This is post will not have much to do with finance or investing. It is a personal post. If you are not in the mood for that sort of thing, you ought to skip this.
As you may know, I have not written much or engaged on social media much for several months. I feel as though I owe readers an explanation. Also, there is a certain catharsis to be gained from writing about tough times.
For the past six months or so I have dealt with significant mental health issues. Specifically, severe anxiety and panic attacks. I will spare you a play-by-play of the experience, but suffice it to say at my lows, in early February, I was essentially non-functional as an adult human being. Fortunately, I am much improved since then. In the last couple weeks, I have finally regained the energy and confidence to think about writing and engaging online again.
I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to write about this experience. In mentioning it, I am not looking to drum up “sympathy clicks” or anything like that. Rather, I want to send a message of support to anyone who is struggling with mental health issues. In particular, I want to address professionals in business and finance. I believe widespread stigma remains around openly discussing mental health issues, despite the fact they are extremely common. Most of us are aware of this stigma on some level. What does not get much attention, in my experience, is how hard those of us suffering with mental health issues can be on ourselves. I suspect this is particularly common with high performers in any professional or creative field.
At the nadir of my own experience, I was certainly experiencing depression alongside the anxiety and panic. Am I just being soft? I would ask myself. Doesn’t everyone feel this way sometimes? I’m just being weak. I’ve lost it and I’m never going to get back.
Fortunately, I was never at risk of harming myself or anyone else. However, in my worst moments, I absolutely understood the chain of thoughts and feelings that ends in suicide. It is deeply disturbing to connect with with that state of mind. It feels like drowning in despair.
My message to anyone reading this is simple: be kind to yourself. Allow yourself the time and attention you need to get help. It takes an incredible amount of strength to get through a significant mental health episode. At the time, you may feel you are weak. You may feel you’ve “gone soft.” But that is just the depression/anxiety/panic talking. Please. Please. Do not let those feelings discourage you from getting help. You can feel better. In fact, you almost certainly will feel better, if you reach out for the help you need.
I have a sneaking suspicion that professionally, high performers are actually more susceptible to anxiety, panic and depression than poor performers. A certain level of anxiety is healthy, after all. A certain level of anxiety enhances performance. However, in highly competitive industries and work environments, where you are used to working through a certain level of background stress, it can be difficult to identify when you have crossed into unhealthy territory. I dealt with increasingly severe symptoms for months before I realized I was in over my head.
If you are struggling, talk to someone you trust. Talk to your primary care physician about what you are experiencing. I am not going to sugar coat this. Mental health issues take time to work through. The timeline can be months. Years. An entire lifetime. It is not at all uncommon to go through a number of doctors and/or therapists before you find a team that “gets” you, and that you trust. It is a hard road. But don’t give up on yourself! Things can get better. They almost certainly will get better. But it will take time.
My hope is someone who is struggling may see this post, or have it forwarded to them, and receive a boost of encouragement. Maybe that boost helps motivate someone to talk to a doctor. Maybe it helps her feel just a little less alone and afraid. Whatever the impact may be, I hope it helps.