It was early in my corporate career. A co-worker I was friends with said to me he'd never date a woman if he found out she had suffered from depression and he certainly would never marry her. Then he mumbled something about the gene pool. I can't remember how that conversation even started, but I remember how I felt when he said that.
I felt angry and I felt shame.
This guy was funny. He was the kind of funny people enjoyed being around. He was popular, smart, light hearted and fun to work with.
A load of questions raced through my head: How could he think I would agree with this? How many other people had he told this to? How could he be so proud of this "rule" and not see how ignorant, intolerant and arrogant it was? Does everyone feel this way?
The fear and shame of depression
While I knew depression wasn't a badge of honour, I was just getting a taste of how common fear was as a reaction to it.
A few years earlier while taking a college course I met someone who is now a long time friend. Other students happened to know this person was on antidepressants and one day, one of these friends came up to me and warned me to be careful with this guy, because he was on medication for depression.
"Depression Guy" was one of the smartest, funniest, kindest people I'd ever met. Sixteen years later we are still friends. He is one of the most reliable, stable and compassionate people I know.
When ignorance meets fear people loose compassion.
More often than not of course, depression is simply not acknowledged.
Often it's as though it simply doesn't exist. People don't speak about it and these stories are the reasons why.
Entrepreneurs and solo entrepreneurs
There are articles that cover the pervasiveness of depression amongst entrepreneurs. They talk about the pressures we face and they talk about the silence. The fakery for the sake of marketing and image. Likely all this is due to the still pervasive stigmas about depression. Fortunately more and more people are speaking their truths. Successful, admirable celebrities and famous entrepreneurs alike are trying to end the stigmas and encourage people to reach out, not hide and start talking about it.
The tendency is to hide it and suffer in silence. The concern is that somehow our business will suffer, but often not taking care of ourselves and trying to be something we aren't IS damaging our business. Recently I've noticed a few solo-entrepreneurs in my circles speak openly about their experience with depression. And you know what? They weren't shunned for it. They were respected and I for one admired them for it. It shows integrity and authenticity. Not to mention, tenaciousness, resiliency, bravery, compassion, empathy and vulnerability.
These are qualities I admire in a person. Don't you?
These women are successful. They know their shit. There is nothing for them to be ashamed about and everything for them to be proud of. I'd love to change the views of the folks I spoke of earlier. I'd like to be part of the change if only to support those who choose to speak openly about it and allow others dealing with depression know they can be their full selves in business.
Being ourselves is empowering and connects us with others.
Tips for entrepreneurs dealing with depression
Here are some of my personal tips.
Practice self love
Keep to a schedule. The biggest shift since I started working for my self has been with my schedule. What was once dictated for me, I now have the freedom to make up on my own. This can be great, but it can also be not so great.
Set office hours, schedule your must haves and non-negotiables, make your lunch the night before so you are eating well.
Don't let your ability to do what you want to mean you don't get what you need.
Eat, Sleep, Move. Anything you can do to encourage good habits in these 3 areas is a huge boost of self care that will keep your mood in fine form. When I let any of these areas slide too much I know the door is open for my lovely black dog.
- Nourish your body -eat well, often and limit the crap (the coffee, the wine, the sweets, the fried food, the refined food)
- Get enough sleep, but don't sleep too much -keep to a routine and stick to it even on weekends
- Exercise every day -find what works, do something if you can't do your usual thing
Consciously feed your mind with the upside. I love dramatic novels. I enjoy books like: A Fine Balance and films like: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but I need to mix it up with happy. Fictional and real. For every crappy climate article there is an article of change for the good. You just have to dig for it. I loved my happy time with The Rosie Project. Lots of genuine LOL's.
Seek out the smiles. Be mindful when you are dwelling in the dark, dramatic and sad and don't stay there long. Feed your soul with lots of positive because it's real too.
Check in with yourself regularly. Know how you are doing. Recognize how you are feeling and make changes. Mediation and journaling helps with mindfulness here. The more you train your mind to recognize when you start to feel blue, the easier it is to catch it early and change it.
Don't fake it till you make it
Practice vulnerability. Being our full selves helps us help others. Chances are the more vulnerable we can be the happier we can be. It takes a lot of energy and game playing when we are actively not being ourselves. There is a lot of shame we carry as well when we are not living an authentic life. Stop comparing your self to others.
Don't waste your energy trying to be something you aren't and embrace who you are.
If you've suffered from depression you also know courage. Don't forget this. Feeling depressed is a profoundly vulnerable experience. Some feel vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, authenticity and love. This is where we find our truths. This is where we connect with our selves.
Practice speaking your truths with your friends, clients and in your business. Be honest with yourself and others with integrity. Let your full, real self shine. This takes practice. The more you practice, the easier being authentic becomes. You will learn how you physically feel when you are not being authentic.
The more self love you have the easier it is to be vulnerable and to share your beautiful, authentic self.
Journaling is such a profound tool for mental health. When you are using it as a communication tool for self love you have a direct line of communication to your heart and soul.
I have used many different types of journals. Personally it's hard to go wrong with Moleskine. They have a zillion options for colours, sizes and covers. Hard covers have an advantage for writing anywhere, soft you can bend over easier to write on both sides of the page. I've used ruled and plain pages. I draw and doodle and paint on BOTH, maybe even more on the ruled -who knows why. Pick something you will love using. I find it's all in the fun pen's, coloured pencils and the general little kit I always bring with me in my purse. Generally it's small pencil case with a few of my favourite coloured pencils, my one of my favourite waterproof felt tip pens a pencil with an eraser, maybe a few fun sparkly markers and possibly a few coloured watercolour pencils and a nifty portable water-brush. Have fun with this part you will look forward to journaling.
Use it as a tool for inquiry.
- Check in and communicate with your soul
- DO dump all the negative feelings if you have them but for no more than 15 mins.
- Then get curious and ask questions:
- When did I start feeling like this?
- What am I thinking?
- Is that true?
- How is that true?
- How is that NOT true?
- How do I feel physically?
- If I were to think differently about this situation how would that look?
- How do I feel now?
- What do I need?
- How can I get what I need?
- How can I do things differently?
Step outside yourself and get curious about the lesson. What is your soul trying to tell you? There's always a lesson.
Document your wins and successes. Develop the habit of positive awareness.
Start your little book of awesome and fill it with all the positive things that happen to you every day or week. Nice things friends, family and clients say, things you accomplished, overcame, leaned into or simply learned.
Our brains can develop a habit and often that habit is to seek out and focus on the crappy at the expense of the amazing. This can happen to such an extent that our brains develop a knack for immediately dismissing any and all amazingness as soon as it appears but we can change this.
If this happens to you -even a bit, you can train your brain out of that habit. One way is to use a "Happy" journal make it your Little Book of Awesome. This can be paper or electronic. Every single time a client gives you a complement, says something nice in an email or on the phone -write that down or record it on your phone. These are your amazing true facts of wonderfulness.
THEN review that puppy often.
We are doing two things here: Creating a new habit for happiness and showing ourselves what is, in fact, true. That we are awesome! Our clients DO say amazing things to us, our friends DO appreciate us, we do accomplish a lot in a day, we do try new things, we learn things, we appreciate things, we are grateful, we lean into pain, we survive and we reflect. All of these things can go in your Happy Journal.
Start and end the day with purpose
You don't have to make this a big ambitious task. In fact I recommend that you don't. At least if this is a new concept for you, DO start small. Then put that start in your little book of AWSOME!!
It can look like this:
I decided that I could direct my days more by getting up each morning and going for a 30 minute walk. I set my alarm for 7am every day this week and I DID IT!! I feel so great for doing it. I am awesome. I rock. I love me so much I could take a big pic of my mug and put it over my fireplace. Wow. I am so awesome....
A Morning ritual:
- Meditate for 10 minutes before you even get out of bed.
- The Deepak Chopra meditations on love work really well if you aren't into sitting in silence. I find them very powerful. Any of them work well in the evening as well.
- Move that butt. Throw on your sneakers and push that rump out the door as soon as you brush your teeth and walk for 30 mins (listen to a mood boosting audio book for extra points while you walk if your mind is full of clutter and the silence just gets you spinning)
- Write 10 things you are grateful for in your journal (this is more mental habit training. The more you do this the more naturally your brain will focus on all the truly amazing and wonderful things we have in our lives to be grateful for. When we are grateful we cease to be angry, sad or blue. It's a worthy habit to invest time in. This is a practice. You are not less having to practice such. We all need this.)
An Evening ritual:
- Set yourself up for the next day. Make your lunch, write down the 3 things you must get done the next day and put it in your calendar so you aren't stressing about your day, wind down by a pre-determined time, set an alarm for bedtime and stick to it.
- Yoga and or meditation. I find yoga works for my body at the end of the day and sets me up for a good sleep and a quite mind. Just a few moves can really help.
- Record your successes.Take that journal out. Every day has win's. I want you to focus on them each night. Don't focus on all you wanted to do and didn't. Write down what you DID do. Often times we are so caught up in all we didn't do, that we thought we should have done, we completely deny ourselves the pleasure of appreciating all we DID do in a day. I actually do this at the end of my work day to ensure I get this done AND to make sure I set work hours. As entrepreneurs we do set the bar high. Don't deny yourself the pleasure of celebrating all you accomplish.
Books & meditations to help with depression
What I have below are resources that will open your mind and provide tools for profound shifts towards resilient happiness. Since I believe in doing work we love in alignment with who we are and how we want to show up in the world, these books support that mission. It just happens that the concepts within offer tools that nurture the soul suffering from depression as well.
- A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose
- The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment These two books by Eckhart Tolle books are two of my most referenced books.
- The Secret of Love: Meditations for Attracting and Being in Love by Chopra M.D., Deepak (2011) Audio CDe Let me just say that these audios are so wonderful. The always jolt me out of any negative thought patterns and leave me with peace. I can't recommend this set more really.
- The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams - The Complete Book on CD (Chopra, Deepak) By (A)/M.D. Deepak Chopra(N) [Audiobook] ( Audio CD ) This is another great audio to listen to if you need to commute
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
- Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
I hope I've given you some great food for thought. If you're a solo-entrepreneur and have known depression you aren't alone. There is no shame in it. In fact I feel it allows great depth of experience. I don't take it lightly, nor do I "advocate" it, but I do acknowledge a great many of us have experience with it. Do talk about it. Reach out. It really helps.
Let's end the shame and give voice to it if we feel inspired. We may in fact, be helping another who feels alone. Let me know how you nurture your mind, body and spirit while on your entrepreneurial journey. I'd love to hear your tips.
As always, here's to a #soulbasedlife and some #digitalzen.