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If you’ve never been really depressed, it’s hard to understand what depression feels like. This is especially true if the person who is struggling with depression is someone who looks like they are on top of the world, that everything is going well, and that nothing could possibly be wrong. Many people who go through depressive periods are highly functional – I’m a good example of this. If you didn’t know me well, you wouldn’t notice. And, if you know me well, you probably think of me as tired, lower energy than normal, or that something seems slightly off. Finally, if you know me really well, you know I’m struggling to get through each day when I’m depressed.
I’m definitely in an “I’m doing better but why am I hauling my butt all over the place, and why again am I doing all of this stuff” mode. I was pondering this (after canceling some travel that I don’t need to do) when I got a powerful note from a blog reader. In it, he talks about how after reading a recent post of mine, he started to understand how to relate better to his brother who is struggling with a deep depression. The email made me smile, and reminded – if only briefly – why I am doing all of this stuff. The email follows.
For the last six months or so, my youngest brother—a very handsome, tall, intelligent, fit, seemingly-perfect person—has been battling depression. As the oldest brother, and as someone who has battled all his life to help my foreign, single mother get by, it’s but incredibly hard to understand and relate to him. In fact, regretfully, I used to criticize him for the way he felt. It wasn’t until last week, when I saw him beg to be admitted into a hospital because he felt unsafe, that I realized how serious this was. I just couldn’t understand, how can someone who appears to be so perfect in many ways, so blessed (especially compared to what we went through as children), be so unhappy and miserable inside?
Sadly, it still took reading 6 words on a blog post from someone whom I look up to most (“came out of depression on Feb. 14”) to finally understand that what’s on the outside is very different than what’s on the inside. He/You can both seem so perfect, but loving someone means knowing their deepest thoughts and feelings, understanding why they feel that way, then being there for them no matter what. I regret letting him get to the point where he didn’t feel safe. I’ve strived all my life to set an example, to be there for my family, but I was stuck in my own arrogance. I let the “knife” cut through everything and get the best of me. But it won’t happen again.
I’m so proud of my brother in every way: we never had a role model to guide us through life, to tell us how important reading and learning is, yet he’s managed a 3.9 GPA at a good school. He loves reading more than anyone I know (maybe even you, Brad..) and wants to be a doctor and writer one day. He just turned 21, but has the mind and soul of someone who’s 40…it’s crazy. Maybe that’s why he has a hard time coping..? Who knows – all I know is I’m going to be by his side always and support him in every way possible. My arrogance, confidence and toughness can go towards working my butt off and making this company successful.
If you read this far (which knowing you, you probably did…I thank you). I thank you for being you, for sharing your life’s journey with people like me. I promise to continue to pass on wisdom and give to others as you have.
My dad is one of my best friends. I’ve known him for 47 years and other than a few relatively brief moments where we have struggled with classical father / son stuff as I was growing up and separating my identity, he’s always been a buddy, mentor, friend, cheerleader, and confidant. I’ve learned an enormous amount from him, and continue to treasure every moment I have with him.
My mom arranged a 75th birthday this weekend for my dad in San Antonio. They live in Dallas so I’m a little perplexed why we ended up in San Antonio, but when you are 75 you get to decide where you want to celebrate your birthday. So me, Amy, my brother Daniel, his wife Laura, their daughter Sabrina, and my dad’s brother Charlie and his wife Cindy descended on the Eilan Hotel. As expected, there was no shortage of confusion when there were Felds in four different rooms, but we had our usual fun tormenting the hotel staff who tried their hardest to keep us all straight.
As part of the birthday, my mom asked us all to write some thoughts to my dad about our relationship with him. She has compiled them and has them waiting for him when they arrive back in Dallas, but I thought I’d spring my thoughts on him a little early. Here they are!
Dad – as I sit here at 6:46am on 3/11/13 pondering all the amazing things we’ve done together, I closed my eyes and thought back as far as I could to some memories from my childhood. As I get older, I find that the memories fade to snippets, rather than entire concepts, but here are a few that I remember when I close my eyes and let my thoughts drift back to when I was a kid.
- Reading a little green book on endocrinology in my bedroom.
- Being in your very white and organized office at Endocrine Associates looking at all the New England Journal of Medicine books on the wall.
- Driving past the KERA building downtown in the car on the way to something with you and mom.
- Running the 1.5m loop around our neighborhood early in the morning with you.
- Sitting at the round kitchen table in those painfully uncomfortable white mesh chairs eating dinner and talking about what happened during the day.
- Having you hand me the keys to mom’s Corvette while you said “Enjoy it – be careful – don’t kill yourself.”
- Going to a store in Addison to buy my Apple II computer – I remember it was in the shopping center near where Houstons used to be.
- Driving to Frito-Lay’s data center to play on Charlie’s mainframe.
- Sitting in your study at 7310 being extremely frustrated with Hebrew a few weeks before my Bar Mitzvah.
- Sitting in our living room with all my friends who were seniors figuring out how to redesign our high school schedule, and then creating a movement to change it, so that we weren’t stuck in school all day.
- Doing algebra with you. I loved learning algebra. That was probably my favorite time in school at any point in time.
- Walking around Concord, MA with you and mom in October of my freshman year at MIT and wanting to quit because I was homesick and lonely. You told me to give it a year. I did, and by the time a year was up I was fine.
- Being pissed off at you so much that you said something like “I think it’s time for therapy” at which point I let a few days pass and then decided I wasn’t pissed off any more. This was 7th grade or something around there. I remember walking on the 1.5m loop with you as you tried to get through to me.
- Getting a huge hug from you after missing a the final sudden death playoff kick where we lost. Scott Albers (wow – where did that name come from) missed his kick – he was the star of our team – and I let the last one go by me and I cried.
- Doing rounds with you at Presbyterian and hating the way the hospital smelled. Hating the bright florescent lights. And hating the beeping noises.
- Sitting in the back of Cy Arnold’s convertible on the way to a Dallas Cowboys game.
- Getting picked up from Camp Champions when you had gallstones and just hoping we could get home so you could be ok.
- Saying something totally dumb on the CB Radio on a trip to Big Bend that caused a big backlash. I think my handle was “Teddy Bear.” You calmed me down and were very nice about it. We were with the Segals I think.
- Mrs. Waters Chocolate Cake. That stuff was awesome. I think she put drugs in it.
- Having the flu in my old bedroom and puking for a few days during Chanukah. There was a big Hefty trash bag full of stuff involved somehow.
- The first night of every trip to see your parents in Hollywood. It was one giant food orgy.
- Playing tennis with you.
- Riding in your Porsche and thinking I had the coolest dad in the world.
I love you!
I asked Amy to send me a picture of my inner animal spirit. She won’t let me share hers, but that’s me on the left.
I’ve always felt like a bear. A big, cuddly, nice, soft bear. Mellow. I like to sleep. I like to eat. I wander around, a little curiously larger than comfortable in my slightly oversized body.
I’m really fucking ferocious when I’m mad. Which doesn’t happen very often (maybe once a year). Don’t poke the bear.
Amy and I discovered each other’s respective animal spirit early in our relationship. I remember talking about it over a meal about 22 years ago – it was shortly after we started going out. That night I learned about all of her favorite animals. Did you know that she loves rodents – rats, mice, capybara, guinea pigs, pika, and groundhogs. When I say “pika” out loud Amy responds “super cute super cute.” (she just did that). She likes marmots also.
I love bears. Brown bears. Black bears. Polar bears. Grizzly bears. Ghost bears. Kermode bears. I love everything bear.
Do you know your inner animal spirit? Your partner’s? If not, you should.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Aaron Swartz the past few days. I didn’t know him, but knew of him and have a lot of friends who knew him. I’m still processing it, especially the dynamics around his suicide, and expect I’ll have plenty to say in the coming weeks about depression and entrepreneurship. In the mean time, I thought the USA Today article, Activist Aaron Swartz’s suicide sparks talk about depression, by Laurie Segal, is particularly good. I’m quoted as saying:
Investor Brad Feld, who has battled an anxiety disorder all his life, says one the hardest things for those fighting the disease is opening up about it. “Many entrepreneurs don’t feel like they can talk openly about their depression, as they don’t want their investors, employees, or customers to know they are struggling with it,” he says. “For anyone who has been depressed, not being able to be open about it with the people around you makes depression even harder to deal with.”
I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had a few people incredibly close to me that I could talk openly about my depression with. The two closest are my wife Amy Batchelor and my brother Daniel Feld. In Amy’s case, she’s my early warning system for my depression. She knows me better than anyone on this planet and is able, in a way that doesn’t set me off, make observations about what she is seeing in my behavior whenever it shifts toward a depressive episode. She goes into a mode that I call “observer” – she’s not critical, doesn’t tell me to “snap out of it”, but also doesn’t get overly concerned. She watches, gives me feedback, and observes. Usually this is all I need since I’ve learned that with my own struggles, merely knowing that I am struggling is often enough to start a shift back to normalcy.
As part of this, I’ve set up a monthly cadence with Amy and Daniel. In the case of Amy, we have “Life Dinner” on the first night of every month. We talk about this in our new book, Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur, but I missed that nuance that in addition to a monthly reflection both backward and forward, it also serves as a touch point on “how I’m feeling.”
Daniel and I do something different. We love the relationship our dad (Stan Feld) has with his brother Charlie Feld. A number of years ago we committed to each other that we’d never get hung up on bullshit between us and if anything came up, we’d clear the air each month. So – we have an “almost monthly” dinner (probably six to nine times a year). I can’t remember the last time we actually had any emotional dissonance of any sort. It’s a casual couple of hours for us to check in on each other.
This morning I was emailing with Fred Wilson about some stuff. He asked me how it was to have Jerry Colonna living part time in Boulder. Jerry is now chairman of Naropa University and is one of my closest friends. He and Fred used to be partners at Flatiron Partners and are still very close. My response was “It’s awesome to have Jerry here. I love every minute I get with him.” Fred responded “i do a monthly lunch with him and its awesome.” There’s that monthly cadence thing again.
Yesterday, I had my monthly meeting with my partners at Foundry Group. We have a quarterly offsite where we spend a day and half together and have recently instituted a monthly day long meeting ending with dinner to go deep on our portfolio now that it’s about 60 companies. We spend the day on the portfolio and the evening on ourselves. It’s yet another version of the monthly cadence that let’s the four of us check in with each other.
I’ve always found rhythms like this to be extremely helpful to me, especially around my depression. Amy, Daniel, and my partners are safe people to talk to about it. They don’t judge me, or coddle me, but they listen and, if nothing else, give me empathy. And, in many cases, they check in regularly to make sure I’m in an ok place, until the phase passes.
Being an entrepreneur, or anyone pressing the boundaries of society, can be incredibly lonely. Make sure you are surrounding yourself with people who can help. And don’t be afraid of being open about being depressed, or anxious, down, or sad. There is no crime or shame in that.
My long-time friends Fred Wilson and Joanne Wilson each had powerful posts about saying goodbye to 2012 and welcoming in 2013 yesterday.
Fred’s is titled Putting 2012 To Bed. I know many people who don’t know Fred other than via his online presence, public actions, and reputations. I expect that 99% of them, when asked if Fred had an awesome 2012, would say ”of course – he has an amazing life.” But my answer would have been more nuanced based on the time Fred and I spent together. I would have said “some great things happened but it was a tough and complex year for him.” Fred’s response was characteristically blunt.
“I’ve wanted to write a year end post for days. I actually wrote one and stored it as a draft. But it comes across as a whiny complaint about the shitty year that 2012 was. And it was in many ways a shitty year for me. But the reason I couldn’t publish that post is it didn’t capture the greater picture that 2012 represents for me.”
The entire post is well worth reading. As is Joanne’s titled See ya 2012. Two big stressors from Joanne’s perspective were the damage to their house with their subsequent displacement from Hurricane Sandy and the shift to being empty nesters as their third kid gets ready to go to college. Her punch line is as powerful as Fred’s.
“This year I am hoping for a constant. I just want to live our lives under our own roof with no major disruptions. I could go for a real year of normalcy. 2013 is going to be a year for moving forward. Reflecting on the past and using that to move me forward. Not sure what that means but I will find out. The last few months we have lived out of more than 7 hotels and it is seriously thrown me off. Where it throws me, I will see. 2012 has taken me out of my game. I am hoping 2013 brings me back.”
My dad (Stan Feld) reminds us in his year end post that life is inches with a wonderful story of his from January 1, 1957.
All three of these posts brought me back to my December 3rd post titled Wow – That Was Intense which summarized a really tough period I went through last year between the start of September and the end of November. My dad’s post was especially poignant since if he had died on 1/1/57 I wouldn’t be here. And I so empathize with Fred – it’s hard for me to complain since overall my existence on this planet is awesome, but I had a really shitty three months at the end of the year.
I hit reset every year on my birthday (December 1) and describe it as “booting up a new version of myself” – in this case, v47. A month later I get to reflect on the reboot as everyone rings in the new year with hope, optimism, and renewal. If you had an Apple II, you know that hitting Reset rebooted the computer, so I’m not of the Ctrl-Alt-Del generation, but rather the Reset PR#6 generation. Either way, use whatever method you fancy and hit reset.
Welcome 2013. I’m looking forward to getting the most I can from the experience.