basics of my job but no more. I was wearing a mask every single day. I took that mask off during lunch and often teared up uncontrollably into my lunch. After returning home, I curled up in bed and let Xanax take over.
For the next year, I contemplated ways to end my misery but buckled out at the last minute. I understood it was not meant to be and not my time just yet. While my life just could and would not end, I was engulfed by a concoction of emptiness and lack of purpose. I was literally the walking dead, and life was so painful.
I clearly remember the day I checked into a psychiatric ward instead of showing up at work. The professionals ran a series of tests and interviewed me, diagnosing me with severe depression shortly after. Almost all material possessions were stripped from me, for fear of self-harm. How I was going to end my life with my mobile phone, I had no idea. I was sedated and put to sleep for a really long time. When I finally woke up from my slumber, I was surrounded by concerned faces. At this moment, the dam broke and I knew I was in serious trouble.
Since that fateful day, I have checked in and out of the psychiatric ward a couple of times. I recovered well and broke down. That was part of the journey to recovery and no one said it was a breeze. I understood that well. I decided to take care of myself first and set aside my desire to build start-ups. What I really wanted to understand was: was it a phrase? Was it my ego urging me to build something marvelous, or was it pride that constantly compared and hurled me head-on into competition? I let the urge to build a nest at the back of my head for a while, hoping it would go away to the graveyards of thoughts and die.
Fast-forward two years, I realized there was an entrepreneurship itch that would never go away. The thought of building something remained like a soft buzz in my head. And it was driving me slowly “mad.” So, I started to build, only this time I was careful to make a couple of changes. I took on an easier start-up project, took time out to find the right partners and took time out to reward myself with plenty of self-care. It took me eight months when I could have finished the project in four, but looking back, it was a wise choice. I came out of building a start-up still alive and managing my recovery at a reasonable pace. It is true I sunk a couple of times during these eight months, but the thought of building something worthwhile took over and powered me through. Having announced my condition and desire to build something to my family was one of the best things I ever did. While previously I was terrified of the labels that came with mental health stigma, announcing it to people who cared for me made them my pillar of unconditional support.
Looking back, I wish I had someone to talk to much earlier about my condition. Instead, I went through a rough seven years of beating myself up and struggling internally. I had no clue what demon I was facing and it swallowed me alive. Sometimes, talking more with each other beats talking about each other. And I have no regrets building caraunmask.com. It was a product of my journey and a personal desire to prevent others from struggling alone, from fear of stigma. A wise man once said, no one is truly alone. And I believe every word of that.
Meanwhile, I am living proof that entrepreneurship and depression can be friends, but if only we embark on a slower pace and leave space to love ourselves during this journey.
Visit the author’s website to learn more about his anonymous chat app for mental health.
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay