This post is about courage, fear and being responsible for your physical and mental health. As any entrepreneur will tell you there are challenges and fears that come with owning your own business, but there are additional challenges and fears for someone with a mood disorder. I have found that by following a few guidelines and using tools to help direct you, there is no reason why someone with a mood disorder cannot become a successful entrepreneur. In 1997 when I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, I never would have thought that it was even possible to own my own business. You can learn more about my business here: Open Spaces Learning
It has certainly been a journey with many failures and successes. With almost a decade of experience, there are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Being Ready and Having a Check in System
First, you need to make sure you are ready. Success can only happen when you’ve been stable for a length of time — months or even years. Your doctor and support network can help determine if you’ve reached this goal. If you’ve decided it’s a good time to start your business, stay in communication with your doctor as they can be an invaluable support system.
Remember: start by setting yourself up for success. This means you have to understand your own strengths and weakness and identify any challenges you may face. Use your strengths to your advantage and have others support you in areas that are your weakest. Ask for help. Too much stress could possibly trigger an episode or setback. Be mindful of what you need and what would be the best possible support for you.
Having goals or outcomes in place helps with keeping focus. Including a system or process for personal goals will help keep your efforts balanced between work and life. Goal setting, especially in low times, can help get you going again or help identify the next steps you need to grow your business. You can also get help in achieving your goals by reaching out to other entrepreneurs, a mastermind group or a business coach. A mastermind group is made up of sharp business savvy people who can help you create what you really want through collaboration, while a business coach will help you through unforeseen challenges and hold you accountable to your goals.
Taking Care of Self
It’s critical if you have a mood disorder to include exercise, proper nutrition and sleep in your daily routine, as it’s so easy to work long hours and forget to eat. But everything is connected — if you are feeling off due to in inadequate nutrition or sleep, it will affect your business. If you happened to have a particularly busy day and weren’t able to get adequate sleep, make up for it the following night. Setting your own hours is one of the benefits of being the boss. Creating a structure for yourself for exercise can be very beneficial for both your physical and mental health. 150 minutes of brisk walking per week can reduce and the risk of depression according to research done by Dr. Madhukar Trivedi of UT Southwestern.
Disclosing to your Clients and Partners
Every small business owner with a mood disorder faces the challenge of determining if disclosing their diagnosis would be appropriate. This is a personal choice; circumstances will usually be a good indicator of if it’s appropriate or not. However, don’t let the fear of judgment and shame hold you back. It’s my experience that each time I choose to disclose my diagnoses to someone it feels like the worst idea I’ve ever had and once I do it, I find that the relationship becomes stronger and I have more freedom to spend time and energy on what is important to my client or the participants in my classes.
The fear of judgment and stigma seems to be present however I think the more we speak out the easier it will be. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone to speak to about what’s happening, and if your network or community around you are aware of your illness, it’s easy to talk it through and get on with what’s important to your business and clients.
My diagnosis does present challenges in my career and life. There are things I need to manage, and yet, I’ve noticed having the right support people around me, and structure in place to take care of my physical and mental health are keys to success in my business. Part of that structure is talking about my mental health experience, creating awareness and educating others makes a difference for me in my overall health and my business.
When someone has a mental illness, I believe there are two paths they can take: They can hide their illness or they can own it and be responsible for their lives and their needs. I hid my diagnosis for over 10 years. I pretended it wasn’t part of who I am and I suffered. Today I own it and share my experience with others. I am certain this outlook has made me the successful woman I am today; an entrepreneur, a partner, a wife, a friend, a mentor, an auntie and an advocate.
Success is possible in partnerships – don’t try to do it alone!