Opening up about mental health
A new chapter in my life within the world of tech
In this article, I discuss a few of my personal experiences. I share them not to gain sympathy or to express anger about my childhood or how I was raised. I am thankful for the life that I had as a child, as difficult as it was, and have a deep love for my family members, both alive and no longer with us. We all did the best we could with what we had. Rather, I approach my writing with reasonable vulnerability so that my readers feel safe, understood, and not alone.
"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate."
In early 2021 I posted a tweet storm on a whim that was about mental health. It wasn’t premeditated in the sense that I had thought about posting a mental health thread for weeks or months prior. It happened at a time when I was struggling with depression, anxiety, and a deep sense of hopelessness. I wrote it on my couch while crying.
I was afraid to post the thread because I wasn’t sure how people would react since I had never spoken about mental health before. I’m a “growth guy” so I was supposed to stay in my lane and only talk startups + growth. That was my internal narrative, at least. But I resisted the fear, went with what my gut was begging me to do, and posted the tweet anyway.
The response was larger and more rewarding than I had expected. Nearly 100 people within the tech community sent me private DMs expressing that they too were suffering, confirming what I suspected at the end of the tweet storm — many others like me were suffering in silence and didn’t know where to turn.
100 people in tech expressing their pain and desire for help. All from a single tweet.
That struck me. It suggested to me that I was on the right path.
Fast forward a year and I haven’t posted anything else mental health related since then. That’s partly because I’ve been heads down focused on lots and lots of mental health work myself. But it’s also true that my fears have prevailed and kept me from saying more.
After lots of reflection, encouragement from a few folks I’m close to, and repeated signs from the universe (more on this in later posts), I’ve decided that I have to move forward despite my fears and speak up about my experience trying to architect a successful career and life while grappling with multiple, significant clinical diagnoses of my own.
So, let’s get down to brass tacks…
Clinically speaking, I’ve been diagnosed with Complex PTSD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (also known as OCD), Persistent Depressive Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
I won’t beat around the bush. The first 10 years of my life was somewhat of a war zone. I experienced physical and emotional abuse, lots of neglect and abandonment including the eventual death of my mom, various family hardships such as divorce, bankruptcy, and a parent with multiple stints in psychiatric institutes and rehab centers, and other traumatic experiences including hospital visits following my mom’s attempts at suicide.
I hid most of this from my peers and friends up until now.
It wasn’t easy. Those early experiences shaped me in many ways, including the chronic mental health issues that have become a life-long work-in-progress. As Carl Jung’s quote at the top of this post suggests, I was living in a way where my subconscious was in control and was directly shaped by the less-than-nurturing experiences I had as a child. Thankfully, through years of difficult work, I’ve become much more aware of how my childhood trauma has shaped me and begun to rewire myself such that I’m less controlled by my brain’s default state of disharmony.
Practical Mental Health for High Achievers
I’ve come to understand how those early experiences shaped how I present myself to the world, including my once-endless drive for achievement and success. I now know that burying myself in work and winning every blue ribbon, trophy, job promotion, etc was a way for me to numb the underlying pain that originated in my early years.
I internalized my early experiences as me not being fundamentally loveable for who I was, unless I was succeeding (straight A’s, hitting homeruns, etc). Children are inherently narcissistic (this isn’t meant pejoratively) so anything that happens to them is believed to be because of who they are. That’s what I did. As a result, my internal state (how I felt) was predicated on my external state (what I was doing), culminating in a very unhealthy attachment to work and success in my 20’s and 30’s.
In short: Andy without achievement = unloveable, Andy with achievement = loveable
From the messages I received from others in the tech industry in response to my original tweet storm, it was clear I wasn’t the only one whose outward success was masking an internal disharmony that was persistent, disruptive, and approaching unbearable.
So, I’d like to do something about that by sharing what I’ve learned about mental health from the perspective of a patient with multiple clinical diagnoses and from the perspective of someone whose external demeanor masked my internal suffering.
Importantly, I want to do so as clearly and practically as possible. Much of what I read about mental health touches on the superficial aspects of it and isn’t rooted in the direct truth of what it really takes to heal, within a modern context, especially when attempting to rewrite the fundamental aspects of one’s own psychology that were established during their formative years.
At the time of writing this I’ve invested 10,000+ hours and $200k+ of my own money on individual therapy, group therapy, various medications, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, more than a month in a tier 1 psychiatric institute, and a long list of various mind-body-spirit practices (e.g. yoga, somatic sensing, acupuncture, etc). I’m continuing to explore both new and ancient modalities since my healing work is not done. I hope to continue writing about those experiences as they unfold.
I’m not sure where this first post will take me. Perhaps it’ll fizzle out and feel like this stage of my healing is done in a few months and I’ll stop writing. Or, it may touch a nerve that rallies much more public discussion and support for others within tech that are quietly suffering inside while seeking to manage the rest of their life. We’ll see…
All I know is that I have an urge to open up about my mental health challenges and that the urge won’t subside unless I entertain it, become wildly vulnerable in a way that I haven’t before, and talk about mental health from a patient’s point-of-view. It simply feels like something I have to do for now, so I’m going to do it.
In advance, I want to thank those of you who read this for your support and encouragement as I attempt to heal out loud and in public. I hope that I get to know you more and that we can undertake the task of healing together.
Glad to find you here, Andy. My largest (staggering) analytics on my Facebook page before leaving the platform were for an off-the-cuff post about how I tamed moderate-to-severe OCD. I will follow you here with interest and support. Gratitude for your courage. Authenticity is badass.
I can only say thanks so much for writing this. I also read you article in Lenny's Newsletter and have to say that it resonates and speaks to me like nothing before. Especially in regards to how the drive to achievement is a strategy to feel loved and validated and how you defined the environment in which you are thriving by breaking it down into different aspects of your day to day. Honestly Wow!
Reading your experiences made me feel more sure about that I am on the right track and that there are others out there that struggle with exactly the same.
Thanks so much Andy, this means a lot to me!