Running a business with mental health disorders.
*Takes a deep breath -
I always thought when I wrote this post, that it would be at a time when I was feeling very secure and much more steady in my mental health state. We plan our post content sometimes months in advance and I remember thinking I had loads to write about the positive changes we have made over the years, and we really have, but I’ll be honest with you right now too and say that we are in a period of change, moving office and home. So I want to talk to you about how I manage things when everything isn’t so steady too. Some of the practices we have learnt and also the kindness we give each other when things are a little tough.
Just incase you haven’t read any of our previous posts and this is the first time you have fallen upon us, both James and I have troubles with our mental health and have since we were kids. We struggle in different ways but when it’s there, it’s there. We’ve been on a complicated journey of unravelling and understanding each other while we muddle through our lives and work together but we have made some incredible discoveries over the years. (along with some mistakes, arguments and sensitivities too)
When I say troubles, I guess this is the way I’ve always thought of it but the way we’ve managed to get better is to recognise that perhaps it can be troublesome, but that mental health issues can also bring with them compassion, understanding, awareness, openness, creativity and more. Some would even say ‘super powers’!
On the other side of this though are the hardest parts. The self loathing, procrastination (so much procrastination!) introversion, over thinking, physical symptoms that stop you from being able to carry out ordinary tasks, exhaustion, indecisiveness, panic attacks and so many more.
How do we work with it day to day?
Here are some of the ways that we have learnt over the years help to give yourself some care and understanding so that you can continue to be there for the things that need your attention -
Take an hour out for yourself whenever you can. Cup of tea, bath, walk, run, yoga, painting, cleaning, biking, cake eating, whatever floats your boat, do it and don’t make excuses not to. You need to more than you realise.
Try not to get stuck in the comparison trap with work. We both love looking at other people’s work and their own business journeys. but it’s so important to ‘stay in your lane’. Figure out what it is you really want to make /do for your customers and make it amazing. If you see it’s working, keep at it for a year or two, improve on it, learn from it and don’t be so tempted to try something else just incase it works better for you. Another photographer friend of ours shared something she had heard recently from the grammy award winning artist Phil Hansen - ‘We need to be first limited, in order to be limitless’ Keep a few boundaries around your work, find your style, your why - then your audience and pay it as much attention as possible.
Listen and watch out for triggers. We all have times when our mental health is shaken by changes, other people’s opinions, over analysing, doing too much, not resting enough, eating poorly and many other reasons. If you notice your health deteriorating, make a point of checking in on it. Note that you are feeling out of sorts or that your partner is and give the feeling some time. There will be ways to help you out of it.
Find your own path. Ok, I know this isn’t exactly easy. But for a lot of people with Mental health problems, not knowing your own mind and worrying what others think can lead you into spirals that are hard to bring yourself up from. Finding roads to the kind of life you really want to live, working out which causes you are passionate about and sticking with them, can really help you to gain strength and start to learn to how to be more resilient and steadfast in your own choices.
Take up a hobby that is different from the things that you are required for everyday. Preferably something you can do with your hands. I know it’s probably an old fashioned way of thinking but there’s got to be something said for being practical and doing things for good. Besides the fact it’s a brilliant distraction technique when everything around you gets a bit much, there is nothing better than doing or making so that you have something to show for it. If there’s any way in which you can entice the more basic part of your brain out so that you can rest your whizzing mind, It will help!
Comfort over threat system. Have you ever heard of this idea? I first read it in Sarah Wilson’s incredible book ‘but first we make the beast beautiful’ For some people when they are feeling anxious, it’s the threat system that has been triggered. So a little like fight or flight, your mind tells your body to flee danger. Oxygen in your blood is taken quickly from your stomach, (butterflies in your tummy feeling) and also your limbs, sometimes resulting in pins and needles or if you’re like me, a deep ache, while adrenaline is pushed through your body to help you to fight or flee. When your threat system has been alerted it can sometimes take hours or even days and weeks for everything to settle back down again but that’s why it’s so important to encourage your comfort system. Which is exactly what I’m working on at the moment. In times of stress, over exhaustion and all the others, you can really help yourself by taking time out to teach your body and mind that it is not under threat and allow for comfort. Oxytocin is your friend here, cuddles, warm baths, lighting candles, walks in nature, stroking pets.. there are so many things that if you really think about, are your own personal comfort triggers. Make a note of all the things you love to do and that make you happy and try to do at least one small thing a day.
Plan plan plan. I am the worst at putting off admin jobs. I don’t even mind them to be honest but always think there are more urgent creative things I should be doing. But these admin jobs weigh heavy on me. They wake me up at 3am and make me feel like a crappy human being. So get a paper diary, write down family and friends birthdays, school events, dog at the vets, holidays? when the milkman needs paying, bills due, insurance renewals - all those fun things. But if you plan them in and know that once a week you have time to do them, you will feel better and less guilty.
Realise that things run in seasons. Periods of worry and unease are natural and most people go through them. We’re all human and it’s totally natural to feel completely freaked out at times in our lives. Doesn’t mean we don’t need reminding of this from time to time, but it’s ok for things to be a bit crappy for awhile, they will get better.
Last but not least figure out a working week that suits you. If you struggle some days more than others or just don’t feel right about working 9-5 on a monday -friday, then don’t if that’s at all possible (and let the guilt do one too!) you might find you work better after dinner, or indeed into the night. There might be two days in the week when you are super productive and others you really just need a day away from everything. Work hard when you can and you feel your best, and rest when you need to. Also - remember to have some fun time when you are feeling your best too and don’t just save it for work.
We hope that some of these tips will help you a little. Even if you don’t particularly suffer with anxiety or depression or any Mental health problems mostly, there may be times that everyone needs a bit of extra care.
For our business we need to stay connected with it and productive so there will always be a certain pressure, but only in the way that we also need to turn up everyday for the kids and the dog and each other.
Make a plan, have a few goals, stick with them and stay strong to your values, hopes and dreams. Most of all be kind to yourself and others, you never know what the person sitting next to you in going through.