“I know you don’t want to hear it, but you do have it. You have this mixed anxiety-depressive disorder.”
Those were the words that Timothy Tiah, co-founder of Colony, dreaded to hear. His psychiatrist had diagnosed him with anxiety and depression.
And like many other people, he didn’t want to believe it. Not in the beginning, at least.
“When I first felt it, I always thought it was just me being emo or just being sad, which is pretty normal,” Timothy shared to Vulcan Post. “I used to feel joy. I used to feel joy if I eat something I enjoy. But my feeling to that is completely muted [now].”
After frequently confiding in his wife about it, she realised that there was a larger reason for his struggle. He could still recall her saying, “Okay, it sounds like you have depression.”
At that point, Timothy still didn’t want to see a psychiatrist or a therapist, but his wife eventually pushed him to do it. This was the first step in him getting the help he needed.
Ain’t no mountain high enough
Timothy tried his best to not let it affect his career, especially being a leader to a growing company. That company being home to several notable coworking spaces in Malaysia such as Colony and Jerry.
“When I’m feeling symptoms of either depression or anxiety, I tend to want to keep to myself. It takes a lot of effort to actually talk to someone,” he confessed.
To some extent, he found that work helped to give him a purpose; a reason to get out of bed every morning when it’s “very tempting” to just stay in. Another aspect was that he didn’t want to let people down, so his colleagues served as motivation to push him along.
But even that was difficult, as one of the symptoms of depression and anxiety is the collapse of self-worth. “It doesn’t matter if people tell me otherwise. I would feel completely worthless.”
Timothy explained that this was why talking about his mental health struggles to others was difficult and made him feel insecure.
He shared an incident once before his public “coming out”, when an interviewer asked him, “What do you think of people who use the word ‘depressed’?”
The word itself stunned him not for its suddenness, but because he worried if the interviewee could sense it in himself.
That was one of the final straws for him.
He wanted to overcome his fear of people finding out. He wanted to get rid of the nagging voice in his head wondering, “Shit, what if someone heard about this (his mental health struggles)?”
The cat’s out of the bag
So one day in 2020, he decided to just let it all out.
Timothy published a post on social media to share the diagnosis and his journey of accepting it. While scary, it was a liberating act that helped unburden it from himself.
“After that, I felt a huge relief because I felt like I didn’t have to hide it anymore.”
Comments and check-ups from those who knew him came flooding in. It wasn’t a silent battle he had to go through alone anymore.
Being a responsible businessman, he contacted the investors and shareholders in Colony to personally break the news. You could also say that this was another step in taking control of his fear.
Timothy used to worry about how his shareholders and clients would react. His reasoning was, “Who would want to invest in someone who has these mental health struggles?”
“As leaders and entrepreneurs, we kind of have the impression that we need to be strong, and this seems like the opposite of strong,” Timothy said.
So it must have been surprising to him when his colleagues were very empathetic.
It’s an ongoing journey
Timothy also realised that he was now more aware when someone around him was struggling with mental health issues.
And more importantly, he learnt how to deal with it better. This helps with him being a leader at work.
In the past, one of Timothy’s colleagues would have anxiety meltdowns and he would try to rationalise with her. He would say things like, “Why do you feel like that? You know it’s not a big deal, it’s a small thing.” He would also remind her to be grateful for the other things she has.
But he’s since realised that it doesn’t help. On the contrary, it might make it worse. So he would check up on them now by asking if they’re okay.
And if they’re not ready to talk, Timothy is more understanding and reminds them, “It’s okay. When you’re ready to talk, I’m here. Just letting you know that you’re not alone, I’m here for you.”
Timothy believes that being a leader has a lot to do with how you treat people and how you communicate.
“And whether or not there are some things that may put you at a disadvantage … everyone has their own challenges and essentially if we focus on still being able to communicate well, understand people well and treat people well, we will be able to be effective leaders,” he explained.
Throughout his journey, he also found solidarity with fellow entrepreneurs.
Since speaking out about his mental health struggles, Timothy found out from other entrepreneurs that they were going through similar mental challenges themselves.
By opening up, he also created an avenue for people within the field to talk about it openly, rather than bottling and hiding it.
While being too open about it might feel like “sharing a weakness”, he believes it’s better to have a helping hand along the road to recovery.
“I think for the people or leaders out there who are struggling with depression or anxiety, it’s okay if that’s what you think you’re going through. But I think it’s important to get treated and still achieve your goals,” Timothy shared.
This interview was done as part of our ongoing Vulcan Post video series, Open Book, and you can watch our full interview with Timothy from Colony here: