They say the pen is mightier than the sword, where words have the power to start revolutions and win wars. What are stories if not a series of words strung together to make sense of the world around us? In a world where we are all a product of the stories we share; stories hold immense power. This is the story of my personal struggle with depression with battle scars and collateral damage abound. It is a deeply personal story that I feel compelled to share, for I no longer feel it necessary nor ashamed to carry this burden alone.
I have wanted to write this piece for the past couple of months now but could never find the words. The timing and context never felt right to do so until now. A couple of weeks ago, I came across The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship by Jessica Bruder published in Inc. Magazine. This reminded me of another blog post I came across a few months ago, If you ever feel alone in this by Darius Monsef, who recounted his experience as an entrepreneur dealing with suicidal thoughts and overcoming them.
For most ambitious and highly-driven twenty-something entrepreneurs, the default option is to always put on a mask in the high-pressure game of building successful companies, where almost 9 out of every 10 new ventures fail. With the odds stacked against you from the get go, you’re forced to put on a brave face forward in front of your team, advisors, potential investors and customers every single time. This is incredibly hard especially when you’re the founder. Anything less would be taken as a sign of weakness and you’d be eaten alive in the race to the top. In this age of picture-perfect Instagram photos and endless Facebook status updates driven by ego analytics, putting on a brave face gets exponentially harder when it seems all your friends are happy and living their lives to the fullest. And here you are, stuck in a rut with no way out. And so, you put a mask on and you pretend. But it doesn’t always have to be this way.
Too many young people are losing their lives to mental health-related issues, including depression and addiction, and are going through these experiences thinking they are all alone. I’ve finally worked up the courage to share my story. And trust me when I say you are not alone. I live with depression. It is and will always be a part of who I am, but it does not define me. I’m able to keep my depression in check for the most part, forgetting that it exists for months to years on end. But then there are episodes like the one I went through these past several months that almost knocked the wind out of me. I’m in a good place now, both mentally and physically, and so it’s much easier to write about this.
I’m currently in Seoul for work before heading to New York City next week, back in my element of traveling the world and working in the space of social innovation and systemic change alongside brilliant minds who want to create a better future, sooner. But the journey to get here these past few months was hard. There was a point in time earlier this year when I didn’t think I would make it out alive. Heck, there were so many days throughout the months of January to July this year where I would struggle to even get out of bed. I would simply lay there for hours on end thinking I didn’t have it in me to make it through the day. My sense of self-worth was at an all time low. I no longer had a startup, no direction, no money and found myself increasingly in debt. I could have been homeless at one point back in early May had it not been for friends and family who took me in for weeks at a time, allowing me to crash on their couch for as long as I needed in order to sort my life together. I grew increasingly distant from friends and withdrawn from the world, leaving many people frustrated and relationships strained wondering what the hell happened.
Even the smallest of tasks including responding to emails, phone calls and text messages were unmanageable. It was so hard to put on a brave face all the time. It got to the point where I closed up and just stopped responding altogether. When I was close to rock bottom, a good friend reached out and offered me some advice. He told me that life was all about celebrating the small wins and then building momentum from there. Advice I already knew but needed to hear at that point in time. Since then, I’ve been celebrating all of the wins along the way, no matter how big or small, that have brought me to where I am today. You’ve got to roll with the punches as well. An important part of coming to terms with living with depression is to acknowledge it, rather than run away or be ashamed of it. And to not be afraid to ask for help from family, friends and trained professionals when the time comes.
It’s taken all of the courage that I can muster to lay all my cards on the table, to take off my mask and let you know that you are not alone. If any of my personal experience resonates with you, know this: it does get better. I’m doing my part to stand up for mental health, to end the stigma around depression and suicide, and to pay it forward the best way I know how, by giving meaning to words and sharing my own personal story. But I am only one voice out of many. This is my story. What’s yours?
Writer: Renjie Butalid
Artist: Lorette Luzajic
Lorette is a mixed media painter, writer and a photographer. She is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. You can find her work on her website, and she is also available on Pinterest, and Flickr. She lives in Toronto.