I got an award from Forbes recently for the startup/VC work I’ve done, and this comes with attention that I want to redirect to something more important than me — how we think about the state of mental health and normalizing getting help for it.
This seems fitting because while we celebrate achievement — we should also talk about the costs of achievement and about one of the more important things I did to get there that we don’t talk about — working on being mentally healthy.
If you would like, you can also donate to my fundraiser campaign for charities tackling mental health here that I just started: https://give.asia/campaign/it-s-okay-to-be-not-okay#/ — I have decided to support these charities because they are helping people reach a more healthy state of mind. I just committed 10% of the raise amount personally to back that up and I hope you might too.
Why I am writing this
For me, it is partially catharsis, but it is more about trying to feed the narrative that we can and should talk about mental health, and because I believe normalising getting help can genuinely be the biggest needle mover for social progress.
As a kid, I always had more difficulty learning how to fit in with others, and understanding and managing the negative feelings that resulted from that isolation. As an adult currently adulting, especially one with a more unusual career journey than most, the nice CV of logos and articles I write don’t typically show the opportunities I did not achieve, the goals I failed to reach, the people I respect who considered me a failure, and I struggled with accepting who I was as a person. Like many of those reading this article, my career and personal life overlap significantly. This meant that the high and lows of my career exerts significant strain on my mental well-being.
Personal stories are always complicated to share — I never went hungry, and I always had a home. There are people who struggled more, and people who struggled less, but we all struggle. There was a lot of baggage I held onto as a kid that I brought into adulthood, a lot of which I still hold today— that made me feel paranoid about being useless and about being unwanted.
I feel good now. There are good days, and sometimes bad days, and if you are currently having a bad day/month/year, please know it is a pain that others feel and you are not alone.
As one last point, outside appearances can be tricky. I think quite a few people know me as the funny one in most groups I am in and so this article might be a surprise to them. After all: My proudest non-work achievement this year has been to be the owner of VCMemes.com. My first few serious startup articles I published religiously used the Simpsons as the mascot. We know that funny people tend to also be unhappy, and I think it should be normal to talk about the tough sides of life, as well as the funny side of life.
A few things did help me immensely:
- Realizing that even very senior, very public people I respected saw therapists.
Getting help for mental health is more common than you would think. The most impactful thing that happened to me in my life was meeting and talking to very senior people I respected — people who were essentially heads of large publicly listed companies, governments, families — who took the risk to open up to me and explain that they took the time to treat their mental health seriously, and saw therapists.
When I was told that people I looked up to was doing things I had previously felt was embarrassing, the fear and shame associated with therapy suddenly seemed foreign. These people opening up to me about this fact was one of the biggest needle-movers in my life, and opened the door to me getting the support I needed.
- Finding friends who would not judge me for talking about my feelings.
The collection of people that you end up spending time with as a result of work, school, and socializing will always be a wonderful mix. There will however always only be a smaller group of people that will be described as your tribe. This tribe doesn’t have to be your family or your friends from school, but are typically people that can help you find your space to feel emotionally comfortable and vulnerable without judgement.
Some of the people in my tribe are people I have never met in real life before, but I am grateful for having been purposefully aggressive in seeking out new people, and finding people who can accept the way I think and feel without agenda or judgement, and when I was in a safe enough space, to help me improve.
- Asking ‘What do I need to go through this?’
Instead of asking ‘why and how’ I am feeling particular negative feelings, I first try and work to a more emotionally stable state by asking ‘what can I do to go through this temporary/long period of negativity’, and being kinder to myself about the feelings that are around me.
Although it is good to understand how and why you have a negative reaction to things, that intellectual exercise should be done in a more emotionally healthy state of mind. Take care of yourself first, then take care of the problem.
I found that walking in parks was a lever for joy for me, and when it became monotonous, I found I had to be conscious about finding new places to walk, because I never knew when I need to have mood-boosters in my back pocket. When I was in healthier states of mind, I found myself being conscientious about proactively finding new things I could enjoy and could act as mood-boosters.
This seems trivial, but before I understood the power of small mood boosters, I sometimes found myself spiralling downwards negatively to a point where things could get seriously debilitating. Other friends had their own tricks — from meditation to songs, to exercise. Deliberately creating a margin of error for my mood was something significant for me.
- Seeing a therapist myself
I finally went to see a therapist and I only regret not going sooner. It took multiple promptings by friends and mentors — and seeing people who were willing to publicly say that they too went for therapy, for me to realize the importance of seeking help.
Seeing a therapist was no different from seeing a personal trainer — it is entirely possible I could conduct the same exercises and routines on my own, but I would progress much faster exercising this muscle by working with a professional.
The process of finding a therapist was something that took a while as I had to speak to a number of friends for recommendations.
- Also, stand-up comedy for some reason.
Thanks Frankie Boyle + Dara O’ Briain!
What I wish:
- I wish Asian societies had conversations about dealing with happiness and struggle at a much younger age. Kids can feel sadness too and we never get the tools to process sadness. I think that while we are still kids, we can process or understand sadness by taking it out on others or treating it as something distasteful and that creates a cascading effect of sadness. I think we (those who get impacted, and those who impact others) remember all this and are deeply chained by those instincts when we get older.
- I wish we were taught how to face our emotions, and how to normalize talking and caring about other people’s emotions.
- I wish that I invested in Bitcoin in 2010. This has nothing to do with mental health, but I think it probably would have helped.
How I want to help:
- If you read this and found it helpful, feel free to share it with other people to let them know you think talking and processing your emotions and mental health should be normal.
- If you would like, you can also donate to my fundraiser campaign for charities tackling mental health here that I just started: https://give.asia/campaign/it-s-okay-to-be-not-okay#/ — I have decided to support these charities because they are helping people reach a more healthy state of mind. I just committed 10% of the raise amount personally to back that up and I hope you might too.
Thanks Rachael, Luke, Vardhan, Chris, Viren, Kit, Philip, Matt, Ben, Tammie, and Akshay for thoughts on the article + a long list of friends, colleagues, family who were walking with me through this journey I have had so far.
Chia Jeng Yang, Principal at Saison Capital, dives into consumer, SaaS, and fintech investment trends across the U.S. and Asia, builds projects in the venture capital and public policy space, works closely with early-stage founders (Pre-Idea/Launch) and can be contacted at email@example.com. Previous work here: http://chiajy.com