We continue our interview series today as we talk with Russell to hear about how he was able to overcome bipolar depression. Russel runs a couple of websites, stockmillionaires.com and UnconventionalProsperity.com.
I met Russell virtually in a blogger Facebook group in which we are both members. I posted a request for anyone interested in participating in my interview series on overcoming adversity. Russell responded telling me he suffered from bipolar depression, asking if I thought that was appropriate. Uh, yes!
His story is quite remarkable. People suffering from bipolar disorder often go see a doctor during times of depression. The result often is leaving the office with a prescription for antidepressants. You'll hear about Russell's journey through diagnosis, treatments, and how, in the midst of all of it, he started and grew successful online businesses.
If you're not familiar, bipolar depression is a combination of going through times of depression and times of manic moods. Often, they are each diagnosed separately. They are often described that way as well. I've often heard people talk about someone having bipolar disorder and depression, as though they are separate. Bipolar depression is a better description. Often the symptoms start with depression and move toward periods of high energy that turn into manic moods.
After hearing from Russell, you will have a good feel for what it's like to deal with and get treatment for it. As is the case with all of the men and women I interview, it's a story of triumph in the midst of adversity.
Tell us a little about yourself
I am 35 years old and currently live in New York with my wife. We travel around the USA, usually living for a year or so in a place before moving on. That includes stays in New York, Florida, Los Angeles, Montana, Seattle, and Oregon in the last few years. We still haven’t found a place that we want to call home!
We are online entrepreneurs that run our two websites for a living (Stockmillionaires.com and UnconventionalProsperity.com). These sites offer us a modest level of financial freedom. We consider ourselves retired (at least from conventional work!), despite working hard on growing our websites! Now, we are pretty happy. But a few years ago, life was miserable.
Tell us a little about your career path
My career path has been a little unusual. After graduating with a Ph.D. in physics, I immigrated from Scotland to the USA in 2009. My passion for physics research did not last long though, as my wife and I started to struggle on the low salary that new scientists get paid at American universities.
We were living in a moldy 1-bedroom basement apartment in gloomy Seattle. Debt just kept mounting up, and it was putting a strain on our relationship.
We started to trade risky penny stocks in an attempt to earn some extra money to make ends meet. We managed to make $20,000 trading these stocks in just a few months and used it to pay off some student debt. Looking back our winning streak was just beginner’s luck, but we thought that we had found a goldmine!
It was during this time that I started to sink into a deep depression. I had always been prone to depression and intense highly elevated moods, but this was really bad. A doctor diagnosed me with unipolar depression.
I became completely obsessed with the stock trading as a way to escape my grueling day job and my depression – unfortunately, people day trading stocks rarely have a happy ending, especially for new traders, especially if you are an emotional wreck like I was. We signed up for many online stock picking and educational services to help us learn how to trade stocks. These services helped us to learn the basics of stock trading.
Unfortunately, we quickly lost most of the money that we had made trading volatile penny stocks. Trying to trade stocks while highly anxious and depressed was a colossal mistake! Successfully trading stocks requires a disciplined and unemotional mindset that allows for almost robotic trade execution. As soon as emotions like fear or greed become involved, your chances of success decrease rapidly. Trading stocks because you NEED money is a terrible idea.
I did return to stock trading a few years later when I was more financially and emotionally secure.
You shared with me when we talked about the interview that a few years ago you described yourself as horribly depressed and suffering from bipolar disorder? Please tell us about that period
My bipolar disorder was initially diagnosed as depression while we were living in Seattle. I think that this is reasonably common for people that have Bipolar II disorder (my final diagnosis), where depression is usually more dominant than the manic moods. I think that most people with the disorder only seek medical help when they are in a depression. Mild manic episodes can feel very good. Most people will not go to the doctor because the moods make them feel so good. They go when the incidents escalate.
I would have days where I could not get out of bed from depression, and I would regularly wake up in the middle of the night to find I was clenching my jaw so hard my teeth were screaming in pain. I was so irritated that I would just snap at my wife and refuse even to leave the apartment.
It started to affect my work relationships as well. My anger rose up quickly. People would ask me what was wrong, and I would only have the energy to grunt at them. That led to not going into work on bad days, which did not go down well with my aggressive boss.
I would often cycle into these energetic moods where I would stay up all night, start side businesses, and work 70 hours a week at my day job the rest of the time. This led to my going ‘hyper’, start talking extremely rapidly and become mildly grandiose. Then the depression would set back in. The cycle would repeat every week or so.
In Seattle, the doctor prescribed the usual medication that is given to patients for depression – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Despite initial insomnia as I went on this medication, it did help my depression significantly.
Having dealt with depression myself, I know how hard it can be. Add bipolar on top of it; I can’t imagine. How did you get through it?
Once my depression was under control using SSRI medication, I found that my new positive attitude stimulated a period of massive personal growth. I started reading am implementing everything that I learned from all the classic self-improvement books like ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill.
I started working on many different unconventional side hustles to make more money, which slowly but surely started to pay off. My mindset began to shift toward entrepreneurship. Looking back, I found hope in these endeavors because of the freedom that being your own boss gives you. After being in debt and depressed for so long, having the promise of unlimited earning potential was incredibly liberating.
My relatively mild manic moods (called hypomania) that were a result of Bipolar II disorder, actually helped me to build our two websites about stock trading and personal finance. These websites now make us $10,000 – $15,000 per month from affiliate commissions and advertisements.
Hypomania gave me the energy and the obsessive focus needed to build the two websites. At the same time, we also started a technology company that did over $1 Million in revenue in the first year of business (with no debt or investors).
We also bought a rental property and made $100,000 in three years by renting out rooms and selling it for a profit. In many ways, my bipolar disorder actually helped drive me forward! We were able to pay off all of our debt from these entrepreneurial ventures, which was a huge relief.
Unfortunately, my hypomania episodes became more severe over time. I started to act erratically and become immensely grandiose. I would take risks that could have led to financial disaster for us. For example, one morning I just decided to start buying websites from Flippa.com. Luckily, my wife stopped me after I had spent $4,500 on a scam website that had fake traffic and falsified revenue statements.
My judgment seemed to be affected by the disorder. I made some business connections that promised the world but, let’s just say they were less than honest characters…. another bullet dodged!
At times I became very irritable but super-charged with manic energy. I would get up at 4 am and play basketball for hours and then work all day. In some ways it was the best time of my life, but not for my wife!
My wife helped me get to a psychiatrist that finally formally diagnosed me with Bipolar II disorder. I started taking 250mg of Lamictal (a mood stabilizer), and it has really helped to stabilize my mood. I am still driven and obsessive, but the rest of the more negative symptoms have been greatly reduced.
Did you have financial consequences in those early years? If so, what did you learn from them?
The financial consequences in those early years were quite destructive. I self-medicated using alcohol to the point of pretty much being an alcoholic.
I would spend $50 a day on alcohol which we could not afford. We also put a lot of our purchases on credit cards – something that we never do now.
I learned that to get ahead, you must be willing to sacrifice today's pleasure for tomorrows prosperity. That $50 per day on alcohol could have been used to pay a writer for our blogs instead of being used to drown my sorrows.
Who knows where we might be financially today if we had invested that money into our businesses! Even though those early years were terrible – I am thankful for them because I was so unhappy it forced me to change, if that makes sense? If I had just been mildly unhappy, I might not have taken any action and still be stuck in a financial rut.
What encouragement would you give others dealing with Bipolar disorder or depression?
I learned that mental health problems need to be addressed quickly and not allowed to spiral out of control. Luckily, my wife and I survived this period. Many are not so lucky.
Bipolar and depression are serious issues that ruin lives and marriages if left untreated. I resisted treatment for many years. To this day, I am still not sure why. Since I was a teenager, I knew I had a problem but I just ignored it.
I think most people can get through periods of depression and mental illness and become stronger because of it.
Finally, I want to offer some advice about medication for depression and anxiety. Be very careful going on or off SSRI medication. Our experience (and many other people’s) has been that tapering your dose is often required to get off these medications.
We found that a website called SurvivingAntidepressants.com was extremely helpful. A lot of doctors still don’t seem to understand SSRI medication and mental health issues fully. Hopefully, that will change in the future.
Thank you, Russell, for sharing your story. Mental illness often comes with periods of shame and isolation. That isolation keeps us from seeking the help we need. Your transparency about that should encourage others to seek help sooner, rather than later.
As someone who's been treated for depression over the years, I can relate to some of what Russell shared here. It took me a long time to seek help. Had I not done so, my marriage would likely not have survived. I couldn't agree more with his admonition not to try and get off antidepressants on your own cold turkey. These are powerful drugs. Withdrawals from them can be pretty severe. Good doctors can help you wean off of them gradually.
I hope anyone reading this finds the encouragement they need to seek help. There is no shame in whatever you're struggling with. Isolation is your enemy. There are people in your life who love you and will walk with you through your recovery and treatment. That was true for Russell, for me, and all of the other people I've interviewed.
We share our stories so that anyone dealing with the things you hear about knows you are not alone and help is available. If you think Russell's story can help someone you know, please share this post with them.
We welcome your comments and thoughts on Russell's story and thank him again for sharing it.
Fred started the blog Money with a Purpose in October 2017. The blog focused on three primary areas: Personal Finance, Overcoming Adversity, and Lifestyle. During his time at Money with a Purpose, he was quoted in Forbes, USA Today and appeared in Money Magazine, MarketWatch, The Good Men Project, Thrive Global and many other publications.
In April 2019, Fred, along with two other partners, acquired The Money Mix website. To focus his time and energy where he could be the most productive, Fred recently merged Money with a Purpose with The Money Mix. You can now find all of his great content right here on The Money Mix, along with content from some of the brightest minds in personal finance.