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Why Hope and Happiness Was My Only Choice

Choosing the path of authenticity for my mental health struggles, I left my corporate life behind and and set off on my entrepreneurial journey

"Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony." -Mahatma Gandhi

It only just dawned on me a few weeks ago that I pretty much talked my way out of corporate america when I launched my company 15 years ago. As when I launched my company, I also launched a nonprofit for mental health and started talking about my experiences with PTSD, ADHD, anxiety, addiction, depression, and my suicide attempt. I pretty much let it all out, in the name of being authentic with precisely what I was trying to change. As how could I change stigma if I was too ashamed to share my own story? 

It really hit home when I was presenting at the OneMind for work conference in Napa, California that I must stay on my journey to pursue spreading Hope and Happiness, even on days when all seems overwhelming and hopeless. Because the reality is, discrimination in the workplace is real, including those with mental health challenges. Research suggests people would rather tell their employer they committed a crime than that they struggle with anxiety or depression. Judgement of peers and the negative consequences of disclosure of these brain disorders is alive and real, and if I were to go back to get a real job one google search reveals my history.

I was answering a question at OneMind at Work about discrimination in the workplace as it relates to mental health, and how to change it. I believe the only way we are truly going to change it, is if leaders in companies openly talk about their own mental health challenges, encourage others to do the same, and provide resources and support to get treatment. The World Bank even published on this at the Out of the Shadows conference last year, noting that for every dollar investment in mental health we get a fourfold return. Yet we are still doing so little in corporate america to change the culture.

It amazes me, as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and ADHD are all very treatable. VERY treatable. Yet we are too afraid, as a society, to address this tough issue.

The reality is, we all have a mind and must learn how to have it function at its best capacity. And I don’t know anyone that doesn’t get anxious or sad about something, and we need to start talking about it and sharing strategies for how to prevent it from leading to a major depressive episode, anxiety disorder, or suicide attempt. If leaders started sharing on what they do to manage their stress, anxiety, and depressive thoughts, how they increase their happiness and serenity on a daily basis, I believe we would start moving in a much better direction in workplace mental health.

While I do realize that me speaking about my mental health as an entrepreneur is a lot different than a Fortune 100 company leader talking about their struggles with depression and anxiety, the reality is I worked hard to establish a good reputation and career, invested every single penny I had into my business, and while I didn’t have shareholders I had my future security to think about. It was not easy to say goodbye to all of it to support the greater good, as even in the work of ‘stigma’ 15 years ago, few were talking about their own mental health. So I think our leaders need to get a lot braver about how they talk about managing their minds.

I’ve come to know all of these ‘disorders’ are actually my superpowers, now that I have learned how to manage them better to support my life as opposed to destroy me. I know I need to get a lot of sleep, daily exercise, abstain from depressants (alcohol, smoking, drugs, etc.), and maintain deep connections with others. I have to give back to society and bond with nature and animals. I have to practice daily (sometimes hourly, every minute or second) my habits for happiness, serenity, and maintain my hopeful mindset. I have to surrender and stop trying to control everything, and meditate to hear the voice within. It is all practice and work, it is not second nature me, and while not perfect I’m a world ahead of where I was when I started this journey.

The reality is I can ruminate myself into a depressive episode when I don’t take care of myself, and rev up my anxiety to full blown panic attack if I’m not careful. I can PTSD myself into a frozen state, or ADHD myself into chaos. It is through my company The Mood Factory, and all I have learned with our experts, that I am able to continually practice being out of a negative mindset and stay in positive space. And I’m so grateful to continue to share this with others.

My life is currently in a very challenging place, as my company is struggling due to a major pivot I needed to take and I’ve been trying to get it back off the ground for quite some time. I feel like I’m at the edge. Getting a brand in retail seemed much easier 15 years ago, though the struggle then was alive and real as well. The long days, while trying to take care of myself and running a nonprofit teaching the critical skill of Hope to others on very little funding is a massive challenge. Massive. And some days I wonder if I can keep doing it. 

Yet I also know that with faith, if I continue to keep seeking guidance and put one foot in front of the other I will be OK. All will be revealed. I am not doing it alone. I believe I was guided to this place, as it really all came to me as I got clear in my mind and substances out of my body. And while all of these tools I learned could not save my dad’s life, they definitely saved mine. And continue to do so each and every day. And I believe they are meant to save others. 

The day I started discussing my own challenges, I knew I would probably be saying goodbye to corporate life. I’m OK with that. As I believe some things are more important, like what Gandhi says, making sure what I say, what I think, and what I do, are in harmony. It may not always be the easiest journey, yet it has definitely made me the happiest, with much gratitude to all those that have supported me along the way. So today, and every day, I will continue to choose Hope and Happiness and have no regrets about leaving the rest behind.

One final comment, more a request. If you are in a position of power, especially in the workplace, please consider sharing your own mental health experiences, share how you manage your mental state, if you need help seek treatment, and encourage others to do the same. We must work together to change the workplace culture. 

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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