So here's my question. I'm a C-Level executive at a startup that manages a team. I'm going through a rough patch of depression. I've also previously informed the CEO that I was leaving (months ago) and he begged me to stay, stating I was too valuable to the team and that it wouldn't be possible to continue without me. While I know that is not the case, they've had significant issues prior to my arrival that I was able to rectify.

Now, this is my first full week of feeling like this and I know what it is. It's happened to me before. Weeks of depression, forgetting things, no motivation, no happiness. It's happened to me before (every 2-3 years, almost always at this time (December/January)). It's possibly SAD but nothing has worked for it previously.

I'd rather not tell our CEO why I need time off, but considering how this is going to play out, I'm not sure what our options are. This is my first time going through it where I've been fully responsible for a team - whereas previously if I took time off, others would not have been directly affected. Does anyone have any advice how to proceed at this point?

I don't think our CEO would disregard my concerns should I have a frank talk with him but considering our turbulent year together and how as a startup, everyone pulling their own weight is important for our survival, I don't know what his options are.

  • 1
    What's your question? Dec 14, 2019 at 20:49
  • " Does anyone have any advice how to proceed at this point?" Dec 14, 2019 at 20:52
  • @StephanBranczyk I know it shouldn't matter but I have a lot of people that rely on me (probably exacerbating my current situation). We've tried to find replacements but it hasn't been successful so far. Money is definitely an issue. Dec 15, 2019 at 2:59
  • @JoeStrazzere I've taken my 2 week vacations previously which definitely helped Dec 15, 2019 at 3:00

2 Answers 2


If you are truly willing to leave anyway, then there's actually fairly little to be lost by having a frank, closed door discussion in which you say that you need some personal time, first as a general request and if necessary with increasing insistence and detail until you are understood. While this would be on on the border of ordinary norms of continued employment, you are in an executive role, in a less traditional company, and you aren't really asking for continuation anyway.

Worst case, you get fired on the spot. But then you were the one who wanted to leave, and your boss is the one who wanted you not to, so that's something only likely to happen immediately as an emotional outburst. Your request could of course cut short your future opportunities with the company, but then you've already done that by previously indicating a desire to leave.

Middle outcome is that you take some time, come back in January, and things still aren't working better, so you plan an orderly departure together.

I don't know what his options are.

Ideally, your boss realizes that (as it sounds like you are in the US) while it's generally important to set an example of trying to keep things running normally, at some level there's a reality that with two successive mid-week holidays, absent emergencies relatively limited routine work is likely to get accomplished over the next three weeks anyway. That could lead to a simple economic conclusion that there's an advantage to giving you some time in the hope that you'll be able to make a greater contribution in the new year, and that the major practical challenge will be explaining your absence in a way that doesn't open the door for everyone else - but then senior roles are normally out of the office for many reasons.

You could also include the possibility of being on call in case of a genuine emergency, if the urgent energy of such a situation might bypass your current difficulties. Or if you could still have some routine involvement such as running standups via phone that could be an option to present, too (even if you can't actually arrange it so that you'll be making that call from a lounge chair on a beach somewhere warm)

And whatever you do, try to get in some sort of break this weekend - not necessarily holiday related, just different. Go for a walk, read a book, see a movie, hang out with friends, visit relatives... try to see if you can step outside of worklife concerns for a moment.

Others have mentioned seeking professional counseling; that is certainly an option as well, fairly orthogonal to what is covered here in that you can pursue either independently of if you are also pursuing the other. You're likely in a better position to address health issues while still nominally employed, but the role you have described hints you may also have some flexibility to survive a gap which others may not enjoy.

  • 1
    also if he tells his boss that he's depressed and his boss fires him and he's in the United States that might be something he can sue for under the Americans with disabilities act Dec 15, 2019 at 0:18
  • @user1713450 there's no chance I get fired. Dec 15, 2019 at 2:55

You are not alone

There are many people going through depression this time of the year, especially on high demanding C-Level jobs. Maybe see what they do to get this over.

Demand more from the the team

Obviously - if you are protecting them too much or you are not harsh enough (but not too much) - you likely are taking a lot of their responsibilities. E.g. if you're an IT company - you may be doing too much of the programmers jobs. Programmers must program for sure. But they are also required to take care about a lot of other things, such as being proactive, let you know if they can't make it on time, so you can mitigate the consequences, etc. You shouldn't do this for them, by asking them, etc. Just challenge them regularly. And remember that if you do something that someone else needs to do - you will be doing it forever. Do not make this mistake.

By the way - demand more does not always apply to the people bellow. It also applies to the people above.

Take it easy

After you demand enough so pretty much everyone are doing their job well enough - try to leave work on time and just switch off. You don't have to live the problem 100 times in the evening. The problem will be there for you when you get back to work at the morning. Forget it until then.

No sleep deprivation

I've got to points where not only my physical health suffered from the severe sleep deprivations. You can get a really good deal of paranoia, panic attacks and more. I almost did the most stupid thing - I planned very carefully how to end this pain (do not mix depression, paranoia, panic attacks and alcohol as you may really get into trouble). Sleep well. Do not think about all the responsibilities you have back in the company. They will be there for you on the next day :).

It all ends at some point

Luckily now I am in a good position, the company is going fine, more and more people are taking care of their responsibilities. The clients are super happy. The finances are stable. People are handling their responsibilities more and more. There are still glitches here and there but nothing to match the beginning.

Take a break

Let everything go for a day or two. Maybe a bit more. Hang around. It may appear that the world won't fall apart without you and they can handle it without you for a while. And you will be way more productive and helpful after you come back. You are likely just confused as to how important you are to the company. Yes, you are, but I bet you are not hostage and I bet they won't go bankrupt if you're missing for a couple of days.

  • Thank you. I'm not sure why you were downvoted but I appreciate it. Dec 15, 2019 at 17:48

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