April 16, 2021

My evolving battle with depression

My evolving battle with depression

💯💯💯 "If we're going to talk about the aspects that encompass what it means to be a creative entrepreneur, then part of that is talking about things like anxiety, depression, feelings of inadequacy, or loneliness. I mean, to me, they are just as much a part of this equation as marketing your work or mastering your finances. And if you enter a creative career without investigating your own mental health, you know, trying to discover what makes you the best version of yourself, or what makes you the worst version of yourself, then I do think that you're doing yourself a disservice."

Depression might hit each person differently.  For some, it might be short-lived, whereas others might experience a wave that lasts years, robbing them of joy and creativity.  In this episode, I talk about my history with depression and some of the tools I use to combat it.  


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Michael Der  0:02  
You're listening to entrepreneurs, a podcast that inspires photographers and visual artists to live their best creative lives. My name is Michael Der and I am a full time photographer with nearly 10 years of experience in the freelancing world. And I'm sitting down with an amazing community of visual artists to talk about process, business, and the lessons that have helped them grow. So let's get to it. Entrepreneurs starts right now.
Okay, Welcome back, everybody, it is great to have you guys here for another episode of entrepreneurs. I've been meaning to broach a topic like this for some time. Now, it's gonna be a little bit different from the normal topics I usually produce, like how to read a contract or breaking down a model release or what have you. But today, I want to do something a little bit different, a little more personal, a little bit from the heart, but ultimately, hopefully, still relevant to some of you, which is the topic of living with depression, especially when it comes to creatives, who I often find are very susceptible to it. And really, when I think about it, I started this podcast so that I could help people live their best creative lives. It's what I lead off with in the intro for crying out loud, it's effectively the mission statement of this podcast. So I knew I didn't want this to be a business-related podcast 100% of the time, you know, for one, I thought it would be a little bit boring, maybe a little bit stale to only cover business topics. But secondly, and more importantly, it's just not a complete representation of this journey. If we're going to talk about the aspects that encompass what it means to be a creative entrepreneur, then part of that is talking about things like anxiety, depression, feelings of inadequacy, or loneliness. I mean, to me, they are just as much a part of this equation as marketing your work or mastering your finances. And if you enter a creative career without investigating your own mental health, you know, trying to discover what makes you the best version of yourself, or what makes you the worst version of yourself, then I do think that you're doing yourself a disservice. So my goals today are to talk about how depression has impacted me and my journey, what I've basically learned from it, and then what kind of affirmations I tried to apply so that I can keep moving forward in a very challenging and very testing industry. So I'm going to go off the cuff here a little bit. This isn't going to be as scripted. But to give you a little bit of background on me and my journey. I've dealt with depression since I was a teenager. And it continues to affect me in a lot of different ways as an adult, I mean, sometimes it's, it's very benign, it's like a mild grumpiness. Other days, I'm very lethargic. And then sometimes I just can't get negative thoughts out of my head. And dating back to high school dating back to college. It was significantly more severe, you know, it creates tremendous isolation for me, I dealt with a lot of frustration, a lot of anger.

Insomnia was a big thing, which is terrible because your brain is active, but you're too tired and unmotivated to actually do anything productive with it. So that's obviously not fun. And then at its worst, I, I frequently experienced what's called suicidal ideation, which is not so much when you're going to commit suicide, but it's when you think about it, and you think about taking your own life. And I was, for me, I was fixated on my own death for a couple of years, in my late teens and early 20s, I would constantly visualize killing myself, and then I would obsess over this notion that I was insignificant, and that if I did do it, it wouldn't make a difference at all, nobody would miss me, the world wouldn't miss me. Now, before friends and family start reaching out for the hotline, intervention numbers, I do want to say that that was such a long time ago. And really, those thoughts have not entered my brain. And in many, many years, I am today an incredibly lucky person, I'm very content, I've got a stronger sense of self worth. I love my life. I love the people I share my life with. But I do have lingering baggage as I think almost all of us do. And I wanted to emphasize how pervasive and potentially severe depression can become. And when you throw in a career where your livelihood is based off of being creative, with depression looming over your shoulders, it just becomes very difficult. It's easy to be imaginative because you can let your mind wander to all sorts of extreme emotions and truths. But the actual act of being creative, where you put that imagination a tangible form, that becomes almost like a mountain of a speed bump. So for those of you who are, are burdened by this mental weight, the way that I have been throughout the majority of my adult life, just know that you're not alone. This is a community of creatives. Yes. But first and foremost, it's a community of people. And I maintain a believer that people can do incredible things with the help and friendship of other people. Now, for those who are maybe a little bit less sympathetic to those with depression, who don't really understand how anyone could let themselves get to that point or not understand why such a person can't just get over it. I wish it were that easy. I really do. And I look back at the days where I was going through my demons and I have just as hard time understanding how I got to that point. Anybody else I mean, it's, it's a completely unrecognizable person to the person I am today. And so I'm not sure if I have a great explanation. I'm certainly not a trained professional in the field. But here's what I would start with. People often mistake depression with sadness, because they kind of sometimes appear the same. Sadness, to me is a more of a short term reaction to a negative situation like loss. Depression, though, is more of a state of mind. It's a consistent mood where you can feel unmotivated and worthless. And because of that consistency, it can't be as easily solved by getting out in the sun. And, you know, going to the beach, having a cat with your friends, those areas might help a little bit in the short term, but they almost never move the needle in the long term. And what makes it even tougher is that depression feels like this downward spiral. You can't get out of this rut because you're always too tired or unmotivated to do anything about it. And your feelings of worthlessness literally translate to you not feeling like you're worth helping. So this thought this notion of like, Well, why doesn't that person just get help and ask for help? Well, it's because it just doesn't register to them, because they don't feel like they are worth helping. So you can see how difficult this is to get over. But it certainly doesn't mean that we shouldn't try right. But before I get into a few affirmations in the things that I use to tell myself when I am feeling depressed, I need to say that I'm not a mental health expert of any kind. So if you are having issues that can't be sorted out on your own, or via your own inner circle, definitely consider seeking out professional help from a trained therapist or a doctor. Okay, so here we go. My first, my first affirmation that I would tell myself is to not attach your identity to your job exclusively. Because here's what happens when you do that. If you attach your identity to your job, and you lose that job, then your sense of self worth takes a massive hit. And the biggest issue with depressive individuals is their lacking of self worth. their sense of self worth is lower. And I found this really great behavioral study from a Yale professor. Hopefully I can pronounce her name, right. I think it's Amy rez neski. And she states in this study that when an independent worker like myself, is feeling unproductive or thinks the work quality on a project is subpar. those concerns escalate pretty quickly to existential questions, it is a referendum on them and their choices, because workers are directing their own careers, they feel deeply responsible for anything that goes poorly. And that right there, folks, that's the existential crisis that I can relate to. And maybe you do, too. It's so easy for professional photographers like myself professional creatives, who have sacrificed a lot who've worked really hard to get where we are to support our entire livelihoods on freelancing income, to take pride in it, it's a badge of honor, to dream instinctive for me to identify with my job, my job is me. But the natural question I have after that is, well, what happens when you stop working? If you are your work, then logic states, you cease to exist when work is no longer an option. I think this hits everybody a little bit differently. But it's hard not to view failure in our line of work as a reflection on us, which is a very difficult thing to do. And it's a difficult position for us to put ourselves in. For instance, I just received news that I will be losing three more jobs in the fall, you know, these were substantial jobs, I was very excited about them. They were lucrative. And no matter how much I had prepared for that news, that possibility, it's hard not to feel a little bit bummed out when it happens, especially when you see your colleagues and you starting to get assignments as things are opening back up. But that that issue only becomes a personal reflection on me if I allow it to be that's the whole point. And you might be thinking, well, that's great to detach your identity from your job, but then that leaves you with no identity. So what do you do? So for me, what has helped me instead is to attach my identity to a mission statement or a purpose, a calling, which for me is to be creative, and to help people. That's really it. That's the crux of it. That's all I need to solve. And so I discovered that this mission statement, it's just not contingent upon anybody else. It's not contingent upon an external validation of a client or company or any position. And because of that, I can always feel like I'm accomplishing my goals, regardless of who is or isn't hiring me. And the wonderful byproduct of all of that is that it changes how I measure success, which I think is another self narrative that's very important to adhere to, is how do you measure success? Before if you asked me, Mike, did you have a successful year I'd probably look at the numbers first, and tell you based off of how many leads did I convert? How many new clients did I get? How much money did I earn things of that nature? And that is a high and somewhat lonely pedestal to put all of your expectations on. Now, with a different philosophy. My definition of success is how much impact did I make? Did I get the type of work that it's Buyers me, did I help one person in their journey did I help my clients build their brand. And it's certainly super important to have your eye on the numbers, especially if you are going into business. But my point on this whole rant is that those numbers don't really have to define you a good mission statement, that's an identity that I can get behind. And that that really has helped me keep things in perspective. So the second affirmation I tell myself is to find ways to increase your dopamine levels. And I actually stole this from another podcast, Zachary Levi, who is a, an actor was a guest on a podcast called inside of you with Michael Rosen bomb. And he talked about this trap that we get into when things are going really well like when you're acting right. And with regard to dopamine levels, witchers is kind of that neurotransmitter that spikes the excitement part of your brain, it gives us that feeling of euphoria and also self worth and accomplishment. He talked about an average day at work about coming to the set and how much he took for granted like the amount of dopamine he would accumulate just by getting to work each day. And so he said, You know, every time you achieve a little goal, you get a shot of dopamine in your body, you get to set on time, there you go. That's one accomplishment, you get to see the cast or the crew, you get that sense of community and tribe. The rehearsal process itself is an accomplishment because you're figuring things out, you're one step closer. And so what happens is that all of these are basically dopamine checkpoints. And they tally up throughout the course of an ordinary workday, you might end up with 20, or 30 shots of dopamine, elevating your state of mind, because you're feeling accomplished, you're working with people, you're you're achieving things. But then he says when it was stripped away, like it wasn't 2020, when you couldn't work anymore, then he was way more susceptible to like these big swings in his mood, because instead of 30 checkpoints of dopamine, now he has to. And so when I heard him say that when I heard him quantified dopamine shots, I started to think about my own experience. In that light, I realized how much I really haven't balanced that equation myself. And sure, not all the shots of dopamine are going to be created equal to very, very generalized calculation here. But in theory, this actually made a lot of sense to me. And so I started thinking about what a normal shoe day looks like for me and all the mini victories that might pile up on one of those days, you know, you solve a lighting setup, you nail a shot, get a great reaction from your subject, you make somebody laugh, all of that. All of that adds up in on non shooting days, it's easy to accomplish a lot less. So with a very crude mathematical outlook like the one that I'm talking about. I'm now a little bit more prepared to put myself in better positions to seek out dopamine checkpoints on days when I'm not on a photoshoot. So I have to think to myself, what other accomplishments Can I achieve what creates those surges? And so what I ended up learning is that there's this difference between the productiveness of serotonin based satisfaction and dopamine based satisfaction. So things that satiate your serotonin levels are usually going to be some sort of calming influence, maybe it's like a hot shower, maybe it's Netflix or a movie, it could be a hug from a loved one, those things satiate your serotonin levels, your dopamine levels, at least in this context, that's really where you get that sense of pride from accomplishing things from finishing a blog post, or getting a lead on the phone or setting your next shoot in motion. So for dopamine levels to spike, we really want to focus on achieving things. So it's not going to be achieved by scrolling through Instagram, or watching YouTube videos, even if they are educational or inspirational. There's a big difference between content that you consume versus content that you participate in. And without realizing it at the time, one of the best cathartic moves for me is actually been creating content for this podcast, because I know that if I don't have a shoot, just by writing just by recording or editing, or prospecting the audience, I'm accomplishing these little mini goals that actually aligned with my mission statement, right? I'm making an impact. I'm helping people however small that impact might be. And so for anybody else that's going through these depressive modes. While I'm super honored to have you listen to this program, I would actually much rather have you do something where you are an active participant yourself. And it doesn't have to be photography related. It could be painting or poetry or getting your finances order, maybe it's learning a new language or a new sport or a hobby that you can do with your family. You know, find small little victories each day create art when you can, but if you can't try to create some sort of work life balance. And so the last affirmation I'll leave you with is to allow your vulnerability to be your superpower. Okay, so I'm a big proponent of this. Some of the most transformative measures for me have been opening up about the struggles that I've gone through about talking to people about my failures about my shortcomings. And an example would be a few years ago, I started to open up about how severe my consumer debt got right and I started talking to people about that openly. I started to do presentations about it. This was a sore subject in the past. It was something that humiliated me and He kept it in secret. And really, I kind of figured that I would get a lot of heat for really making stupid decisions by being so open about it. But what I actually received was thanks for sharing my story. And the amazing part about that was that others began opening up to me. And so I was amazed how quickly relationships can evolve based off of just being vulnerable and open. And one of my favorite authors, Rene Brown, she says that staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection. So I can absolutely attest to how effective that principle is, even if it's just entirely selfish. And you're only trying to get people to connect to you. It's effective. I would imagine that under normal conditions, no listener of the show would reach out to me and tell me about any mental health issues that they're going through any depressive states that they're going through. But by me simply making the first step of being vulnerable and telling you that I am not okay myself by launching this type of episode, the possibility of connecting with someone directly multiplies significantly, somebody is more than likely to reach out and say, Hey, Mike, I appreciated the episode, I'm going through the same things, because I've already told you how messed up I am, I told you how imperfect I am. And when you're struggling with something, and you're not trying to play it cool, people will usually identify with that, they will recognize that and they will appreciate the fact that you came out vulnerably first, and they will let you know that they're struggling too. And so instead of having nobody in your corner, now you maybe have a companion that you can grow with, maybe you have community, if others want to shame you for opening up and baring your soul, then really that's their problem. It's not yours, okay? feeling embarrassed or ashamed of getting help. It really bothers the hell out of me. And it's a it's a problem with our culture to, to shame people to enforce this, particularly a toxic masculinity. If I'm being completely honest, this is a problem with men who are trained as young boys to just kind of deal with problems by getting over it, you know, it's the definition of a lose lose situation. Because if you think your friends and your family are actually winning by you suppressing everything, then you've got a completely skewed vision of a strong mental state. So we have to get over that don't let anybody shame you. You know, depression is already damaging enough. And I'm not exaggerating when I say that I have been robbed years of my life to depression. So you do not need anybody else. Adding shame to that. So I'll review the three basic affirmations, you don't have to listen to it. Again, I'm not a trained mental health professional. But these are just things that have helped me in my journey. The first one is to remember that your job isn't your entire identity.

Okay, I know every creative takes a lot of pride in being a creative, but just be careful when you toe that line attaching your self worth to a specific job or client. Instead, try thinking about identifying with a mission statement or purpose or a calling. And you might find that to be a little bit more fulfilling. The second thing I would say is to try to boost your dopamine levels on non shooting days in some fashion. What gives you a sense of achievement, not just satisfaction. Remember, movies can be satisfied, but it's not the same as achieving something. So think about things that give you a sense of accomplishment. And then lastly, I am a big proponent of letting your vulnerability be your strongest ally, let it be your superpower. you'll develop way stronger connections this way and you can work through depression, much easier having people on your side. Okay, folks, that is going to end and conclude the episode for today. I really appreciate everybody listening and tuning in. I know this is a departure from my normal type of content. But if just one person feels a little bit less alone than they did 15 minutes ago, or if one person shows a little bit more empathy to another going through their struggles, then this will all have been worth it to me. So keep paying it forward. Folks, I wish you all the very best in your journey. Entrepreneurs is launching new episodes each and every Friday. My name is Michael Der and I am out of here for now. Thank you again everybody. And I will catch you next week.

Hey everybody, this is Michael Der thank you so much for making it all the way to the end of the episode. I hope you'll follow tag and engage with us on our Instagram account at entrepreneurs pod. We've also launched our website entrepreneurs pod calm. It is the central hub where you can sign up for our newsletter, read our blog posts, send us voicemails, and even access discounts from our amazing affiliates. It's also the perfect spot to shout out entrepreneurs with what would be an immensely appreciated five star rating and review. And if you're feeling extra generous, you can even make a small donation that's really going to help accelerate the growth of this podcast. But no matter what you do, folks, I just want to say thank you so much for supporting this program. There are a lot of great photography podcasts out there and I am just grateful to have gained your trust even for a moment. Take care of everyone. See you next week.