May is Mental Health month. This is the next post in our series on depression and the startup community.
I like formulas. I like checklists. I like one, two, threes. Dotted i’s and crossed t’s. I like it when all I have to do is put in the work and I’ll get the promised outcome. I don’t care if the work is hard or messy, if you tell me that if I just do A, I will get desired result B, I’ll do it.
I’ve had the good fortune to work with Jerry and Parker Palmer over the last few months on a to be published book discussing depression and entrepreneurship. Jerry and Parker both have a gift for articulating the experience of depression. As we’ve worked on the manuscript I’ve often found comfort in their ability to express in words what I myself have experienced, but not articulated. There is a great comfort and hope that comes from the connection of shared experience, especially when in its depths depression is so deeply isolating.
The journey of entrepreneurship and the “startup life” are the human experience at extremes. When life can feel so polarized, it is not surprising that many on this path find themselves suffering from depression. The past few months have been a hopeful time to be paying attention to this topic as progressively more individuals have opened up about their experiences, media has published multiple articles on the subject and new technologies to support those who are suffering have been introduced.
Each of these can be incredibly useful. The importance of understanding that you are not alone in depression is tantamount to surviving its lowest depths. And any effort to bring comfort and hope to those suffering is something I can get behind. Yet, with this growing interest and awareness comes what I find to be a troubling idea: that there is an easy solution to overcome your depression.
Let’s be clear: there is no solution to depression. There is no formula, there is no checklist, there is no one, two, three; no A, B, C. Depression is not a thing you overcome, it is something you move through.
Allow me, or better, allow Jerry Colonna and Parker Palmer to explain. The following is an excerpt from a 2013 discussion between Jerry and Parker at Naropa University about entrepreneurship and depression:
In the startup world there is such a profound reliance on the intellect. There is such a profound belief. We were talking about our friend Brad Feld’s recent postings and some of the comments, looking for what feels as if a willful doing, in response to the pressure. Take more Vitamin D — which, by the way, is really great. Get more sunlight, which is really great. Get more exercise, which is really great. But there’s a relationship, I think, between learning to accept being, learning to accept the authentic self, and learning not to rely so much on the doing as a pathway through this.
We have so much in this culture that’s about pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, but in the depths of this thing, you don’t have boots, let alone bootstraps. And that has to be recognized. You’re forced back on something more primitive in the human self, more original, more spare, more wild, really. And to live from that place without the hubris that says, “I can solve everything with my intellect.” And then, to fall into the despair of, “Well, why isn’t it happening?”.
Depression is not a life sentence. We do not have to sit idly by doing nothing. This is not an argument against action. Rather it is an imploring to abandon expectation. To understand that depression is not formulaic. It doesn’t follow the rules. You can’t work your way out of depression. It takes what it takes to move through depression. And “what it takes” is not a universal solution.
Originally posted on Medium.