83. Brian Sachetta: Overcoming anxiety and depression

Brian Sachetta, software developer and creator of “Get Out of Your Head,” brand and book series talks to Sue Stockdale about how he combines his experiences in the tech world with previous mental health battles to offer practical strategies for evading one’s psychological demons.

Brian currently has two books on the market, “Get Out of Your Head: A Toolkit for Living with and Overcoming Anxiety” and “Get Out of Your Head Vol. 2: Navigating the Abyss of Depression.” His mission is to help as many sufferers as possible through not only those books but also his blog and podcast appearances.

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Key Quotes

I had always had an interest in doing things with technology.

I had so many pages of notes, 100 pages in Microsoft Word, I thought why don’t I distill this down into something?

That’s what happens with anxiety in general, our bodies go into a fight or flight state.

I have these tendencies to chew things over to ruminate, and that is not helpful as it only tends to magnify the fear that I’m feeling.

You can’t really solve emotions, you can only let them flow through you.

I was going out and AB testing different strategies.

A lot of people have reached out to me. I had one reach out to me and said, this literally changed my life.

I think when you dig into it, art is sort of emotion.

In my books. I talk about the pain. I talk about the difficulty. I’m not smoothing things over and being everything’s wonderful and happy. I give space for the darkness. I give space for the difficulty.

Brian Sachetta Transcription

Sue: Welcome to the podcast. Brian, it’s great to speak to you today.

Brian: Hey, Sue. Thanks for having me. Great to be here.

Sue: You describe yourself as an author, a blogger and a software developer, and then there’s this whole other interesting side that I’m fascinated to get into around mental health, but I’d really like to start with your professional career, what got you interested in computer science?

Brian: Yeah, I think it really came down to enjoying building things and also wanting to use my creative talents in some capacity. I feel as though I have creative energies and I like to channel those into different endeavors. So as I was going through college, you talk to your counsellors, you talk to your professors and whatnot, and they’re trying to help you see all the different options that are out there and then also help you make a decision as to which path you want to go on. And so I was in a business school program in my undergraduate degree. And there was an opportunity to take like a concentration that was kind of a requirement of that degree. And you can pick marketing, finance, accounting, computer science, something like that.

And I had always had an interest in doing things with technology. I sold a lot of stuff on eBay as a kid, I built random websites and whatnot, and it was also kind of one of those like pivotal moments in time, or you know humanity where it was like, you can tell that like mobile apps are coming and, you know, things are going to move on to the internet faster and so for me, I just saw the intersection of a bunch of different threads in my mind. Right. If I can learn to program things, not only can I build my own products but then I could also maybe start a business. I can use my creative capacities infuse those into the products that I’m building. So I saw that as an interesting gateway or entryway and that’s kind of what got me started. I would say the funny thing is, I think for most people that you talk to, you may get into something on day one for a specific reason. And then 10 years down the road, 20 years down the road, those reasons may change.

Sue: Well, I’m hearing a mix of commerciality and creativity. That, sounds like that the path that you have undertaken was meeting those needs as you went forwards. And now you’re, writing about mental health issues. How did that come about?

Brian: yeah, so I will say, that I’m still a full-time software developer. I do the writing on nights and weekends and it wasn’t necessarily like I’m on this path, I’m now hopping over to this path and, and going in a totally different direction. It was more in the process of living my life. I realized that I had been dealing with, anxiety, depression, things like that. I would go on a date with a girl and say to myself, like, I am nervous. I am very nervous, something like that until you have enough of those experiences, it’s hard for you to point at them and be like this. Quote, unquote anxiety, right? This is quote unquote, a panic attack.

You just are 17 years old. And you say to yourself, I feel uncomfortable in specific situations after years of dealing with things, working with therapists, working with doctors, it’s easier for you to make determinations about yourself. If a therapist says like this person has an anxiety disorder, we need time to let that play out. Like if, if somebody is nervous for one day, its probably not a disorder. Right. We need a pattern of behavior.

So, going back to the original question, it was really just me going ahead and living my life. And in the natural process of being employed and showing up to work year after year, whatever it was dealing with different mental health issues and saying to myself like, there is a lot more here that I need to work on that I need to uncover. And then once I started working on those things, I felt as though I couldn’t really turn back and just like keep that information inside. I said to myself, I really feel like I’ve made a lot of progress and I talk to a bunch of different people and tell them my story and they’re all like, that’s pretty interesting.

Like, what are you gonna do with that information? And so at a certain point, I said to myself, like I have so many pages of notes, right? Like 50 pages, a hundred pages in Microsoft. why don’t I distill this down into something. And so that was sort of the impetus for my first book. And as you’re editing things, as you’re putting things in, cutting things out, it was like, okay, maybe, maybe this specific topic doesn’t fit into the narrative that I’m working on right now, but maybe that becomes a blog post down the road, something like that.

Sue: So as you’re speaking Brian I’m, noticing the, the effect that naming something, giving it a label or a title seemed to have on you, where it was a, series of unrelated, but relevant experiences that you’d had, and going on dates or whatever it was and how you were feeling emotionally when you gave it a, an umbrella title or label that seemed to make a difference. Am I reading what you’re saying? Correct.

Brian: Yeah, for sure. I think it’s like, how do you know what you’re dealing with until you’re able to put a name on it, right? It’s like, if you want a dog to come over to you, you, you need to, you know, say, Hey Sparky, come over here. Right. Rather than just whistle at it. So that was definitely important. Almost monumental in my struggle, my battle, whatever it was. On the other hand, we do want to be careful with the labels and names that we associate with things, if somebody says, Hey, I, was nervous one time. We don’t want to go ahead and say, I am an anxious person. I suffer from, some sort of anxiety disorder as much as it, it sounds a little crazy. It’s like in the world of mental health, Things become self-fulfilling prophecies, where it’s like, this is the lens through which I’m viewing my world. And that changes how I see things that changes how I then interpret things and then make sense of them and then take action in the world. So it is important to label things that it was very important for me, but that was more like a result of me having dealt with those things for a long time.

Sue: So you’ve given us one example, Brian, of going out on a date as one experience you had that impacted you emotionally. It be maybe helpful for the listener to get a sense of what other types of experiences that you noticed that you felt that you could have handled differently or better.

Brian: for sure. And I do wanna preface this by saying that everyone experiences anxiety differently. Everybody interprets it differently as well. And so some of the things that I talk about may not resonate with other folks, but these are just my experiences. For anxiety, when you live there long enough, you start to recognize the pattern. So for me I would say the anxiety falls into two buckets. The first one would be social anxiety or anxiety of intimacy. The other would be anxiety around, death and health and things like that. So I guess two quick examples is 2013 and I talk about this in my first book, I had made a reservation to go skydiving. I was so excited about it. Right. Cuz it’s like, oh wow. That’s so fun. You know, jump out of a plane. That’s an exhilarating experience. I think I probably booked it like a month in advance and I was a little bit nervous about it. There’s no doubt that I’m both excited and nervous, but as that reservation approached, like let’s say six days in advance, five days in advance, whatever. I started to jump into my head and start to think about the specific details of the dive itself and it wasn’t helpful, but that’s what happens with anxiety in general, our bodies go into a fight or flight state. Our minds are moving at a million miles a second, and we’re trying to rationalize our way out of the fear that we’re feeling.

So I’m sitting there, in my bedroom I’m not scared here. I am like on the edge of the plane. I’m about to jump out of it. I’m gonna be safe. My parachute is gonna deploy yada yada, yada. And then like the next thing I know, it’s two hours later and I’ve chewed this thing over and over and over again, kind of gotten stuck on the process without making any progress. So, that was an experience early on for me where I was 23 at the time, I would say early-ish in my anxiety journey or at least five, six years into it. And so for me, that specific experience was sort of a turning point it really shed some light on the fact that I have these tendencies to chew things over to ruminate, and that is not helpful. That only tends to magnify the fear that I’m feeling. It’s like, we think that we can solve the issues that are going on in our mind as it relates to anxiety. But one of the problems is that like, you can’t really solve emotions, you can only let them flow through you. And so for me, that became a core part of my journey, as well as my story itself, being able to say, this was a point in time in which I realised, I gotta stop doing that.

I’m not gonna sit here and say that I magically change everything at that moment, but it was still pivotal for me. I guess on the, the social side, I still get anxious when I go on dates, but the difference now is 10, 12 years into the journey. I have strategies for dealing with those things, I know at the very, very least I have the capacity to talk to myself and say like, it is okay to experience what you are experiencing rather than saying, what is this? Oh my God, am I dying? Am I having a heart attack? Am I gonna freak out? Am I gonna not get the job? So the self-talk is really important as well.

Sue: So in this awakening that you had when you began to discover ways to manage your mind I can’t help, but think about the strength perhaps of your problem solving capabilities in your day job. Were you aware that in coping with your mental health experiences that you were taking the same type of problem solving approach to dealing with technology.

Brian: Yes, there were definitely times where throughout this journey, I would read a book. I would listen to something on tape. I would read a journal article, something like that. That piece of content would have some sort of strategy and say like, when you’re anxious, try this specific tactic. And I would then take that tactic to different events in my life, whether it was that job interview or going skydiving and I would test it out and I would try to say to myself, does this work for me? If it does, let’s put it in this bucket over here. If it doesn’t, let’s forget about it. Let’s move on. So there was definitely that aspect to it, where it was like I was going out in AB testing a different strategy. And sometimes I think just by virtue of living your life and having enough experiences, the wisdom kind of like slowly seeps in, even without you necessarily trying to find it.

Sue: You used the word early on about pivotal moments or, or significant moments. Was there any one particular situation that you experienced that really changed how you were thinking?

Brian: yeah. I talk about this at the beginning of my first book, this really epitomised the beginning of my journey, which was  I went off to college. It’s my freshman year. I’m probably two weeks into it. I had met this girl that I liked. Seemed like, she liked me as well. And we had hung out a couple times, and so she had texted me, let’s say a couple days after we had last hung out I could tell that she was intoxicated and I was like, oh, I’m kind of scared of intimacy. I haven’t had that many close relationships. I’m sober. It’s easy for me to be like, I’ve had a couple beers, come over and let’s have a good time. I don’t have to think about this. But I was sober and I knew that she wasn’t. So it wasn’t even like the normal, scary stories on campus of, intimate encounters. It was me being like, I don’t know what to do here, and I am nervous.

And she’s a good person. This was just a tough scenario for me. She was just forceful and was like, I’m coming over, like yada, yada, yada. And I don’t know if I’m ready for this. I’m really nervous. My heart is starting to race, and so I’m thinking to myself, she’ll be here in like 10, 15 minutes. And the next thing I know, she’s there and she like screams my name and, she’s all excited, but also like kind of drunk. And I was just like, I don’t know how to handle this. I’m so nervous. I had had a panic attack with a girl that I liked about six months before that. And I’m thinking to myself, get it together, hold it together. Figure this out. And we’re in the hallway of, of my dorm building. And I sit down on one of the couches and I’m just like, figure this out, figure this out, figure this out. And she sits down next to me and I don’t know how this is gonna go. My mind is racing. And as soon as she sits down, she’s like, oh my God. What is happening. You are shaking. You are like you are freak, yada yada yada stands up is screaming all these words at me.

And I was still friends with her after the fact she’s a good person, but in that moment, it was just like, oh my God, this is worst case scenario, you know? And I’m not trying to say that this is like, the worst thing to ever happen to somebody. It was just that when I was 18 years old, right. It was like, this was an important subject to me. And this was something that I hadn’t dealt with before. So it was, it was pivotal in the sense that I woke up the next day realized that I had ashamed myself and sort of blown this moment, even though I, I didn’t necessarily do anything wrong, I just wasn’t prepared for it.

And I woke up and I’m like, okay, that’s now two panic attacks in front of girls that I like within the last six months. I need to do something about this. I cannot let anxiety or whatever I’m calling this thing, continue to ruin my social life. And so I always say if there were a movie, created about my journey it would probably open the first scene or the first shot would be me at my desk that Saturday morning in a cold sweat rampantly searching on Google, like what was that? Nervous, whatever. And so that was a pivotal moment, just in the sense that it made me say to myself, like I can’t keep running from this thing. I can’t keep avoiding it. I can’t keep hiding from it. I have to figure out what I’m dealing with and I have to try to make progress. Now I will say that it was a long journey from there, but at the same time, that was the moment the journey begins.

Sue: Mm. Wow. You’ve really painted a vivid picture for me to imagine you in that scenario, Brian, and also the, impetus that must have given you, to then move forward and want to do something about it, to be different.

Brian: Definitely. I don’t want to glamorize it though. It was like, uncertain and murky and difficult. It was like, I’m now forced into this new journey. What the heck do I do next?

Sue: Now listeners should know that you’re wearing a t-shirt that says ‘get out of your head’ on it, which is the name of your brand on your book series.

Brian: Yep.

Sue: then how did you then come to putting pen to paper with all of those notes that you had on Microsoft Word? I guess many people might have some mental health challenges. They might deal with it individually, they may not want to then share it with the world. So that’s where I’m curious to know what, what made you believe that it would be of value to other people to write about it?

Brian: Yeah, it’s a great question. It’s something that I’ve thought about more and more in the last couple of years, so I started writing the first manuscript in 2017. It’s like in 2017, when you’re a 27 year old kid and you actually don’t have a lot of real life and real world experience, sometimes you can just be very confident for almost no reason. I had no training in this stuff other than the real world, I had no degrees. For me to sit there and be like, I’m gonna write a book about this topic that, I’m not credentialed in and share it with others and, and help them change their lives or whatever. That is almost absurd. I just know that the things that I had been through were difficult for me. And so I had all this pain and distress built up inside of me. I see this creative avenue, this new way of, writing blogs and books as a way of getting that pain out of me and trying to do something positive with it.

The funny thing now is like, I look back, at 32, and my approach is just so different. I almost think to myself like, hey, I have actually written a couple books. I’ve written a bunch of blogs and a lot of people have reached out to me. I had one reach out to me and be like, this literally changed my life. I was borderline suicidal. I was ready to leave my wife. And I read this book and it totally helped me turn things around. And it was like, holy crap. I did not even know. I was hoping something like that was possible, but like, holy crap, I did not know that that, that could actually happen. It was so moving. Right. It’s like, I think about it now. And I’m like, I almost want to cry. I now look back at 32 and I’ve heard from folks. And I know the impact that some of my stuff has had. And yet at the same time, if I were to start the journey today, I would, I would be like, where do you even begin? Like who, who am I to think that I could possibly have an impact on certain people?

So I think I am lucky in the sense that I started when I did, because maybe I’d be more hesitant now. I think for those listening, it is a difficult decision to make, it’s like. If you are afraid to, talk about some of the things that you deal with, if you don’t wanna put content out there or whatever it is totally. Okay. Not every single person needs to write a book, write blog posts, something like that. Everybody is on their own path, their own timeline, their own schedule. If, what works for you is, talking to loved ones, going to the therapist. That’s totally okay, the end goal is not to become like famous or anything like that. The end goal is for everybody that’s in this, mental health community to find healing. And however that happens is totally okay.

Sue: Well, what you were saying there, Brian, about channeling your your emotions into something purposeful was exactly what one of our previous podcast guests said, maybe just as an aside, this podcast came about in, exactly the same way. We had never done podcasting before. I didn’t know how to produce a podcast, how to create one. But I knew that if we heard people’s stories like yourself and all our other guests we’ve had over the last two and a half years, I knew if we created a way of hearing those stories and allowing them into the world maybe there’d be some listeners out there that would enjoy it and sure enough, that has happened. So I always think it’s about taking the first step and just following your possibilities and that’s exactly what you’ve so wonderfully described to us today, and where you’ve landed up now then is continuing on writing, making a difference in people’s lives and having an impact.

Brian: And it’s great to hear, your story as well. I think. When you dig into it, art is sort of emotion. And I think the blessing and the curse is like with art, we can connect to other people and we can make an impact. And we can share ourselves with the world. The curse is depending on what the art is. It might take us a lot of pain and struggle and difficulty to get to that point or to want to create the art.

Sue: Hmm, absolutely. Now the brand that you have created Brian to me, there’s a certain left brain logic to the brand. One of the phrases that sometimes gets used around mental health and dealing with emotions is pink and fluffy. And for the listener that wants to go and look at the website will certainly get the experience that it is not the case. What came to my mind when I looked at it is a heavy metal band, a rock band. And there was an energy that came from your website that really did appeal to me. That was different from other things that I’ve come across in the mental health space. What was your thinking behind creating the image and the brand for all of the materials and information you’re sharing.

Brian: Definitely. And I’m glad that it resonated with you and you got that message. It it’s definitely what we were going for. It’s just kind of interesting. It depends on the person. My brand is a little bit niche in the sense that not everybody wants to see a snarling snake in your face. Right. And that’s okay. I think. When I sat down with my designer to create the brand, it was funny because I had actually already written my first book and he was if you want to turn this into a brand brand, rather than like just a book, you need a cohesive, brand identity, symbol, icon, logo, whatever it is.

There’s this, great thought out process that a good designer will follow, but he’s coming up with all these different ideas and trying to figure out what tone I had already conveyed in my first book with the writing itself. And so eventually, I’ll fast forward, but he he came up with what I call the snake brain logo.

And he was saying, you have that punk rock metal energy where I’m trying to inspire people to, to go do interesting things, to fight their own demons. And also convey things in a way that is a little bit different. What my designer and I really kind of concluded was in my books. I talk about the pain. I talk about the difficulty. I’m not smoothing things over and being everything’s wonderful and happy and whatnot. I give space for the darkness. I give space for the difficulty. And so in. The brand, we wanted to make space for that as well. So that’s why, it’s a little bit of a darker theme, darker tones. And then also just the iconography of the snake itself. It’s like combining all of those things saying, let’s bring in some sort of inspirational, let’s go kind of message. Through that logo as well, let’s also bring in the sort of pain and difficulty aspect of it, things that I mentioned a moment ago, and then also there’s a little bit deeper meaning of like, if you look at the logo, it’s like, think about a snake, a snake coils around its prey. Our minds can do that to us. They can twist around us and make us feel as though we’re trapped. And so when we combine the brain with the snake, like in this specific logo, that was one of the subliminal messages that we were putting across. Maybe somebody would pick up on that. Maybe they wouldn’t. But this serpent. That is the face of the brand that was intentional as well. So there’s a lot of different messages there. And I think, again, it resonates with some folks more than others, but that’s okay. That’s what branding is trying to attract a certain kind of person and persona. And hopefully like that person is gonna match up with your messaging. And if the branding and the messaging or the content overlaps with one another, then we’ll know that we’ve done a decent job.

Sue: if anybody was picking up one of your books or reading a bit of your blog content, how do you write about these strategies for dealing with emotional challenges?

Brian: Yeah, it’s another good question. In the last couple of years, my writing has changed a little. In the sense of it’s kind of detailed, but you would pick up on it if you picked up the second book specifically is like, rather than, sometimes you might read a self-help book and it’ll say when you do this and you do that, you experience X.

I actually have gotten in the habit of being like, when we do this and we do that, we feel this way. And that’s super intentional because I’ve been through all this stuff before I do that. Right. But also it’s wanting to create that sense of community, wanting to show the reader that I am right there with them. I have been through this stuff before and I’ll probably will in the future, it was wanting to lend a hand and provide a sense of solidarity being I am right here with you. We’re gonna get through these difficult things together.

Sue: Mm, absolutely. And I’m still hearing this ‘can do’ sense of even how you talk about your experiences and what you hope to convey in the book. The, I don’t want the emotion to overpower me. The antidote to this is to take some action.

Brian: Definitely. And I think, that’s part of my own personal philosophy, just in the process of living my life. There are times where depression may wash over you and make you feel as though things are hopeless. There is nothing you can do. There is no action that you can take to change your lot in life. I think I’ve been through that enough times to know that, that conclusion or statement is not accurate. When I say the philosophical piece, it’s like, I’m trying to strike a good balance. We need to talk about that darkness. We need to talk about the difficulty, but at the same time, I’m not gonna be one of those people who are like, Hey, this is just who you are. Accept it. You’re gonna be anxious for your entire life. You’re gonna be depressed for your entire life.

There’s nothing you can do about it. I try to strike a good balance of the two things and say like, look, you can do things to change your life, but those things are probably going to be difficult. But at the same time, come with me on this journey and let’s see where we get. It’s sort of a grounded, even keeled approach I know that it’s possible because I have done it myself and that’s not a humble brag. It’s just like trying to, give listeners a little bit of hope. So it’s throughout the writing. You’ll, pick up on that thread. Me trying to and obviously just, even throughout this conversation Sue, it’s like you pick up on some of that positivity, but there is still I, I wouldn’t say negativity. It’s just allowance of the difficulty to be there. And for us to figure that out in hopes of then continuing the journey,

Sue: So there’s no avoidance of the reality of a situation.

Brian: that’s exactly what it is.

Sue: And if our listener then was experiencing some form of anxiety, depression, OCD, I know you’re not here to be our doctor or advisor. What, would be one offer you would make to them or something to reflect on or consider as a result of listening to this podcast?

Brian: Yeah, I think. And I could give one, but why don’t I try to give two?

Sue: Oh, go for it.

Brian: I think the first one is to get as the brand states, try to get out of your head, your mind is not always your friend when you’re chewing things over and worrying about certain subjects and ruminating on negativity and frustration and whatnot. There is no end to that. There’s no, like eventually I break through and I’m on the other side. Now, the reason why the name of my brand is called, get out of your head is. You have to put those feelings and thoughts and ruminations down and go move on a different path. A couple ways that we can do that is like getting back into our bodies.

So whether that’s through deep breathing, like sitting down for a minute and doing some sort of box breathing pattern where it’s like breathe in for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds or simply going for a walk. It’s funny because sometimes we do those things and then on the other side of whatever activity it is, even if it’s like going to the gym, we may say to ourselves, I feel better now. Why don’t I now think about those things that were worrying me before? Cuz I’m in a better head space. It’s like, no, no, no. What happened is you went over here and you’re trying to go back over there. Don’t do that. So that’s obviously super high level, but that’s the first thing that I would tell, tell listeners.

The, other thing I think is just to give some space for yourself and be able to look at what you’re dealing with and say like, Hey, this may be difficult. This may be painful. I may not want to go through it. But it is okay. Right. A lot of people experience anxiety, a lot of people experience depression. Again, it’s not something that we wanna welcome into our lives, but the less that we’ve resisted and say like, I can’t be experiencing this. This is not what I’m supposed to be experiencing. This is brutal. This is terrible. Like I am. You know, I am strange. I am, something is wrong with me. The more that we hold onto those kinds of beliefs, the more we perpetuate what we’re feeling in our minds. So I’d say those are two key takeaways, even though they are high level to pull from this podcast.

Sue: As I’m listening to there, Brian, I’m just wondering if that’s what you would say to the Brian that sat on that sofa with the shaking and coming out in a cold sweat all those years ago?

Brian: it’s a good question. I think I’m, I’m almost getting choked up to be honest. It’s like a long, a long time ago, a lot of pain ago. Right? I think, I would say like something like, you’re beginning this journey and it’s going to be very difficult, but at the same time, hold onto your beliefs and hold on to, this dogged sense of like, you know, can doism. Right. And. Go back and, and this is where I get choked up. It’s like almost go back and tell that kid, like, Hey, I love you.

Sue: I’m getting chills. Just listening to what you’re saying, Brian it’s been, it’s been wonderful to speak to you today. I can’t wait to go out and do something this afternoon. In fact, I’m going for a walk after we’ve recorded this because I feel that you just generated this sense of possibility within me so I hope that you convey that to our listeners as well. If they do want to find out more about you and the books you’ve written and the blog how might they do that.

Brian: Yeah, best place to go to would be my website. Get out of your head.com. That URL is all one word, no dashes, no spaces there. I always say if you wanna reach out, please do I love having conversations. With listeners and readers, it’s one of the rewarding parts of the process. So please know that I will definitely get back to you might not necessarily be within 10 minutes, but again, that is a fulfilling part of the process. I love to hear people’s stories.

Sue: Fantastic. Well, we’ll certainly put links on the show notes from today’s conversation, Brian, I wish you well in the future, whatever the next part of your journey is to get out of your head and share your knowledge and experiences with everybody else in the world. Thank you so much today.

Brian: Likewise, Sue, thanks for having me.

Sound Editor: Matias de Ezcurra
Producer: Sue Stockdale