Dealing with Depression as an Entrepreneur

Photos by  Sarah Rittenour

Photos by Sarah Rittenour

It’s mercurial, this seasonal depression thing. I won’t say it’s manic. For me, I don’t think it is. But it’s this ever-changing state of being, which makes it extremely hard to identify. Some days, it takes the shape of a fog. Some days, it’s physical pain. Other days, it’s a buzzing head, the complete and utter inability to focus, and an overall disdain for life. Today, my depression feels like an insurmountable wall and a massive weight on my chest, a shortness of breath. Trying to find words hurts—physically and emotionally. Trying to work is impossible.

As an entrepreneur, I spend a lot of time alone. I also spend a lot of time on social media and on websites that do similar things to mine. On days like today, when I’m feeling a special kind of self-loathing and masochism, I like to troll the internet for everyone and everything that is doing better than me. Comparison is not necessarily the thief of my joy today, just my sanity. So, the downward spiral begins. Because I have so, so much to do, but I actually cannot get it done. So, rather than do what’s best and step away from work, I force myself to sit here. I lie to myself and say that somehow, sitting at the fucking computer makes me more productive. Or, I think, maybe I’ll get a burst of inspiration. Deep down (really not that deep down, though), I know it’s all a façade. I know that I have been groomed to worship hustle, and I somehow feel better about my day of sadness if it was spent at the computer, rather than going to the gym or taking part in a little self-care.

I know that I have been groomed to worship hustle, and I somehow feel better about my day of sadness if it was spent at the computer, rather than going to the gym or taking part in a little self-care.

I’m not much of a crier, but on these particularly hard days, I wish I was. I wish I could just sit down, have a good release of emotion, and take a nap. But no, that would be too simple. Instead, I pull up 16 tabs on my browser, not even knowing what I am really looking for. Then, I get anxiety about all of the open tabs and all of the things yet to be done. So, I close my browser. And I pour another cup of coffee, and I try to go on autopilot as much as I can. But, on these days, I am acutely aware of how human I am. I do not have an automated setting.

What I struggle with the most is the lack of clarity. There’s never an “if A happens, do B” situation for me with work or with life. I tell myself there are 15 skills I need that I don’t have. But maybe if I had those, I would be better, I would be more successful, I wouldn’t feel so shitty. When my head isn’t pounding, I know that’s not necessarily true, but today, it feels very true. It feels like I am laying on the beach during high tide, and the waves keep rising over me, and I am deeper and deeper under the water. Soon, I will be washed away. Soon, I will be too deep to resurface. There’s no one moment where I am consciously deciding to just let go. It just happens. And then it’s gone.

Theoretically, self-care is something I advocate for. But the practical application of it is hard. How do you take care of yourself when there is so much to be done? When you feel like such an unworthy loser? When you don’t deserve to be taken care of because you are useless, and you have no skills, and you will never be as good as all those others?

Entrepreneurs who suffer any sort of emotional stress disorders like seasonal depression suffer it on a magnified scale because our livelihoods depend on us working. For the most part, we don’t have the option to call out of work, and I think a lot of us feel that our work should come before almost anything else. I would be lying if I said that my work is always satisfying. Often, I dislike it. Often, I question why I do what I do. Often, I ask myself if I should quit and try to get another job —one with benefits and PTO and a water cooler. Then, in my spiral, I tell myself that no one in their right mind would hire me anyway because I have no skills, and I am not good at anything, so I am stuck doing what I am doing regardless of whether I enjoy it or not. And then I get angry. Because everywhere I look, I see rainbows and sunshine, and everyone is feeling fucking #blessed. But that’s not real. And I want everyone to be honest about how that’s not real. Then I remember that I cannot control what anyone else does, and I am only responsible for myself, and I am on my own path and that’s okay.

I am acutely aware of how human I am. I do not have an automated setting.

I want to be clear—the entire time I am going through these lows, I am fully aware of what they are. I don’t sink so deep into the abyss that I lose a sense of reality. My reality just feels gray. That’s the worst part about it: I am cognizant of what’s going on, but there isn’t anything I can do to stop it. I just have to go through it; I just have to feel it. It is awful, it is painful, but it won’t be the end of me, and I am determined to not let it define me. I am smart, and I do take care of myself; I see a therapist, I work out, I eat well. I do all of the things you’re meant to do to ease depression. Most of the time, it works. Most of the time, I feel like a well person. But there are days that feel heavy.

I know I’m not alone; I know others feel this, too, and I hope that, maybe by reading this, someone else who feels this same way will be inspired to have an honest moment. And that will lead to an open conversation about all of this. Because, truly, the worst part of all of this is the feeling of isolation as you scroll through Instagram, wondering how everyone else is doing so well and making millions of dollars and living in picture-perfect homes with their picture-perfect kids and pets and kitchens that are always SOOO goddamn sparkling clean. But that’s not reality, and you are not alone.

Kate Schaefer is the founder and editor of H&H Weddings, an LGBT wedding resource and blog. Her goal is to be the Emily Post of LGBT nuptials. And to be on Ellen.