The Business of High Functioning Depression
How the London Real Business Accelerator ended up being a kind of therapy for me and my Perfectionism/High Functioning Depression.
I am writing this purely because I want to express my gratitude to Brian Rose and the folks at the London Real Business Accelerator. This content has not been paid for, and is not written with any expectation of recompense.
In early 2011, having recently separated from my (now ex) wife, I moved into my own place, but then just kind of drifted. Work was just something I did most days. And going to the pub was something that I did most evenings. I didn’t recognise it at the time, but I was depressed. It may not have appeared that this was the case from the outside because, in late 2011 I moved to London and, as an adult student, started a BSc in Psychology. I graduated, with first class honours, from Birkbeck College, University of London, in 2015.
The appearance of ‘getting on with it’ and actually doing well, seeming happy and fulfilled, all the while feeling empty and joyless, is a pretty good description of what has come to be called High Functioning Depression.
It’s worth noting that one common symptom of depression is procrastination (or is it the other way around?), and procrastination is endemic among students. And so it was that, in my final year, I first sought help for depression. I made use of student support services, and eventually got several sessions of talking therapy through the NHS.
After struggling with unemployment and nagging depression for several months, post-graduation, I started working for a friend of mine, Alex, as part of his nascent Big Data consultancy. We had some early wins, and that felt good. We then pivoted to a start-up idea that he had been toying with, called Social Consumer. Unfortunately, whilst Social Consumer was (and still is) a good idea, my ability to help turn the idea into a reality proved to be lacking. Ultimately, my friend and boss had to accept a job that he’d been offered, and make me redundant.
This brings us to January 2018. I’d been a casual watcher of London Real for a few years, mostly via the YouTube channel. Watching the odd interview here or there. I never really gave it too much thought. I’d most recently seen the interview with Wyclef Jean, of the Fugees, and really enjoyed it. But then I started to see ads for the London Real Business Accelerator, and my curiosity was piqued. I got on to the Facebook group, and started poking around (as you do).
I emailed Brian Rose, the brains behind London Real, and asked a few questions about start time and cost — the latter being very much front of mind with unemployment looming. I had ascertained that the focus is on either creating a media company, or utilising media for your existing company (or idea) as part of your sales and marketing, and to help gain credibility in your niche. After a great deal of back and forth (mostly in my head, but a bit via email with Brian) I finally decided to “pull the trigger” (as he puts it).
Alex was happy for me to continue to investigate the Social Consumer start-up idea, and the Business Accelerator seemed like a good way for me to get the support network that I needed to really push the idea forward, and learn some valuable lessons along the way. What actually happened was far beyond what I could possibly have expected.
The London Real Business Accelerator
Brian was honest, from the outset, that we would be called upon to do things that were uncomfortable, things that would make us want to quit, things that would feel like they were tearing at the very fibre of our beings. Actually, that last one’s mine, but it paraphrases the idea of resistance, and especially the resistance in our own minds, that is often talked about in the course material.
The enrolees on the Business Accelerator are assigned to teams, and these teams become your support network for the duration. This is not to say that we don’t establish connections with members of other teams, because we absolutely do, and some of them have already proven to be very valuable. However, it is your teammates (and team leader) that cheer your successes, provide solace when you hit the wall, make suggestions when you’re fresh out of ideas, and add crazy amounts of value to the course experience.
A few weeks into the course I decided that the Social Consumer project, whilst benefitting from many of the ideas that I was encountering, was not the ideal business with which to be doing the Business Accelerator. In addition, whilst the idea is very dear to me, I don’t think that it is as directly a product of my passions and talents as it needs to be; this meeting point of passion and talent (and market) being a fundamental idea in the Accelerator.
I decided that I needed to focus on combining my education in psychology and my personal experience with High Functioning Depression into a service for people that suffer from it, because it is a daily struggle. Symptoms of High Functioning Depression include self-criticism, poor self-image, insomnia, and much more. In addition, High Functioning Depression is frequently associated with perfectionism.
Perfectionism can lead to social anxiety (check, though mild in my case), it certainly stops you from starting things (check), and so on. Most importantly, perfectionism is a “negative orientation” and thus probably misnamed. It is not the desire to achieve perfection, but the desire to avoid failure. Failure is not perfection; failure is also not reaching the impossible (and indeed ever changing) pinnacle of perfection.
I have a veritable arsenal of tools and coping mechanisms to help me deal with my High Functioning Depression, but the one thing that I have always had the most trouble with is perfectionism. One symptom of this is not liking how I look on camera, both still and video. So imagine my horror when, in the very first week of the Accelerator (actually the week leading up to the start) we were challenged to do “ten vlogs in ten days”. UGH!
Or, rather, AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGHH!
You can see one such vlog, here. As a bonus, it’s a near textbook example of overthinking; another symptom of High Functioning Depression.
Four weeks after the ten vlog challenge, we had to record a three part video series that would go on to be our free product. Needless to say, it was this week that I got a severe flu, or what London Real would call a source of (or excuse for) “resistance”.
If you want to have a good laugh at my expense, you can sign up for that video series here, where, no surprise, I talk about perfectionism and self-criticism.
It was this week, recording the three-part video series, that provided me with the defining moment of the London Real Business Accelerator. I got permission to not be perfect. Which, as you can see from my posting of the links to these embarrassingly awful videos, is something that I’m doing my best to embrace.
Don’t get me wrong, I had tried to pay attention to all the catchphrases and quotes that remind us that ‘done is better than perfect’ and to ‘have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it’, but that never worked. And now I think I know why.
At one point Brian said, “if you’re not embarrassed by your first video, you waited too long to record it!”
Permission to not be perfect fails to recognise that perfectionism is the avoidance of failure rather than the genuine seeking of perfection. Here, then, was the requirement to not be perfect.
Total paradigm shift!
When you actually require that you’re not perfect, you can focus on the actions that will get the job done, rather than the endless tweaks that incrementally move you towards the impossibility that is perfection. I finally had my eyes on the right prize — progress rather than perfection.
Having now almost completed the London Real Business Accelerator, and having given myself permission to not be perfect, this is what has happened in the last few weeks:
- Started my own website — HigherFunctioning — providing support for those, like myself, with High Functioning Depression… and even sold some product! If you’re interested, you can get that, here.
- Established contact with some influencers and bloggers in the mental health and depression spaces to arrange guest blogging and a video interview or two. These are still works in progress, but I would simply never have reached out until I had a perfectly crafted piece.
- Had the Social Consumer project (remember that?) shortlisted for Birkbeck’s entry into the Santander University Entrepreneurship Awards 2018. The entry included a pitch video that I simply would never have made if it weren’t for the ten vlogs challenge.
…and a host of other wins, large and small, all from an eight week course, and all while doing my Master’s in Psychological Research Methods (part time, obviously, I need to leave some time free for procrastination).
I’ve met so many motivated people on the London Real Business Accelerator, all of whom had their own blockers. I’ve learned from their experiences in getting over these (mostly internalised) hurdles. I may even have had a hand in helping one or two through their particular forms of resistance, I’ve certainly had help from them. In every case, what started as their desire to have a business (or do better with an existing business) has lead to a genuinely transformative experience.
No longer the (not so) mild-mannered perfectionist — excessive irritability is a symptom of High Functioning Depression — I am now someone that has two businesses to work on, and a degree to finish!
Please feel free to check out my website, www.higherfunctioning.me