Episode 13: Destigmatizing Mental Illness in the Startup World with Micah Baldwin

May 2, 2023 | podcast | 0 comments

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You can find the full transcript for this episode at the bottom of this page

The rates of mental illness amongst startup founders are incredibly high. Research out of UC Berkeley found that 72% of entrepreneurs are affected by mental illness, either directly or indirectly. More specifically, this study found that 23% of entrepreneurs had a first degree relative with a mental illness and 49% of entrepreneurs reported having at least one mental illness themselves.

This same study found that entrepreneurs are:

  • 2x more likely to suffer from depression
  • 6x more likely to suffer from ADHD
  • 3x more likely to suffer from substance abuse
  • 10x more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder

Many of these entrepreneurs are likely suffering in silence, or feeling like they’re the only one. It’s essential that we have key players in the startup world who are sharing about their own struggles with mental illness so we can reduce the stigma, and inspire others to get vulnerable and seek treatment.

My guest this week is Micah Baldwin, a serial founder, angel investor, and leadership coach. Micah started his first business when he was 9 years and sold his last company in 2014. Over the years he has started or been early at 5 companies that raised a total of $350 million. He has also spent time at Amazon and Microsoft and in venture.

If you are a founder, and you’re going through things right now, the reality is, is there’s other people that are feeling the same thing, or have dealt with the same thing. And reaching out doesn’t make you weak or less than, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. It helps you move much further faster. And that’s, that’s the whole point of being a founder, right, is to go further faster. So I would say you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

In this interview Micah shares his story of grappling with addiction and getting sober, and receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He shares about some of the challenges he’s faced along this journey, and the types of support that have been integral to his recovery. Micah currently coaches founders so he also shares his insights into some of the struggles he sees founders facing on the entrepreneur rollercoaster and some of his words of wisdom for how to take care of yourself and ultimately, go further faster. This is an episode you don’t want to miss!

What You’ll Learn in this Episode:

  • Why founders are more at risk for mental health struggles and why they need to prioritize their mental health
  • Micah’s own story of getting a diagnosis and treatment for bipolar disorder, as well as recovering from addiction
  • The difficulties that come with getting treated for bipolar disorder and why Micah says he’ll stay on his meds for the rest of his life
  • The importance of knowing “your enough”
  • Why not all founders are cut out to be CEOs
  • Why so many founders end up asking themselves the question – “Am I really a founder?”
  • Micah’s words of wisdom on how to stay positive even when your company fails
  • The impact of Micah’s social media project where he’s posting 100 photos of himself each with a story

Find Micah Online:

Resources & Inspiration from the Show

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About Founders’ Fears & Failures and your host, Dr. Melissa Parks

Melissa is an entrepreneur, former therapist (PhD in Clinical & Health Psychology), and an executive coach for entrepreneurs with a special focus on startup founders. Her passion for supporting startup founders in particular began after witnessing firsthand the emotional rollercoaster her husband experienced as a startup co-founder.

She started the Founders’ Fears & Failures podcast with the mission of shining a light on the mental and emotional challenges that come with life as a startup founder. Having lived abroad for 10 years herself she realizes how much we can learn from hearing stories from around the globe which is why the show doesn’t focus on a country-specific startup ecosystem.

Melissa is also the co-founder of the Location Independent Therapist Community, and a mom to a toddler who keeps her on her toes, and fuels her passion for helping to make the world a better place.

If you are interested in coming on the show, please get in touch. We would love to hear your story.

Want to connect further? Get in touch with Melissa on social media:

Want to work with Melissa?

Melissa is a former therapist who provides mindset coaching for ambitious professionals around the globe. Schedule your free discovery call HERE.

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Did you enjoy listening to this episode? Leave your review on Apple podcasts or Spotify.

Disclaimer: The Founders’ Fears & Failures is for educational, informational, and entertainment purposes only. It is not meant to be used for personal health advice and should not be construed to constitute personal or professional consultation or guidance, or to replace medical or mental health treatment. The opinions expressed by this podcast, including the podcast guests, are not meant to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of a medical or mental health provider regarding any questions or concerns you have about your medical and/or mental health needs. If you are in crisis, please visit this website to find a list of suicide hotlines around the globe. 

Episode Transcript

Melissa 

Alright Micah. Thank you so much for being on the show today.

Micah 

Of course, I’m excited.

Melissa 

Yeah, me too. So, you know, on this show, we dive deep dive into some vulnerable topics. But instead of just diving into the deep end, I don’t like to do that. I think it’s good if we get warmed up a bit and start off with it you sounds like you’ve been an entrepreneur like your whole life? Can you tell us a bit more about that? Like, do you feel you were a born entrepreneur?

Micah 

Yeah, you know, I think it’s interesting. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, my mom worked at startups, and my dad worked at Stanford. And so startups was always something in my family from very young. Similarly, my parents didn’t make a lot of money. So if I wanted to do something, like, go see a movie, or you know, buy dinner, I usually had to make the money myself. So I think that combination of seeing my mom kind of work at startups and then get laid off and then find another startup or startup do well, or, or whatnot, coupled with the fact that I had to be relatively self sufficient, I think created the perfect storm for entrepreneurship.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah, look at that. So you really, I don’t think there are I don’t think that that many kids like even if you’re kind of like, have that entrepreneurship in your blood or something, not so many kids get exposed to the startup world at such an early age. So it sounds like a really unique thing.

Micah 

Yeah, definitely. And I mean, startups are the, you know, the output of Silicon Valley. So we have a tendency to have a few of them floating around. And so I think, you know, I joke very often that I became a farmer, because I grew up on the farm, right, like, like, just like anyone else who sort of been exposed to an industry early on, they have a tendency to follow that. And I sort of have and, and to this day, I mean, I’m certainly an entrepreneur, but I’ve never really thought of myself, in the same way as other people do. When they think of founder I sort of have always just done, what seemed to be the right next thing, and that always seemed to be something entrepreneurial.

Melissa 

Okay, yeah. That’s interesting to hear to is there. Is there another term that you use that that you like, feels like identify you again, identify with it a bit more?

Micah 

No, I’m not big on self identification. So I sort of, entrepreneur seems to work, founder seems to work. I go back and forth. Sometimes when, you know, when I was at Amazon, for example, I wasn’t a founder. But I sort of feel that that you once a founder, kind of always a founder. And then even though I was at a big company, like Amazon, and I wasn’t really, quote, unquote, an entrepreneur anymore. I certainly was very much of an intrapreneur and trying to come up with new ideas and build new programs and various things while I was there.

Melissa 

Yeah, it sounds like that. Throughout all of your career, there’s definitely been a theme of innovation.

Micah 

Yeah, yeah, that’s probably true. Sometimes, I think, to my detriment.

Melissa 

Well, yes. Right. It’s, that’s, so my next question is going to be was life as a founder what you expected it to be?

Micah 

Yeah. No, you know, I think one of the aspects of a founder that rings very true is that founders are the ultimate optimists. And they have a tendency to always think that the best thing is going to happen. And the truth is, is that building a company is really hard. And there’s a lot of ups and downs, very rarely does it go well, for the entire time that you’re running it. And so I think, I think I wasn’t really prepared for the downs, I sort of expected that I would skip all of those. And, you know, optimistically do really well. So I think that was part of it. Had a conversation, actually, with some friends yesterday, both who are relatively successful in their own right, but kind of same idea, like had companies that either did really well, raised a lot of money, maybe, you know, but then didn’t sell for that much. So didn’t have like, the outcomes that they were looking for. I just made the comment that I had some friends over the last week that have sold their companies for a lot of money, like, you know, like billions and so there’s that natural jealousy where you’re like, gosh, you know, the the the line between me and them is really not that far. You know, a few things broke in a certain way. A few partners, they got, you know, helped them go where they wanted to go. But even in thinking all of that I don’t think of myself any less of a founder or worse founder. And I enjoyed the journey that I was on even though it didn’t end up with me being you know, a multiple billionaire living on an island somewhere.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah. I can imagine, though, in that moment, right when you’re experiencing those setbacks, and like you said, the downs of a being founder, it’s, I guess what I want to say is the perspective you have today, I can imagine has taken some time to get to that place.

Micah 

Yeah, yeah, for sure. I mean, you know, my, my beard now is fully gray, but it’s already getting gray in my 20s, right? Like, it’s not a, my beard is gray. It’s not an age thing. It is a stress thing. And so I think I think that plus some of the other things that happened in my life, because of entrepreneurship, I think were not things that I expected and certainly made my path much different than many other people’s.

Melissa 

Yeah. Would you be comfortable diving into some of those things me? Like, what are some of the mental health challenges that that you found on your, on your founder journey, or even just the journey, just being part of the startup world?

Micah 

Yeah, you know, there’s a stat and I don’t know the exact stats, I’m gonna get it wrong, but I know about what it is, which is something like four times bipolar shows up four times as often in founders as it does in in sort of general populace. And I think I think anxiety is another big one that founders face, sometimes without realizing it. And certainly depression, right, it’s one that’s up there quite a bit. So I think most founders and and I hate to say most, because it sounds like, it just sounds like a lot. But I would imagine many founders deal with some sort of mental health issue. Some of that is undiagnosed, some that is self medicated, and some that they’re actually managing. In my case, it was a mixture of self medication and, and managing on my own. You know, I remember when I was diagnosed with bipolar, and I have bipolar, anxiety and depression, that when I was diagnosed with bipolar, I remember feeling like for the first time, somebody had figured out what was wrong with me. And I talked to my mom about it. And she was like, Yeah, you know, I wish we had known about things like therapy when you were a kid. Because those are things that that weren’t part of my growing up, like the ethos of my growing up. But the thing I remember is that like, when the doctor asked me, when I started to have those feelings, or to have the mania and the depression, you know, was about 12, then that’s a very common time, what I understand for bipolar to present itself. So I spent most of my adult life trying to figure out how to manage it, and building defense mechanisms in which to manage it. And then relatively unsuccessfully, managed it for years while trying to build a company. And so I think I think for the founders out there that are kind of unsure about where they are for their mental health is getting checked out. And you know, getting on a regimen of medication or therapy, I think, is the best thing you can do for your business. And I think very often, we’re too self sacrificing as people as founders to think in that way.

Melissa 

Yeah, there’s, there’s like that idea. That’s like a badge of honor. Right? If you just keep grinding and going forward.

Micah 

Yeah, it’s the whole hustle culture, right? Like, like, I think, I think it really, it really did a general disservice to the startup community. This idea that you have to hustle, hustle, hustle, right? Work your day job, till you get off at six, then work your night job until 2am. And try to do it every day. It’s just very unhealthy. And the funny thing is, is the people, the purveyors of the whole of hos, hustle culture, many of them if you talk to them now, I think, understand that, right, that it wasn’t the positivity that they thought it was. But I think also, it’s also the way the venture capital world works, right? Like if you’re, if you’re raising money for your company, or VC or any investor sort of wants to return in a short period of time. And so you have to work 10 times as fast 10 times as hard as everybody else, because you have to show a return 10 times more quickly. And I think that that inadvertently, investors very often create pressures that are unattainable untenable. For founders.

Melissa 

Yeah. Yeah, that’s exactly what I what I was thinking. I’ve had conversations with people about this. Okay, so hustle culture isn’t working. But what’s the alternative? Right, because we’ve kind of built this beast of sorts that, that that’s the way it needs to be. I mean, does it I don’t know. What do you think? Do you think that there’s an alternative?

Micah 

I do. I think you can live a very methodical life. A you can live a very thoughtful and intentional life and still be just as successful. I often tell you know, so I do a lot of work now as as a leadership coach. And I often tell people that you have two choices in life is you can work 100% of the time 80% of the time, or you can work 80% 100% of the time, right, but you can’t do both. And so you can’t do 100 in 100. And so I think understanding that you need to be able to take breaks, and you need to be able to slow down, actually gets you further faster than trying to run it 100 miles an hour, non stop. And so a lot of lot of what I do is think about my day intentionally, and decide where I’m going to take breaks. I think this is going I think down the path of a little bit of a personal philosophy, but I have this firm belief, I have this firm belief that everybody should understand what their enough is. And enough is not necessarily $1 amount, it’s enough of like, what’s what’s enough in life, like what’s enough in your relationships, what’s enough. And if you can have a firm grasp on what enough is, then you know, where everything stops. Right, and the thing about hustle culture is there is no stop, there’s just go. And so if you understand where things stop, then you’re willing and able to sort of make the compromises that are necessary in order to move forward, forward faster. And so for me, for example, I believe very strongly in that I don’t want to work 20 hours a day, and I don’t want to, you know, I don’t want to live that life. And so that means that starting a company, it’s probably off the table for me in many ways, right? Because I don’t have the energy or desire to put in the amount of effort that it would take in order to build a company. I mean, obviously, unless something really exciting came along. But generally, I don’t want to do that. And so I know that by three o’clock, my brain starts to slow down. So that means I need to have everything that I that’s important done by three o’clock, right. And that gives me the rest of the afternoon and evening to, you know, take care of myself to work out to do the do pieces of work that are unnecessary, that are less important, or I can focus on differently. But without knowing my enough, I just tried to do and do and do and do. And it just it just leads you to failure.

Melissa 

Yeah, I love that advice. It’s there’s, you know, there’s not really a finish line. I don’t want to say that. But I’m trying to think of what’s how we how we go with this metaphor. But there, there does have to be like you’re saying like a stopping point where it’s enough. And it’s not just this like constant going, you said, I really, I really hear what you’re saying. And so it sounds like you’re saying to that that means for some people, being a founder might not be the right path for them.

Micah 

I think that’s right. I mean, being a doctor isn’t the right path. For me. Like it’s not like being a founder is anything other than a profession, right? Like it’s not, you know, you’re not anointed from a pie to become a founder, it’s like, it’s like a skill set that you learn. It’s also one of the frustrations I have when founders feel that they have to be CEOs, right? Very often a founder is not a CEO, like they’re better at other roles, and they should be willing to take those roles, and their investors should be willing to allow them to take those roles. But so often, if I found that if I founded a company, I have to also be the CEO of that company. But what skills do you have that say that you could be a CEO? Like, what, what background do you have if you spent your life as an engineer? Like why shouldn’t you continue to code? Or if you’re a product person? Why couldn’t you continue to be a product person or, you know, like, like, what if, last week, you were a nurse, and you decided to start a company? And it sort of blew up on you and did really well, now all of a sudden, you’re supposed to take what knowledge to become a CEO, right? Like, how do you get there? And so I think we also apply expectation to founders in a way that is also inappropriate, because there’s an expectation that they know, a certain skill set that maybe they just don’t know yet. Right? And that’s okay. Right. Like, the question is, do they reach out for help? Do they build a network? Do they learn like, those are all the things that are indicative of a strong founder? Not, you know, because I figured out how to start a company and raise some money.

Melissa 

Yeah, it’s something that I’ve heard so much is that, you know, yeah, you don’t need to be a natural born founder. And I’m sure you see it a lot in your coaching too, right. People who I can imagine some of the people coming to you or people who aren’t the Natural Born CEO and you’re helping them figure out if if they can become that CEO.

Micah 

Yeah, most of what I focus on are is really around empathetic leadership. So it’s it’s a belief that you have to really think about the whole human right, rather than just the skill sets that they provide. And, and that’s not a learned trait trait, right? Empathy is not learned. I think empathy is something that that is, I’m sorry, that’s actually not true. Empathy is learned. Right? I think that I think that it is not born. And so there is there is effort that it takes to really learn how to come at it, leadership come at it with an empathetic viewpoint. But you end up driving everything much further, faster, right, people much rather work in an environment that they feel valued, and then one where they are worth, you know, focused on how much they’re working, or how hard they’re working. And most founders come into it, and they have these big ideas, of wanting to start big companies and build billion dollar companies. And then the work sort of comes into it. And they’re like, hold on, you know, as a founder, all I mean, is meetings all the time. You’re like, yeah, that’s kind of what a CEO does. They just are in meetings a lot. And so they sort of learn all of that as they go.

Melissa 

Yeah, no, I hear that a lot that people kind of think they know what they’re getting into. And then the day to day, it’s just not that doesn’t have been the right match for their personality and, and the vision they had of what life as a founder was going to be like,

Micah 

Yeah, very much. So. And I think, you know, you can watch movies and read books, and neither of those really tell you what it’s like to be a founder. You know, the other type of founder that I spend a lot of time with our founders that are sort of either really haven’t gotten going yet, right? Like they’ve been trying to build the company and get investment and all that stuff. And they haven’t kind of gotten there yet. Or they’re on the other end, where they’ve done everything they possibly can. And the company is now in a transitionary period, where it may or may not survive. And I prefer to certain degree to work in that arena. Because I think that’s where support is necessary for a founder, because you really get to learn who you are as a human, and what’s important to you as a human. But it’s amazing in both cases, how much identity appearance, right, like reputation matters, rather than focusing on building the company itself.

Melissa 

So what does that look like with some of those founders you’re working with? What are some of like, the concerns that that they have? And when they’re in that transitional moment?

Micah 

So I think in the, in the early stages, it’s the question of like, Should you raise money, right, like a lot of it ends up being about fundraising, right. And, and I think a lot of people go to raise money way earlier than they’re ready to actually raise money. And they read articles of people raising, you know, 10 100 $200 million, and assume that the money is available, though your stories or, you know, read TechCrunch articles. And the truth is, is like, raising money is an effort like any other like it is a sales effort, there’s a process to it. And there are specific things a business needs to have in order to be fundable. And most early stage businesses are not fundable. They just are not. And so, so if you believe you’ve built a company that should be fundable. But it’s really not, and you’re out there trying to raise money, and all you’re hearing is no, you’re starting to hear noes to you personally, rather than about the business. And all of a sudden, it becomes this identity crisis of like, well, my really am I founder, can I pull this off? Who am I right, etc. On the opposite end, where the company is sort of on its ending, you know, story, a lot of it comes around, like, am I a failure? Did I like I’m letting people down, right? Like, the company should be doing much better. And like, if I had just done a, b, c, and d, the company would be in a different place, right? And so a lot of the conversation there is really just about realizing that like, the amount of money that they’ve raised, or how far they’ve taken the company, or how big it is, or all the things that they’ve done. We’re because of them, right? Like that company got to where it was because of them not in spite of them. And, and the ending is is almost as important as the rest of it, right? Like you can have a positive outcome for everybody, as long as you continue to work it all the way through the end of the process and that it also is just a process, right? Like M&A is just a process like any other. And so if you work the process properly, then the right things sort of occur at the end and away you go. And so I think in both cases, the big question is, am I really, really a founder?

Melissa 

Yeah, it makes me think about something you said earlier about, like, the identity piece, like those founders you talk with are really tied with that identity?

Micah 

Yeah, absolutely.

Melissa 

And…no tell me what you’re going to say

Micah 

I was just gonna say that, I think, I think it’s funny when you think about people that have achieved sort of the pinnacle of their profession, right? Like, I’m in the NBA, I’m, you know, the top lawyer, right, they very rarely think of themselves as, like the ones that have really reached the pinnacle, very rarely think of themselves purely defined by the profession that they’re in. Right. It’s usually by the, by the effort that they’ve put in, by the accolades they’ve received, right. But in being a founder, there’s really only one outcome. Either you sell your company or IPO your company, or you don’t. And that’s it, right, there is no middle ground. And so it’s really hard to determine whether you’re actually a good founder or not, unless the outcome is positive. And if the outcome is not positive, then then by definition, you can believe that you’re not a good founder. And that’s not the same when you’re playing professional sports and losing, you know, dozens of games a year or whatnot. There is there is only a binary outcome. And and that makes it very hard for a human to be able to separate themselves from their profession.

Melissa 

Yeah, that’s such a good point. And I’m also thinking back to what you said about, you know, to be a founder, like founders in general tend to be very optimistic, right. And you do have to push past a lot of nose and setbacks along the way. But sometimes, you have to realize that, that it’s, it’s not meant to be right, that it’s not working. I think that’s such a hard contrast to have, like the optimism, optimism, and then like, one day, you you turn it off.

Micah 

Yeah. And it’s it, you can still be optimistic, even in the shutdown, right. But like, there is there is like, a moment where founders are takes a deep breath and like lets it out, like fully exhales, where you realize it, like the decision has been made, you know. And, and a lot of times, you can tell that a founder has just been holding it in like literally holding their breath, because they’re unsure of how everything is. And because of that, when when she finally lets it out, right? Finally lets it go. There’s sort of a general release, you see the shoulders, you know, droop a bit, and they don’t sit quite straight anymore. And like, relief comes across the face. And the realization that sort of the next stage of the business is in front of them. And one of the best things that happens in those situations, which a lot of people don’t know about, is that the best investors, when your company isn’t making it, will sit down with you and be like, it’s alright, we’ll figure it out. Because I’m looking forward to working with you again, right? And, and a lot of people feel that just like building the company, everything was on their shoulders, shutting down a company is also entirely on their shoulders. And if they’re lucky, and have good people around them, good investors and good advisors, it’s just not the case. Right? Like you actually, it’s part of the process, right, like failure is part of the process. And so you end up in a in a situation that’s actually relatively positive for you.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, it’s, it would be a lot if it’s all on your shoulders. What a powerful message, I think to get from an investor to say like, you know, yeah, we still believe in you. We see you as a founder, and we see your potential.

Micah 

Yeah. And it doesn’t happen as often as it should. It should, it should happen more often. But but when it does happen, it is magical, right? Because it is the right thing being done by the right investor. And I think a lot of people, a lot of people will ask me, how do you choose the best investor? And that’s usually one of the criteria that I ask is like, what happens if this doesn’t work out? Like how are you going to treat me when this doesn’t work out? And a lot of people don’t think of that, right. Because all they’re thinking about is the success of the business. Everything running well. Not what happens if things go wrong.

Melissa 

Yeah. What and I’ve spoken with other founders who say sometimes that they don’t feel like they can be picky in that way. What’s What’s your advice about that?

Micah 

It’s a true statement. I mean, when you’re raising money unless you have a company that’s very clearly going to raise money being being selective is difficult. But I also think that there is, there is bad money, right? There is money that you take from an investor that will actually be detrimental to your business over time. And it’s usually not the fault of the investor, the investor is not a malicious, individual or incompetent individual. It’s just a very poor mismatch on style and belief and ethos and ethics and the rest. And, and I think that that when that happens, nobody has benefited, right. Everybody ends up having a bad day.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It’s a tricky, a tricky place to be in. I do want to circle back I had a question for you, when you were, it is true. You said, I also don’t know the statistic about the frequency of bipolar disorder amongst founders. But it does tend to happen that that there’s a lot more founders who have bipolar disorder, and a lot of undiagnosed as well. And what I hear from my experience, I don’t specialize in working with people with bipolar disorder. But just one of the things that I know tends to happen is that it can be scary to get treatment, because some of that mania, that that you experience can be part of your success as a founder. What was your experience with that? Did you have any trouble with seeking out the treatment or getting on medication?

Micah 

Yeah, so I mean, my story is so short answer, no. Long answer is, my story was is I was a pretty bad drug addict for a period of time. And while running a company, and pretty bad, and when I sobered up, I went to my therapist, and I had been seeing a therapist the entire time. And apparently, I was pretty good at hiding it, or he didn’t call it out or whatever, but But I remember talking to him, and he’s like, Look, dude, I am 99% sure that you’re bipolar. Like I am certain you’re bipolar, like you really, really, really should get it checked out. And it took me a year before I was willing to go get it checked out. Like it took a long time, right? Because the concept that like, I was actually crazy. It was not something that I wanted to think about, you know. And finally, two years after sobriety, I the first time I got sober. I went to see a psychiatrist and, and they sat there for an hour and just asked me questions. And every question, I was like, yeah, like, that totally was the way I feel like yeah, that’s happened to me. And, and at the end of it, I remember walking out and calling my mom and crying being like, somebody’s actually figured out what’s wrong with me. At that point, I had decided that no matter what had come out of it, I would follow. So whatever drugs, they gave me, whatever medication I was going to do it. The interesting thing is, is I did go back at one point and be like, listen, all the things that made me special, that ability to like, do massive amounts of work in a short period of time. And when you’ve been bipolar your entire life and have dealt with mania, the way you work your work style is that you wait for the mania, right? Because that’s when you’re gonna get all your work done, and you can’t work when you’re depressed. So you wait for the mania. Well, I was now medicated, and the mania was not coming. So like all the way that I had worked my entire life, all the magic that I felt that I had, that made me special was gone. And it was really hard. And so I actually went to a therapist that specialized in sort of helping people with bipolar, like, reenter society, like I don’t know, like, relearn how to work. And, and did that for a while, where I where I sat down and learned how to sort of manage my time better in moments where there wasn’t the mania. I still miss it, like mania is definitely something that I enjoyed and my you know, my drugs of choice, were very manic inducing. But but I’ve learned I’ve learned how to work work out without it, and I would never come off the medication. Now I just did a real change of my medication. So they titrate off and on. And that was really, really hard going through a period of time where I was sort of under medicated or not properly medicated. So I’m convinced like, I’ll be on these meds for the rest of my life and I’m okay with that.

Melissa 

Yeah, thank you for sharing that because I do think there’s a lot of I don’t know if you would use this word, but I hear like, potential grief, right like grieving this kind of like workstyle you had the person you were an intern. and find that new new sense of self and rhythms.

Micah 

Yeah, grief is interesting. I think the other thing is is shame. Like, you’re like, how come I can’t just work? Like, why do I need, like this like, manic moment? Like, why do I need to wait until I got? Because I mean, the same thing would happen in college, right? Like, I’d wait till, you know, I had to write a 10 page paper, and I just waited until I had it, I could feel it, like I wrote the paper in my head, but I didn’t start writing it until like that feeling hit. So there’s definitely shame feelings of like, not being normal, like being abnormal and being different. Right, and therefore, you know, how I was able to survive kind of in regular life, and, and there was a lot of like, uncertainty, you know, about like, like, one of the things I thought was really interesting when I first started getting medicated for bipolar was that the primary reaction that people had with me was that they would say, it’s amazing how consistent you are these days. Right? It was amazing how like, I don’t worry about what I’m going to tell you, because I’m pretty confident I know what the reactions gonna be. Yeah, as well as bipolar, there was just no, no idea. It would be if I was manic, that moment, or if I was depressed, like, things would act very differently. And so I think, I think, getting to that point of clarity, of consistency, put me in a world where I understood that I could actually be a better contributor to society and contributor and generally in the world. I didn’t know if I could still be a founder like that. I didn’t know.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah. Wow. It’s, I’m just so curious to know, like, when all this was going on, was it something that you were sharing about? Or did it take some time before you were able to share about this experience?

Micah 

With publicly or with?

Melissa 

Yeah, sorry, that’s Well, yeah. With with, I mean, were you sure he mentioned sharing with your mom? Like, what about the people around you? Were you sharing it with them? And you’re sharing it publicly? Now? At what point? Were you feeling open to share it publicly?

Micah 

So I think it took a couple years for me to be comfortable, certainly with with addiction stuff. That took a long, long time, right? Because the reality is that there are people that will not work with me, because I was drug addict, right? Like, because I’m in recovery. Like, I know that to be true. And I’m okay with it too, right? Because they’re probably not people that I would want to work with. But, but for a long time, I was very nervous about that. Right? Like, if I bring this up, will I be able to raise more money for my company? Will I be able to do X, Y and Z? Right? Like, like, is it a thing? Now it’s, it’s, it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s who I am. And it’s part of my story, the bipolar, I was pretty open about it. Relatively soon after being diagnosed, I had a blog that I wrote for a long time. And I remember writing blog posts about it. I’ve never really shied away from from being public about what’s going on with me. I mean, it’s, nobody can affect it, right? It’s just me. So like, some people care, and some people don’t care. But I’ve always like, written or shared for myself, like it’s never I’ve never done it with the intent that anybody was going to read it or respond to it. And even to this day, I get a little bit weirded out when I get responses to things that I’ve posted. Like, I’m unsure of how to respond to it. But yeah, I’ve always just sort of, I’ve always been pretty open.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah, I find it interesting to just hear about people’s journeys about when they when they’re ready to share. So it’s also really interesting, just to hear what you’re saying, like, yeah, I share. It’s more for me, though. Yeah, I think everyone has their own kind of choice that they follow there and what works for them. And I certainly think that by telling your story, it can be part of a healing journey.

Micah 

For sure, for sure, but like, I’m pretty heavily tattooed and tattoos are an interesting thing as well, because they’re not for anybody else. They’re for me, right? Like, I’m adorning my body with things that I like, in order to make me feel better about the way I look. Right. Like, there’s no you and that statement anywhere. And, and, and so I wear tattoos and I don’t cover them and and I’m proud of them and there’s no I’m happy to talk about them and they all sort of have some sort of meaning to them. And sort of my life is the same way, right? Like it’s me. It’s about me, it’s who I am. It’s what it, what created me and makes me think the way I’m going to think. And so if I tell you what’s going on with me out loud, it doesn’t change what’s going on with me with my mouth shot, right? Like, it’s the same stuff. So the thing that I have learned, though, over time, which is the thing that’s probably more difficult for me to rectify in my own brain, is that it helps other people. And I’ve never really done it to, like help other people like, like to be selfish about it, right? It’s been a very selfish thing. It’s been very much about the way it makes me feel. But it is pretty amazing when people say, Hey, I’ve read what you wrote. And that led me to this or like, you know, I’m doing a project now where I’m taking 100 photos of myself, and then writing a story with each photo. And I’ve had four people approached me about sobriety and how to end wanting to get sober. I’ve had people approached me about mental health and other things. And, or, Hey, I can relate to what you’re saying, or I just got a note yesterday that like the way I talked about my bipolar, changed how somebody viewed her own father. And so like, that was kind of crazy. I mean, it’s amazing that people are having those reactions. And I’m glad that like, I’m part of that story, I guess. But like, it’s a very strange feeling. It is, it is a very strange feeling. Because it’s not the intent, right? The intent was just for me to take some pictures and write some stories.

Melissa 

What’s interesting, I don’t know if you saw it, but I commented on one of your LinkedIn posts earlier, because it really resonated with me, something you shared about anxiety. And I do have to say, I’m sorry for making you feel weird, but it is really powerful stuff. So I’m happy you’re doing it for you, right? Because I don’t also don’t think it’s helpful to, you know, just help other people, right, then you got to, you know, you got to put on your own oxygen mask first, right? Help yourself. And if you happen to that helps you to put on some oxygen masks for other people to along the way. I think that’s, that’s fantastic.

Micah 

Yeah, and I think like, you know, like, I’m old, I’ve done some things in my life. And like, if people are like, gosh, you know, I like the way me how he lives his life yet, look at where he went through to get there. And that helps them, you know, helps them relate helps them think, then I’m very much into it. Right?

Melissa 

Yeah. Well, I could ask so many more questions. We’re getting to the end of our time. But I want to know, do you have any, any message you want to give to any anyone who’s listening? You know, other founders, VCs? Like people who are key players in the startup world about how they can support founder mental health? Anything that you’d want to share?

Micah 

Yeah, I mean, I think I think the hardest thing about being a founder is that you believe that you’re doing it alone. And like, when I went to AA, like, the thing that really resonated with me in AA was that I walked into a room full of people that I would never mix with normally, like, I would never know normally. But they were telling my story, right. And so it’s very clear to me that like, while our problems may be unique, or specific, they aren’t unique, right? Like, and so. And so if you are a founder, and you’re going through things right now, the reality is, is there’s other people that are feeling the same thing, or have dealt with the same thing. And that reaching out doesn’t make you weak or less than, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. It helps you it helps you move much further faster. And that’s, that’s the whole point of being a founder, right is to go further faster. So I would say you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Even if it’s somebody you don’t know. And you just like their picture that they put in LinkedIn. You know, feel free because you might be surprised at the response.

Melissa 

I love that. Okay, and one last question for you. If we could go back in time, maybe to the start of your journey when you were first founding a company any words of advice you’d have for your younger self?

Micah 

I mean, the one that comes to mind is just don’t take yourself so seriously. But I think I think the honestly, I think the answer is the or the non facetious answer is trust yourself. I think there was a very often where I knew the right answer, but I didn’t do it for a particular reason. Be it ego or somebody else saying something or whatnot. If I had just listened to myself, I think that I’ve gotten much further faster.

Melissa 

I love that Yeah, yeah. It’s it’s hard to like kind of maintain that, that connection with your your gut. So I think that’s, that’s excellent advice. So now people if people are listening, how can they get in touch with you if they like to connect?

Micah 

Twitter, it’s just my first name at Micah. Instagram is artndog, ARTNDOG. It’s probably the two best ways, my website Micahbaldwin.com But I’m pretty easy to find if people want to say hi.

Melissa 

I’ll include all of those in the show notes just so that it’s even easier for people to reach out. Micah, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story. I could again talk to you for another hour, but we’ll have to wrap things up. So thank you again.

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HI I’M MELISSA

I'm a therapist-turned-coach who loves working with clients around the world! I work with the globally mobile community to support them through transitions as well as entrepreneurs who need support navigating the rollercoaster of entrepreneur life.

I'm also the co-founder of the Location Independent Therapists (LIT) Community, a mom, a self-compassion advocate, and an aspiring author.

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