There's a line in an old Bruce Cockburn song, "Lovers in a Dangerous Time:"
"Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight."
This is the story of my personal battle with darkness and entrepreneurship.
This is not a story you often hear discussed in entrepreneurship circles. You can wallpaper a house with articles like '25 Common Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs' and '10 Daily Habits of Exceptionally Happy People,' but honest talk of the struggles that come with entrepreneurship are few and far between.
For many entrepreneurs, their journey is often a lonely and difficult one.
Mine almost killed me.
In 2004, I was in my 9th year as an entrepreneur, running a mountain bike tour company called Sacred Rides. It was a relatively successful, growing company, and I spent many halcyon summer days on my bike, showing my customers my favorite trails and wild places in the Canadian Rockies.
source: Patrice Halley Photography
My partner had left the company a few years earlier, and I was on my own. I found the offseason work (marketing, sales, bookkeeping, etc.) isolating, but enjoyed the freedom and lifestyle entrepreneurship afforded me.
Then on Christmas Eve, 2004, my girlfriend broke up with me and everything changed.
We'd only been dating a few months, but the breakup triggered an intense tailspin. I hid in my room for two months, emerging only to eat and take care of bodily functions. My isolation deepened, and when I finally left the house, weeks later, it was just long enough to get diagnosed with serious clinical depression.
Thus began my on-again-off-again battle with antidepressants, and my long journey through darkness. It was a journey that brought me back to my hometown of Toronto, and after a humbling stint, at the age of 34, in my mother's basement, to a small room in a friend's house.
My depression worsened and my isolation grew. I managed to, somehow, keep my company afloat, but my constant companion during those days was a terrible inner voice saying, on repeat, "life is terrible, and it will never get better."
The turning point came in the summer of 2006.
I woke up one night, shaking, in a cold sweat. I sat up straight, with a feeling of dread so intense I felt as if the world was coming to an end. That inner voice was so loud that I actually put my hands over my ears to try and make it stop. It was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before.
Now the voice was telling me that I had only one way out -- to kill myself. I'd had fleeting thoughts of suicide over the past year, but I'd never taken them seriously.
This was different. The feeling was so intense that I didn't think I'd be able to survive the night.
I sat shaking in my bed for over an hour, battling that voice, trying to convince myself that this 'only way out' was not the only way out. I managed, eventually, to get to sleep.
When I woke, I knew something had changed, that I'd entered a new phase of darkness. As hard as the past year and a half had been, I could tolerate it and get through each day.
I couldn't bear the thought of another night like that one. And even though I'd made it through once, I wasn't sure I could make it through another.
I called my doctor and he prescribed a heavy dose of antidepressants, which I finally committed to. I asked my roommate if I could call on him if needed. Naturally he said yes.
I made it through the next night and the night after. I began seeing a therapist. I joined group therapy. I did therapy retreats. I started meditating. I started taking yoga classes, then enrolled in yoga teacher training. I started running. I ran some more. I became the Forrest Gump of self-help. I just knew I could never go back to that night.
No words can possibly describe what happened that night. Suffering from mental illness is bad enough, but suffering in silence is even worse.
I'm proud to say I've made it to daylight, and the darkness is a vivid but now distant memory. I have 3 beautiful young children, an incredible wife, several thriving businesses, and a rich, rewarding life. I also mentor and consult with incredible entrepreneurs. I hope that my story can serve as a cautionary but inspiring tale for them and other entrepreneurs.
To that end, I've shared a few of my personal tips for keeping the darkness at bay.
HOW TO SURVIVE AS AN ENTREPRENEUR
Join a mastermind/entrepreneur group
Mastermind groups, like Entrepreneur's Organization, are small (typically 8-10 people) groups of entrepreneurs that meet regularly to discuss challenges and share wisdom and best practices. I belong to a couple of groups, and while they are invaluable in helping me overcome business challenges, they're also a great source of emotional support, because the members have often faced or are facing the same personal struggles.
Have a morning routine
I have a 2-hour morning routine that starts at 5am (OK, 6am sometimes). My morning routine starts my day off right, holds me to various positive habits, and helps me stay on top of my emotional and physical wellbeing.
Join a coworking space
This is especially valuable if you're a solo entrepreneur. Working in your PJs at home is great, but it's also very isolating. Joining a coworking space, like the renowned Centre for Social Innovation (where my office is) gets you out of the house and interacting with others. They're typically not much more than the price of that daily frapuccino at your Starbuck's 'office', and a much more professional place to meet with clients and partners.
Get enough sleep
This one is crucial. Too many entrepreneurs succumb to the 80-hour workweek myth, believing that if you're not logging double-full-time hours and sleeping 4 hours a night, you're not working hard enough. You can do this for a week or two when you're on a deadline, but otherwise it's a recipe for disaster. Get at least 6 hours a night, ideally 7 to 8.
A recent study showed that as little as 5 minutes of meditation a day can reap significant positive benefits. Meditation can help entrepreneurs (it's useful for anyone, really) overcome entrepreneurship's stress and high psychological toll. In order to stay consistent, I incorporate it into my morning routine, and often use the Headspace app to make it easier on myself.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.
Do you have a similar story? Have you battled depression or mental illness, or are you currently? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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