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Melancholia: A deep sadness or pervasive gloom.

Would it come as a surprise if I told you a history of severe depression is common to many successful business owners?

Until I found myself grappling with accident-related psychological injuries so severe I was at high risk for death by suicide, I hadn’t really looked into it. I knew nothing about traumatic brain injury, cognitive deficits and neurological impairment, post-traumatic stress disorder or major depressive disorder with psychotic features.

Over the years, I had successfully coached, mentored and taught many who struggled with depression, anxiety, attention deficit and personality disorders and other mental health challenges. However, I had done so with no critical insight into the true depths of their experiences and challenges.

I always admired their honesty and openness about their struggles and was humbled by their commitment to work hard overcoming them. And I was happy to help them bring their great work into the world successfully regardless.

Over the last 5 years, especially when I found myself losing faith in my own progress through rehab and other therapies, and desperately wanted to quit all of it, I would review our work together and celebrate their accomplishments. It somehow kept me going even on the darkest of the dark days.

There are many who see depression and other mental health challenges as just a collection of symptoms to be eliminated. But among the highly successful people we admire are those who see and experience their suffering as a potential catalyst for emotional growth. (Or, with respect to my injuries specifically, post-traumatic growth.)

I have learned so much from my own experience battling suicidal compulsions resulting from physiological and neurological changes to my injured brain that I hardly know where to start! I am awestruck by the brain’s ability to heal and rewire its cognitive functioning. And, while I remain catastrophically injured, and will not ever return to my former self, I can see there is still opportunity to live a productive life.

While the relief of distress does not result in the recovery of mental health, I know the key that unlocks the gates of a mental prison, any mental prison, is having a sense of purpose.

Being able to identify one’s purpose does not eliminate suffering. As we grow in success and our lives become richer and more satisfying, depression, and its extreme form, melancholia, often attacks with even greater strength.

But a purpose that draws on our talents allows us to transcend our lives and life circumstances — even in depression. Which, for those who know it well, is a formidable foe.

Northern Adams, author of Mickey and the Gargoyle, wrote about it with great insight:

“If you tell someone you have depression, they will often say, “Oh, I’ve been depressed before, too.” The difference lies between being depressed and having depression. Everyone’s been depressed at one time or another, but these are far from being the same things. One is a passing mood. The other is a chronic illness that does not come and go, ebb and flow, is here one day and gone the next.

The difference between being depressed and having depression is that one is a mood and the other is an illness (or an injury). One is a momentary bout of melancholy. The other is a debilitating condition that requires medical treatment. Would you feel better about having a cancerous lesion if I likened it to the rash I had last week?

The difference between being depressed and having depression is the difference between a mood that will soon pass, and a serious illness that disrupts your ability to function and will take years to treat. The difference between being depressed and having depression is the difference between Cleveland and Bangkok, or your frying pan and the surface of the sun.

So, no, we (depressives) do not feel better when you tell us about your rash. We’ll do our best to be polite about it, but no, it really doesn’t help at all.”  

Having depression does not mean your productivity is lost forever! It does mean you need to approach your work and how you manage your business differently. I am still here to help you with that. The difference now is I know, intimately, what you are up against. And you don’t have to hide any of it from me.

More next time. Until then, remember to LOVE YOUR WORK, whatever it may be.

PS I hope you’ll find the new RAISING THE BAR series inspiring. If so, please share this post with friends and followers. You never know what burdens others are carrying or how much their load might be made lighter by doing so. ♥♥♥


Raising The Bar is a new series for the SMARTSTART community that has been taking shape in my head for most of the time I’ve spent working to recover from catastrophic brain, spinal cord and psychological injuries resulting from a near fatal accident in 2009. Success, whether it’s in rehab, business, relationships, or life, hinges on our ability to master this simple formula: Belief (B) + Attitude (A) = Response (R).

I’m excited to be sharing it with you now as a next step in my injury recovery. Consider this your invitation to join me on a grand adventure. Oh, the places we will go! Including all the places that scare us most. For that is where the greatest opportunities for joy and happiness — the true measures of success — reside!