Personal post: running a business with depression and anxiety

♥ Dear brides, this post isn’t about weddings and may or may not apply to you. It’s the one and only time I’ll write about this so please don’t feel you have to read (and come back for more wedding prettiness another day). Sometimes I will blog for other business owners too – but the themes are always very broad  ♥

This is perhaps the most personal thing I’ve ever written. Over the last few months I’ve watched some very brave bloggers, Anna (Anna and the Ring) and Laura (Babb Photography) talking about something I always thought I’d be too terrified to admit outside the safety net of my closest friends and family: depression. I’ve admired them while secretly feeling quite jealous – it’s a strange kind of jealousy – I guess I wished I was as brave, as forthcoming, as honest.

Now writing this post I don’t feel very brave at all, in fact half of me is thinking “hit delete” but this is part of who I am – and the difference between a blog and a a magazine is I can be honest – and hope that I reach someone who’s struggling too. A blog isn’t just a diary of pretty things – I want to build a community around honesty, care and respect too. And who am I to ask for your heartfelt stories and comments when I’m not brave enough to do the same?

It’s still so hard to say this: I suffer from depression and anxiety. Why? All the things my brain is telling me: “who’d want to work with someone with depression?” “Who’d trust someone they might think is unstable with their business?”

But then I realised that anyone who doesn’t want to work with someone who doesn’t always feel good about themselves can’t be worth working with. My depression, my struggles, like any other illnesses are manageable. I’ll explain more about the ways in which this affects (or doesn’t affect) my work later, but if Stephen Fry can host quiz shows and manage his bipolar disorder, I can run a wedding blog alongside my depression.

I’m not going to talk about statistics – I think the fact that, for the most part, when I open up about it most people have a personal story to share speaks volumes. What I am going to do is talk about how that affects running a business. I can only share my own experience – I suffer from social anxiety as well as episodes of depression so other sufferers might not relate but I hope you do.

Networking

John Donne said “No man is an island” – extending the metaphor to women too (hey, we also need the company) I’d say I’m as close to an island as you can possibly get. I live in the middle of nowhere, I don’t drive, I work from home and most meaningful conversations I hold are with my cats.

So when somebody invites me to an event, a party, even a lunch, the panic I feel is inexplicable. It’s a weird duplicity, I want so badly to go, to have a ball and to go home feeling liked, but it never works out that way. I go, I jabber on nervously at people and then I go home feeling horrible. No matter what I’ve said or who I’ve spoken to, my brain will tell me I’ve made a terrible impression.

But I’m not one to let fear get in the way. I’ve made a promise to myself to be brave and get out there as often as possible. This hasn’t always worked out (the mysterious cold I got before Ringbash? A massive anxiety attack) and hey, in an industry like this where there can be a lot of bitching, it can be very difficult to go in with a big confident smile and show ‘em all.

My solution is to face the fear. I faced it at launches, at wedding shows, at networking drinks – do I always come home feeling good? No. But for every anxious night that followed I’ve connected with amazing people and it’s been worth it. It honestly has.

Working

Well this is the interesting thing – unlike many of my friends who suffer from depression I’ve always managed to keep working. Especially when the work is very professional and less attached to me.

However, it’s more how I feel about the work than anything else. For example, I’ve kept up the blogging the last few weeks – has it been any different to usual? Probably not. But instead of feeling like I’m doing the most exciting thing in the world I feel like anything I do will automatically be terrible because it comes from me. I feel frozen like everything is ten times the effort. I feel afraid of my own work.

And while I may carry on business as usual, my structure crumbles. I forget to eat, I sleep strange hours, I can barely move from the bed most days.

So how do I get through it?

Lists – small manageable tasks. “I’m going to email these people back today”, “I’m going to write at least one post today”, “I’m going to talk to ten people I like today” and so on. It’s very difficult to call in sick to your own business and sometimes keeping going is the best thing. I try to manage my expectations – in the midst of a depressive episode it’s easy to think I’m not doing enough, or what I’m doing isn’t good enough. It’s easy to mull over small failures and ignore the fantastic successes. So I just focus minute by minute on what I’m doing and save big strategic decisions for a more positive day.

However, exhaustion can be a factor in depression. If it’s really bad, I put away the computer, even if just for an evening, and just forget it for a few hours.

The great thing about running your own business is you can give yourself an extra hour at lunch to go for a walk or to have a bath. Do I enjoy it? Not really, but I know it must be doing me some good – and I want to feel better.

Structure

This is something I haven’t managed yet, but from tomorrow the office is being cleared out and John is setting me up properly. The house will be stocked with healthier food and exercise will become a priority.

I’ve been told that with a bit of structure things will look a lot clearer and more hopeful.

In summary

I was told early on in my career by someone who claimed to have my best interests at heart that depression would mean I couldn’t work. Well, look what people with depression and anxiety can achieve – it may not be much, but I’ve created a little community of people I love to talk to – I’ve started a profitable business and I’ve started having more of a social life. These are all things I never thought I’d achieve and though there may be difficult patches (like now) I won’t give up what I’ve built for myself.

Don’t let anyone say you can’t achieve anything because you have obstacles to overcome – it will only make the outcome sweeter – and when I get out of this black hole I’ve fallen into the last few weeks I *know* I’ll appreciate the reasons I’m hanging in there.

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