Category: Mental Health

Mar 1 2018

Metabolizing Stress and Anxiety

I woke up late this morning with a vivid dream in my head. I had shown up at my new house on the first morning of our occupancy. There were all kinds of people running around including a dozen schoolkids playing red devil on the patio. I didn’t have any clothes unpacked yet except some running shorts that I didn’t like and an old t-shirt. I went upstairs to go to the bathroom and take a shower. The bathroom floor was linoleum and the wallpaper was grandma’s English garden floral from the 1950s. I tried to figure out how to poop in the toilet but the toilet paper holder got tangled up in the seat cover and I couldn’t get the toilet open correctly, dunked the toilet paper in the water, and just gave up. I turned on the shower, which was a pink tub with yellow walls, miniature size, with a plastic shower curtain that only covered half the length of the tub. The shower nozzle was a wide-spray non-adjustable one so I ended up with water all over the bathroom, including the one towel that was hung on a metal rack in the direct line of the spray. The only soap that was available was a tiny petrified stub molded into the ridged indent in the wall. I gave up and went to brush my teeth but realized I had no toothbrush or toothpaste. I put my uncomfortable running shorts on and got in a friends car to drive up a windy hill to a potato restaurant shack like the one where I had my first job at Potatoes Etc., except it was in a wooden crab shack instead of a shiny new shopping mall. I struggled for a while to construct my order based on their extremely complex paper-based ordering system before giving up. A few more things like this happened on the way back to the house, including a short run through the woods, and then I woke up.

It’s a few hours later and the dream still lingers. The obvious analysis of it is that I’m feeling a lot of anxiety, but I’m not. We just had an awesome two-day partner offsite and we all showed up fully to the conversation. While I’m emotionally and physically tired, I realized my dream was a version of something I described – and then we talked about – for a while, which is the notion of absorbing and metabolizing stress and anxiety, especially when it is generated by other people.

Last year I wrote a post titled Do You Reduce Stress Or Increase Stress? after hearing a great quote by Mark Cuban at an event where I interviewed him. He said:

“I like to invest in people who reduce stress and avoid people who increase stress.”

This stuck with me because I view part of my role to absorb the stress in the system while working hard not to add stress to people who I work with. I’m not perfect, but I’ve come to understand the link between this activity and my depressive tendencies.

Specifically, I absorb a lot of stress and anxiety. I’ve become very good at metabolizing it (a word that I came up with in therapy to describe the activity that happens.) As a result, I can stay very calm in the face of enormous stress and anxiety of others. However, I do have to metabolize what I absorb (and expel the waste product in some way) or else it builds up. I also have to deal with my own stress and anxiety. If I reach my limit, I start reacting to the cumulative stress and anxiety in my system. If I don’t do something about that quickly (of which self-care: rest, running, meditating, eating right, spending time alone, not traveling, being with Amy, reading) and in a significant enough magnitude, a depressive episode of some duration starts to loom. In the extreme cases, I tip into depression.

I used to fight the idea of this. I foolishly thought “if I can just stop being stressed or anxious, I’ll be fine.” Rather than trying to prevent or avoid stress and anxiety, I’ve learned to embrace it, and all the signals around it.

The dream that I led this post off with is a signal that I’m metabolizing a large amount of stress and anxiety. While I can psychoanalyze the dream, I’ve had some version of this type of dream enough times in my 52 years on this planet to know what the inputs are. More importantly to me is the warning of a dream this vivid that I need to pay attention to me and to make sure I’ve got enough of a metabolism buffer. I’m good there as I’ve got four days at home in Boulder with Amy, working out of my house the next two days and then having a very quiet weekend.

For me, the metaphor of metabolizing stress and anxiety, which only emerged through my work in therapy last year, is a profound one that has been incredibly helpful to me. If it’s helpful to you, that’s great. If it’s not, I’d suggest a meta-insight, which is to search for a physical or biological metaphor for how you deal with stress and anxiety, in an effort to have a more constructive relationship with it.

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Feb 2 2018

This Is A Really Good Place To Be Right Now

As I was meditating this morning, the thought “this is a really good place to be right now” came to the front of my mind. As is my way when I meditate, I noted that I’d had the thought, placed it on a leaf, set it on the virtual river flowing in front of me, and let it drift away. Then, I brought my attention back to my breath.

I took a shower right after I meditated and the thought came back to me. This time I let it stay with me.

As I sit in our TARDIS at Foundry Group, listening to Let It Be, and catching up from a typically intense week, the thought came back to me again.

No matter how shitty, busy, or tense my day is, there are a few moments in the day where this is true. Sometimes it is long stretches or even the entire day. Other times it is only brief moments.

But we are alive, on this planet, even though we are 1 of 7.5 billion or so people, distributed across a surface area of 196.9 million miles squared, in a tiny corner of a galaxy that has a radius of 100,000 light-years, in a universe that has a diameter of 91 billion light-years (at least the observable universe.)

This is a really good place to be right now.

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Jan 30 2018

Like Minds…Leaders Take Action

Tomorrow night I’m the keynote speaker at the AllHealth Network event Like Minds…Leaders Take Action.

I will be discussing the challenges of entrepreneurs around mental health issues and how the stigma associated with it creates an additional layer of difficulty. I’ll also share my own story around mental health issues and talk about the power leaders have to influence culture, particularly as it pertains to mental health in the workplace.

There are a few tickets left so if you are interested please register and join us.

Ask yourself the following question: Why is there stigma associated with mental health but not with diabetes or cancer?

I felt no joy as I struggled with depression and the stigma that came with it. When I first had a major depressive episode in my 20s, I was ashamed, embarrassed, and incredibly secretive about my struggles. Over the years, the help and support I received inspired me to work to erase the stigma that comes with mental health issues, especially in the workplace.

As we move to change the image of mental health and educate people around it, I encourage leaders to engage in “Mental Fitness” – if you want to be a great leader you need to invest not only in your physical and intellectual fitness but also your mental fitness. This holds true for every member of the team and needs to start at the top of an organization.

AllHealth Network is a 62-year-old Englewood-based non-profit healthcare organization that provides a full spectrum of mental health and substance use services in 10 unique settings. AllHealth Network serves more than 17,000 clients annually, offering counseling for individuals and families, group therapy and substance abuse treatment in addition to a myriad of resources for leaders in business and their employees.

As part of its Like Minds movement, AllHealth Network launched a CEO/Leadership Pledge which calls on business leaders to support workplace mental health. They are also introducing “In My Mind…” – a campaign comprised of a collection of photo essays with insights expressed from the mind of a person personally touched by mental health challenges, whether direct or indirect. These faces and voices reflect a range of human diversities, acknowledging that no one is left untouched and this human experience can unite us.

Like Minds…Leaders Take Action will be held on Jan. 31 from 5 to 8 p.m. at History Colorado. To purchase tickets, please visit http://www.allhealthnetwork.org/like-minds-brad-feld.

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Dec 17 2017

Mental Fitness, the NFL, Active Minds, and the Competitive Workplace

There aren’t many similarities between the workplace of an NFL football player and that of a tech entrepreneur. My body doesn’t get pounded each week. Decisive critical thinking and typing speed are valued more than the last time I ran 40 yards in under five seconds. In both places, though, competitiveness and operating at peak performance are prized.

But what if someone falters? Or a friend or family member needs help? Over half of all humans will experience a major mental health challenge in their lifetime. This includes the VC listening to a pitch or the linebacker staring down a receiver.

Few of us show this in the workplace. Even though many of us struggle at one time or another, needing help is not part of our cultural norms as founders, entrepreneurs, and investors.

This is why I took notice when the NFL Players Association recently spoke up for mental health.

Last month, each player in the league received a “The World Needs You Here” bracelet as part of the NFLPA’s partnership with Active Minds around their Your Mind, Your Body, Your Health initiative. Some of the fittest men on the planet are now wearing it to acknowledge that everyone – their friends, family, even themselves – struggle with depression, anxiety, or another mental health issue.

I was recently introduced to Active Minds by my friend Jeremy Shure and then introduced to the Executive Director, Alison Malmon by another friend, Chris Schroeder. Alison recently moved to Boulder from the east coast, so we got together. Endorsements by Jeremy and Chris mean a lot so I wasn’t surprised when I had a spectacular first meeting with Alison. I’m delighted that she’s now living in Boulder.

Active Minds is a premier nonprofit working with young people to change the way mental health is talked about. The NFL players are sharing the message that mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness. And just like an NFL player who has an ACL injury that needs expert treatment and time to heal, the same is true for a mental health issue.

When people with a platform – celebrities, football players, me, you – are open about mental health, the stigma lessens. In the more than 500 high schools and colleges where Active Minds works, this has been happening for the last 15 years. Students with influence are changing the conversation about mental health among their peers and networks.

It takes only a few people, and then a few more people, to be open, authentic, and transparent. If you are interested in joining the #NeedYouHere movement, drop me an email and I’ll introduce you to Alison.

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Oct 31 2017

Preview for The Weight Of Gold

Amy and I are financially supporting a new movie about mental health, depression, and suicide called The Weight of Gold. Jeremy Bloom (Olympic skier, pro-football player, CEO of Integrate, and awesome human) introduced me to the creator of the film Brett Rapkin.

THE WEIGHT OF GOLD / Sizzle Reel from Podium Pictures on Vimeo.

While the focus of the storytelling is around Olympic athletes, it highlights a challenge that one in five Americans struggles with. Our goal for supporting films like this is to help eliminate the stigma around mental health and depression. It’s an enormous challenge in our society and one that I think is worth working hard at.

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May 9 2017

Helping To End The Stigma Around Mental Health By Talking About It

I’m super lucky. I get to work with many incredibly brave and insightful people. One of them is Chris Heivly who is now working at Techstars with me and a few others on a new set of products around the concept of startup communities.

May is mental health month. Jenny Lawton, Techstars COO, led off Techstars commitment to engaging with the post Let’s End the Stigma Around Mental Health. Her call to action, before she goes on to talk about her experience with mental health issues, follows:

“May is Mental Health Awareness month and Techstars is driving to end the stigma that surrounds mental health. Let’s open up the conversation around it and what it means to our community and industry.” 

Today, Chris went public with his story in the post That Time I Could Not Break My Depression. If you’ve never met Chris, he’s a gregarious, energetic, fully engaged entrepreneur who has had multiple successes. But, he has struggled with depression, as he says in the lead off of his story.

“None of that prior success prepared me for a moment in 2015 where the evil thoughts in my head had overtaken the rational startup brain.”

As I read his story, I was incredibly proud of him for being able to talk about it and provide leadership for others. Then I read Lance Powers (founder at Sigmend – Techstars Class 68) post The Vital Role of Community in Mental Health Support where he talks about his bipolar disorder.

“If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would be writing a post discussing my Bipolar disorder for my friends, coworkers, and entire community to see, I wouldn’t have believed you. Thanks to the hard work of my local community in Boulder and Denver, I am not only comfortable writing this post, I am proud.”

Lance has two statements that encapsulate what I believe.

  1. “The problem is less about the disorder and more about the way we handle it.”
  2. “The one thing I know to be absolutely true is that a supportive community is vital to recovery.”

Lance points to Dave Mayer for paving the way for him to speak openly with the Mental Health in the Startup Realm panel Dave led at Boulder Startup Week 2016.

On Saturday, Amy and I participated in the annual BCH Foundation Gala which this year was in support of the BCH Foundation Mental Health Endowment. As part of it, we announced a lead gift for the new BCH Della Cava Family Medical Pavilion which will be used primarily for behavioral and mental health issues.

While more is coming on the work Amy and I are doing with BCH, for now, I’m going to end with the simple statement. I am incredibly appreciative and proud for all the insights, support, and bravery of all my colleagues and friends, around the issues of depression and mental health in general. Thank you.

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Mar 31 2017

UCLA Depression Grand Challenge

As part of the UCLA Depression Grand Challenge, I’ve been asked by them to be their first #DepressionHero.

Over 300 million people around the world suffer from depression. I’m one of them and have written extensively about my experience with it. The following 90-second video gives you a little more context on this.

April 7th is the World Health Organizations “World Health Day” and the theme of this year’s World Health Day is Depression: Let’s Talk. UCLA is engaging in a number of activities in commemoration of World Health Day. One of these activities is a social media campaign to publicly recognize a number of individuals who their campus has identified as a #DepressionHero. The UCLA Grand Challenge Facebook and Twitter accounts have been generating lots of content around this and I’m doing a public interview next week (I’ll post the details when I have the final information.)

I’m particularly tuned into this right now as I recently avoided a major depressive episode. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may have picked up the tone of my increasing distress from posts in the first two weeks of February, including This Page Intentionally Left BlankGenerosity Burnout, and The Power Of A Digital Sabbath.

By Valentine’s Day, which corresponds to a low point in my depression of 2013, I realized I was heading for a bad place and I took a bunch of aggressive corrective actions, including shutting down all travel. Several of my close friends showed up quickly for me, including my partners who know me extremely well. Amy was clear thinking and awesome. We took a vacation for the first two weeks of March and by the mid-March, I knew I was fine and had dodged the depressive episode.

I’m fortunate that I’ve done the work, have professional help, incredibly supportive friends, and the universe’s best spouse to help me when the black dog shows up at my doorstep. Many are less fortunate, like the entrepreneur I didn’t know who unexpectedly to everyone around him committed suicide last week. I’m close with a colleague of his and the shock to the collective system is immense.

When I was in LA in February, I was at a group dinner with Dave Morin, a longtime friend of mine. A segment of the dinner was a discussion around depression among entrepreneurs which had some very difficult and challenging moments (on multiple dimensions). After the dinner, Dave and I had a brief conversation where he told me more about his involvement in the UCLA Grand Challenge on Depression. I told him that I’d be honored to help out in any way I could. I hope this is simply the first step of a long relationship with UCLA on this front.

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Feb 12 2017

The Power Of A Digital Sabbath

I’m doing a little better than I was on Friday morning when I wrote the post Generosity Burnout. Just writing the post put me in an appropriate frame of mind to reflect on things on Saturday. I took a digital sabbath, something I’ve been doing on 90% of the Saturdays since I first tried it in March, 2013 in the middle of a deep depressive episode.

I’m not religious but I know many successful people who take a full day off once a week. I’m most familiar with the Jewish traditions, so I decided to emulate sabbath in spirit. No phone. No computer. No email. After almost four years, it’s a weekly touchpoint that has become a central part of my life.

On Friday, when I wrote Generosity Burnout, I was exhausted from three weeks of travel. On Tuesday in San Francisco, in the midst of an endless downpour, I acknowledged to myself that I had started to feel “down”, which is a euphemism for “feeling depressed” for many of us. I hadn’t tipped to a dark place, but I realized that I had given myself a total lack of self-care since the beginning of the year. While I had a normal amount of work stress, with something new fucked up every day, I was feeling the emotional impact more and carrying around extra anxiety that was bordering on obsessive thoughts.

Yesterday, I had a typical digital sabbath. I slept 12 hours, meditated, and then went running. Amy and I had lunch and talked. I then retreated to the couch and a read a book with her and the dogs. We took an afternoon nap, showered, and then went into Boulder for dinner with friends. We went to bed when we got home.

I took action on the self-care front. I haven’t been drinking any booze since my birthday (@bfeld v51). I decided to stop drinking coffee, cancel all of my Q2 travel, spent two nights a week at home with Amy for dinner in Q2, and start saying no to everything new until I feel like saying yes again. I’ve got plenty to work on – there’s no need to add more to it. And I know I get a lot of satisfaction and energy from working on what is on my plate.

I feel a little better today. I’m still tired and anxious. Meditation this morning was calming, as is writing this. After I hit post, I’m heading out for a run with the dogs.

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Feb 10 2017

Generosity Burnout

HBR recently did an interview with me around the idea of generosity burnout. It’s part of the challenge that Adam Grant is exploring after the huge success and impact of his book Give and Take.

There’s a longer article on HBR by Adam about the general concept of generosity burnout. It’s a good read and it’s helpful to me as I start working on my next book, Give First.

Several people have picked up from the tone of some recent blog posts that I’m wandering up to the edge of this. I’m at my limit emotionally and made a conscious decision a few days ago to change modes through at least the end of Q2. I cancelled all my work travel in Q2, uncommitted to a number of things that weren’t already in process, and generally decided to focus my energy on what I’m currently working on, rather than add to anything new, especially in the “this could be fun but I don’t know why I’m doing it” category.

I already say no 50+ times a day. I’ve also tuned out a ton of noise around things I can’t directly impact. That’s not the issue. Instead, it’s remembering to ask myself “do I want to do this while I’m in my current mode” at least twice before I say yes to anything.

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Dec 14 2016

Boulder Startup Week 2016 Panel on Mental Health and Wellbeing

During Boulder Startup Week 2016, Dave Mayer of Technical Integrity moderated a panel on Mental Health and Wellbeing that I was on with Sarah Jane Coffey and Tom Higley. It ended up going 90 minutes and I remember it being powerful for me and the audience. Dave recently put it up on Youtube and wrote a blog post about it. His leadoff in his post sets things up nicely.

“During my relatively short six-year journey through the startup landscape- I’ve been through ugly founder breakups, I’ve lost plenty of money, lost way too much time, and I ended up in the hospital from exhaustion from too many 100 hour weeks. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the reality of building new companies. I know of suicides, families being torn apart and of course several cases of debilitating depression.”

If this is a topic that is interesting, relevant, or important to you, I hope you enjoy our rambling session on it at Naropa during BSW 2016. Thanks Dave for organizing and hosting. And thanks to Sarah Jane and Tom for being vulnerable and brave enough to talk publicly about this stuff.

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