Episode 156: Depression with Zach Holman

February 16, 2018
Episode 156: Depression with Zach Holman
Episode 156: Depression with Zach Holman

Feb 16 2018 |


Show Notes

Inspired by his blog post about depression, Sherry interviews Zach Holman about life as a founder struggling with mental illness. They talk about what depression felt like and how he finally recognized the severity of his situation. Zach also shares about what has helped him recover.


Episode Transcript

Sherry: Woo-hoo, next Wednesday is the big day. The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Together. How to Run Your Business Without Letting it Run You is coming out on the 21st, next Wednesday. So Zen Founder listeners, please, please, if you go and buy the book, it would be fantastic if you would leave a review on Amazon. We are wanting to put this book in as many hands as possible because we are really hopeful that it’s helpful. We’ve put together some of our most helpful tips and tried and true strategies to mitigate some of the emotional challenge that goes along with being a founder. And we’ve tried to package that all in a book that’s easy to read and easy to use.
  Today’s episode is an interview that I did a while back with Zach Holman. He is a solo founder and previously worked at GitHub, so he has had quite a life in the tech world. Last October, he wrote a blog on his website, ZachHolman.com, called The Depression Thing. And I came across it and found it to be one of the better descriptions of the depression experience that I have read online. And I was really glad that he took the time to talk to me about it.
  And stories like Zach’s are the why behind why we do what we do at Zen Founder. We want to normalize conversations about mental illness. We want to let founders know that it is totally normal to struggle. That’s typical. And that there are lots of things that can be done to help. So the podcast, the book, my consulting work, all of that is designed to let founders know that there are resources and support available for the emotional and mental ups and downs that inherently go along with the challenge of starting and running a business.
  I hope Zach’s story gives you an opportunity for commiseration, but also some ideas about how you can keep your own mental game song. If you like what we’re doing or you have suggestions for episodes or topics you’d like us to tackle, then feel free to be in touch. You can reach out to me, [email protected]. That’s Sherry like the wine. S-H-E-R-R-Y. Thanks so much for listening.
Sherry: Well thanks, Zach, for taking the time to talk with me today. I came across your recent post about depression I think while I was on vacation in Mexico. And it was just one of those things that I stopped what I was doing and read it, and read it again, and read it really carefully. Because it was such a great description of the play-by-play of how you A) had to figure out what was happening to you, and gave it a label, and then tried to figure out what to do about it.
  So I think that kind of candor is pretty rare in the tech world, and I really appreciate you being willing to put it out there, because we know that a lot of people who are entrepreneurs or people in the tech world are experiencing it, but not a lot of folk are talking about it.
Zach: Thanks, and thanks for having me on. Pretty excited to talk about this, ironically enough, I guess. If you can be excited about talking about depression.
Sherry: I think you can, because it’s important. It’s meaningful. It’s a meaningful conversation.
Zach: Yeah.
Sherry: So let’s maybe just cut right to it. What was the moment that you realized, I am not okay?
Zach: I mentioned this in the post, but there was the moment where after drinking with a good friend, I broke a wine glass or something like that. And that was weird for me because I’m never … I don’t act that way when I’m drunk, ever. And I knew that I had been dealing with a lot of feelings and things that … I think I would have agreed that I would have been depressed for a year or two before that, but that was the tipping point where I was like, oh man, this is not me. This is not where I want to be. And that was just a very strange realization for me, ’cause … Before, it was always just like, oh yeah, I’m depressed and that’s how things go. And I can deal with it because that’s how I deal with it. But once I realized, oh, this is different, that was a jolt and I was like, okay … It gave me a kick in the butt to make some changes, I guess.
Sherry: It was just so atypical for you that you didn’t really recognize it.
Zach: Yeah. And once you start recognizing a couple of those things, you go back and say, oh, this thing is different. This is different. This is not … You start recognizing signs that you normally would have just bypassed and not really thought much about.
Sherry: What did depression feel like for you? How would you describe it?
Zach: Mine was just almost like being smothered by a really … Just lack of movement, I guess. Lack of motivation, lack of really wanting to do anything. Just stereotypical, I don’t want to get off the couch because the couch is nice and easy. And that was also a weird thing. Once I started recognizing these signs in me, I was like, oh, I really don’t want to do anything.
  Even my desk over there is dirty. I don’t even want to clean it, and that will take 30 seconds. It’s just like, ugh. Everything’s too hard, pointless. And that was my experience with depression.
Sherry: And that was happening as you’re starting a company. So you’re almost a year into your most recent venture, During. And how did the timing line up with you beginning this venture and you getting really depressed?
Zach: It was a couple different things. One, I think in hindsight, my depression has really been with me for 10, 15 years, at least in some variety. So part of it wasn’t really new. The extreme part that I’d been experiencing the last year or two in particular was a little bit more new, but I think there’s a number of things that hit me all at the same time. Once I started recognizing that I am depressed … And at the time … It was before I’d really started moving towards founding a company, type of deal. I was still searching, and I think that’s part of the problem that I was experiencing, ’cause I didn’t have a huge focus and I think that exacerbated the cycle, and I was like, What am I going to focus on? What am I doing? What am I trying to do with my life?
  And once I started seeking help for my depression, it became a lot easier for me to start focusing on, oh, I want to work on this idea for this company. And as I got better, I got to do more work on the company. It was a reverse cycle, if you will, where I got more motivation as I got healthier and stuff like that.
  So I think there’s definitely a closer relationship between … At least for me, depression and being in a role of founder and stuff like that, which is interesting. I’m still trying to unpack that a little bit, too.
Sherry: Yeah, I think it’s a relationship that exists. The exact nature of it, we’re not sure about, but I was actually talking to Rand Fishkin yesterday about his experience founding Moz and the extent to which, at least for him, the depression went hand in hand with some of the cycles in the life of an entrepreneur.
Zach: Yeah, it’s the whole … It’s a cliché for a good reason. High highs, low lows. And yeah, it’s easy to forget, especially in the beginning, a lot of the lows are really crappy starting out. Yeah, it’s just a weird circumstance, regardless of if you face a traditional diagnosis of depression or anything. It’s just a hard thing to do for anybody.
Sherry: And I think there are … We know that there are different causes of depression. Some people have a very biochemical depression and it’s cyclical, and it happens in a predictable way. Other people have an existential angst or depression that might be at least triggered by things in the environment. And it sounds a little bit like that’s some of what happened for you in the sense that your listlessness after leaving GitHub and leaving the other things that you’ve done, and the “what’s next?” question was a pretty painful one for you, a pretty hard one.
Zach: Yeah. I think it’s definitely, at least for me, both sides of those two, ’cause as I’ve been on the other side of things now, recognizing that I think there was probably some sort of chemical reaction in my brain, where I felt lower than I should have been. And medication can help with that, therapy, re-analyzing how I view different things that happened in my life. All of that can raise my baseline, which is quite a bit better.
  But on top of that, there’s always lots of big things that can trigger things as well. A lot of this started with when I left GitHub. I got fired from GitHub, so coming to terms with that over the next couple years, and … I heard one guy call it, being in the wilderness for a while, trying to sort out, what do I want to do and all that sort of stuff. It’s a precarious position to be in, ’cause you can go either way, where you can say, “Oh yeah, everything is great. I’m going to attack the world” and for me, it was a couple of weeks of that, and then it just slid into, well, whatever. Well, what’s the point? And stuff like that.
  So yeah, it’s hard. And I think … I’ve been talking to a lot of people about all these sorts of things, all over the spectrum, and really I think the answer is, it depends. It depends on your own circumstances and how your brain works and what experiences you’re facing every day, and it just depends on a person-by-person basis of how they react to things differently, and that can change over time. It’s some complicated stuff.
Sherry: Yeah, absolutely. I wish, in some ways, it was more like diabetes, where they could just give you a blood test, it would be like, yes, you have diabetes, no you don’t. Or maybe you’re pre-diabetic, you’re in the danger zone. And it just doesn’t work like that with mental illness in the same way. And depression is very nuanced, and it takes different shapes in different people for different reasons.
  I think one of the hardest things about really helping founders really identify what depression is and when they’re experiencing it, because like you experienced, there can be this slow slide. You don’t know that you’re not well until some really outlandish, outlier kind of thing happens. Or you get fired or some external force tells you, “No, no, no, no. You’re not okay.”
Zach: Yeah. And I always find it fascinating, ’cause the whole time I was in this slide, I had a number of my own friends who were going through similar things. Some were … Some, not as bad. And it was very easy for me to say, “Oh, I think you’re dealing with some hard stuff. You should seek help or do all this sorts of stuff.” And it’s very hard to turn the lens on yourself sometimes, and recognize that what you’re telling them is even better advice for yourself. Get some help or something like that.
  But a lot of when I look back, it’s just like your brain is different. And I don’t know if it’s defenses or something, but you don’t recognize your own signs in yourself, you don’t recognize the logical thing to do. And I look back … I kept a lot of … Just journaled for myself every couple of days or something like that, and reading through those journals, it’s just … Dude’s a stranger. I don’t know who this person is, ’cause they’re just in a very different mindset. They’re not seeing things logically, and that’s the hardest point of view, because it’s not as easy as just “snap out of it. Just go do this solution” or something. You’re fighting against yourself the whole time, which is the really tricky part, to tackle that from within.
Sherry: And I think, especially for entrepreneurs, there’s this adherence to logic that is helpful when you’re founding a business. But what depression does is change the rules of logic. So it all feels logical in your head, but it’s just the wrong logic. The logic in your head is, “Surely, I will always be a failure.” Or “Surely, my life is always going to suck.” And that all makes sense in depression-land. But it’s just different logic than you would employ when you’re well, or that makes sense to you in other times.
Zach: Yeah, I definitely would say that a lot. Like, “What’s the point? It’s just going to be bad anyway” or something like that. Which, on its face, is a really dumb ascertation, but I could totally justify it in my own head. And it’s just like … That’s kind of why I’m a big … At least now, I’m a big proponent of getting some sort of external help, whether that’s therapy or medication or whatever the case is. Because you can’t diagnose a problem if your tools themselves are broken. And I think that’s what I felt was the major problem, is just … I’m trying to come up with a stupid metaphor of, how do you fix the car engine if your tool is-
Sherry: You’re stuck in the trunk.
Zach: Yeah. How do you even do that? And if you can get out of the trunk and do it … This metaphor is getting really weird, but you know what I’m saying. If you can do that, more power to you, but I don’t think it’s a shame on you if you can’t magically fix your own tools and brain and get yourself out of a situation.
Sherry: So what was therapy like for you? It sounds like you … At least from what you wrote in your post, you went in a little bit cynical, like “This is for other people,” but somehow you got yourself in the room. And how did it go?
Zach: Yeah, it was weird. That was definitely something that I’d told half dozen people or my friends, “You should see somebody.” And I never did. And I had lots of excuses because the first … The last four years I tried … I think this was the fourth try or something. The first try, it’s hard enough to try and find a therapist, because it’s not like a restaurant. There’s no Yelp reviews. There are some reviews, but they’re wholly unhelpful. And again, everybody’s different. So how do you even find the right person? And I tried a couple of different things, and found some people, but then there’d be insurance problems and I’d never actually see somebody. Or one person was just like, “I don’t do anything over the internet. You’re going to have to call me in for appointments” and stuff like that. I was like, all right, click. That’s ridiculous.
  And these are all minor things, but there were far enough for me to just be like, all right, throw my hands up and be like, I’m not going to do this.
Sherry: It’s enough of a barrier.
Zach: Yeah.
Sherry: That when you already don’t feel good and you’re not motivated, then it just made it that much harder.
Zach: Yeah. And it’s even harder because when you’re talking about therapy in particular, what do you want to say … One to three or four sessions before you can start even making an assessment of, is this going to be helpful for you? And when you’re feeling this way, the last thing you want somebody to say is, “Yeah, you’re going to have up to a month or more before you even can start recognizing if this makes any changes for you or if you have to start again with somebody else and start over.”
  So there’s a lot of fear surrounding that that I had, that was weirding me out. And for the longest time, when I was trying to come up with who would be a good therapist for me, I always thought it has to be somebody I have to be close with or something. A good BFF and I can just shoot the shit or something like that. But after I got into it, I just realized, I don’t have to be friends with this person. As long as I’m open with them and can talk about things. At least for me, that was a big breakthrough, where I was just like, oh, I’m not looking for friendship with this person. I’m looking to fix myself. And that opened a lot of things up in my head. That was about a month or so in.
Sherry: And that’s some of how it’s set up, right, is that you really can’t be friends with them.
Zach: Yeah.
Sherry: I don’t go to drinks and dinner with my clients, because they need to have a space that’s not reciprocal, where they don’t have to … You don’t have to hold up the other side of friendship for the therapist.
Zach: Yeah, which I don’t think I got before I went to one. ‘Cause I assumed … I don’t know, from bad TV or something like that, there’s a lot of back and forth or something. But at least with my therapist, we had a good relationship of … He was a very receptive mirror. Or he would be the person holding up the mirror from the right angle to get me to see myself, which, at least for me, that worked really well. I know there’s a lot of different approaches to therapy, but the whole therapy thing was weird for me for a good month or two. But then it got to the point … I think it was the sixth session, I walked out, and I just remember being flabbergasted. I was like, huh. I kind of feel better. It was just a weird thing. It was the first time, and I was like, oh. All right. I guess this is cool for me to keep doing.
Sherry: This is a thing. It works.
Zach: Yeah. ‘Cause the whole time, again, I did not really expect any therapy session to make me feel better. I was like, oh, maybe it’s a long term thing. But I started almost, gasp, looking forward to therapy.
Sherry: And I think that’s important to talk about because, again, not to keep harping on this, especially in the entrepreneurs, but I think you’re a results-oriented person. And anyone who is working in technology or is running a tech business or a web-based business, you’re used to seeing outcomes and tracking metrics, and are data-driven in a way data’s [inaudible 00:19:07]. And I think that therapy is a much more process-oriented … It just takes a while. And you don’t always see the direct effects, but you have to trust the process. And that feels a little warm, fuzzy, not science-y enough, I think, for most entrepreneurs and tech folks. And I get that. I’m a science-oriented person myself. But it’s a little more nuanced. It’s a little more artful than we’d like it to be.
Zach: And I think even on top of that, I come from … I think a lot of programmers are this way, where we are like, “I have to go to a meeting today and talk to people. Whatever, just send me an email and we’ll be done in three minutes.” When you’re coming from that perspective, it’s just like, oh, this is just another meeting with somebody I don’t really want to talk to about things I really don’t want to talk about. Not going to help.
Sherry: Another human.
Zach: Yeah. I spent my whole life trying to get humans out of my life. And now I’m paying a lot of money to get somebody into my life? It’s weird. But it is a substantially different thing than just building a line of code or something like that.
Sherry: And it sounds like, despite your reticence, it’s something that has been helpful.
Zach: Yeah. I think … Again this is all very much person-dependent, but I think therapy was pretty helpful for me. But I think what he did was got me … Introduced me to a psychiatrist and I got a medication. And I think the combination of the two was really effective for me. ‘Cause I’ve talked to a lot of people since then, who say the same thing, like, “Okay, I’ve tried therapy. It didn’t really work for me.” And it’s like, cool. Didn’t magically flip a switch for me either, but I think the combination of a lot of things and the combination with really changing how you attack a problem. There’s a lot of different things.
  And there’s obviously diet and life changes and stuff you can take. So it’s really about finding the right combination. And for me, honestly, it all started with therapy. So that’s the foundation of all of these other changes I made.
Sherry: And sometimes a good therapist can serve as a traffic conductor. Like, go here to see this dietitian. Talk to this psychiatrist. Let’s adjust your sleep schedule. Trying things on multiple fronts at one time is generally the best practice with depression.
Zach: Yeah. And it’s super helpful because, again, my brain was not set up to even pursue these solutions myself, much less … I had no idea … It’s hard to even get to a solution when you don’t know the questions to ask. And going to somebody else who … Maybe he’s not a specialist and whatever it is, but he’ll have a good way of saying, “Talk to this person” or “Try this” or “Read up on this.” If you’re not a specialist in all those, it’s really helpful to have somebody who at least can point you in the right direction.
Sherry: Yeah. I don’t cut my own hair or clean my own teeth. There are specialists that we go to all the time for different parts of our body and functioning to make sure that all the systems are working together. And I think a therapist can be part of that team.
Zach: Yeah, I like that metaphor. Especially as a … My dad was a dentist. And my grandfather was a dentist. So shoutout to the dentistry population.
Sherry: Therapists are like the dentists of your mind.
Zach: We’re not doing good on metaphors.
Sherry: I know, [inaudible 00:22:33] terrible.
  You want to talk a little bit about the really low points for you? You mention in your post, some moments of feeling suicidal or feeling like it was really too much to keep going. And although those are pretty scary things to talk about, I think they’re surprisingly common, that people have thoughts and feelings like that. How’d that manifest for you? What were the thoughts and feelings that you struggled with?
Zach: It’s kind of weird. Thinking back, I don’t know if I really had many low points. The whole thing was a low point. And looking back, it was just a swamp of always feeling crappy. There’d be points where I’d be like, oh crap, I want to kill myself, type of deal, but it was just most of the time. And especially thinking back to where … I don’t know, I lost a lot of concept of time. Every day was just sort of the same. I don’t know, my low point was just … Especially the last year, where every day was just a sludge to get through. And I don’t know, it’s frustrating, just because you don’t see much change the whole time. So that was how it manifested for me, I think.
Sherry: What made you decide to write about this publicly?
Zach: I feel like ever since my GitHub days, I’ve written about a lot of things. I’m not a good writer about stuff. I’m an okay writer about things that I’ve gone through and experienced. And I’ve written about different things in the past. Getting fired, for example, was a big one. And at the end of the day, if you can share your experiences and it helps somebody … That sounds so lame, but it’s-
Sherry: There’s some redemption in that.
Zach: Yeah. And, it’s not entirely selfless. As you write this sort of stuff, it really helps yourself out. I tell people, “You don’t have to publish the post. Just write it down, or write an email to somebody, just never send it” type of deal. I think all of that helps you process it. A lot of this stuff parallels when I got fired. I did this long post about getting fired, and then I gave a talk three times afterwards, modeled on that post. The first time I gave the talk, it was really raw and “How do I talk about this?” The second time was just like, oh, this is interesting. The third time, I was like, I never want to give this talk again ’cause I’m over it.
Sherry: I’m bored of this. I don’t care about it.
Zach: Yeah, I’m over it. Whatever the case is. And I think that’s an interesting aspect of it as well. When I did the fired talk first, I got a bunch of emails saying … I think the count is up to two dozen now, where people said, “Thought that was a good post. And then a couple months later, I got fired. And then I thought it was a great post.” It’s helpful to get that type of response. And I got a lot of emails from the post on depression from people saying the same sort of thing. And especially with depression, mental illness, anything like that, the more people talking about it, the better.
  And at the end of the day, this is one of the most formative experiences of my life, and I just like to talk about that when it’s appropriate. The whole time I was going through this … It’s been a year or so, where I’ve been having some sort of outline about the posts and stuff like that. But until you get to the point when you’re really ready to write about it, and discuss it, it’s just hard for me to do. So finally got to that point where at least found enough time to write it. And it’s been a … I’m happy I wrote it.
  Even in the post, I mention, you hover over the mouse for the button for a couple of minutes, of, do I really want to talk about this? But I sent it to a couple people in the industry who deal with depression and mental health, and they were just like, “No, no, no. You should publish this.” It’s always helpful to have some jerk friend next to you saying, “Yeah, yeah, do it. It’s good. Here’s some confidence if you don’t have it.”
Sherry: Yeah, I think the power of being public about this kind of conversation is that feedback loop of, you’re not alone in this. Both for you, but the way that that serves other people, to hear your voice articulate so clearly how hard it can feel. And I think we all need to hear, over and over, that we’re not alone in our struggles.
Zach: I was going to say, honestly, one of the biggest parts is just I’m very indebted to a number of people who helped me out when I was going through the really hard stuff. It just makes me feel glad that I can use my experience to help somebody else out like somebody else helped me quite a bit. It’s the whole pay it forward. Never be able to cover what they did for me, but I can hopefully help out with somebody.
Sherry: How did people help you? What was helpful to you in the midst of that season?
Zach: It’s super interesting to see who helps you. ‘Cause there’s some people who are very … Your best friend may not be the best person to help you out in stuff like this. Versus the person who you don’t really know very well might end up being your biggest support system, or the biggest person. And it really comes down to, have they done it before? Have they had experience with themselves or somebody else? That level of empathy is different with different people.
  And it comes in a lot of different ways, whether it’s a matter of just being somebody to rant to or send a bunch of text messages of, “Everything’s terrible.” And having somebody listen to you. Or, I know a lot of people who’ve helped out their friends by just saying, “Okay, you should probably see a therapist. I’m going to go through all the crap of somebody nearby you, is it good with your insurance, all of the logistical stuff, is another good way to help. It’s just a lot of … It’s just being a good friend. Being somebody who can recognize how they can help you, or recognize that hey, I don’t have any experience with this, you should really be talking to somebody else.” Whatever the case is. There’s a lot of ways to help out from that position.
Sherry: I think sometimes, it’s the showing up that’s helpful. I’ve certainly talked with people who have no idea what to say when someone is not doing well or when someone’s in a bad place. But there’s help in just showing up and making popcorn and sitting on the couch next to somebody, if the couch is their spot. You just sit there. You don’t have to talk, you don’t have to fix it, you don’t have to problem-solve. But there’s something so important about just another human being present.
Zach: Yeah. Especially, I think there’s a segment of forgiveness that is … ‘Cause I was a jerk to a lot of people. Maybe not even straight up, but just being … Nobody really wants to hang with a Debbie Downer all the time. I’d say things I didn’t mean. And the fact that these people kept coming back and still saying, “Hey, everybody feels down, that’s just a thing.” It’s helpful to at least see people there who are ready to ride with you if things come to it.
Sherry: They’ll put up with your cynical, pessimistic, depression self.
Zach: Yeah.
Sherry: So for some people, and certainly not everybody, but for some people, depression is recurrent. It happens over and over. And it sounds like there have probably been other times in your life where you’ve been depressed. But as you … From here, in this place where you’re relatively healthy, not depressed right now, did you think about if you were to experience another episode of depression, how would you equip yourself? What would you want to have in place or ready to help support you, should that happen?
Zach: Yeah, it’s something that you’re always kind of worried about. I made a comment to one of my friends. Recently, we were talking about all this sort of stuff, and I kind of understand the ever-present fear … Fear is not the right word, but worrying about this sort of stuff for recovering alcoholics. Obviously, I knew it was a thing to relapse, but I was like, all right, if it’s been 30 years since your last drink or something … But I can feel that now … Recognize it a lot more in myself with depression. Even though I feel monumentally better than I used to, there’s always that fear of, oh, things could go wrong and then I’m right back to where I was.
  And I think therapy really helped me in at least giving me more tools to analyze … To at least, number one, to recognize when I am in that hole again. ‘Cause a lot of the times, at least in my experience, I’d find myself in that hole and I didn’t really know how I got there. And it’s been, oh, wow, it’s been six months. How did I not notice this? How did I get in this situation? So I think that’s one thing, is to keep asking yourself, how do I feel? Is this different from yesterday? Am I too many days feeling the same way? I feel a little bit more cognizant towards that.
  The other thing is just always have the support system ready. I had too many weeks in a row where I wouldn’t see my therapist and we were just like, “Well, everything’s fine. All right, see you next week.” So I ended up not seeing my therapist anymore. Just stopped with that. But he was very much like, yeah, anytime you want to come back, even if it’s an irregular checkup or something, obviously, he’s there for me.
  So having the ability of recognizing when something is different, when something’s not going as well, and then at least having steps to fix that. It’s the same with any sort of problem, but depression can somehow sneak up on you unless you’re paranoid and aware about it.
Sherry: Yeah, most of us aren’t really used to being that self-reflective. We’re not monks who spend all our time meditating. Most of us are out in the world, we’re busy and we’re doing stuff, and until the wheels fall off the bus, we’re just going to keep going. Yeah, that reflective capacity, or the skill, the ability to be able to really monitor how you’re feeling on a given day. It sounds like writing has also been a part of that for you, whether that’s journaling every couple days, or-
Zach: Yeah, not as much recently, but I need to start doing that again.
Sherry: Well, it’s a great way to track the mood, right? To pay attention to what’s going on inside. When you put it down on paper, it becomes a little bit separate. You can see it a little more objectively.
Zach: Yeah. And it’s more of a record, too, because … At least I have the problem where I would forget, or you’d like … oh, it wasn’t that bad two weeks ago, when really, if you had a record of, oh yeah, I’ve been feeling pretty bad for two or three weeks, I should start changing something.
  And I think it’s very easy … As you’re saying, we’re all doing stuff. It’s very easy to say, “Oh, I had a really crappy day. But it’s 10:00 PM, I’m going to sleep.” And then you keep doing this cycle. So if you look at it just as a day by day thing, it’s very easy to say, “Oh, well, I’m just going to sleep, it’ll fix it tomorrow.” But you have to step back and look also on the realm of weeks or months, and say, “Okay, what is the overall macro-view of my life and how I’m feeling?”
  We’ll see. It’s something that I’m still worried about, and I don’t feel out of the woods yet. So we’ll see.
Sherry: It’s something that no one hopes happens again, but is … I think it’s part of telling the truth about what’s hard. And telling the truth about what’s happened. And the fact that your body did this under stress means that at least there’s the capacity to go that direction again, and you want to catch it early.
  I think that’s another thing about working with really high functioning people, is that they can function under really difficult emotional or internal circumstances, and they just keep going. And keep going to work, and keep, frankly, producing reasonably. And so the external environment doesn’t necessarily say, “Dude, you’re not okay.” And so it has to be a little bit more of the internal observation to try to catch something early.
Zach: Yeah. Especially, it’s very much the same in tech, where you have to pay attention to what you’re monitoring, what metrics you’re looking at. And if your metric is, “Am I being productive?” And that’s your only metric, there’s plenty of times where I’ve been super productive, but feeling terrible. So you have to change your metrics sometimes, and start reorienting, okay, productivity is one metric. What are other metrics? Am I seeing enough people? Am I going out with friends? Am I exercising? There’s a bunch of other metrics, and unless you’re analyzing those, too, it’s very easy to say, “Oh, well, I do the work, so whatever. I’m fine.”
Sherry: All things considered, are there parts of depression that you’re thankful for? Or not that you would choose it, necessarily, but there been any silver linings for you?
Zach: I hate depression.
Sherry: I think that’s a fair answer. No, I hate it. I never want to experience it.
Zach: I don’t know, at the end of the day, I view myself … Even myself three or four years ago, I’m very proud that I am a very different person. Or at least, I’m happy that I recognize the difference between me and three or four years ago. So I think there’s some silver lining in terms of … I think I treat things differently. I would hope that I’m more empathetic about a lot of these problems and a lot of how your actions, especially as a founder, impact other people.
  And at the end of the day, it’s just having that type of life experience, even though it sucks, it gives you some differentiation from other people that you can lean on, and hopefully it changes a lot of how you interact with people in a day to day basis. Especially in a work basis, or even as a personal basis. How could I be a better partner, and it’s a long journey, but I feel different at the end of the journey. Or in the middle of the journey. Wherever I am in the journey, I just feel different. So I think that’s a positive thing.
Sherry: Yeah, these things that deepen you and mature you, that you wouldn’t choose.
  So what’s next for you?
Zach: Just working. Trying to build a company, I guess. It can’t be that hard, right?
Sherry: No, I hear that’s 100% awesome all the time.
Zach: No, mostly just been doing that. I’ve been traveling a lot the last couple of weeks, so I’m happy to just be at home and hopefully get to a beta and I can launch the thing. ‘Cause right now, everything feels very imaginary, ’cause it’s just me and seven other users on the site. But yeah, gotta get to that next step, and then we’ll see what happens at that point.
Sherry: You and your ideas.
Zach: Too many ideas, not enough building. Gotta get back to work.
Sherry: Well it does, I think, speak to the point of how important it is to have your mind be a place that is as well as possible. All of your work is dependent on your ability to be creative and to execute and have motivation and communicate and all of these things that are higher-order cognitive tasks that don’t work so well when you’re stuck. Don’t work so well when you’re-
Zach: Yeah. We all have way more problems than we need right now in our own lives. And the last thing we want to have to deal with is your brain making everything else way harder than they need to be, too.
Sherry: Right, the self-sabotage that happens in your mind.
Zach: Yup.
Sherry: Cool. Well, do you feel complete? Anything else you want to make sure we talk about or mention? Any other wisdom you want to throw down?
Zach: Just see somebody if you think that your or somebody else could benefit from it. And I agree with everybody else who says, even if you don’t feel too terrible, or even if you feel fine, it’s totally worthwhile to see somebody at least a couple of times in your life, ’cause I think it does reorient yourself, and give you tools to improve yourself.
Sherry: If I had a magic wand, I think I would enforce that every founder have a therapist.
Zach: I think every person should have a therapist, really.
Sherry: Every human, but especially founders. And like you say, you don’t have to see them three times a week for the next 15 years, but having that expert in your Rolodex, so to speak, who is available when you need them, is really an important tool.
Zach: Yeah, just gives you a better foundation. Raises your level, and you can do better other things.
Sherry: Yeah. And there are lots of mental health professionals that are pretty awesome human beings, and interesting to sit with.
Zach: And there’s just a lot of other ways to reorient this part of yourself, too. It doesn’t have to be therapy if you’re … For whatever reason, it doesn’t work for you or it’s just not what you’re looking for, there’s a lot of different ways. I don’t know, I just ignored so many different things for so long before it was too late.
Sherry: But good news is, it’s not too late.
Zach: Never too late.
Sherry: You’re on the other side of it even thought it felt like, for a time, that you would never be.
Zach: Yeah, I would have been shocked if somebody said that … Or future me. Present me went back to past me. Past me would have been like, how? This is ridiculous. But I think it’s doable.
Sherry: Emotions aren’t permanent. I think that’s … They certainly feel like it when you’re in depression.
Zach: Yeah, everything is more extreme in depression, too. Sometimes, the highs are even better, too. I had good highs, and then they would just sink right away. It’s just a weird, murky … Everything is weird part of your brain.
Sherry: But the good news is that people get better.
Zach: Yeah, people get better. Life is still good.
Sherry: Yeah. I’m glad you got better.
Zach: Me too. So exhausting, not being better.
Sherry: Depression is exhausting.
Zach: Yeah.
Sherry: Well thanks for taking the time to talk to me, and as we began, thanks for your post and the courage to put it out there, I think in such an authentic, true to your own voice way, is so important in terms of letting other people know that this is part of life and you’re not alone, and that there’s definitely help no matter how desperate it feels. There’s another side. So it’s a good message that you’ve put out there in the world.
Zach: Thanks for having me. I definitely agree that just more people talking about this stuff, the better. You’re not weird to feel this way. You’re probably more normal than the people who don’t feel this way.


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