A post about depression is probably not what you expected from a hunting/outdoor apparel company. But it’s been an integral part of my personal journey. First as a US Navy SEAL transitioning out of the military, then years later as an entrepreneur starting SIXSITE. And it’s time to talk about it.
When I reference depression, I don’t mean feeling discouraged or unhappy; most people have experienced intense sadness at some point in their lives. I mean professionally diagnosed clinical depression.
Over the past three years, I have fought a constant battle with it. Some struggles lasted only a few weeks while others continued for almost eight months. In sharing my personal journey, I hope to accomplish two things:
- Shed light on a prevalent problem that is easily misunderstood (I did not have any capacity to understand depression until I experienced it)
- Give a perspective to those that may be struggling that its ok to ask for help (easier said than done)
I’ve lost friends in combat. Those losses are tragic. But they make sense to me because these friends volunteered for their jobs and knew the inherent risks. Losing friends to suicide is much harder for me to understand. I question what I, we, our society can do to change the current epidemic affecting our military and veterans.
Approximately 22 of them commit suicide every day.
Twenty-two. Every day.
These are the deaths I struggle to rationalize.
The idea for SIXSITE came to me in July 2013. It was the manifestation of a lifelong passion for the outdoors, experiences in the SEAL Teams altering and customizing gear and apparel, and the desire to manufacture a quality product here in the United States. At the time, I was six years into a successful career in commercial real estate brokerage. Had a wonderful marriage. Had five healthy, beautiful kids. Had a six-figure income, dream home, great cars, kids were in great schools, the works. Looking through the lens society uses to gauge success, I had it and life was great.
For the latter half of 2013, I tried to remember that and forget about SIXSITE. The idea was fraught with significant financial and emotional risk for my family; an uncertainty that could prove disastrous. But like some things in life, I just couldn’t shake the idea. So I started on the business plan.
2014 turned into a career year for me financially working in commercial real estate, but most of that money was spent on developing SIXSITE—branding, trade shows, consultants, designers, textiles and prototypes. I was spending money as fast as I could make it. After several months discussing it with my wife, I left the great corporate career behind to pursue the biggest risk I’d ever undertaken— SIXSITE. This was April 2015.
At this point, I’d been spending money (our life savings) for almost two years in pursuit of this idea. My plan was to raise outside equity once I had production samples to show potential investors. By January 2016, I still did not have samples and I ran out of money. Life savings gone. Less than $10,000 (cumulative) in the bank. It was at this point that the gravity of the risk I’d taken (on behalf of my wife and family) sunk in.
It really messed with my head.
I had seen a psychologist for several months in 2015 as I contemplated leaving a stable career to launch SIXSITE. When I went back to the psychologist in January 2016, I was experiencing severe panic attacks, significant loss of appetite, guilt, hopelessness and incompetence at routine daily tasks (like writing an email). That’s when I was officially diagnosed with depression.
At first I was reluctant to agree. I knew something was wrong but depression sounded far-fetched… (even though at the time I’d sneak back home after my wife and kids had left for the day to crawl back in bed… sleep was my only reprieve from the debilitating anxiety I was experiencing).
My psychologist referred me to a psychiatrist for evaluation and, sure enough, the psychiatrist agreed with the diagnosis and prescribed medication. My depression stemmed from stress, anger and previously unresolved issues.
Before my diagnosis and daily struggle, I didn’t understand how people could suffer so much from anxiety and depression, or how they could even begin to rationalize suicidal thoughts. My perspective changed in early 2016.
That’s when I realized “being trapped” in an irrational mind is a terrifying place to live.
During these prolonged periods of depression, if you didn’t know me well, you probably had no idea of my struggle. I became really good at masking symptoms on some days, while avoiding social interactions entirely on other days. I cancelled meetings, avoided phone calls and ignored emails to disguise my internal conflict.
I continued to visit my psychologist weekly and during one of these sessions, I had an epiphany that changed everything.
In the early stages of building the brand and marketing strategies for SIXSITE, our creative team developed an idea around #FindIt. The concept centers around the fact that everyone is searching for “it” in their lives, both literally and figuratively. It was hard for me to articulate why I was drawn the phrase, but it resonated with me on a personal level. My gut instinct told me the tag fit.
So I’m sitting in the psychologist’s office in the summer of 2017. Talking about how I felt better but still not quite right. One of my indexes for gauging wellness is how creative I feel, whether that means developing new product or writing product descriptions for the website (depression and the creative process don’t mix well). It was during this session that my psychologist referenced the brain’s “seeking system”. Our innate desire to explore, to create, to venture into the unknown is a natural anti-depressant. She literally said that I had to “continue to find it”.
That’s when everything began making sense.
It made sense because, up to that point, I had lost all desire to be creative. #FindIt was now something I could understand on many levels.
What’s it mean to me?
- It means we are wired to create, to explore, to take risks and to seek adventure. But as I’ve learned, risk comes with consequence. As an entrepreneur, it comes with depression, financial danger and uncertain success. In the military, it comes with physical danger and the loss of dear friends. But I wouldn’t change either experience because I have learned more from the hardships in my life than anything else.
Take risks and don’t be afraid to fail.
- It means we all struggle. I wrestled with my diagnosis for a long time. I tend to think of myself as a strong person (US Navy SEAL, NCAA Division I college football, back country hunter, etc.) and equated my need for medication as a sign of weakness. I now know the opposite is true. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to find help. And I’m tired of seeing men and women who have done incredible things in service to this nation come home only to struggle and ultimately take their own lives. We all endure suffering and pain, but we don’t need to do it alone.
Raise your hand and ask for help.
Don’t be afraid to #FindIt.
“Winners are not afraid of losing. Failure is part of the process to success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.”—R. Kiyosaki, Rich Dad, Poor Dad
“That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”—Paul the Apostle, II Corinthians 12:10