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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Two Root Causes of My Recent Depression

Comments (72)

I’ve talked openly about the five month long depressive episode I went through earlier this year.  If you missed it, I encourage you to read my article last month in Inc. Magazine titled Entrepreneurial Life Shouldn’t Be This Way–Should It? Depression is a fact of life for some entrepreneurs.

My depression lifted near the end of May and I’ve been feeling normal for the past few months. On July 1st I wrote a post titled Regroup SuccessfulI changed a lot of tactical things in my life in Q2 – some of them likely helped me get to a place where my depression lifted. And, once I was confident that the depression had lifted (about 45 days ago), I started trying to figure out some of the root causes of my depression.

I’ve told the story of how I ended up depressed a number of times. In the telling of it, I searched for triggers – and found many. My 50 mile run in April 2012 that left me emotional unbalanced for six weeks. A bike accident in early September that really beat me up, and was inches from being much more serious. Six weeks of intense work and travel on the heals of the bike accident that left me physically and emotionally depleted, when what I should have done was cancelled everything and retreated to Boulder to recover. A marathon in mid-October that I had no business running, followed by two more weeks of intense work and travel. The sudden death of our dog Kenai at age 12. A kidney stone that resulted in surgery, followed by a two week vacation mostly in a total post-surgical haze. Complete exhaustion at the end of the year – a physical level of fatigue that I hadn’t yet felt in my life. There are more, but by January I was depressed, even though I didn’t really acknowledge it fully until the end of February.

The triggers, and the tactical changes I made, all impacted me at one level. But once the depression had lifted, I felt like I could dig another level and try to understand the root cause. With the help of Amy and a few friends, I’ve made progress on this and figured out two of the root causes of a depressive episode that snuck up on me after a decade of not struggling with depression.

The first is the 80/20 rule. When running Feld Technologies in my 20s, I remember reading a book about consulting that said a great consultant spent 20% of their time on “overhead” and 80% of their time on substantive work for their clients. I always tried to keep the 80/20 rule in mind – as long as I was only spending 20% of my time on bullshit, nonsense, things I wasn’t interested in, and repetitive stuff that I didn’t really have to do, I was fine. However, this time around, I’d somehow gotten the ratios flipped – I was spending only 20% of my time on the stimulating stuff and 80% of my time on stuff I viewed as unimportant. Much of it fell into the repetitive category, rather than the bullshit category, but nonetheless I was only stimulated by about 20% of the stuff I was doing. This led to a deep boredom that I didn’t realize, because I was so incredibly busy, and tired, from the scope and amount of stuff I was doing. While the 20/80 problem was the start, the real root cause was the boredom, which I simply didn’t realize and wasn’t acknowledging.

The other was a fundamental disconnect between how I was thinking about learning and teaching. I’ve discussed my deep intrinsic motivation which comes from learning. At age 47, I continue to learn a lot, but I also spend a lot of my time teaching. The ratio between the two shifted aggressively at the end of 2012 with the release of my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City. I spent a lot of time teaching my theory of startup communities to many people I didn’t previously know in lots of different places. I expected that I’d continue learning a lot about Startup Communities during this period, but I found that I had no time to reflect on anything, as all of my available time was consumed doing my regular work. So – between teaching and working, I had almost no time for learning.

I had an intense insight a few weeks ago when a friend told me that as one gets older, the line between learning and teaching blurs. This is consistent with how I think about mentoring, where the greatest mentor – mentee relationship is a peer relationship, where both the mentor and mentee learn from and teach each other. With this insight, I realized I needed to stop separating learning from teaching in my motivational construct – that they were inextricably linked.

Each of these – the flip in the 80/20 rule that led to a deep boredom combined with the separation of learning and teaching – were both root causes of my recent depression. As I reflect on where I’m at in mid-August, I’m neither bored nor struggling with the learning/teaching dichotomy. Once again, I’m incredibly stimulated by what I’m spending my time on. And I’m both learning and teaching, and not spending any energy separating the two.

While I expect I’ll discover more root causes as I keep chewing on what I just went through in the first half of the year, I’m hopeful that explanation of how I’ve unpacked all of this helps anyone out there struggling with depression, or that is close to someone who is struggling with depression. It’s incredibly hard to get to the root causes when you are depressed, but moments of clarity arise at unexpected times.

  • Elizabeth Kraus

    Great post Brad and as always, thanks for talking about this. I’ve listed a few more causes that I had put together for an article on entrepreneur/angel investor depression that I’m working on (below), but after reading your post, I’ve come up with another:

    The need to create something that is “yours”: I think you are spot on about the need to have space to learn, but I also find that I start to go downhill when I don’t have the opportunity to use my creativity to actually create
    something that is a reflection of myself and my community. Like you, I look forward to the times when I can learn instead of being the teacher, but equally, if not more important, is the opportunity to reflect on what I’ve
    learned and create something from it. Whether it’s an article about my experience or a new business solution, I have to have the space to create something that I can feel ownership of.

    This might resonate with you too. Additionally, these are the four causes I had come up with before. Just food for thought:

    As people who are designed to be entrepreneurs, we are both blessed and cursed with the following:

    1) The ability to push ourselves until we break: I, like many entrepreneurs, have been blessed and cursed with the ability to simultaneously run a business, train for a half ironman, and attend to family and friends — all while
    operating on an average of four hours of sleep. But, as evidenced by the fact that I have arthritis at the age of 31, it doesn’t mean that I should. This constant pushing results in super highs, but also in deep adrenaline-crashing
    lows.

    2) A cloud of guilt when we don’t push to our breaking point: I am efficient, laser-focused
    and über-motivated. I get an incredible satisfaction from checking as many things off my list as I possibly can. If by
    Friday night, I am not completely exhausted, I feel an overwhelming cloud of guilt for not pushing myself to the near (or sheer) breaking point I’ve grown to expect from myself.

    3) Our need to be and feel valuable: I experienced my biggest bout with depression after
    one of my businesses failed, but ironically, it wasn’t the failure that put me into depression. It was my inability to find the next fulfilling and challenging thing. As an entrepreneur, I have this overwhelming need to see progress every day – from myself and from others I have added value to. When I lost that opportunity, I lost my feeling of self-worth. I see this frequently with angel investors who have recently exited from their startup.

    4) Overwhelming requests for our value: The flip side of #3 is that when you are successful
    and recognized for adding value, you are inundated with requests for help. Whether it is requests from employees and customers as an entrepreneur, or requests from entrepreneurs as angel investor — these requests can be suffocating.

    Thanks again for starting the conversation!

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      3 and 4 definitely are in the mix with me. As an introvert, I run smack into this all the time.

    • mattemmi

      Great insight Elizabeth. I (physically) ran into a brick wall as a child. I think it marks the start of my progress down Item #1.

  • Bill Guschwan

    Did you hit your head in bike accident? Depression can be correlated to head trauma. That is simple biology cause. A mindful cause may be your relationship to suffering. Boredom is not to be avoided, as it creates awareness in the moment. If you become aware and curious when boredom arises you transform boredom into an ally that can help you make minor changes in the moment to be mindful. It’s in the moment that you have control. These small changes as BJ Fogg might say helps transform who is around you as context is decisive. Zappa had a quote about context having to do with jerks surrounding you can cause mental afflictions. That you are so busy is indication that you might be distracting yourself from embracing your suffering, the suffering we all have. An access to that Is knowIng life suffering of your parents and grandparents. It takes 3 generations. Can you interview them to find their suffering? A systems view of depression as opposed to you as a unIt is a lens that can open up secrets that manifest in your body. Compassion developed for their suffering can give you insight into your suffering, so you can cradle your suffering lovingly in your arms. Best wishes. Bill

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Yup – I did hit my head (cracked my bike helmet.) That definitely contributed – I had a vision of my brain banging around in my skull for several weeks. My grandparents are all dead so it’s a little tough to chase things back beyond my parents, and there’s plenty of psychology just in that interaction.

      • Bill Guschwan

        Sorry to hear about head trauma. Here is article about correlation, http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/05/18/brain.injury.depression/index.html I am sure there are other articles.

        Love ( as represented by Ophelia) is a stream that courses through the peaks of the grandparents. If the love stream is as deep as the Nile, then a head trauma may not trigger depression. It is absorbed int the waters of love. If it is but a mere creek, then it is time to make a canal! If you don’t know the source of your love, then you are at the mercy and whims of things.

        “Love is all there is” You gotta get real with your parents. To do that I suggest a conversation with your parents about your grandparents first. Set a second one to talk about them. You can use Jim McCarthy investigate protocol. Ask only “what” questions of your parents about them and their parents. If you find a why question just rephrase as a what question. What were they like? What problems did they have? What memories?

        Finally “being”comes before “doing”. Who you are being is more important than what you are doing. (Applies to your startup community theory too btw) If you can “be” love with your parents by listening deeply to what is their life, then there is nothing to “do”. It is up to you to choose to “be” love with them.

        To be or not to be, that is the question…
        But that the dread of something after death ( of my ego by not making my parents wrong)
        The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
        No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
        And makes us rather bear those ills we have
        Than fly to others that we know not of?
        Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
        And thus the native hue of resolution
        Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
        And enterprise of great pitch and moment
        With this regard their currents turn awry
        And lose the name of action. — Soft you now,
        The fair Ophelia ( or love in your case)! — Nymph, in thy orisons
        Be all my sins remembered.

  • http://www.seeingbothsides.com bussgang

    Great post, Brad. Your raw honesty continues to be an inspiration to us all. We all go through ups and downs and the triggers can be very subtle. Have you ever read Tal Ben Shahar’s book Happier (http://amzn.to/151dUVJ)? He has a suggestion in it regarding keeping a “Happiness Journal” that I have found a very powerful tool as a daily reminder of all my blessings. Good luck staying at the right ratios!

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Thx Jeff. I haven’t read Happier yet – just grabbed it for my Kindle.

      • Lawrence Abeyta

        Along the same thread, but more specific than counting my blessings, I have taken note of my root cause of happiness at work. As much as I enjoy all aspects of a startup, solving problems with software is what makes me tick and is when I find myself really excited. So my wife, and CEO, decided that I need to make sure I am spending enough time on architecture as well as operations. (In fact, she sat down with every employee to make sure she understood what makes them tick.) Maybe you do this already, but have you stopped lately when you are really jazzed and pinpointed the root of it?

  • John Fein

    Thanks for another honest and insightful post. I can definitely relate to your paragraph about the 80/20 rule. I’m experiencing the same tedium/boredom problem and am working hard to change it. But it’s comforting to know it affects others as well.

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    Great confessional Brad. Was seeing Jerry a catalyst to this post :) He has this ability to make one think in the right direction.

    When you think deeply about yourself, these moments of clarity are temporary, but golden. Snapping them like you is very valuable. Communicating to others is even more impactful. Thanks.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      I’ve been ruminating on the post for a while but dinner with Jerry last night prompted me to write it.

      • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

        He’s a #mind #catalyst :)

  • Laurent

    Take care Brad.

  • williamhertling

    Thanks for continuing to share. I am amazed at your level of self-reflection and insight.

    One thing that’s helped me with the 80/20 rule and with boredom is focusing on the top 1, 2, or 3 things that I can do each day that generate the highest value, and then doing those before I do any of the repetitive or bullshit work. Once they’re done, I give myself permission to spend the rest of my day how I want, whether that’s taking care of the mundane, or going after some area of passion or fun.

  • Josh

    Depression is a complex disease, and as you point out, has many individual triggers. The disease can be episodic or chronic, and treatments can vary both between individuals and for one person over time. It is important for us as a people to move mental health discussions out of the taboo column, and I thank you for stepping up (again).

  • http://techstars.com/ DavidCohen

    I remember vividly sitting at Haagan Daz near the start of this episode. We were starting out at Broadway and you said “I’m just bored.” So you knew this already then, but perhaps not how much of an impact it was having on you. I remember saying to Jil on our walk home that I was surprised you were bored since you have so much control over what you work on vs let others do instead.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Sometimes the problem is staring you in the face! Well – a lot of the time.

      • http://fullcontact.com/ Bart Lorang

        Well, add Haagen Daz to the ‘Root Causes’ list. Two Spoons is the only way to go in Boulder.

  • http://www.matthewshobe.com/ mshobe

    FWIW, you ran the hell out of that Detroit marathon. Strongest finish of the three we’ve run.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Thx. Totally crazy that I nailed it, especially how depleted I was.

  • http://jorgetorres.com/ Jorge M. Torres

    Brad, thanks for sharing and putting your struggle out there. Not enough people do this. In October 2012, you came out to NYC and spoke to our class of Kauffman Fellows about your journey. FWIW, it meant a lot to me and many of classmates, and for many of us, it was the highlight of our two years of meeting and learning from top practitioners in the venture industry. You’re having an impact on shaping the next generation, and I just wanted you to know that. Hope you have many more moments of clarity and happiness doing what you love.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Thx. I remember that talk fondly – it was a full day in NY and it was a nice break from the rest of the madness, sweat, and humidity.

  • http://rapidresearch.me/ Bryan Hackett

    I’ve found an inverse relationship between predictability/repetition and my overall well being. I don’t think the human brain evolved to stay in the highly resource intensive “analytic mode” for weeks, months on end with downtime. We all need a varying combination of physical activity, new mental stimuli, and rest to maintain balance in our lives.

    There is some interesting research in the field of neuroscience to support this view.

    “The depressed brain, Leuchter said, maintains its ability to form functional connections but loses the ability to turn these connections off. This inability to control how brain areas work together may help explain some of the symptoms in depression,”

    from: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/hyperactivity-in-brain-may-explain-228954.aspx

    • panterosa,

      I have just heard about some very interesting new targeted electric brain therapy. I wonder if shutting some of those over worn paths is part of the reboot. I’m no expert, but I sense there is a connection.

      • http://rapidresearch.me/ Bryan Hackett

        I agree, although It is a little counterintuitive to accept that depression may stem from hyperactivity in the brain given that the outward symptoms are a decrease in activity(physical, emotional, mental).

        It makes sense that depression remedies involve restoring healthy sleep patterns(to allow the brain to repair) and moderating screen time(to avoid excessive stimulation) probably work by disconnecting/rebalancing brain activity.

        I found the original study on PLOS ONE if you are interested in learning more.

        http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0032508

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Fascinating – great article.

  • http://blog.tomhigley.com tomhigley

    I have always been grateful for how open and transparent you are about many things. Not trivial things. Deep, important things. But I have most marveled at your ability to manage as your circle of influence and connections has grown. I don’t know anyone who does this as extensively and as well as you. Both the 80/20 | 20/80 rule and the learning/teaching pieces of this resonate with me.

    But the other thing this post calls to mind is something I noticed back in 2000. At the time, Raj and I had started Latis, and together we had raised $21 million, a significant Series A round. Within six to nine months, though, you could see things in the marketplace that were still unclear to me and to others. The bubble that some saw as *about* to burst already *had* burst, and you knew it.

    I marveled at the scope of that visibility (out to the future’s horizon), and I knew it had saved the company. It was also clear to me – even then – that you were far better connected than most of the investors and entrepreneurs I knew and that you were tapping sources of information that weren’t readily available to others.

    But now I wonder if that kind of prescience doesn’t take its toll. Does it cause you to have to deal, over and over again, with people who are convinced they know what they’re talking about but don’t see the tsunami that is about to hit them? And these days, that prescience includes another dimension. Back then you were smart and were connected to many more smart people than most. But today, you also have the benefit of far more experience – your 10,000 hours times some multiplier – and that has to make the awareness gap even more difficult, like operating at Warp factor 9 when nearly everyone else is still constrained by the speed of light.

    Thanks for the post.

    • http://www.derekscruggs.com/ DJ

      Heh, I remember those Latis days, thinking how “easy” it had been for you to get so much money. To your credit, you guys recognized the coming storm, kept your powder dry and transitioned into a completely different company.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      It’s a powerful construct – and a correct one. When I reflect on some of the conversations I’ve had this week, they are reflective of this, but in a different context. As I’ve gotten older, I’m less constrained by the macro, and more focused on helping entrepreneurs build companies that are resilient in any macro environment. But it’s really hard – and the 9,435rd time I try to modulate the inappropriate or excessive scale-up of a company, or the mismatch of current product and customer, or a different version of the same type of conflict between investor and founder, a little bit of my soul dies. And I need to find something, somewhere, that helps it regenerate.

      • http://petegrif.tumblr.com/ Pete Griffiths

        Holy crap, Brad. Please excuse my presumption but if every time something that is so common in your world causes a little piece of your soul to die, something has to change. That sounds really unhealthy. I’m not sure that the answer to something that regularly dysfunctional is some kind of adjunct activity to regenerate.

  • jusben1369

    I wonder if completely exhausting yourself physically shouldn’t get more weight in your root cause analysis. Endurance events have had strong long term effects on me.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Good point – I definitely come back to this on a regular basis. I trace the start of the episode back to the 50 mile race I did in April 2012. This summer I’ve been exercising, but “goallessly” – just enjoying being outside and moving my body. That has felt really good – both to enjoy the sun and the warm and not feel like I’m training for something.

      • jusben1369

        I used to do century and 150 mile bike rides (or 50 mile MTB events). But it took me a full week to get back to feeling not wiped out – more if I had work travel in the following week. I was affected in two ways. One, the most obvious, was that I was super low energy for 7 – 10 days and not much fun to be around period. The other, not so obvious, was I didn’t ride for many days after to recover etc (and frankly I had no interest) I realized that had a compounding effect. Like many people my rides every other day are my step back and thinking periods resulting in a physical and mental reset and “the world’s not so bad I just solved some problems” attitude. So just when I need those the most (I’m in a funk due to exhaustion from the big event) I cut them out inadvertently.

        The cure is shorter, faster races. At 44 that sounds paradoxical but heck it’s never about winning anything anyway. It does give me a goal to contextualize my training and motivation around. And it gives me a sense of achievement and race day etc and things I did well and can improve on for next time. But it doesn’t completely deplete me. 3 days later I’m back on the bike for an hour spin/recovery and into my old routine.

        Food for thought!

  • http://startedinseattle.com/ ChetCrunch

    Great post, thanks for sharing. I’ve been struggling with the 80/20 rule over the past few months, in part due to starting an amazing new job at UP Global, and this is a great kick in the pants. Any tips on how to maintain a work-life that consistently has this balance? I was just talking with Marc Nager about this last week and he suggested blocking time off on your calendar every week. That’s been helpful thus far, but tips are always appreciated. Anxiety, anxiety go away; come back another day. :)

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Re: Work-life balance – I’m striving for “harmony” or “integration” at this point, not “balance.” I think the word balance is too loaded, and not flexible enough. Amy and I have talked about this a lot lately – and we wrote about it in Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur – http://startuprev.com/lifebook.

  • Chris J Snook

    Brad these two insights of the root cause are profound for you and I acknowledge your commitment, courage and willingness to not only dig but to share with your extended community. I can see elements of my own fatigue at points over a 13 year career having similar roots and although fortunately I have not had to battle a long term bout with depression, I can see where I have been very vulnerable or on the brink at times in the past due to similar causality. This is a great seed to plant in veteran and early stage entrepreneurs who I often akin to elite athletes that must push their limits daily, but can also run the risk of ‘overtraining inbalances’. To compete at high levels we all must live and work on the edge of our capacity, but remember that ‘off the edge’ can have devastating consequences to our momentum and health. Keep taking good and better care of yourself. You are a priceless resource to our communities and I thank you for all that you do.
    Chris

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Thx. The athlete metaphor totally works for me, especially since I trace the beginning of this recent episode back to the 50 mile race I ran in April 2012 that I never really recovered from.

  • Cherish Edwards

    Hello Brad, you read a blog I wrote recently, and shared that it was a powerful story. In that one sentence, you showed that you were both teacher and student. — student because you valued the lesson, and teacher because your words have power. It’s a profound balance. While I too continue to struggle for answers in this startup life, I appreciate the methodical and practical information you’ve provided that has delivered you from your depression. It’s not something that’s part of the entrepreneurial tribal identity – we’re too eager for optimism; but it is a theme of life. “I prefer not to,” is not the answer.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Thx – and keep writing – so I can keep learning!

    • Jason

      Ask Brad about screen image weaponry, a mobile retail store full of mobile products, and a yoga network. Ask him about threatening people with screen image weaponry.

      • Jason

        I keep writing dont i Brad.

  • http://blog.kwiqly.com/ James Ferguson @kWIQly

    Brad,
    As ever I appreciate you “putting it out there”.

    Many people never diagnosed as “depressed”, have fought with issues that a health professional might describe as such.

    I am not sure these labels are necessarily helpful (especially in environments where resilience is necessary and execution against apparently insuperable objects is worn as a badge of honour).

    Clearly depression is not unique to entrepreneurs, but I do think there are some factors that are specific to anyone trying to promote a new vision (or in the extreme a new world order).

    Anyone who stands against received wisdom (a potential disruptive agent) is at first in a minority, at least initially lacks traction aka credibility and is in some respect heretic and therefore a threat to incumbents.

    I am aware that you take a position of being very clear about a “no” when it comes to funding – this is the key to reducing unnecessary distress. You may have reasons that do not relate to the credibility of a proposal. But again, your “no” may be the trigger to healthy disillusionment. These two cases merit very distinct treatment.

    A) I think you should move on
    B) You may be on to something but we cant, wont invest for other reasons.

    In my (not so humble) opinion, the biggest threat to the stability of an entrepreneur is lack of honest feedback. The distinction between these two classes of “no” may be the difference between dashing the hopes and aspirations of a great idea, or saving an often stressed individual a lot of further distress seeking something which will not happen.

    I believe it would be a great service to the eco-system if VCs etc wore a “feedback integrity pledge” badge in clear sight, and if they could be called on BS when it occurs.

    For the record I take your typical blog stance to suggest just this (and I would include fred wilson, chris dixon, mark suster and one or two others in this camp) and applaud you for it.

    To be clear a consistent message and reputation compatible with the same, do indeed lend comfort.

    So I am glad you are back “firing on all cylinders” and hope you continue to push for integrity even when it hurts.

    Well played !

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      I love the notion of a “feedback integrity pledge.” If you never saw my post on Grinfucking, take a look at http://www.feld.com/archives/2012/02/grinfucking.html

      My public version of the FIP is to ask – after most public talks I give – the following:

      “If I said anything you disagree with, think was confusing, stupid, or just plain wrong, please tell me. I won’t take offense – don’t sugar coat it – just tell me. That’s the best way for me to learn and get smarter.”

      It’s so much more satisfying – at least to me – to cut through the noise and bullshit and just deal straight.

  • http://www.objectmethodology.com/ ObjectMethodology.com

    Join the club! Fifteen years ago I was focused and excited about computing technology and the innovations ahead. After working as an employee for 10 years I was disgusted with technology and just about everything else. Alcohol became the only “downtime-funtime”.
    .
    After I realized that being an employee was forcing me to be someone I wasn’t. I immediately started to see things properly again. I started to focus on what I could contribute and how I could help others. You’re lucky you only wasted a few months. I wasted years!
    .
    Boredom is a real problem. Not only for you but for everyone. The real key, I think, to combating boredom, depression, or whatever. Is to be sure you know who you are and that you’re living according to that understanding of yourself.
    .
    You can put me on your list of contacts if ever you’re feeling sluggish again. No strings attached.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Thx – I appreciate you being there if / when this happens again.

  • Will

    Brad,
    I’m one of those readers that has never needed anything from you or your fund–my purpose in reading has simply been to listen to an outside voice on ideas within the industry, to observe how obstacles are faced and overcome, and to follow a human narrative in the process. Working with executives and their problems can be exhausting, and the best sources of fresh electricity crackling in my brain tend to come from outside sources with no political or power dynamics at play.

    As both an introvert and a consultant, it’s pretty frequent that I can go weeks where the majority of my interactions are with those who want something from me, or have expectations of our interactions. I love my work, and I’m good at it, but when the battery drains it drains hard.

    To that end, it feels like an appropriate time to say that I appreciate both your candor and your clarity. Not just in this post, but in the body of your work. What is drained from you recharges others. Or at least, it has me.

    It is the curse of those who matter to continually flirt with the brittle edge of their personal resources. Dark waters to navigate, for sure. Thanks for sharing your story and your ideas as you wrestle through it.

    • RBC

      great comment!

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Will – thx. I agree with @RBC:disqus that this is a great comment – really powerful – and a really nice.

  • http://mattamyers.tumblr.com/ Matt A. Myers

    This sounds a lot like burnout (from not giving enough time connecting with your body, getting out of your mind/head), which then leads to depression.

    Do you do yoga at all? A regular yoga practice – whether it is something vigorous (yang) – or more yin or restorative classes – is a good time to reflect, and maintain health – emotional, mental, physical – and is a great benchmark to see where you’re at at any given time. This is in part why I like certain styles of yoga that follow the same sequence of postures every class, as it allows you to see what’s different (not necessarily good nor bad).

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Yup – and a lot of people refer to depression as “burnout.” They are different for me – burnout is physical and emotional exhaustion that can be solved by rest. I don’t go through the excruciating phase when I’m burned out, and joylessness never sets in.

      I’ve never developed a yoga practice. I intermittently do yoga with Amy, but it’s random and not consistent. I’ve also never developed a meditation practice. But my isolation tank floating is starting to become one, and is very satisfying.

      • http://mattamyers.tumblr.com/ Matt A. Myers

        “Your body does so much for you, what do you do for your body?” Likewise, can switch body out for mind. :)

        You should ask Fred (Wilson) about it. He does (tries to) yoga 2-3 times per week.

        I usually suggest to people to try a few different styles of yoga, and a few different instructors, to see what they like best, what they prefer, what is best for them at the moment – what’s the most helpful, which can change based on time of day, types of activities you’ve been doing, etc.. it just takes a bit of time to figure out, though it’s all good and healthy while exploring and discovering.

  • http://startuphappiness.com/ Dale Larson

    Completely agree about the flip from learning as learning to teaching as learning, but couldn’t quite follow the conclusion of that paragraph. What changed for you when you realized you needed to stop separating them and that they were inextricably linked? And how did what you were doing before contribute to your depression?

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      I’ve been saying for years that the best mentor – mentee relationship is when both the mentor and the mentee learn from each other – specifically, when it’s a “peer relationship.” So my fundamental construct of “learning” is that it is best balanced with “teaching.”

      But I internalized this differently – I was teaching so much and learning so little during this stretch, that I was starved for learning. And when I thought about it, I was frustrated that I was learning so little.

      I missed that my teaching was just part of the cycle of learning. While I wasn’t necessarily learning in the moment, if I took my learning + teaching as a single thing, I was no longer frustrated by the lack of learning. However, I only realized this in hindsight – at the time I felt oppressed (and correspondingly depressed) by my lack of learning.

      Going forward I have solidified my view that they are the same construct / the same activity – just opposite sides of the coin.

  • Meredith Collins

    So many people are scared of it and resist, but serious introspection often has an even bigger payoff that you expect – somehow you find yourself set free from STUFF you didn’t even know was holding you down. Kudos to you for making the effort and finding the place where you can thrive again.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Thx – I agree. That’s part of the value – at least to me – of reflecting on this. I’m not infatuated with either being depressed, or thinking about being depressed. But I am desirable of – as you say – of “setting myself free from stuff that’s holding me down.”

  • panterosa,

    I am curious about the relationship, in your mind, of the inbox/outbox flow imbalance from leaning and teaching as it relates to boredom, repetitive task as well as lack of new things. The added twist of physical pushing to exhaustion makes this interesting. I’m seeing an image of an engine, fueling, firing, alternating going out of rhythm.

    I have been grappling with this myself as the build company takes too much time from my core product role as a maker.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      The engine metaphor is a good one – I like it. Pistons not firing in sync. And – the maker/manager imbalance – especially when one deeply enjoys being a maker – resonates.

    • http://mattamyers.tumblr.com/ Matt A. Myers

      I find it becomes an issue when maintenance on said engine is ignored. Not only that, but as you take on more you have more responsibility, more stresses, and so you actually need to either a) spend more time on maintenance, or b) increase the ‘size of the reservoir’ / depth and ability of turning back into a healthy, balanced, relaxed state – in management of you. This in part means increasing self-awareness, not through the mind, but through the body – which is what the counter-balance to mind is.

      This is all why I’m going to try my damned hardest to get everyone in the world doing yoga during my lifetime – it’s just so damn important and helps us excel individually, and function better as a society. :)

  • Al Arendt

    I do not suffer from depression but sympathize with those that do. I have seen the effects with members of my wife’s family. I recently read (and recommend) “Anatomy of an Epidemic”. The author makes a compelling argument for how the long term results of antidepressant use show that doctor’s over-prescribe the drugs and the pharmaceutical companies (and lobby) turn what should be an episodic event into a chronic medical condition. The have recently expanded their TAM to children. After antidepressants hit the market, depression and drug induced side-effects (bipolar) have increased. These drugs can do good, but according to this study they are over-prescribed by as much as 5X.

  • Petahfrancis

    I just don’t believe this explanation. You believe (like so many others) that you can identify the problem and analytically ‘think’ yourself out of that mental construct.

    Your mind at your age is still pretty sharp (I can tell).

    I don’t think you can analyse the problem and think yourself out of it – simply too simplistic. I am glad you have moved to the sunlit uplands, but you didn’t think yourself out of it – accept that you just got better.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/TomLabus Tom Labus

    Yes, but if you went to a more balanced life style it may help keep those roots causes (known and unknown) at bay. That may be the human condition to find a route in life that enables you and those around you to feel at least OK about things.

  • http://WWW.FAKEGRIMLOCK.COM FAKE GRIMLOCK

    YOU ARE NOT UNLIMITED RESOURCE.

    USE IT ALL UP, BECOME SOMEONE ELSE.

  • Jason

    Hey Brad, why don’t you talk about screen image weaponry you use on potential investment prospects. Ask Brad about a mobile retail store full of smartphone connected products or a yoga network, or a mma network, or buying of google mapping system apis?

  • Jason

    Why I am being attacked and
    psy-ed on to no end with drones and people that shouldn’t have access to my
    account data. A while back I sent out a couple emails to potential investors
    the Foundry group, Niel Patel with Quicksprouts and John Mcafee regarding a
    mobile retail store full of mobile products, a way to capitalize on Google
    maps, a way to capitalize the mobile app markets and a plan for auto
    dealerships to market their dealerships to the fullest potential. These ideas
    from my perspective are worth 100’s of millions of dollars if not 100’s of
    billions of dollars due to the growing mobile technology sector. The Google
    maps project would have gave me my own NSA network and I would had untold
    amounts of data on the human population. A mobile retail store would have been
    full of products connected to the smartphone, this would be worth untold
    millions. After I sent these emails out my account data started going hay-wire.
    I couldn’t get emails out and started fidgeting due to uncontrollable anxiety
    attacks from hate threats from people in my mind. They would tell me they
    didn’t want me getting rich without them and gave me hell for everything I
    did. I let it go and moved out of my house after I was receiving psy
    attacks from people saying they were cannibals and there were going to kill me.
    The people I lived with I do not think were threatening me but were being
    manipulated into saying they were going to kill me and that isn’t funny. After
    I left I moved up to Boulder and was sleeping outside and started receiving
    techno advanced attacks on my mind from screen image weaponry being used to
    manipulate me. There were demons coming down from the sky ripping my body apart
    from screen image weaponry that relays data to peoples brains and makes them
    see images in the night sky. This technology is so advanced that if used on the
    American people in a crowd they would most likely start shooting at these
    images thinking satan had arrived on the planet. If done a less technological
    advanced society like Hezbolla there would be a chance that these godly people
    would go haywire, it is in my intuition that they used screen imagery weaponry
    and had sent little kids jumping off cliffs in fear of their life. This is
    morbid technology and is scary. The next day they began threatening my life
    again phsycly, they said my Grandmother was going to die, that night they did
    to me again with a Richard Branson look alike demon that was coming after me
    with their screen image weaponry. The next day I woke up and got a call from my
    dad saying my grandma was dead. After that I went back to my hometown for her
    funeral. I was in my hometown for a while and was receiving more psy attacks,
    this was done using drones. They could see my location and everything I was
    doing. They would voice manipulate my sister and say that she told me to come
    over and pick her up, I went over there and she didn’t need to be picked up.
    While this might seem funny, this type of things hurts your psychic control
    panel, they manipulate your data flows to such a degree that they continually
    make you think things that are not there. When this happens people go hay-wire.
    When you tolerate it to long people get hurt because the voice manipulation
    software that they use on people causes them holy disturbances in their mind. What
    happens is people start thinking other people are working them over in
    accusatory way. This will cause human disruption. While I wrote this I know
    people have access to my account data. They tell me every one in the industry
    is on it because they have invested in my accounts and wanted to throw me a
    mobile surprise party, this was again under my own psycic observation. Right
    now I know for a fact my accounts have been hacked and my data has been stolen,
    I now their people like ufc fighter threating my life, I have rappers threating
    my life and everyone else saying fuck you nigga I don’t give a fuck if you die
    I want that return on my investment for investing in your mobile retail store.
    They threaten me every day in my minds eye. While this may seem uncanny promise
    you this is true and these people who set me up supposedly American investment
    firms are doing me dirty when a simple proposal would have worked.I promise you
    this screen image weaponry technology is real and psy attacks are real and they
    attack me all day long through drones with people that constantly observe what
    I do in the privacy of my own home. These people constantly attack me for every
    move I make and no remote viewing expert could conjure such a proposition in
    their mind because they see me in real time and accuse me in my minds eye. Here
    is my blog.

    http://www.mobilegenius.info/

    I wrote information on the
    ideas, I know for a fact I am a huge potential investment as anyone in their
    right mind would want to invest in these ideas. Please contact me as I
    would like to tell my story. There may be a chance you can’t see my data, if
    that is the case they are tapping my account hard. Call me, if you can’t get
    through they me be forwarding my calls to an unknown relay. I live in Denver
    and do not want this to happen to people because it causes mental disturbances
    and problems that persist log into the future because you cant relay human data
    from one person to another as they lie to me constantly and they will hurt the
    American people because it cause them emotional disruption due to neglect on
    the human psyche. These people are rich and wealthy and think they can’t be
    touched and I promise you there is a large amount of human involvement.

  • Andrew

    Brad -

    As others have said, I really appreciate and admire your willingness to talk about
    these issues so openly and thoughtfully. Great post.

    We all use particular paradigms to think about and discuss happiness, depression,
    etc. One thing I find interesting about your particular exploration of
    “root causes” here is that they are both quite external and basically
    “lifestyle” issues. However, within the paradigms I use (not to say
    they are better, just different), the search for root causes of human suffering
    must go much deeper than that and move away from merely changing the music on
    the stereo in order to find something more “pleasant”, to examining
    the stereo itself and fundamentally rewiring it. I’m talking about an approach
    to life that would prioritize meditation and other “spiritual”
    practice above business, technology, being “successful”, etc. Within
    my paradigm, brain chemistry may cause a very small % of depression (and
    perhaps it causes yours – I don’t pretend to know) but the vast majority of
    depression is actually driven by a few important, fundamental misperceptions
    about reality at an experiential level. In particular, we walk around each day
    with the perception that we have a separate, permanent self that is interacting
    with variety of other separate, permanent things. With this perception as the
    foundation of our experience, we then get caught in an endless cycle of trying
    to push away what agitates us and grab and hold what gives us pleasure. Of
    course, we know that all things are in a constant flux and flow and I believe
    the real source of lasting happiness, rather than making the “right”
    change in our external environment, is to know the true of impermanence and
    interconnectedness at an experiential (not just intellectual) level and to no
    longer be caught up in the struggle – but instead to flow with the endless
    dance. Once in this flow, we are filled with love and compassion and energy;
    that doesn’t make life perfect or pain free but it may free us from depression
    and other similar types of suffering.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents. I wanted to throw it in to the mix because I thought this
    discussion, while fascinating, well-intentioned, and full of useful insights
    for me, felt to me to be deeply, and perhaps unconsciously, stuck in a very
    contemporary, materialistic, externally-focused, western paradigm, which, while
    full of many merits, has severe limits and surely has caused more depression
    than any other paradigm in human history. You clearly have a genius for
    blowing the box wide open on so many topics, why not blow things open on the “spiritual”
    side too? You could be a wonderful role model (in even more ways than you are
    already) to many.

    Rock on.

  • Mathieu Gosselin

    That’s very impressive for me that you could share all that so openly. I think it’s going to help open up the subject a lot. That impress me. And i’m not trying to grinfuck you ;-)

    Personally the thing that get my cpu running, is that a guy who’s had that much success in life as you could suffer from depression and in relatively short period of time.
    Also the fact that you’re doing all those things: Marathons, hiking, travelling, doesn’t feel like the behavior of someone who could just catch depression all of a sudden.
    We often associate depression with someone not feeling like doing anything, not believing in oneself and slowly getting into this, it usually take time to settle into a depression. Apart from it being post traumatic stress disorder, it takes time to ‘build’.

    I wouldn’t want to pretend i know, because i don’t know much about your circumstances, but would that be possible that this is more a burn out, than a depression? Labels matter.
    Just raising a question if you still trying to figure out the why.
    Because there might not be a real deep underlying issue like traditional psychology/psychoanalysis sometimes want to make us believe, (and sometimes it might be doing more harm than good, just focusing on what could be wrong), but it could simply be physical causes? Simply mental and physical exhaustion?

    Our brain is an organ like all others. And if you felt exhausted physically, there are really good chances that mentally it wouldn’t work so well either. And plainly doing all the things you seem to be doing, personally i would not be able to keep up. I can’t even run 20 Kms and i’m 30 ;-)

    But if you go for the deeper root, could that be a security mechanism from your brain telling you to slow down?
    That more isn’t the answer even if it’s a more you appreciate more. That there might be a need for balance.
    Well both of the 80/20 rule and keeping learning, is about doing more of the things you like, which is great, and look like working, but still more.
    The whole 50 miles marathon, hiking thing, the non-existant week ends etc… seems to me just by reading you like a need to be do things that’s almost pushed to a pathological level. ;-) <- wink
    Maybe figuring out why is that so could be the remaining ingredient?

    Once again, i don't know enough to be able to claim anything, so that's just an idea.

  • http://bsoi.st/ bsoist

    I’m sorry I didn’t say this sooner, but I am glad you are doing better, and as always, I very much appreciate your honest reflections. I learn a LOT by reading posts like this. Thank you!

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Thx!

  • Noah Herbison

    Well, I’d like to thank Frodo, Sam, Noah Becker, Luke, Han, Solo, Darth, Vader, Children of Men, Philip Pullman, Lyra, the Alethiometer, and finally, I would like to thank the Present Moment, for Always Being There.

  • Ray

    I have always remember Coach Vince Lombardi’s line – “Fatigue makes cowards of us all”. I have to pay attention to when tired becomes fatigued.

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