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Taking Stock of Mental Health: A Music Startup CEO’s Journey (Guest Column)

Soundstripe co-founder Micah Sannan on the benefits of self-care following a harrowing bout of depression. "When we are well, life is sweeter... and we are capable of doing our most meaningful work."

As a startup founder and co-CEO, there’s a certain kind of rhetoric that often buzzes around in your head that makes you feel like if you’re not operating at 100% every day of the week, the company will crash, people will lose their jobs, investors will lose their money, and it will be all your fault. This, of course, is a lie. A startup’s success is dependent on an ecosystem’s worth of parts to succeed, but these kinds of lies can feel very true; and worse, can be insidious.

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I spent the first nine months of 2019 in the most challenging and sustained depression I’ve ever experienced. As typical with depression, anxiety was a close companion. These depths were darker than they had ever been before, and the fear was quite literally crippling. Panic attacks were nearly daily events, and often, they were so physically violent that just breathing through them felt like a notable accomplishment. Month after month, I kept pushing for the perfect email or to lead some game-changing meeting thinking it would show some proof that I was valuable and that proof of value would fix my depression. When nothing I did ever lived up to my (unattainable) idea of “great,” panic and shame would rush in, my depression would deepen, and I would try again the next day from an even lower starting point. And down and down I went until eventually, through a series of events and a pseudo intervention, I took an open-ended sabbatical.

Ultimately, what I needed was rest… and a lot of therapy. I had to learn self-compassion and how to offer myself grace, but mostly, I had to learn that I am valuable inherently, despite achievement or productivity. When I started to truly understand this, the dark clouds started to lift, and I began reintegrating into my role at the company with a whole new perspective and appreciation for what it means to be mentally and emotionally well.

This is my story. Yours may be similar or entirely different, but I know there are a few things that are relevant to both of us. First, is that each of us are inherently valuable and deserve to take care of ourselves when we are well and unwell alike. Second, when we are well, life is sweeter, the world is a bit brighter for everyone, and we are capable of doing our most meaningful work.

There are many great practices, teachers, and techniques out there that can help us stay centered, and as much as I wish I could, I can’t tell you which of them will work for you. Effective self care looks different for each of us, and I won’t pretend to have your answers, but I can offer a few principles — some fundamental truths — that I adopted that helped guide me through the process of finding the right practices for me.

I am loveable, even now.

Seasons always change in time.

I deserve grace and patience.

If any of these truths resonate with you, I would encourage you to write them down and make it easy to refer to them daily. They can easily slip your mind in challenging times.

Everywhere you go — including work — you bring your whole self with you. Your strengths, stressors and baggage accompany you to every meeting and every project. Safe to say, I didn’t do my best work in 2019, and in hindsight, if I could change one thing, I would’ve taken that much-needed rest far sooner than I did. Not only so I could’ve contributed meaningful work, but more importantly, my family, my friends, and all of my life experience would’ve been spared immeasurable pain and suffering.

It is wildly important to me that Soundstripe be a company that helps continue normalizing the truth that it’s OK to not be OK and that we reduce the friction for our people to take care of themselves. It makes pretty plain and simple sense to me. If investing in your team’s health and well-being improves the life experience of an individual and when an individual is well, they do their best work, the company is more likely to have an enjoyable culture, and both are more likely to succeed. Who wouldn’t want that win-win-win scenario?

I am valuable because there is breath in my lungs, and so are you. Act accordingly and healing will follow.

Micah Sannan is co-founder and co-CEO of Soundstripe, a subscription service providing royalty-free music, video, and sound effects for creators. Prior to forming Soundstripe, Sannan was a touring musician with the bands Falling Up, A Dream Too Late, and The Send, which were all signed to Tooth & Nail Records, as well as Disciple, which was signed to Fairtrade Records. He also opened The Compound Nashville recording studio with Soundstripe co-founder and co-CEO Travis Terrell.