Entrepreneurial Depression is Real
Behind every entrepreneurial startup, is a looming statistic: 32% of entrepreneurs struggle with 2 or more mental health conditions. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 3 adults--43.8 million, or 18.5 per cent--experience mental illness in a given year. If you haven’t been personally touched by mental illness, you likely know someone who has.
The most common reasons that entrepreneurs struggle with mental health issues are stress, uncertainty, social isolation (particularly in early stages when oftentimes working alone) which are all precursors to depression. If an entrepreneur is surrounded by Nine to Fivers or their family is telling them to get a real job, they experience further loneliness, frustration and shame.
One of the biggest contributors that plague entrepreneurs are feeling like they need to appear that they have it all together and not show any weakness. As a result, entrepreneurs do everything to appear infallible which is a stark contrast to the stigmatized stereotype of a person with compromised mental health. All of this behaviour perpetuates shame and disconnection and discourages help-seeking behaviours.
Since starting my business in 2015, I have been using social media to promote my services and acquire new clients. Being an entrepreneur after a long-time career has been challenging and overwhelming at times, but also very rewarding. I am very passionate about what I do and I believe I am helping my clients to overcome pain points and obstacles on their own journey to professional and personal success.
Speaking of pain points, I have also been blogging about my entrepreneurial journey and sharing some of my victories and defeats along the way. I have gone so far as to share with my readers that I experienced a very stressful period in 2017 when I thought my business would fail.
What I didn’t share was that my situation resulted in me becoming one of the statistics I referenced in my opening. In late 2017, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I lost all of my self-confidence, my self-esteem, my energy, my ambition and my optimism. I was completely debilitated, so much so that for an extended period of time I had great difficulty writing and reading and I found that speaking beyond a whisper was very hard for me to do. The most terrifying thought was that if anyone found out about me, they would think of me as a failure. Even worse was that I was an image consultant. How could I possibly help others build their image when I had completely lost my own.
My once very large and vibrant world disappeared overnight and it was replaced by a very small, dark and silent world in contrast. I isolated myself for several months and lost my entire professional and social network. My love of fashion and making the most of my appearance were gone. I found dressing very challenging and when looking in my closet, all of my once stylish business outfits looked like they belonged to another woman. The reflection I saw in my mirror was a woman I didn’t recognize, that woman was tired, worn and sad. My suffering was savage and I felt hopeless.
When I eventually accepted that I couldn’t manage my illness on my own, I sought professional help. My husband and children's love and support helped me more than I can ever say. My recovery has been a long and difficult process but also a very enlightening one. I have learned that I am much stronger than I ever thought I was. I know now that depression doesn’t discriminate, it can happen to anyone at any time. It happened to me.
I also know everyone’s experience with depression and recovery is different. I feel fortunate that 2 of my greatest passions are swimming and working out. Getting to the lake, gym and pool have been critical to my 7-month long recovery. Over time I learned how to temper the expectations I placed on myself to be everything to everyone. I discovered how to start living in the present instead of forging ahead with no directional beacon to guide me. After years of being the helper and go to person, I accepted the help of others whom I trusted and who deeply care about me.
I have returned to being an entrepreneur and I am better than I have ever been. My cognitive functioning has returned and I am writing, reading and speaking with a sound mind and a strong voice. My business is doing better than before my illness and I look forward to each new day. I no longer measure my success by what others say or how I am trending on social media. Sometimes success is simply meeting a friend for coffee. My confidence is back and I feel like the woman in the mirror is me again. I have pushed back the shadows and I am excited about the future.
As a result of my experience, I am adding my voice to breaking the stigma of mental illness because I think it is the right thing to do. I believe that my experience with depression is just one part of my life experience, and is far from the sole arbiter of my personality.
My goal in writing today’s blog is to raise awareness of mental health issues, particularly those who might be at risk. Please reach out and know that help is available and I am here for you as well.