As a Life Coach who specialises in mental health, I work with a variety of people and one thing many of them have in common, I sum up in just two words, ‘successfully depressed’.
Successfully depressed people are entrepreneurs, business owners, leaders, academics, highly educated, creative, and intelligent; and on the flip side, they are experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression, and potentially have been for some time.
The most commonly cited mental health statistic in the UK is 1 in 4 adults in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Beyond this is the work of Dr Michael Freeman, clinical professor and entrepreneur, who completed research into the mental health of entrepreneurs and concluded,
30% of entrepreneurs identify as having experienced depression and a further 27% identify as experiencing anxiety.
For this article, ‘success’ is as currently defined by society, whether rightly or wrongly, where an outsider looking in would perceive the person to be successful. While this article lends itself to stress and anxiety, I will specifically reference depression.
I believe a substantial proportion of those successful people experiencing mental health challenges have achieved their success not despite their challenges but because of them. I have often referenced my corporate career as an unhealthy obsession with achievement which served to externally counterbalance the disaster of what was going on internally in my head!
Through making achievements, many people can self-medicate their depression over a long period; in some cases, a lifetime. They are staving off the instances of depression which cause them to halt by promising their illness a better life in the future. We keep hoping the symptoms we are experiencing will disappear, and the elusive happiness will be achieved; this presents a host of challenges not least that the opposite of depression is not happiness but vitality.
We believe the symptoms are circumstantial and largely I believe this to be true. The error I think we make is to incorrectly identify the triggers, apportioning blame to career, money, living conditions. When more often than not it is internal circumstances such as negative thought patterns, limiting beliefs, low self-esteem, a lack of confidence, or a fear of not achieving our potential, or at the deepest level, our purpose.
Here comes the pivotal moment, we decide these incorrect factors are what is causing our depression, and then we begin a fight to overcome them, and if we work hard, as the successfully depressed do, we achieve our goals. Years of struggle, staving off those negatives thoughts and feeling and focusing on the task at hand, we have arrived at the destination. Arguably sometimes it can take us a moment to acknowledge we are there, particularly as we were too busy to notice, but here we are. We are running our own business, or have secured a senior position in an organisation, we have obtained our qualifications, and we were top of the class, we’ve created the lifestyle we imagined with the house, car, holidays, kids and savings. We sit back for the first time in a long time and take a deep breath, we survey our kingdom, and we realise, we’re still not feeling great. The happiness that we promised to ourselves has not been realised, yet we’ve done everything.
If this sounds familiar, I share now a few signs that will work in some way on a variety of levels. Either you’re at the start of the journey and just about to set off aiming for the wrong things. Or you’re on the journey, but you’re losing hope that the outcomes will be all they promised to be. Alternatively, you’ve arrived at the destination and realised more work needs doing, but you’re not sure what.
Think of these signs as gifts from the ghosts of the past, the present and the future — no harbingers of doom but opportunities to reassess your life and make some alternative decisions.
Do you feel you:
- achieved your goals, but now they’re not enough as you’re still not happy or content
- should be happy with what you have, but are constantly craving more
- have not yet achieved your potential or don’t know what it is
- have so much more to give, but you’re not sure what or how
- still hold yourself back, and you don’t know why
- find ways to undermine your success, and feel others are less capable than you but seem to achieve more
- the things you do to make yourself feel better are making you feel worse
If any of these resonate with you, it’s worth exploring what options, you have to overcome these, and soon. While each sign has a solution, your journey to overcoming these will have familiar stages and sights along the way. You will need to unlock your case and review what you are taking with you, finding those items you no longer need that had you taken them would simply have been too heavy for the journey, weighing and slowing you down, and serving no purpose at any time. You’ll need to ensure you’re fuelled for the journey and will need an MOT in advance and then a long term service plan to keep you on the road and performing well. You are going to need to decide on your destination, exactly where it is you want to go, and this is not going to be easy, but it’s the greatest destination to find. You then need to plan your journey and what you want to achieve along the way. Unfortunately, there is no Satnav for this, so it’s going to be some work. Finally, think about who is joining you on the journey, particularly any passengers travelling with you, if there are words unsaid, say them, you don’t want a journey like this with an atmosphere you can cut with a knife.
You’ve achieved so much already and come so far, it can feel like you’re starting all over again, but you’re not. All of those external circumstances you’ve fought to overcome and build the solutions to, you get to keep them if you want them, and no one is taking them. Equally, they are no longer a distraction to you as you begin to focus on yourself and to achieve more, but this time, more of what is important.