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Chris Moody, the former CEO of Gnip (now VP Data Strategy at Twitter) is doing a fun fundraising drive for the National Center for Women & Information Technology.
Yeah – I know it’s a little silly, but that’s Chris. Delightfully silly and huggable Chris.
I contributed $500 to match the first $500 Chris raises for NCWIT. As the chair of NCWIT, I appreciate his, and your, efforts.
For those of you out there who have asked “hey Brad, what can I do to help you”, get your picture taken with Chris and make a contribution to one of the non-profits I care the most about in this world.
Amy and I both feel lethargic and a little sick yesterday, so neither of us felt like doing anything or going anywhere. It might have been re-entry from 10 days on the road, it might have been the tuberculous ward that was the cabin of our airplane, or it just might have been the Sunday lazies.
So I read Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Someone – maybe the publisher – sent it in the mail to me and I got it the same weekend that I read a review of it in the New York Times Book Review. Something about it appealed to me and even though it was a 400 page fiction book that felt pretty daunting in hardcover, it still felt manageable when compared to a David Foster Wallace epic. It sat on our coffee table for a few weeks until I picked it up and demolished it yesterday.
It was awesome, up until the last 50 pages. David Shafer, the author, has a magical way with words. Paragraphs unfolded in delightful ways, often ending with a surprise phrase that tied into something else. The three protagonists were deep and complicated, especially against the backdrop of the twisted, complex, and steadily unfolding plot. While it was predictable that their lives would converge and tangle, it happened suddenly, after what seemed like interminable foreplay, which in fact is how foreplay like this should feel.
The backdrop for the book is corrupt enterprise and government stuff, but with a subtle tone that sets it apart from the normal thriller genre. WTF (its abbreviation) is literature, not cyber thriller, espionage tale, or spy/government/mental floss. There are plenty of WTF moments, and then some more, and then things come together, and then they separate, and then more WTF happens.
The collection of all information in the universe is part of it, along with a parallel “non-Internet Internet.” Oh – and there are plant-based computers that grow in the midst of a pot farm. Well – not really a pot farm, but that’s the disguise. So there’s some sci-fi mixed with drug and hippie themes. And lots and lots of stuff that feels very real, right now.
I was about four hours into the book, with about 50 pages to go, and I suddenly had the feeling that the plot wasn’t going to resolve. There were simply not enough physical pages in my right hand. With 25 pages to go, I was certain it wouldn’t resolve and I started to get a little annoyed. When it finished, I said to Amy, “that was awesome, except the ending.”
In the light of a new day, I am now looking forward to WTF the Sequel. I don’t want to wait a few years for it, and know that it might never come. But I hope that’s what Shafer is working on.
If you like real fiction, that is well written, and contemporary, especially first novels, go grab a copy of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot right now.
The comment thread on my post Founder Suicides is vibrant and full of lots of different things, including plenty of challenging stuff to read and figure out how to respond to.
My inbox was also full of private notes over the past few days. Many of them were thank yous for writing about this, some were suggestions, and a few were angry reactions to what I wrote. Regardless, I read them all and thought about them, what they meant, and what I could continue to do to be helpful on the topic of mental health, especially around entrepreneurship.
The suggestions were generally interesting. Some resonated with me and would be helpful when I’m depressed (which I’m not right now). Others wouldn’t have helped me, but might help someone else.
This morning, as I was reading through my email, I came across this one, which I decided to post as an example. It’s thoughtful, has several specific things I’ve done when I’m depressed (spend 1:1 time with friends, drink green drinks, stop caffeine, do little things that create joy for me), and represented the constructive tone of so many people that I interact with.
I hope it’s helpful to you. And – to the person who wrote it – thanks for sharing and taking the time.
“I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me that you have openly discussed depression and suicide. I would like to share with you the following if you wanted to post it on your blog anonymously –perhaps it could be helpful for someone:
What does help someone contemplating giving up on life? Looking on my facebook notifications this morning, there were two posts –one from my daughter who survived an alcohol overdose as a suicide attempt five years ago, and who I believe is grateful to still be here, and another post from a family notifying their son’s facebook friends that he had ended his life on September 30th. There but for the grace of God go I as a parent. Furthermore, I have been at the door of suicide contemplation this past year myself. I feel like I know exactly what Robin Williams was thinking before he took his own life. My depression is not the gray, non-feeling that another writer described, it has been active pain. Pain so hard and awful that you just want it to stop. The universe is punishing you and it seems like it will never be any different. So what would be helpful to me at these rock bottom times? Not well-meaning platitudes, not “change your thinking, change your life”, not more words assigning responsibility to me for creating my reality.
There are a couple of things that I have actually found to help change my spiral. Engage me in small tasks, easy tasks; chopping carrots, washing dishes, some light bookkeeping on quickbooks, something that physically engages me, or lightly mentally engages me. Even if I don’t feel like doing it, get me actively doing some rote work with my hands.
Mention to me a time when I was happy- an actual memory of a good moment. Bring that picture back to my consciousness. Remind me that there have been good times even after I have been down, they do come back. Help me see the pictures in my mind of things that have made me smile before – my cat splayed out on a lounge chair like a drunken squirrel basking in the sun for example.
Ask me to fill my body with a deep breath and let it out, emptying my belly of breath several times in a row. And then to focus on a good image. The beauty of gorgeous fall leaves that I saw on my bike ride, for example. (From the book, Forgive For Good)
For the longer term, spend time with me. We don’t have to have deep talks, just companionship. Alone-time is obsessing time, spiraling down time, too much wine drinking time.
I heard the Dalai Lama’s longtime translator speak recently and he pointed out that depressed people revolve in their cocoon of self-obsession. Compassion is a way out. I used to volunteer my time a lot, and grew away from that somehow in my life. I used to get so much from hanging with the 3-5 year olds at my church’s childcare room. What natural joie de vivre radiates from a five year old! “Would you like to do the hokey pokey? Sure!!!!” I have signed up to look into volunteering in the play room at the Ronald McDonald house. Yes, even for busy people with important jobs and positions, make time to give of oneself where you can be in the moment.
And most importantly for the long term, look at your diet and exercise. Get a coach. Someone you have to report to. I found that I had been draining my adrenal glands from too much exercise, even though I didn’t think it was too much or too hard. The first thing my health coach did was to get me to drink a green drink every day (juiced kale, celery, apple, etc) and to get in as many greens in as I could in a day. Greens chase away depression. Her philosophy is to add things first, not take them away. Over time, I have on my own started to reduce the caffeine, which could be draining my adrenals as well. I had an incredibly happy day yesterday. I want more happy days like that, so it becomes easier to give up the things that could be causing me physically to slip into the bad space. Unfortunately a lot of us rely heavily on the substances as coping strategies, so it is baby steps at first. Add in the good stuff, maybe be a little lighter on myself on the exercise piece, and let me evolve to better choices.
Thanks, Brad. I realize that everyone has different experiences of depression and pain. My little suggestions could completely not work, but if they helped someone at all change the direction of a spiral, they were worth sharing. Perhaps, you have suggestions of your own, perhaps your blog readers do – and not the naturally happy readers trying to help, those of us who have been right there, at the door of ending it. I thought your sharing of your pact with your wife to share when you were thinking suicidal thoughts was powerful. Thank you.”
After spending most of the day at littleBits yesterday, I finished it with an annual tradition that is one of my favorites.
At 6:45pm Amy and I met Joanne Wilson, Fred Wilson, Matt Blumberg, and Mariquita Blumberg at Marea for dinner. Fred and I are both on the board of Return Path, the company Matt has been running since he co-founded it in 1999. For over a decade, we’ve been having an annual dinner as a group when Amy and I are in NY, usually in the fall.
Joanne generally picks the restaurant and Amy and I are happy to defer to her excellent taste. We are staying at Columbus Circle so this year Joanne picked something within walking distance for us. As Amy and I were walking home around 9:30, we each commented on how wonderful this tradition is.
I woke up this morning thinking about annual traditions. I’m not a Hallmark holiday person, I don’t like Christmas (although I’ve learned not to be grumpy about it), Thanksgiving crushes my soul, and I’ve never really understood Easter. I’ve learned how to give awesome presents on Valentine’s Day, but I think that’s more because I’m uxorious and well-trained. So I like annual traditions that are out of step with everyone elses.
When I reflect on our dinner, and the conversation, the six of us are enjoying marking the passage of time with this tradition. We are all getting older together, a little softer looking (at least me and Matt), greying at the temples and in the beard (again for me and Matt). We started doing this before Matt and Mariquita had kids and when Fred and Joanne’s kids were pre-teens. All three of Fred and Joanne’s kids are now out of the house and they are starting the empty nest phase of their life.
While it’s amazing to watch time pass, it’s even more powerful to experience the passage of time together. While we all interact regularly, this annual dinner, which is a deeply engaged three-ish hour meal, gives us a chance to really be together, in the moment, and share what is going on. When you link it together over a decade of more of three hour slices, along with all of the other interactions, it allows us to know each other in a uniquely intimate way.
I felt real love and real joy last night. Joanne, Fred, Matt, and Mariquita – y’all are awesome friends. Thanks for being part of my life.
I know this post is going to be a downer but I think there is a lot more to be talked about regarding depression, mental health, and entrepreneurship.
I recently heard a terrifying stat about founder suicides recently. A friend told me that he’d heard of over a dozen suicides from entrepreneurs in the past few years. I didn’t press him for the specific data because I didn’t want to struggle through it, but I personally knew of three so I expected that it would add up to a dozen pretty easily.
Yesterday, I read a post titled The Downtown Project Suicides: Can the Pursuit of Happiness Kill You? It’s part of a series done by Re/code on the Downtown Las Vegas project. The series started out very positive with an article titled Downtown Las Vegas Is the Great American Techtopia but in the middle of the series Tony Hsieh Stepped Down From Lead Role at Las Vegas Downtown Project, 30% of the staff got laid off, and the articles turned negative with Factorli, an Early Casualty of the Las Vegas Downtown Project.
And yesterday, the suicide article - The Downtown Project Suicides: Can the Pursuit of Happiness Kill You? - appeared. It’s a rough one that talks about three suicides – Jody Sherman (4/13), Ovik Banerjee (1/14), and Matt Berman (4/14) – all people involved in the Vegas Tech phenomenon.
I’m saddened by the struggles around The Downtown Vegas Project. I’ve long thought, and continue to think, it’s a really interesting experiment.
But I’m really upset by the suicides. Re/code’s article is harsh and questions the Happiness philosophy of Tony Hsieh and whether it is partly responsible for the suicides. Kim Knoll who was apparently interviewed for the article has a solid response to this. But regardless of the root cause, which we can’t possibly know from the article, the fact stands that three entrepreneurs involved recently committed suicide.
First, if you are ever considering committing suicide, immediate reach out to someone and ask for help. Amy and I recommend the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you don’t know where to turn. The 800 number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
When I had my first clinical depression in my mid-20s, Amy and I set up a few rules around things. We specifically talked about suicide and I agreed that if I ever had a suicidal thought, I wouldn’t act on it. Instead, I would immediately stop what I was doing, tell Amy what I was thinking, and we’d discuss it. During this long depression, I only had one suicidal ideation, but it was while we were driving on a highway in Sedona (I was driving). I immediately pulled over to the side of the road, stopped the car, and told Amy what I was thinking. We switched seats – she drove the rest of the way, and then we had a long conversation that night. After the conversation, even though I was still very depressed, I felt immense relief and support. When we got back to our home in Boston after that vacation, I started therapy, which was incredibly helpful.
Our society still has an incredible stigma associated with depression. Anyone who has been depressed knows that it is extremely hard to describe how it feels to someone who hasn’t ever been depressed. My favorite description of depression continues to be from Hyperbole and a Half. I’ve recently started describing it as an emotional pain that is significantly worse than almost all physical pains you could imagine, especially because it seems to go on forever. And sometimes this pain is so severe that it feels like ending it all by committing suicide is the only answer.
While this isn’t unique to entrepreneurs, the intensity of being an entrepreneur, especially when your company is failing, or you are failing at your role, can be overwhelming. I see it all the time and try to be a very empathetic listener whenever I encounter it. I’ve learned a huge amount from my friend Jerry Colonna about how to be helpful and know that I’ll continue to be on a journey around mental health and entrepreneurship.
It’s ok to fail. It’s ok to lose. It’s ok to be depressed.
If you are contemplating suicide, get help. If you have an entrepreneurial friend contemplating suicide, do your best to get them help.