Launching a Startup With Panic Disorder

I have anxiety. Not the general kind either. The kind where you’re convinced that you’re dying and, at times, even call the ambulance. The kind that’s triggered by absolutely nothing, but consumes absolutely everything. The kind that kisses productivity and concentration goodbye in the middle of the day. The kind that prevents you from traveling long distances in a car, and won’t even let you step foot in an airport. The kind where you need medication to cope with each day. The shitty kind. The kind they call Panic Disorder.

Nobody in my professional life knows I have it, mainly because I haven’t told them. I guess you get pretty good at hiding it over the years. It’s a stigma. A disease. A debilitation, really. Truth be told, I don’t tell anyone because I’m embarrassed.

Those that don’t have it really can’t comprehend what a monumental achievement it is to even get to the office somedays. What seems normal and mundane for most, is a major accomplishment when you have panic disorder.

Needless to say, launching a startup had its challenges.

To be honest, I didn’t know how far i’d even get. What I mean is, if the company had any measure of success, I wasn’t sure if I could handle what that was going to require. Just the thought of having to fly made my anticipatory anxiety kick into high gear.

As it turned out, the company did have some success. What should have been exhilaration, was instead anxiety. Not as much today thankfully, but at times, it sucked really bad. I’ve had to travel — by plane — a lot. This is pretty much an anxious person’s worst fear.

< > Just as a point of reference, there is rational and irrational fears of flying. People with anxiety, like me, have irrational fears. We don’t necessary fear a plane crash. We fear that we’re going to lose control and doing something embarrassing or stupid. For example, my fear is that I’ll need to escape mid-flight and attempt to jump out of the plane at 32,000 feet. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but it’s a very real feeling at the time. < />

The good news is, I’ve kicked the shit out of anxiety — at least for now. It’s still there, and I think it always will be. But going toe-to-toe with it over the past few years ended up being exactly what I needed. Whether the company ultimately succeeds or not is secondary at this point.

I’m sharing this in the hopes that others that suffer from anxiety and depression will open up as well. This is the first time that I’ve spoken about it publicly, albeit anonymous, but damn it feels good.

  • As a founder suffering from this I can relate. That sensation of impending doom you feel when having an attack is horrible. Symptoms began just two years ago so I’m still “learning” how to control this.

  • Take a look at the twist episodes “thisweekinstartups “. You will get a lot of insight, mosty that anxiety is normal, we all got it.

  • A bit of psychotherapy and low-dose, long lasting SRI meds seemed to have kept things manageable. Started about 3 years ago for me. I find when I am having an attack, I don’t fight it, I find a quiet spot and let it go. I found that the duration of the attack is much shorter, less intense, and recovery from it is quicker…. but that’s just me.

  • I have PTSD and not the simple variety that passes away after 6 months. No, I have the kind that lingers on for decades and manages to make most of life an exercise in self-control. Despite this issue, I am working productively in a new field and managing to deal with the challenges. How? Well, I discovered a few things along the route to becoming better. I hope that these will help you.

    1. Panic attacks can be BROKEN with simple distraction techniques. Whenever I feel one starting, I begin to say the Rosary. No, you don’t have to convert to Catholicism. You can use chanting, too. Just find a catch phrase that calms you down and focus on saying that when the panic starts. The idea is to BREAK the panic before it gets in full operating mode.

    2. Most people in this country are short on a variety of important trace minerals specifically magnesium. Beginning to build up your consumption of magnesium, calcium and zinc will help the calming process.

    3. There are amino acids that most people with panic disorder are also a bit low in and once these are resupplied, the panic attacks become controllable.

    I have taught people my little tricks and they work on almost anybody.

    Good luck.


  • I am a founder that also suffers from panic disorder. I have only had a 4 or 5 panic attacks in my lifetime, but they triggered anticipatory anxiety (fear of panic attacks) that has affected my day to day life for 12 years – specifically, any situation where I feel like I can’t immediately escape e.g. meetings of any kind.

    The last attack happened during the acquisition of my company when it seemed as thought the deal could fall through and my investors and team would loose everything (it succeeded and everyone did well). This was and should have been a stressful moment for anyone, but it triggered a major panic attack that really knocked me on my ass, and forced me to take a week off work. At one point it felt as though I might not recover – anticipatory anxiety took over and triggered all kinds of physical health issues such as severe headaches, high blood pressure, major chest pain etc. All text book, but scary for someone who was not educated on panic. Anxiety and panic attaches really really fucking suck.

    The good news is that with time and effort anxiety can be controlled. Cognitive behavior therapy, breathing exercises, vitamins, meditation (try the app “calm”), and counseling. Face it. Fight it. Accept it. It will get better.

    It helps to talk about it. Mental health is a taboo subject, and as a result a lot of people are ashamed to see a psychologist. Don’t be. Anxiety, depression, guilt is a recurring thought process that can be thought of as a “bad habit” – like learning to swing a tennis racket or a golf club incorrectly – after many years of practicing a bad habit it takes a lot of practice and guidance from a professional to correct, but the effort is worth it.

    My personal belief is that therapy is much more effective than medication, because medication only masks the problem and does not address the root cause (but it can be very useful and effective in emergency situations or as a short term tool). Most psychiatrists will want to throw drugs at you, so I recommend working with a psychologist.

    Good luck.

  • It’s not like not everyone does not know about it. I predicted it. And I think you’d get there’s not many people who can recognize people by writing styles.

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