My name is Richard Bobholz. I am the managing attorney for Law Plus Plus, a revolutionary, successful, law firm here in Durham, NC. In my spare time, I volunteer, I run, I spend time with my friends, and I write. Like many of you, I am driven by my accomplishments, and I’m proud to say I do not have a shortage of them. Because of what I have accomplished and been given, I am incredibly thankful.
In 2005, I was diagnosed with depression.
No one would have been able to tell I had depression; I didn’t even know. I had fun, I had great friends, and I was getting great grades in college. All I knew was that my cross country times were worse than they were in high school. My coach sent me to see a doctor, who sent me to counseling. At first, I was in denial. Depression is something people get when they’re sad all the time. I wasn’t sad. This feeling had to be medical, I thought.
I, like most people, didn’t understand depression. In fact, I still don’t have all the answers.
What I know is depression is a disease of the mind that affects a very large portion of the population. It affects 1 in 4 entrepreneurs. This disease is not just the feeling of sadness, but rather a deep seeded feeling of hopelessness and loss of interest in things that were previously important.
For me, my depression caused me to not care about my grades, my friends, or much of anything in my life. I found no thrill in anything I did. Despite studying a subject I loved, I wasn’t concerned with my grades. The problem was not that I wasn’t capable or intelligent. It was that I had no passion for it. I did only what was needed to get by, but because I was intelligent enough, I still excelled in my courses. I know that everyone suffers from this disease differently, but the one thing we all share is that the experience is absolutely horrifying.
The feeling of depression is almost indescribable, like everything in life becomes motions I had to go through, and that is exactly what I did for as long as I had it. I did the bare minimum to get by and nothing more.
I have also suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder my senior year of college, and a mild depressive episode during my first year of law school.
In each of these cases, I was able to overcome my disease only with the help of counseling, and am fortunate that there were these resources available to me when I needed the help. Getting help was the best decision of my life.
You Are Not Alone
I want to address those of you in the entrepreneurial community who are suffering from depression, anxiety, or other mental illness. You are not alone. You are far from it. Entrepreneurs are affected by these illnesses in greater proportion than the general population, yet this seems to be something we are not allowed to talk about.
I want us to talk about it. I think it makes us stronger. Openly discussing this disease will help remove the stigma it carries. I do not believe that having depression makes you worse at your job, and I am certain that having depression does not mean you are weak or a failure. Mine has only made me stronger. Consequently, I refuse to believe that openly sharing that I have had this disease will make others avoid me or believe that I am somehow less. One in four of the entrepreneurs you have met have suffered or currently do suffer from depression. One in four.
Stigmas of Depression
I’m coming forward about my battle with this disease to try to help break the stigma about depression and mental illness in general. Mental illness has been inappropriately portrayed in our culture. An overwhelming number of Americans suffer from some form of mental illness in their lives. Only the smallest of fractions of those suffering cause anyone harm. People suffering from mental illness are far more likely to hurt themselves than others, and the chances of self-harm increase with these widespread stigmatizations. People I know and trust have described depression as an “overactive pity party” or being “down in the dumps,” but it is neither of these things. It is a disease that affects your mind, and one that you cannot snap out of. Unfortunately, the stigmas have spread far further than the actual knowledge.
People with depression are not always sad either. In most cases, you wouldn’t be able to tell that he or she has depression. Some of the warning signs to look for include: no longer being interested in things that once gave that person joy, feelings of worthlessness, a sense of overwhelming stress, trouble getting motivated, and conversations that appear to be a call for help. You should look for these in yourself and others you care about.
No one would think I have struggled with depression looking at me, and my depression has not impacted my business in any way. We are not the disease that we fight. It does not define us.
I am actually grateful that I had to struggle with depression. Because of that fight, I am stronger now. I have a stronger sense of empathy. I now know the powers of counseling and opening up to others. Because of it, I was able to form stronger bonds with the friends and family who care about me the most. And, mostly, I’m able to stand in front of any obstacle knowing that it is nothing compared to what I’ve already been through.
I sincerely hope that my opening up about my battle with depression has helped open your eyes to the prevalence of mental illness in the startup community. It is a plague that forces far too many of us to suffer alone. I cannot say it enough: you are not alone. In this fight, you have never been alone.
Finally, I will say is that if you are suffering, please get help. If someone you care about is suffering, be supportive as he or she tries to overcome. No one should suffer alone. I am more than happy to discuss my illness with those who may benefit from my story.