I wake up, and there it is – the searing pain in my gut that greets me each morning. It is accompanied by feelings of hopelessness, desperation, and fear. All I want to do is to stay under the warm and comfortable blankets to avoid the day to come. Then, I think of my three beautiful children sleeping soundly down the hall and of my wife snoring softly beside me. If I don’t get up, who is going to support them? Who will continue to provide the life they have become accustomed to? If I don’t get up, who will lead the family business I own, along with my father and brother? Slowly, and with intention, I rise. Some mornings it takes a monumental effort to get up. On occasion, to get up, I have rolled over and fallen to the floor.

I make my way to the bathroom and look in the mirror, and all I see is a loser and a failure. Thoughts of why me and how will I get through the day cross my mind. Deep breath… I push through the feelings and continue with the day. I make my way to the kitchen and prepare a cup of coffee. If the weather is nice, I’ll take it outside to the patio and light up a cigarette. I find the combination of caffeine and nicotine provides a nice calming rush that takes the edge off.

I make my way back up to the bathroom and run the shower. At the last moment, I decide – not today. It just takes too much effort. Instead of brushing my teeth, I take a glug of mouthwash and wash my face. I put on yesterday’s pants, a little wrinkled and yet, presentable. I always put on a new shirt – God forbid I give anybody a clue how I feel.

I make my way to the car and begin the journey to the office. If the traffic is heavy, I get antsy and impatient. I have taken to punching the door to ease my frustration. Today, the traffic is good, and I get to the block surrounding the office quickly. I circle the block 4 or 5 times – I am avoiding the inevitable. Finally, I pull into my spot. A few more deep breaths, and I make my way to the front door.

And then it happens – I change. I stand more upright, put on my suit of armor, and plaster a broad smile on my face. Upon entering the front doors, Maria, our wonderful receptionist, says, “Good morning John, how are you this beautiful day”? I answer, “Good morning, sunshine; I feel fabulous, and how are you”?

The rest of the day is a roller coaster of emotions; meetings had, and quickly forgotten, decisions made and then regretted – all the while surrounded by a blanket of insecurity. On the inside, the turmoil is constant. On the outside, what you see is a confident, optimistic, and successful leader.

Does this sound like you?

Chris Gory, in an article for the Globe and Mail, says,

“Entrepreneurial swagger is often a thin veneer masking crippling self-doubt, insecurity, and fear of catastrophic failure. The more successful you are, the more people depend on you.
And the more at stake you have if you fail. If you feel like you’re living on the edge of a knife… you’re not alone.”

It seems quite melodramatic. And yet, for those of us that struggle with depression, this is our everyday existence.

A staggering (49%) of entrepreneurial leadership today admit to struggling with some form of mental illness, 30% claim daily depression. In comparison, 25% of the general population report a struggle with mental illness, 7% claim depression. Many leaders live two lives: authentic and the other inauthentic, which is an exhausting existence.

Why the inauthenticity?

*Depression is an invisible disease; there is no blood test and no cure.

Diagnosing a physical disease is an objective process. There are a plethora of tests available to uncover conditions. Blood and fluid testing, X-rays, MRIs, ECGs, and many more tests are available for a diagnosis. The science is quite strong, and protocols for curing or minimizing the effects of diseases have been proven time and again. And research funding is readily available.

Diagnosing a mental illness is a very subjective endeavor. Though online and static tests are available, they are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to diagnosis. Mental illness diagnosis requires time spent with a mental health professional. It takes time to ascertain what is going on – a very subjective experience. Research dollars for mental health research are few and far between.

On the Forbes 2019 list of the 100 top charities, 23 on the list are physical health charities, and one, Alzheimer’s, which has both physical and mental attributes, is listed as a mental health charity.

*The stigma of weakness surrounds depression.

The stigma of weakness can be traced back centuries with origins in demonic possession. Those struggling with mental illness were deemed to be possessed and thus weak of will. As the church had a firm hold on believers, the myth of weakness has perpetuated over the years. The lack of understanding of depression also strengthens the stigma.

*Leaders are fearful of admitting to the struggle and being found out.

Leadership is perceived to require strength, drive, and resiliency. Not the attributes, though unfairly, attributed to depression. Leaders believe that if found out, they will lose respect, their positions, and their businesses. Entrepreneurial leaders have an opportunity to normalize the conversation of depression to help themselves and those in their teams that struggle.

*Human beings have a fantastic ability to suppress feelings and to “push through” for the sake of those for whom they have responsibility.

This is very prevalent within leadership positions. Though suppression can be maintained for extended periods, meltdowns will eventually become evident. Suppression also brings on the manifestation of physical diseases. Heart disease, cancer, respiratory ailments have linked to depression.

Hopelessness, desperation, and fear are the predominant emotions associated with depression. The leader is responsible for more than him/herself and family. They are also responsible for the team and organization, which adds more pressure. Depression, at its most extreme, can result in suicide. Suicide amongst entrepreneurial leaders is rising at an alarming rate.

How do you gain back your authenticity?

First, you must find a psychiatrist/psychologist/therapist vested in your well-being, not the family doctor, who has minimal training and education for depression. Their answer is to medicate. There is a misconception that we lack the numbers of therapists to deal with mental illness. The truth is that a large number of therapists rely on a parasitic/addictive relationship with patients. A weekly or bi-weekly appointment regimen is typical. Too many patients are encouraged to save up their issues for weekly therapy sessions.

Maryam Hasnaa, a noted Spiritual Healer, says,

“A healer does not heal you. A healer is someone who creates space for you while you awaken your inner healer; so that you may heal yourself.”

In essence, the above is the therapist’s job and mirrors the Hippocratic Oath, the physician’s commitment to healing.

In my personal experience, my Psychiatrist taught me techniques such as meditation, self-hypnosis, and visualizations that have helped me minimize the effects of depression. We began therapy with twice weekly appointments; after a month, we met once a week, and finally to quarterly sessions.

As my therapist has retired, I have recently researched the top online therapy site, BetterHelp. The site has received many positive reviews. Participating therapists are listed and reviewed. It is easy to access and to schedule appointments. The cost is reasonable as there is no need for office visits. Sessions are available by text, phone, chat, and video call.

To be genuinely authentic requires courage and conviction. As a leader, your authenticity is a competitive edge. Your authenticity directly affects employee engagement/retention, high levels of customer service, and most importantly, the ability to generate substantial profits.

And finally, authenticity is when you find yourself smiling for no reason. ?

John Panigas’ purpose and passion is to challenge the status quo of the attitudes, causes, and effects of depression on leaders and their teams. His book, titled: Crazy, Who Me?, details a life lived with Major Depressive Disorder and how he learned to overcome and manage the disease. John has developed a workshop titled: “What is the Cost of Depression to You and Your Business?” designed for leaders and their teams who want to build a positive and transparent culture of positive mental well-being. The workshop features the “Cost of Depression Calculator,” a tool that calculates depression and mental illness’s financial cost to the organization. Attendees leave with a roadmap to guide the organization to positive mental well-being, resulting in competitive advantage with a healthy ROI. 

John can be reached at [email protected] or www.johnpanigas.com