BB-mhealth-hero
BB-mhealth-hero

My journey with mental health

headshot photo of Pedro Franceschi

Pedro Franceschi

·

Feb 08, 2022, 6 min read

Feb 08, 2022

·

6 min read

Last May, I shared my journey with mental health with the Brex team. This week, I re-sent this message to the company to remind our team of the importance of this topic, especially with all the growth ahead of Brex in 2022.

This is a deeply personal and important topic for me, and something I initially hesitated on sharing with our team, and even more so beyond the Brex walls. Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to share this publicly.

I hope my story inspires others to invest in their own mental health this year.


Team,

May is Mental Health Awareness month, and today we’re launching an amazing new benefit with SpringHealth to provide therapy, psychiatry, and coaching services to our employees and their families.

As many of you know, mental health is a very personal topic to me, so I’m very proud of this announcement. Mental health played an instrumental role in my journey building Brex thus far, and I think it can play a huge role in everyone’s lives too. I decided to share my own story with mental health, and how treating it changed me for the better. This is a very personal story, so I ask that you do not share these words outside the company. I hope you can learn more about me, and why everyone should invest more in such an important part of our lives.

It all started back in mid August 2019. We were six weeks away from launching Brex Cash in TechCrunch Disrupt. Our product was good, but not yet great. The six weeks before launch would be crucial to get the product in shape, and ship something we would all be proud of. The team worked tirelessly to get us ready for launch, and we spent many nights and weekends working together to build the first version of Cash.

Six weeks later, we made it. It was October 2nd, the day of launch, and the product was done. We spent the morning perfecting the website copy and dealing with some last-minute deployment issues, but in the early afternoon, we were ready for prime time. We gathered the entire company together for a special All Hands celebrating the journey and the team who built Cash, and we then watched live Henrique going onstage on TechCrunch Disrupt to announce our latest product to the world.

It’s hard to describe the energy in the room that afternoon. Those of you who were at Brex will remember the launch of Cash as one of the most incredible moments in the company’s history. It was pure euphoria. We had built a banking core from scratch in less than nine months, and now had real customers using it to replace traditional banks. All the hard work was worth it — we had made it! I remember looking at people’s faces and noticing how everyone was just so incredibly happy with our accomplishment. Everyone, except me.

I asked myself: why wasn’t I happy like everyone else? I thought I was just tired from the launch, and if I got some sleep, I would feel better the next day. I went home after the launch celebration, got some sleep, and woke up the next morning. But I didn’t feel any better. Instead, a deep sense of anxiety took over me. “Ok, Cash is now live, but we still have zero customers using it. We need to get more customers!” I went to the office that day feeling exhausted, and frustrated — despite the launch metrics having surpassed our expectations by a wide margin! I should be feeling happy right now, but why am I not happy?

Throughout October, things didn’t get much better. I was still anxious and unhappy, but decided to dismiss those feelings and keep going. It didn’t take long for my mental health to take a toll on me, though. A few weekends later, I went to NY with a few friends for Halloween, and couldn’t enjoy a single minute of the party or the people who were with me. After a party, I went to the hotel with a deep sense of anxiety and despair, and barely slept. The next morning, I woke up with a panic attack. I had no idea what was happening to me. Everything just felt terrible and life sucked.

I called Henrique, my mom and a few other friends to share what happened, and besides all the love and emotional support they offered me, they recommended that I look for a mental health professional. I spoke to my doctor, who referred me to a psychologist used to working with founders. I’ve been seeing her every week since then.

It’s hard to overstate how much happier I became after starting to see a therapist regularly. After each conversation, I learned more about myself, and why I was feeling what I was feeling. In just a few weeks, I started to feel relieved. I understood what was happening to me, and felt in control again.

Since then, having a dedicated hour every week to explore my deepest thoughts and learn more about me became an important part of my life. I learned, for example, that my eagerness to be productive at every second was not sustainable. It was equally important to have ongoing moments of decompression, which I now value a whole lot more. I learned how my childhood experiences affect who I am today, the importance of belonging in a group, of my needs in a romantic relationship, of being less demanding with myself, and of taking care of my own mental health first, in order to support my team and those around me.

Most importantly, I learned the importance of being present in every moment. We live in our minds the entire time, and our thoughts often take control over us. We’re always anxious about the future, or resentful about the past. But what about the now? Most of the time, it gets lost in the turmoil of everyday life. There’s always a rush, always a worry, always something else to pay attention to. But every second, life is passing by right in front of us. We forget how special and unique each moment is. Therapy, then, gave me a choice: do I want to live stuck in my mind, or present in the now, fully embracing every second of life? As I became aware of how much happier I was in the present, I couldn’t look back.

My journey with mental health didn’t end here. I noticed the clear returns it had on me, and I wanted to do more. I started dedicating more focus to my sleep in 2019 (here’s a great book, and here’s a great sleep gadget), and this year I started meditating every day. All these habits became invaluable to keeping my mind in shape.

Now that mental health is an instrumental part of my life, it’s shocking to me how few people pay any attention to it. We talk about exercising, eating healthy, avoiding alcohol, not smoking, doing regular check-ups with a doctor, but mental health isn’t a part of most people’s lexicon until it becomes an illness. It doesn’t have to be this way. We live in our minds the whole time. Being proactive about it, and keeping our minds in excellent shape is equally (if not more) important as taking care of our bodies.

Lastly, here’s the question I pose to everyone who asks me about mental health: what do you have to lose by giving it a try? Why not have a trusted, trained professional invested in your wellbeing, helping you navigate your deepest thoughts and your own journey of self-discovery? In life, there are zero extra points for doing things the hard way. Use all the help out there — be it therapy, coaching, sleep, meditation, or any other habit that keeps your mind in shape.

My biggest learning, though, is that mental health is much more than just being healthy or happier. It’s your own individual journey of figuring out what life means to you. Only you can go through the path of finding out where or how you want to lead your life. What I’m sure, though, is that the journey is much more important than the destination. This journey has taught me to be comfortable with who I am, to appreciate the uniqueness of every moment, and to enjoy every second of life. There’s not really a place to get to — the journey in itself is the reward.

Pedro

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