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Learning to manage self-employment and be your own boss can be difficult on its own. Having a history of mental illness further adds to the challenges of entrepreneurship, and I should know. I’ve been a solopreneur for a while now and also struggle with recurrent episodes of mental illness.
Having to adapt to a new lifestyle, and a different way of working has been a grind. The lack of routine can wreak havoc with your state of mind. Additionally, you’ve got to learn how to adjust to the roller coaster ride that is your fluctuating workload. Sometimes it’s so heavy you feel like you’re drowning, and other times it’s so light that you don’t know what to do with yourself. It’s during these quiet spells, when your mind isn’t as occupied, that depression often strikes the hardest.
As both a depression fighter and small business owner, here are some challenges I’ve noticed:
If you’re suffering from depression, it’s likely that you don’t even want to get out of bed some mornings, let alone do a full day’s work.
I’ve struggled at times to adopt the ‘get-up-and-go’ mentality, and this battle doesn’t always just happen in the morning. It can happen just after I’ve eaten lunch, or during my mid-morning coffee break, or even mid-afternoon when there’s an urgent task to finish by 5 pm.
Since mental illness consumes all your energy, the levels of fatigue are unparalleled at times. Depression messes with your productivity and makes you feel like you should crawl into a pit of despair instead of doing any work for your business.
In my experience, the trick is to work when you feel able to work and then allow yourself the required ‘healing’ time when you’re struggling to get going. There’s no shame in letting your body and your mind have a rest. After all, you’re your own boss, so you’re in charge of your own workload, as well as your own wellbeing.
Unlike a ‘regular job’ at a corporate employer, most small business owners are unable to take a sick day. Well, they can, but they usually won’t get paid. If you want to earn a living, you have to keep working. This fact poses quite a problem if you have a dark season where your mental health drains you and prevents you from working consistently.
The pressure to make ends meet and pay your bills at the end of every month often makes your depression feel even more powerful and overwhelming.
It’s a vicious cycle. You can’t work because of your mental illness, but then your depression makes you feel guilty because you can’t earn. -Adam Weitz, Business Owner (and Founder of Sad Runner)
Try and keep the big picture in perspective. Sure, you need the money now, but your mental health is more important than any paycheck in the long run. Take the necessary time out to get back on your feet, and return to work when you feel better.
Financial Tip: Start a ‘Mental Health Fund’ to have some savings on standby to offset any lost income during times when your depression is particularly challenging.
Have you ever had a tight deadline in place as an entrepreneur that you’ve been unable to meet because you simply just can’t concentrate on your work? I have. It causes sheer panic and makes you feel even more pitiful than you already do.
The tiredness that you feel during a particularly bad season of depression takes over your mind, as well as your body. It causes emotional stress and makes it incredibly difficult for you to focus on anything.
When I’m struggling with depression, I find that I can’t concentrate at all. Not even an obscene amount of coffee will help me, and I take forever just to do one straight-forward thing; in fact, it requires double the amount of time to do that task compared to the time it would usually take.
How do I overcome this bump in the road? I take regular breaks and come back later. This break gives my mind a chance to ‘cool down.’
If I’m struggling even more than usual, I’ll contact the relevant client and request a deadline extension. People are often more understanding than you think they’re going to be. It rarely hurts to ask.
If you’ve flaked on a deadline because of your depression, you’re not alone because it’s happened to me a couple of times. Your mind is doing battle 24/7, so occasionally you may find yourself more forgetful than usual.
Keeping reminders of everything doesn’t hurt, but if you had a deadline, totally forgot about it, and a client calls you out on it, all you can do is apologize. Don’t promise them that it’ll never happen again because you can’t know that for sure. The best thing to do in this situation is to explain that you’ve been unwell, and you’ll return to work as soon as possible. You don’t even have to go into details if you don’t want to.
Whether it’s about yourself or your work, anything that you do as an entrepreneur never feels good enough. You end up battling and second-guessing yourself a lot because depression makes it so you can’t quite believe in your ability to do what you’re doing and surely you don’t deserve to be in the position that you’re in anyway.
Yes, that’s right, this irrational way of thinking is all down to those pesky negative thoughts that attack as an accomplice of depression.
Don’t let them win.
Every entrepreneur has ‘the fear’ that they’re not going to be successful in what they’re doing and must go back to a ‘normal’ job. Most successful ones can push that fear aside and keep going.
The difference with us depression fighters is that those thoughts take over when we’re experiencing depression, and then they start to affect the quality of our work.
I know it’s easier said than done, but you must ignore these negative thoughts at all costs. It’s okay to acknowledge them, but quickly try to accept that they’re just thoughts, and they’re not real. You’re in charge of your fate. It’s up to you to have the confidence in yourself to succeed.
It’s challenging to do anything some days when depression strikes particularly hard, let alone head off to a networking event. Facing people (especially ones that you need around so you can earn a living) when you feel low and unmotivated is often the last thing you want to do.
It’s common so please don’t beat yourself up about it when you must cancel a meeting or a professional conference. There’ll be plenty of similar events in the future that you’ll feel comfortable enough to attend. The worst thing you can do is force yourself to go to something when you’re not up to it and make your depression feel even more overwhelming.
Cancel if you must, as I mentioned earlier, people are amazing. They’re much more understanding than you think they’re going to be.
If your depression reaches a point where you’re frequently missing deadlines, and your work is hugely affected, it might be time to let your clients and colleagues know what’s going on. It’s up to you how much, or how little, you want to tell them.
If you want to keep it brief because you haven’t been working with them for long, just tell them that you’re feeling unwell and you’re taking some time off to recover. However, if you feel comfortable, let people know that you’re experiencing depression and you’ll return to work as soon as you can.
Whatever works for you, do it. Either way, make fighting mental illness a priority. Your health is the most important thing.
Whether you’re struggling with depression intermittently, or it’s becoming a daily battle, you must accept that having a mental illness is going affect you and your business at times.
A little preparation will help you feel more in control, but work hard to dismiss those negative thoughts at every turn. Most of all, know that the depression fog will eventually lift and though, sometimes things suck, keep moving forward, even if you do it slowly. It’s only just a matter of time before you return to the bad-ass business owner you were meant to be.
You’ve got this, entrepreneur!