Startups Anonymous: Launching a Startup with Panic Disorder
[This is a weekly series that brings you raw, first-hand experiences from founders and investors in the trenches. Their story submissions are anonymous, allowing them to share openly without fear of retribution. Every Wednesday, we'll run one new story chosen by Dana Severson, who operates StartupsAnonymous, a place for startups to share, ask questions, and answer them in story-length posts, all anonymously.]
I have anxiety. Not the general kind either. The kind where you’re convinced that you’re dying and, at times, even call the ambulance. The kind that’s triggered by absolutely nothing, but consumes absolutely everything. The kind that kisses productivity and concentration goodbye in the middle of the day. The kind that prevents you from traveling long distances in a car, and won’t even let you step foot in an airport. The kind where you need medication to cope with each day. The shitty kind. The kind they call panic disorder.
Nobody in my professional life knows I have it, mainly because I haven’t told them. I guess you get pretty good at hiding it over the years. It’s a stigma. A disease. A debilitation, really. Truth be told, I don’t tell anyone because I’m embarrassed and slightly ashamed.
Those that don’t have it really can’t comprehend what a monumental achievement it is to even get to the office somedays. What seems normal and mundane for most, is a major accomplishment when you have panic disorder.
Needless to say, launching a startup had its challenges.
To be honest, I didn’t know how far I’d even get. A year before starting, I was nearly housebound, afraid to even take a walk around the block because of the fear of panic. What if the company had any measure of success? I wasn’t sure if I could handle what that was going to require. Just the thought of having to fly made my anticipatory anxiety kick into high gear.
As it turned out, the company did have some success. What should have been exhilaration was instead anxiety. Not as much today, thankfully, but at times it sucked really bad. I’ve had to travel — by plane — a lot. This is pretty much an anxious person’s worst fear.
Just as a point of reference, there are rational and irrational fears of flying. People with anxiety, like me, have irrational fears. We don’t necessary fear a plane crash. We fear that we’re going to lose control and do something embarrassing or stupid. For example, my fear is that I’ll need to escape mid-flight and attempt to jump out of the plane at 32,000 feet. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but it’s a very real feeling at the time.
The good news is, the company and I are still alive. I’ve kicked the shit out of anxiety — at least for now. It’s still there, and I'm told it always will be. But going toe-to-toe with it over the past few years ended up being exactly what I needed. Whether the company ultimately succeeds or not is secondary at this point.
I’m sharing this in the hopes that other entrepreneurs that suffer from anxiety and depression will see that they're not alone. This is the first time that I’ve spoken about it publicly, albeit anonymously, but it feels good.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pando]