How to Build a Business When You Have Depression

There's a mistaken notion that you have to power through anxiety, depression, or mental illness when you own your business. But we can't and shouldn't. Here's how I keep building my business with depression, and how it's possible for you, too.

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How to Build a Business When You Have Depression Kay Fabella photo by Heather K. Purdy Photography

When we’re building a business, we all have parts of our story that we’d rather not share.

There’s the usual stuff: messy desks, piles of unwashed dishes, skipping lunch because you were focused on prepping your next launch, dealing with your kids’ fighting…

There’s the weird stuff: your thorough knowledge of Greek mythology and the Marvel universe, your penchant for solo karaoke sessions or your ever-growing collection of zombie figures…

And then there’s the tough stuff: your doubts, your failures, loss of a loved one… your mental health.

…that last one is the most important to me.

Building My Business With Depression

I was first diagnosed with clinical depression in 2009.

And it’s easy to slide back into depressive states with the roller-coaster ups and down of running a business.

This is a story that I’d rather not share. But I need to talk about this. We need to talk about this.

As entrepreneurs, we’re fed these monolithic myths of success around “hustle” and “grit”. Business owners who wear lack of sleep, Red Bulls downed and how “busy” they are as badges of honor.

I thought for the longest time that something was wrong with me and that I’d never have a “successful” business.

Because as someone who prioritizes my mental health, I thought I could never work “hard enough” to make my company successful.

Until I started talking to other entrepreneurs who felt the same way I did. I ran into countless others who’d built their businesses to accommodate their health, whether that was their depression or a physical disability.

I realized I wasn’t alone. And neither are you.

It’s the reason why I care so much about helping my clients and Story School students build sustainable businesses for themselves.

You and I get to decide how we run our business and what success looks like for us. You and I get to decide how many hours we work and what our days look like.

And the truth? None of us have it together. Especially if we’re suffering from depression behind-the-scenes.

In the spirit of normalizing conversations around mental health… I wanna try and explain depression to you from someone who’s experienced it, and still slips into depressive states from time to time. And how I continue to build my business whenever it hits.

What Depression Looks Like

It comes out of nowhere when you least expect it.

You feel empty and heavy.
You feel exhausted and overwhelmed.
You feel disoriented and confused.

When you’re a high achiever like me, the first thing you try and do is rationalize it.

You have so much to be grateful for.
You have people to lean on when you need them.
Your life is going really well right now.
So why should you be depressed?

Which means you add a layer of frustration on top of your depression.

You’re annoyed at yourself.
You just wanna fast-forward yourself through the pain.
You just wanna be “normal” again.

But days, weeks, or even months go by when you’re incapable of doing anything. When the simple act of being is a struggle, because you’re in a constant battle with yourself.

That’s what life is like with depression.

Feel it to Heal it

Over time you start to know the tell-tale signs of when depression has made its triumphant return.

So you give into the tears.

You let yourself feel it fully, instead of numbing or running away.

You take time to rest and simply exist.

You allow yourself to just be. Without knowing what you’ll need tomorrow or even an hour from now.

You take time to tune out the world and tune into what you need.

Take Care of Yourself First

Once you’ve acknowledged your pain, you have to start by reminding yourself that you’re worth something.

I have an Evidence Folder I keep on my desktop, where I screenshot positive feedback from clients and friends, and my wins throughout the year.

Whenever I feel a depressive state coming on, I make an effort to open up that folder. To remind myself of who I am on the other side, despite the cockamaney story my brain is telling me.

I journal.

I meditate.

I cry. A lot.

Even when it’s a herculean effort, I get my body moving with gentle exercise like yoga or a walk outside.

I’m mindful about what I eat.

I snuggle with my furry friends.

I take a bubble bath.

And then, when I’m ready, I…

Reach Out for Help

I let my people know when I’m “in it”.

I reach out to my fellow entrepreneurs, because they know what it’s like to go through the ups and downs of business-building.

I’ve also found that hopping on a virtual co-working session on Zoom, Pomodoro style, is helpful. Even if my fellow Pomo entrepreneurs and I aren’t speaking, just knowing we’ll be checking in with each other in 45 minutes is enough to feel less lonely working from home.

I remind myself not to fall into the trap of comparisonitis.

If I’m really in a bad way, I book a call with a therapist and work with her for a few months to navigate my way out.

I lean on my people. Hard.

Because I know I can’t do this alone. And neither should you.

I share my story so that others can share theirs, and I feel less alone. Because we’re all going through sh*t. And it should be OK to talk about more openly with each other.

Yes, You Can Build a Business When You Suffer from Depression

I’m writing this because I think the conversation around who we are and how we connect with each other needs to shift. Especially for entrepreneurs who ride a roller coaster every day.

There’s a mistaken notion that you have to power through anxiety, depression, or mental illness when you own your business. But we can’t and shouldn’t.

My advice?

Acknowledge your pain.
Don’t judge yourself.
Feel it to heal it.
Remember you’re not alone.
Reach out for the help you need.

The people you’re serving need you here. We need you here.

So don’t think for a second that we haven’t got your back.

Now I’d love to hear from you!

Do you suffer from anxiety or depression as an entrepreneur? Which of these tips resonated with you?

Share with me in the comments below!

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