Mental Illness Taboo

health Oct 08, 2015

Currently there is an open conversation taking place on social media platforms in Iceland about mental health and getting rid of the taboo that surrounds mental illnesses. The hastag #‎égerekkitabú (e. #ImNotTaboo)‬ is being used for people to share their experiences and so far hundreds of people are sharing their personal stories of anxiety, depression and other mental disorders. I think it’s fantastic that people are opening up and creating a conversation about these problems that so often are hidden away because people feel ashamed of them.

I think it would be great if we in the startup community would also do the same and start talking openly about the mental difficulties associated with founding and running a company. There really is a lot of pressure on founders to be perfect, towards their employees, customers, investors, partners and the media. Any sign of weakness from the founders could be devistating to the company so it is easy to imagine why so many founders decide not to talk openly about their problems.

There was a great article written about this on called The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship and it is one of only a handful of articles that I have read more often than once as it somehow comforts me to know that I am not alone in going through difficult times. Recently I was lucky enough to get to know Sean Percival, one of the entrepreneurs mentioned in the article, but he also shares his story in more details in the article When it’s not all good, ask for help and there he offered any founder to reach out to him if they needed help, later he also added the contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as he couldn’t handle all the messages he was getting.

I’ve also been honored to have many great conversations with Bala Kamallakharan founder of Startup Iceland who also has been very open about his depression after difficult times in his business life.

I have struggled with depression like every other entrepreneur and startup founder. I never had the courage to admit it before but after I started blogging it has become a lot easier. Depression is a weird state of mind, there are many things that I am thankful for but there are so many things that keep gnawing on me.

As Bala mentions almost all entrepreneurs and startup founders face some sort of mental difficulties during their entrepreneurial journey and sometimes just opening up and talking about your problems will make you feel much better. You can read more about Bala’s experiences on his blog.

It’s now been 12 years since I started my first company and during those 12 years I have had a lot of very difficult times including; 2 failed companies, the Icelandic economic crisis where I lost everything I had been building up for the previous 6 years and ended up in deep debt, a nervous breakdown, physical illnesses, been on the edge of bankruptcy more often than I like to admit, deals with dishonest people that ended in lawsuits, not having enough money for food and about a hundred other crazy things. But talk to any entrepreneur out there and they probably have a similar story, it’s not a easy path to walk. But during all this time I have been so very stubborn and perhaps a bit in denial as I haven’t been willing to admit my own weakness.

For quite a few years now I have been fighting anxiety without even admitting it to myself, every few months I get so stressed out and anxious that it leads to physical problems such as dizziness, terrible stomach pains, foggy head, deep discomfort, tiredness and just general difficulties with coping with the world. Often during these times I will have to close myself off from the world for anywhere from a day to a week to recover properly. But I have always said that this is just something that comes with being an entrepreneur and I’ve tried not to think about it too much. I remember times where I have stood up on stage lecturing or pitching my startup in front of hundreds of people while at the same time I was so dizzy I couldn’t stand straight unless I had my hands on the podium. I remember times where I have been popping pain killers and drinking unhealthy quantities of coffee just to fight my mental fatigue during periods of 15 hour workdays.

I realize that it’s not easy to build up something truly valuable like a successful startup and I am willing to put in the work and effort needed to do that but just recently I realized that perhaps instead of just trying to cope with my anxioty and try to hide it maybe I should rather face the problem and work on a solution. After all I consider myself an entrepreneur and an entrepreneurs job is to find solutions to problems.

So today I have started reading books on Anxiety, I have booked my first session with a therapist and I am looking forward to start using Cognative Behavioral Therapy tools to improve my mental state.

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