I lived most of my life in a swirl of anxiety, depression, fear, anger, and shame. I dropped out of college because of social anxiety and the isolation of depression.
From there I went into the Marine Corps, where I did really well because it was easy for me to follow the rules and I appeared to be a very effective leader because I never actually had to make any real decisions, just carry out the plan given to me from above. We were highly trained in leadership techniques and bearing, but I always felt insecure and like a fraud.
I got out of the Marine Corps and despite my advanced technical training and experience, I went to work selling used cars. The social anxiety crushed me and I broken down and had to quit after about 4 months. I'd get in the car to head to work and sit there sobbing until I went back to bed. It really sucked.
I was able to hold a temp office job and started teaching myself programming and computer networking. I'm a smart guy and things come pretty easily to me. Plus IT is a field that is notorious for not requiring a lot of human interaction, so it seemed like a good fit. I did excellent work, so it was easy for me to get freelance work, but marketing and sales was always a challenge for me.
About this time I went to a therapist who specialized in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and it really did help to develop some coping mechanisms for the social anxiety. I was able to manage it for the most part, but would still struggle significantly with general anxiety, depression, lack of motivation and goals. I also tried anti-depressants around this time and the side effects - sexual side effects and I'd fly into a rage at the drop of a hat - seemed worse than the depression, so I stopped after about 6 months.
I started a couple businesses and was mostly self-employed for the next dozen years or so. I'd take an occasional job, but hated being told what to do. Most of my businesses failed because I'd get frustrated with myself and the results I was getting and I'd scrap the whole thing and walk away to start over.
I never attempted suicide, but I did struggle with thoughts of self-harm, especially during the worst of the depressive cycles.
I had started reading self-help books back in the Marine Corps. I think I had a room-mate early on that was into that stuff and I became intrigued. I maintained my interest and read many self-help books over the years, but in a way it made me feel worse because I believed I could change and be happy, but I was never able to, so in a way it just reinforced the belief that there must be something wrong with me.
I also remembered being bullied and abused as a child, but didn't really see any connection to what I was feeling as an adult. But I did blame myself for being upset. Was a chronic people pleaser. I was filled with self-loathing and shame. I would binge on drugs, alcohol, food, sex, shopping, gambling, and obsess over politics and religion, all in an ineffective attempt to comfort myself, which failed and just left me with more shame and a stronger desire to comfort myself, which failed and ... I think you can see where this is going.
So about two years ago, at 38 years old and feeling like a failure in life, business, and everything on the tails of a decades long depression, I was about to walk away from another business that wasn't working the way I wanted it to. I'd been to sales training, hired coaches, bought marketing courses, read books, taken classes, worked with biz dev groups... Hours upon dollars upon hours upon dollars and nothing was working.
But I still felt like it was possible.
So I was able to finally say to myself, maybe I'm the problem. Now I don't mean that to be victim-blaming in any way, but if I'm the common element in all these situations, maybe I really just need to fix myself. I didn't know what that meant. I'd been to therapists before. I'd read piles and piles of books. I loved the theories, but just couldn't find anything that would stick. But it was either make one more attempt, or walk away and start over again only to end up back in this same place in another 3 years.
So I went to therapy. I insisted on calling it coaching, but no one cared :) I got a referral from a friend who really seemed to get where I was coming from and I headed in.
Now one disclaimer I always feel compelled to make at this point is that I am an atheist. Not a militant atheist or even one with an explicit belief that there is no god. Just that I don't really believe there is. I point that out because it just so happened that the counsellor I got hooked up with was a Biblical counsellor. But the friend who recommended him happened to be a pastor at a local church and I found him to be very non-judgemental and compassionate, so I trusted that relationship and that he wouldn't steer me wrong and gave it a shot. So at our first meeting I laid that all out and asked him if it would be a problem for him to work with me. I also told him my only problem would be if he used it as an opportunity to try to "save" me. We agreed it shouldn't be a problem so we got started.
This is relevant because the model of therapy, which I have come to fully embrace and use for my own coaching of others though with my own secular take, basically says that we are born with all the tools we need to function as emotionally healthy happy people who engage in loving relationships with others. Anger and grief has a legitimate and necessary role in that. But, we run into trouble when we're taught, or have modelled, or somehow pick up self-protective, mal-adjusted, non-serving core beliefs that lead us to mishandle, mistrust, or ignore those crucial emotional tools that we have at our disposal. (In Christian counselling this is called the Brokenness Model. I'm still looking for good documentation on the secular equivalent.)
At any rate, what I learned over the past two years is that the anger I had over neglect and abuse (physical, emotional, and sexual) from my childhood, but had learned to direct at myself since I was unable to effectively or safely direct it where it belonged due to the circumstances of the situation (e.g. I was a kid), was swirling around under the surface being turned against myself and the outside world in clever, curios, and damaging ways. This lead to depression, fear, anxiety, shame, low self-esteem, perfectionism... and on and on.
So I was applying the self-protective behavior that I adopted out of necessity as a truly helpless child as an adult in a world that didn't pose the same threats, but I had never had the opportunity to go back and re-evaluate.
There's obviously a lot more nuance to the dynamic and background on how I learned those things and worked to heal them, but the bottom line is I learned (am learning) to deal with the reality of the present situation using all the emotional tools I have available effectively, without applying the fear/anxiety/anger/... of the past, which simply doesn't apply.
It's a process and I'm still working on parts of it.
But as I started talking about this with other business owners that I worked with at the time, they would frequently ask questions and related that they had many of the same struggles. We'd frequently uncover that they also shared many of the same causes. So I kept talking about it.
Incidentally, the tech business I was building also started growing during this time. It became profitable. I picked up new clients. It started being more fun. I was actually enjoying it. But I enjoyed talking to other business owners about emotional health more :)
So just a couple months ago I was actually able to sell my tech business and I started doing a podcast, where I share this message of the importance of emotional health on entrepreneurship, and coaching other business owners full time.
The really interesting part is that I've started interviewing other successful entrepreneurs with a history of emotional trauma (abuse, bullying, divorce, substance abuse...) and there are a shocking number of commonalities. So much so that I now speak almost exclusively to the impact of emotional trauma on entrepreneurship.
And I freaking love it! I'm still sweeping away some of the cobwebs, but am waking up to the fully engaged, alive, happy, successful, fulfilled life that I was born to live.
Anyway, that's the full story. The tl;dr is, if you don't want to read the whole thing you can check out my podcast at bebuildhave.com where I share all this as well and help others with getting out of this situation in their own lives :)