December Depression

December is a tough time of year for a lot of people. While the holidays are awesome for some, they are really hard for others.

I know a lot of people around me who are anxious, upset, stressed, or some other version of “not in a good place.” Some of it is the holidays, some is the end of the year, some is the outcome of the US election, and some is other things.

This morning I woke up to two good articles on mental health. I’m quoted widely, along with some of my personal story, in the Fortune Magazine article by Laura Entis titled Entrepreneurs Take on DepressionAs a bookend, I was told in the article Mental health and relationships ‘key to happiness’ that a new London School of Economics study has determined that “good mental health and having a partner make people happier than doubling their income.”

Yesterday my partners and I had our quarterly offsite. A big part of it is what we now call a “partner check in” where we answer the question “How am I?” This answer can cover any dimension – personal, interpersonal, professional. It can be 1:1 with someone else, it can be with 1:2, or 1:3. It can cover one’s relationship with a spouse, kids, or family. It can be something in our head, heart, body, or soul. It can be very specific – an interaction dynamic with a CEO or founder – or something general, abstract, or even mysterious.

I wore a shirt with my favorite Helen Frankenthaler quote to remind me of our rules around our partner check in (and my approach to life in general.)

Helen Frankenthaler - There are no rules

I’m in a good place so I was able to listen more than talk yesterday, which is probably a relief to my partners.

Even though some aspects of 2016 have been awesome, we all have agreed that we are ready to put 2016 in the books and move on to 2017. As we each talked about “How am I?” we recalled a number of traumatic, stressful, and anxiety producing events in the past year. We are all getting older so more health issues are appearing in our extended network of friends, so learning how to deal with them is becoming more important. Modulating the macro, especially post election, has become a more central theme for each of us.

There were a lot of specific things discussed that aren’t appropriate for me to write about, but the discussion reinforced with me how powerful the EQ of each of my partners is and my thankfulness that we have a level of emotional intimacy that we comfortably refer to as both business love and personal love.

For me, it cycles back to relationships. My relationship with my wife Amy grounds and centers me. My relationship with my partners allows me to be myself and spend time in an organization that provides me with continuous love, even against a backdrop of the endless stress, conflict, challenges, and struggle of entrepreneurship. While my extended family, which goes beyond just my parents and my brother (and now includes the spouses and kids of my partners), has its moments (like all families), it’s a source of profound joy for me much of the time.

December used to be very difficult for me. For many years, I fought the transition to the new year, was generally exhausted at the end of the year, and just wanted to hide. I described myself as a “cranky jewish kid who felt left out by Christmas.” At the end of 2012 I slipped into a deep depression that lasted six months. I learned a lot from that experience, and view it as my fundamental transition into middle age.

While I still don’t engage in Christmas, I now treasure the last few weeks of the year, as I reflect on the past year and get ready for the year to come. But, if you are feeling some December blues, or even depression, don’t fight it. Instead, do something for yourself. Be reflective. Let the emotions exist. And be encouraged that, like me, you can get to a better place, but it can take time.

Also published on Medium.

  • Good thoughts as always Brad. I’ve read a few books this year that take on the theme of taking responsibility for things. Not just actions, but in how you CHOOSE to think about those actions. I am coming to grips with the idea that there is so much good and bad in this noisy world, that its an imperative that we CHOOSE what we want to focus on, feel good or bad about. Like everything, its about perspective, which is a choice, not a consequence.

    • I like the framework of “choice” vs. “consequence.” Two words we used yesterday a lot were “thoughtful” and “deliberate” which are each about choice.

  • Love this! Thank you for sharing, such helpful reminders for me… I particularly loved this paragraph:
    “For me, it cycles back to relationships. My relationship with my wife Amy grounds and centers me. My relationship with my partners allows me to be myself and spend time in an organization that provides me with continuous love, even against a backdrop of the endless stress, conflict, challenges, and struggle of entrepreneurship.”

    That pretty much sums up my goal in my work these days. Creating the relationships around me that allow me to be myself even against a backdrop of endless stress, conflict, challenges and struggle, and in those relationships we can create some laughter too.

    Thanks Brad. Happy New Year.

    • Miss ya! Happy new year to you.

  • Alexander_Peschkoff

    Another great insight, Brad. Thank you for sharing!

    I guess “expectations management” is part of the equation too. When I was training professionally as a pole vaulter – I was lucky to train alongside the future long-reigning world champion, Sergey Bubka – day in, day out we were taught to set the bar MUCH higher than one can clear. Every day we were aiming at the impossible – which made it easy to clear the bar set at a “normal” height at the competition.

    I still set my bar high. Often – too high. That sometimes leaves a bitter taste in my mouth as “normal” success feels… normal (i.e. plain). Where does one draw the line between being realistically optimistic and constantly reaching the horizon?..

    • It’s a challenge. I’ve had some version of this conversation a bunch of times around budgets this year – revenue and sales for 2017. I like to set the target at a level that’s appropriate for the context and the behavior I am trying to motivate.

  • Thx. Good link. Amy and I talk about soul often.

  • nice thoughts I agree with. Worry about the things you have control over. Don’t fret about the things you can’t control or you will drive yourself crazy. Try to create a process around things you feel unsteady about-and it will limit your ability to panic. Sending you a virtual chocolate chip l cookie because everyone’s insides feel a little warmer when you eat a chocolate chip cookie

  • panterosa,

    I’ve always hosted a Solstice party, as the agnostic child of Jewish and English parents. The shortest day brings with it ever longer days, it’s almost a way to reset at bottom on the way up again, an inherent optimism maybe?

    Today is Santa Lucia, and we go with our family friends, Swedes. Something so zen about this pagan moment of candlelight and young voices to push hope back to center after a really weird year.

  • Dana J

    This post couldn’t resonate with me more. It’s been in many ways a good year personally: I feel like I’ve done a ton of productive things, contributing both to my growth and to the student community I’m a part of. We’re in good shape for the start of next year in many ways. I feel like I should take a moment and pat myself on the back…
    …but then my anxieties creep in… Our fundraising efforts haven’t been as fruitful as I would have liked, and that’s making me super nervous for whether we can achieve what we’ve planned for 2017. In that I could have done better this year. I feel anxious about certain aspects of my health – I wish I could take care of myself more. Most of all, I miss my husband, who is now an ocean away. I know coming back to him in the evening would provide so much more comfort. I am most jealous of you in that sense, Brad!
    Stepping back I am however grateful for where I am right now and I know objectively that I am just so much better off than many people. I wish everyone a peaceful end to the year and here’s hoping for a great 2017!

  • davideous

    The winter solstice is in December, so it’s the month of minimum sunlight. I think this is a contributing factor for many people.

    I typically have a “winter blues” and over the years I’ve connected it to the lack of sunlight. I’ve been very intentional this year about getting more light, and I believe it has helped. I’ve spent time working outside or near big windows. I’ve setup some intense artificial light in my office — 19k lumens high color temperature (5k and 6.5k) LED bulbs right above my workstation.

    Here is what I’ve used in my office:

    I hope this helps someone.

  • Ryan D

    Thank you Brad.
    December and the holiday season is always a very difficult time of year for me, for multiple reasons.
    It helps a little to know that I’m not the only one dealing with this.
    I can only hope that I can someday get to a better place as you have been able to.
    Unfortunately, I’ve generally been much of a loner, and don’t have a partner nor many close friends whom I can share much with. And with a lack of self love, it’s pretty impossible for me to comprehend other people’s happiness for this time of year.
    These last two weeks have been particularly difficult for me.
    I don’t think I want to continue sharing more right now. Just in that end of year blues funk. Been trying to keep working and just block it out. Not working too well though. Whatever, gotta go.
    Didn’t mean to say all of this.
    I just wanted to thank you for this post.
    Wishing you the best.

    • Sending you a big hug and good karma.

      • Ryan D

        Thank you Brad. I was actually about to go and just delete that last message. But I really appreciate the sentiment. 🙂

  • Jehan

    I love Frankenthaler, to this day she still has not gotten the credit she deserves. Check out Kenzo Okada for another unsung hero from this generation.

  • George Woods Baker

    Thank you, Brad. I find myself coming back to this open tab in my browser again and again. I have shared it with family, associates and friends. Somehow it reminds me that whatever we are facing independently or collectively it’s all from the same trough calling on us to notice, but not react as everything is fluid and temporary. Checking in and sharing that process more intimately than is afforded us through SM tools is still the best medicine.