In the bitcoin community, discussion generally revolves around the success of the technology over the past five years. Rarely does it venture forth into a darker area of conversation: the psychological toll participating in a world disrupting, extreme growth industry. In fact, bitcoin is much more than an extreme growth industry. It is perhaps the first example of a decentralized autonomous corporation, or peer-to-peer corporation.
In this view, all of the participants in bitcoin are working towards preserving, growing and marketing the 24/7, global project. They are, in a way, contractors for the technology. This seems pretty exciting. But, there is a darker side. Like any job, helping to develop bitcoin and the bitcoin ecosystem can trigger stress and all its associated detriments.
Even when a person is in an industry beaming with success, they might not have the best of luck or make the “right” decisions. Anything could go wrong, and sometimes everything seems to go wrong. This leaves people oftentimes doubting their ability – their intelligence, their worth, and so on and so forth. It’s not easy failing, let alone while so many around you succeed. But, alas, this is the position many bitcoiners (or would-be bitcoiners) find themselves: calculating their opportunity cost, regretting poor decisions. In essence, kicking themselves for missing out. Warren Buffet has said “I wish I had bought bitcoin years ago.” He’s not the only one who has uttered this sentence.
For much of 2013, Jesse Angle, Chris Kantola and Paul Harrison held no jobs and had no roofs over their heads. Thanks to Bitcoin, they survived – never having to go without food.
From April to September they lived on the streets in Pensacola, Florida, using their laptops and smartphones to acquire four to five bitcoins via donations and microtransactions in exchange for looking at ads and videos. For the summer, at least, they were full of (and assumedly comatose from) pizza and chicken tenders.
Eventually, they found a place to live thanks to a little help from the government. Life, you would think, is much better now. But, there is one problem – the bitcoin price. “The $600 (£366) we spent would now be worth $6,000 (£3669),” says Angle. “I wish we had gone hungry.”
Kantola echoes the sentiment. “We’re definitely kicking ourselves. We spent $5,000 (£3,055) or $6,000 on food!” he says. “Back in 2009, you could have bought four bitcoins for a dollar. If I could go back [and buy some then], I wouldn’t be here right now. I’d probably be in a mansion.”
Others have been overcome by self-loathing.
The above discussion on Reddit came from the “r/entrepreneur” section of that site. You will read one individual relating a story of success in Bitcoin, followed by two stories of regret. One individual even writes “I hate myself.”
When I searched the phrase “I wish I had bought bitcoin 🙁 ” there were more than 58,300,000 Google search results in 0.34 seconds.
One Reddit user simply asked:
I put in $16K into BTC since Nov 2013….. I had 21 BTC total but after gambling with Alt coins I have about 12 BTC left now… 12!!! Which have a value of about $5.3K now…. so I’m down over $10K. For me to even get even I would need 1 BTC to be ~$1350.
Should I just kill myself?
Unfortunately, there is at least one known suicide – that of Autumn Radtke – which might have had something (or everything) to do with Bitcoin. The 28-year-old was a determined entrepreneur and CEO of First Meta, a Singapore-based virtual currency exchange. Hailing from Silicon Valley, Autumn ultimately jumped from a 25-story apartment building. Her death has been classified as a case of unnatural death.
“Everything has its price,” Radtke said in commenting on an Inc. magazine essay she posted online titled “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship.”
That article describes the lives of entrepreneurs, and the hidden struggles they face. My personal hunch is that bitcoiners and entrepreneurs have similar psychological makeups. Both, in their journeys, tend to face many hurdles along the way.
“There are traumatic events all the way along the line,” says psychiatrist and former entrepreneur Michael A. Freeman, who researches mental health and entrepreneurship.
Other questions remain. Do bitcoiners tend to neglect their health like entrepreneurs? Bitcoin is a 24- hour, 7 day a week market. Eating too much, eating too little and sleeping too little all negatively affect health. Are bitcoiners reclusive in their hobby? Does bitcoin overcome them and do they become obsessed with it, blocking out all other forms of human interaction? These are unknowns. Certainly, many bitcoiners are themselves entrepreneurs.
Researchers claim that entrepreneurs share certain character traits making them more prone to depression and suicide. “People who are on the energetic, motivated, and creative side are both more likely to be entrepreneurial and more likely to have strong emotional states,” Freeman told Inc. Those states may include depression, despair, hopelessness, worthlessness, loss of motivation, and suicidal thinking.Researchers from the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia found that many of the business owners and founders they interviewed many showed signs of clinical obsession, including strong feelings of distress and anxiety.
If bitcoiners, like business owners, are “vulnerable to the dark side of obsession?” then the coming ups-and-downs in the market – price volatility, failed startups, hacks and otherwise – could pose light-threatening events for many individuals in the community. Perhaps something upon which a light should be more thoroughly shone.
If you are feeling depressed or suicidal, there are numerous ways in which you might alleviate your situation and start feeling better. The stresses of work and life in general can weigh heavy, but exercise, healthy diet, meditation, relaxation, spirituality and friends are all ways individuals cope and feel better about themselves and their current situation. High expectations and ambitions can cause individuals to overlook many of the beautiful things they already enjoy their lives.