I loved this video review of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur. I watched it this morning and smiled a huge smile.
Thanks Cynthia Morris for taking the time to do this. And, as the sun shines in my world again, I’m happy that others are spreading the love around.
My theme for Q2 was “regroup.” I wrote about this in my post When The Sun Comes Out in early May as I was starting to feel my depression lifting. It’s officially gone at this point – I feel normal, and have for at least a month (probably six weeks.) That’s long enough to declare this depressive episode over.
The feedback I’ve gotten from talking openly about my depression has been incredible. I’m deeply appreciative of everyone who engaged me, offered me support, help, suggestions, empathy, or just said “thanks for sharing.” While I didn’t have any urgency about feeling better, I was optimistic that I would based on the arc of my previous two major depressive episodes (the first for two years in my mid-20s, the second for three months in my mid-30s). This one – at age 47 – lasted about six months which is so much less than two years…
My goal in Q3 was simply to “regroup.” I’ve talked about some of the specific tactics that I tried. Many people have asked me what they were. Here’s a quick list.
- Stopped drinking alcohol
- Stopped drinking coffee
- Stopped travelling
- Stopped waking up at 5am – just slept until I woke up
- Went to bed consistently at 10pm
- Running when I felt like it
- Scheduled a lot less things
- Took a digital sabbath – no email or phone from Friday night until Sunday morning
- Started floating in an isolation tank once a week
- Didn’t fight how I felt
- Shared openly with friends / spend more time with friends, especially with men
- Checked in with Amy every day – worked hard to communicate my emotions
From a work perspective, I focused on the things that mattered and tried to eliminate all the other stuff. I prioritized my Foundry Group partners, the companies we are investors in, and Techstars. Rather than looking at a lot of new stuff, I shut it all down and made sure I had time for all the existing stuff. I put more effort into videoconferencing and face to face interactions locally since I wasn’t travelling. And I tried not to schedule anything before 11am.
As Q2 comes to an end, I feel that I have successfully regrouped. I’ve added back in a few things that I want to do, including drinking coffee and getting up at 5am. I’m still not drinking, but I’m being more disciplined about my running. And I believe that digital sabbath will be a part of my rhythm for the rest of my life, although I’m letting myself answer the phone when it rings and occasionally sending an email or a text throughout the day when I need to communicate something to someone.
I was originally thinking about a theme for Q3 like “ship.” I’ve got a several work related things that I believe I’ll get closure on in Q3. I have several writing things in process that I’d like to finish. I’m still not travelling – nothing until Amy’s birthday in September. So, I originally thought I’d focus on something like “ship” as the broad theme for the next three months.
Yesterday I spent two and a half hours with my dear friend Jerry Colonna. We just hung out and talked. And eventually started talking about the idea of a Q3 theme around “ship.” After a while this sounded wrong – first to him – then to me. He challenged me with what I was actually trying to do. Ultimately it was to give myself more focus, and more structure, to spend time on the things I wanted to spend time on, and stop spending time, or filter out, the things I didn’t want to spend time on.
“Ship” seems like the wrong way to think about that. Instead, we came up with “be happier.” I’m going to try to use the phrase “be happier” as I decide what to spend time on, as in “will spending time on this cause me to be happier?” The simple theme – to be happier – which has all kinds of implications and second order effects on how I spend my time.
Instead of focusing on applying this theme only Q3, I’m going to apply this theme for however long I feel like it. And just thinking of it that way makes me happier.
Yesterday I floated for an hour in an isolation tank at Cloud Nine Float Center. It was awesome.
When I was in college, I spent a summer floating. I had recently seen the movie Altered States and was fascinated by it, but uninterested in drugs. I found an isolation tank in Dallas where I was living with my parents and working 100 hours a week at Petcom writing oil and gas software. Twice a week I’d go spend an hour floating. I loved it and it helped me chill out and recalibrate my brain which was deep in code most of the time.
After I’d float, I’d have this incredible calmness for the rest of the day. I generally floated at the end of the day and then took the evening off. Sometimes I’d go out to dinner with my girlfriend, sometimes I’d lay in my parents hammock and read a book, and sometimes I’d go for a run. When I crawled into bed a few hours later I would always have an incredibly deep sleep.
For some reason that I can’t remember why I stopped doing this after the summer. I think I never found a float center in Boston and just let it slip away.
Yesterday I rediscovered something that I did 27 years ago and loved. I floated from 5pm – 6pm. It took about five minutes to settle down – I had 55 minutes of extreme bliss and calm. I let my mind wander wherever it wanted to go and whenever I started thinking about something too deeply I’d just listen to my breathing until I stopped focusing on something. I have no recollection of what I was actually thinking of during that hour. When I got out, I was in a calm state unlike anything I’ve felt recently.
I went home and spent the evening with Amy. I was very quiet and it was hard for her to pry words out of me. I ate a light dinner, did a little end of day email, and then watched a few more episodes of Revenge. I walked Brooks twice. And I fell into a very deep sleep around 10pm.
I will be floating a lot more.
I love summer – it’s by far my favorite season of the year. While the summer solstice (6/21) is the official beginning of summer, I always view summer as being bookended by Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. So – for me, summer has begun.
As I was walking Brooks this morning for his early morning poop, I pondered the dynamic of “abstainer” vs. “moderator” which Amy pointed out to me comes from Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project. I’ve never known how to moderate particularly well, in any aspect of my life, so I’ve always been an abstainer. For example, I’m afraid of drugs, so I simply don’t do them – I abstain, since I’m concerned that if I started I wouldn’t know how to moderate.
Another example is my struggle with eating. I’ll use sushi as an example. If I’m part of a group sushi experience, I don’t know how to moderate. I’ll eat whatever is in front of me until it’s gone – sometimes a legendary amount of sushi. So – the only way for me to control myself is either to have a separate order to myself (e.g. abstain from the group plate) or use extreme effort to moderate and only have a reasonable amount. Same with bread or tortilla chips – if they are on the table I eat them all. My only way of not doing this is to abstain completely.
This applies to my work. I’ve always struggled to moderate – that’s part of why I chronically have gone through my annual boom / bust cycle where I completely wear myself out by the end of the year and have to abstain for a while. My Qx vacations – quarterly weeks off the grid – are a version of abstaining. My daily schedule is another example of this – and something that I’ve recently started approaching very differently as I’ve grown weary of being schedule from early morning to the end of the day.
Most recently, Digital Sabbath is another example of this for me. I’m now shutting down completely from Friday night at sundown to Sunday morning. I’ve been doing this for few months and think it will become a rest-of-the-life habit. It’s been fantastic for me and Amy. No phone, no email, no work. Just living for a day a week. Yesterday we slept late, wandered around Boulder a little, had brunch at Snooze, binge watched the rest of Season 1 of Revenge, had dinner with friends, and just lived.
I know that I don’t know how to moderate, whether it’s food, work, relationships, sports, communication, or something new. I’m all in and the only way for me to manage the total load is to abstain from some things and create specific times where I abstain from most everything.
Are you an abstainer or a moderator? How do you think about this?
It’s the beginning of summer. That is a good thing. Spend three minutes watching the amazing video below and get inspired to open your eyes and breath in this weekend.
As I come out of my depression, I’ve been systematically changing many of my tactics and habits. Simple things like deciding not to wake up with an alarm clock. Having a digital sabbath (no email / phone from Friday night to Sunday morning). Talking to Brooks the wonder dog when I take him for a walk, rather than have my thoughts wander around in my head.
This video reminded me to break that patterns that my brain has completely assimilated, in a search for awe, inspiration, and innovation. Thanks Anthony for pointing it out to me.
First things first – we are fine. Amy had an emergency appendectomy last night. She’s recovering extremely well and feeling great, albeit a little sore, this morning. We’ll be going home in a little bit once the doctor gets here.
Yesterday was a typical Monday. Yahoo bought Tumblr for $1.1 billion. I went for a run. My partners and I had sushi for lunch. I did a bunch of email and phone calls. I walked 20,000 steps on my treadputer. I gave a talk with Jeff Clavier for one of our LPs (AMG) at Frasca to a bunch of their clients. Normal stuff.
While hanging out at Frasca, I got a text from Amy that said “I might have appendicitis. Getting ready for IV and scan. Can’t find vein, as usual. I’ll keep you posted.” Well – that’ll throw a guy off his game. Amy wasn’t feeling well in the morning and had gut pain – I told her to make sure she went to the doctor if she didn’t feel better by the end of the day. I headed over to CU Boulder to interview David Cohen as part of the Silicon Flatirons Entrepreneurs Unplugged event, knowing that I could get textus interruptus at any time.
Five minutes after I started interviewing David, I got a text from Amy that said “It’s appendicitis. I will need surgery at Boulder Community tonight. Boo.” Fortunately, there was another Brad around (Brad Bernthal) who quickly stepped in for me as moderator as I exited stage left to go get Amy and take her to the hospital.
Amy went to urgent care at 5:30. I picked her up at 7:00. She was in surgery by 9:00. She was out by 11:00. We were asleep in our cozy hospital room by midnight, romanced to sleep (her in a hospital bed, me on a cot) by the six second repeating hum of the IV machine.
I’ve never spent the night in a hospital before. I certainly didn’t expect to do it last night. I guess there’s a first time for everything. Boulder Community Hospital and their staff is just awesome – and as the sun comes up on another day we begin again, reminded of our priorities.
As I’m coming out of my depression, I’ve been reflecting on the hundreds of emails I’ve gotten from entrepreneurs, investors, friends, and people I don’t know talking about their own struggles with depression. It’s remarkable how much stigma is associated with depression in our society, which makes the struggle with depression even harder.
To all of you who have written to me with your stories, thoughts, struggles, and suggestions – thank you. Many have helped me; all have been appreciated.
The other morning, I got an email from Doug Liles titled Depression – 3 sources? I thought it was excellent, insightful, and hit on a few things that I’ve identified as the sources of my most recent struggle. I asked if I could republish it and Doug said yes. If you are depressed or know someone who is depressed, it’s worth a read. Doug’s email follows.
I’ve followed you for a bit. You were extremely brave in discussing your battle with depression. I am not writing about myself, but I thought I’d offer up 3 things that might contribute. I’ve experienced the same thing. I started my practice after I got laid off from my job in October of last year. I’ve had highs and lows through that process.
I think depression is a much more common affliction with entrepreneurs and leaders than society is willing to admit. I would suggest that the affliction hits the creative class the hardest. Is it caused the constant traipsing of through between the left and right brains? I am no psychiatrist, but I know the pressure of mixing thought processes can create mental conflict.
I reflect on the movie “Koyannisqatsi” – Which roughly translates to “Life out of Balance”. What can throw you out of balance? Sometimes seeking that source deep down in our id is very difficult. Allow me to throw out a few things.
1. Inventory – As we get older, our priorities and abilities change. We see the world through a new lens. We look around and question what is “enough”. We also take stock on what we really care about. Sometimes honesty and truth battle everything we have constructed. The discipline of our prior living behaviors become incompatible with the essence of our being. As we take inventory with our achievements, we look at our new found or undiscovered missions in life. It’s half-time. What’s the next play? Probably not what it has been.
2. Blood sucking vampires – I don’t envy you being a VC. I imagine the drain of working with dreamers, charlatans, sycophants and auteurs isn’t easy. I am sure there are constant calls. In a down economy where so many need cash to jumpstart dreams and policy deferring to big business, it’s not an easy to manage a portfolio. The challenge of celebrity and notoriety is that “everyone wants something”. That constant pressure of wanting to perform, wanting to help and needing to extract value for investors isn’t simple nor does the pace slacken. While you as a VC may have rules, we know that constantly teaching others the “rules” may get repetitive. Constantly dealing with bad behavior isn’t easy…
3. End of an innovation cycle – I’ve spoken with my mentor on this topic. We may just be coming to the end of one cycle and preparing for the next. I can’t see whether it’s evolutionary or revolutionary. There’s a silly little movie, “24 Hour Party People”. The great scene in it describes the malaise when one music/art movement falls and the bumps that occur until another one rises. Maybe software and SaaS solutions have become too easy. I used to joke that ASPs (remember that term) were the mom and pop businesses of the late 90’s early 2000’s. Maybe the proliferation of tools has expanded faster than demand (One of the great cases in Ash Maurya’s book, Running Lean is defining the problem to solve and whether the problem is worth solving). I wonder if the next innovation cycle is coming from another sector. Energy, transportation, material science, food production, housing, bioscience, construction, lawncare, domestic manufacturing, etc. As a guy that’s been around software for so long, I couldn’t tell you what the next real wave is. All I do know is that innovation cycles are becoming more rapid and much shorter. The wavelength frequencies are in a different pattern and they are much harder to measure. All of our assumptions from that past don’t work in this future. Sometimes we need to exchange lenses to find that future opportunity.
It’s such an immense relief when the oppressive weight of depression begins to lift. While I’ve had a big struggle the past six months, the last few weeks have been better and recently I’ve felt a broad positive shift in how I’m feeling.
My metaphor for my depressive episodes has always been that “dark clouds build on the horizon” as depression approaches. I no longer am afraid of the dark clouds, nor do I go through crazy rituals like I did in my 20s to try to keep them away. I don’t embrace or encourage them – I just accept that they are there. Often they disappear after a few days. Sometimes, like this time, then move on in and block out the sun. And then – like a long Pacific Northwest rainy season, they just hang there. Every now and then the sun peeks through and things feel a little better, but then the dark clouds swallow up the light again.
After a month of this, it gets really tough. After two months, there are periods that I can only describe as excruciating. After three months, the pain – at least for me – dulls – and everything is just joyless. I get up each morning, I do my work, I engage as deeply as I can in whatever I need to, but I mostly just want to be alone. Being with Amy is better than being alone, because she’s safe, but I know it’s eventually hard on her to watch me exist under this dark, cloudy sky.
In March, when I accepted that the depression wasn’t lifting, I decided to change my approach. I used the metaphor of “regroup” to define how I was approaching things. I eliminated a bunch of things. I cancelled all my travel from June 1 to the end of 2013. I let go of my need to answer every email the same day. I stopped scheduling a lot of stuff and just let it happen. I stopped a bunch of online routines like checking in on FourSquare and reading my daily news. I stopped waking up at 5am (something I’ve done every day during the week for the past 20 years) and started waking up whenever I wake up. I stopped drinking alcohol and coffee.
I then added a few things back in. I started running more. I started reading again. I started doing digital sabbath – no email or phone from Friday sundown until Sunday morning.
I can feel a material change. The sun is shining more. The agony of depression is gone. I’m enjoying some things again.
But I’m still in regroup mode and don’t feel a need to come out of it anytime soon. I’m still eliminating things I realize I don’t want to be doing. But I’m starting to play around with new things that interest me.
My greatest creative moments have come on the heals of periods in my life like this. It’s the one positive aspect of these depressive episodes for me. I can’t plan it, or force it, but I look forward to it revealing itself.
Update – if you want to get a deeper understanding of what depression feels like, several commenters pointed me to this amazing post by Hyperbole and a Half titled Depression Part Two.
I had Digital Sabbath #3 yesterday. I turned off my phone and computer Friday at sundown and didn’t turn them back on until Sunday morning. I’m starting to enjoy the pattern and had a lot of relief yesterday from the complete disconnect. We had dinner at our house with friends Friday night, Amy and I did some stuff in the morning together, I went for a 9 mile run, took a nap in the afternoon, and we had dinner last night with friends and then watched some comedy on tv afterwards. My brain was less chaotic yesterday and I was able to settle into a calmer state over the course of the day than I had been the previous two weekends.
Last weekend a read a book by Wayne Muller called Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives. I was a little apprehensive about the book, but it was recommended by a few people including Amy. It was extraordinary and just what I needed to begin to understand the need for a real day of rest out of every seven days.
While I’m not religious, I’ve got a strong jewish identity. I’ve also lived in Boulder for 17.5 years so it’s hard not to be spiritual. I found as I read the book that I was able to abstract away all the religious references, especially since Muller provides a nice mix of jewish, christian, and buddhist quotes and thoughts. He isn’t bashful about tying the idea of a day of rest back to religion, but he isn’t dogmatic about it, nor is it the dominant thought. Instead, it’s just additional support for the idea from many different cultures and times.
Muller broke the book up into six sections – rest, rhythm, time, happiness, wisdom, and consecration. He then ends with a chapter on the actual sabbath day. Each section has examples and exercises – it’s an easy book to read in one sitting as the tempo of the book is consistent, and the rhythm of each section is enjoyable.
The bonus so far from starting on Friday night is that when I wake up on Sunday I feel rested and in a totally different mode for the “rest of the weekend” than I normally do. And I have no real “I need a weekend” feeling on Sunday as it’s still a relatively chill day, although one that has some work and all the other stimuli of my world woven into it.
I’m going to keep doing digital sabbath for a while and see how it goes. Muller’s Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives helped me understand it a little better.
I’m not religious but I’ve always liked the idea of the Sabbath. One day a week of rest and reflection. I spent the weekend with Amy in San Diego and in addition to a Digital Sabbath (no electronic devices from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown) I took off all day Sunday off from electronic devices, only opening up my laptop on Sunday night to start editing the latest draft of Matt Blumberg’s book Startup CEO.
It’s been 145 days since I first acknowledged my lastest struggle with depression in my post Depression and Entrepreneurs. This has been my longest depressive episode since my mid-20’s when I had an extremely difficult two year depression. I’ve thought several times that it had ended, most recently mid-February, only to have it be back in it within a week or so.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a functional depressive, so I’m able to get through the day, but it takes an enormous amount of energy. And I know that simply makes the cycle longer – rather than restore myself, I’m draining myself, which just makes it harder to get out of the depression cycle. Resting and sleeping is key for me, but so far this year my schedule has been packed, so it’s been hard to get ahead of what has become a negative spiral.
Digital Sabbath is a new thing I’m going to try to help break the cycle of what has been going on. The value that comes from having a day of rest each week is universal regardless of one’s religious beliefs. So I thought I’d try it, starting this weekend.
It was really difficult. I slept late Saturday, although it was a turbulent sleep. I then played tennis for an hour and went for a 70 minute run. My brain continued to churn during my run – whenever I realized I was obsessing over something I just sped up a little and listened to my breathing. Amy and I had lunch and then I realized the afternoon was stretching out endlessly in front of me. For some people this is wonderful; when I am depressed this is awful. So I asked Amy what she thought of me just doing a quick check of my email.
“I think that’s an awful idea,” said Amy. We then had a 15 minute conversation about what was going on in my brain. By this point the cruft of all the stuff that was bothering me was floating to the surface and I was having to either think about it or let it go. Amy encouraged me to acknowledge it, and then let it go. Then she suggested I just listen to my breath – a classic meditation technique. So I did. Eventually I got in bed and took a nap for several hours.
We had dinner with Howard and Ellen Lindzon on Saturday night. We had a great time – I love Howard and Ellen – and they are good for me. They let me be me, we talked quietly about a bunch of different things, and enjoyed a calm meal at the nice restaurant at the place we are staying.
On Sunday, I again slept in. I didn’t know whether I’d do another day off the grid, but I knew I’d start my day off with a run. My sleep was less turbulent except for the few hours where I tossed and turned. Amy and I had breakfast together, although I wasn’t hungry so I only had a few bites of pancake, and then went for an 80 minute run. The drill was the same – whenever my brain started obsessing on stuff I sped up and listened to my breath.
I decided to maintain my Digital Sabbath for another day. I didn’t turn on my computer until after dinner and then it was only to start working on Matt’s book. Throughout the day, I noticed that my brain continued to spiral around the same things, over and over again. Whenever it got out of control, I just sat, focused on my breath, and let it go. But it made for a very long day.
I woke up this morning feeling about the same as I did on Friday. I’m a little more rested feeling and have a pleasant soreness in my legs from my running, but my overall mood is unchanged. I know I’ve got a full week of stuff to do and my next task will be to tackle the 300 emails that have shown up since Friday night. But first, breakfast.