Managing a Business and Depression

Managing a business is tough. Managing one with depression? Tougher. Especially if you are the sole owner, creator, writer, editor, artist, marketer, finance manager, and the list goes on. We entrepreneurs wear so many hats and work so, so hard. What happens when the other hat you wear is more of a concrete block? It is heavy and uncomfortable. It flattens all your other hats and your hats don’t fit on it. This hat can show up unannounced or can be a regular part of your wardrobe. For me, it is worn and a regular part of my everyday wardrobe. That hat is called Major Depressive Disorder.

My journey through this has been long and hard. It feels so wrong to be able to say that I’ve struggled with depression for nineteen years when I’m only twenty-six. In many ways, managing depression is much like managing a business. You have to implement structure, regularity, get some outside help from time to time, fill prescriptions if you take anything, deal with insurance delays or denials, make sure you go to all your appointments, communicate if you can’t, take the occasional sabbatical, constantly battle negativity and comparison, and the list goes on.

Guidelines: Depression & Business

How does one mesh two major things in their life? One of them being life threatening if left unmanaged. In all honesty, there isn’t really a cut and dry answer. However, there are guidelines to managing depression while running a business. These guidelines can even be changed to fit your life. 

1. Structure

Whether you work from home or in an office, structure is key. This adds some stability to the inner mess we try to maintain. For me, I schedule my office hours from 8-12 Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and book sessions on the weekends. Sometimes, I spill over into the week. Now, I’m not perfect at this. There have been weeks in a row of my kids being sick or me struggling with insomnia (lovely symptom of depression). Consequently, guidelines serve as goals for me right now and I celebrate the victory when I wake up on time and go to work – at home. 

2. Wake up On Time

There are days that simply getting out of bed is hard. Depression is suffocating and it is much easier to roll over away from the window, cover your head, and go back to sleep. After years of doing this, I have learned that getting up on time is absolutely for my benefit. Even if I feel like I’m swimming through quicksand, it is for my benefit. 

3. Rest/Sabatical

Those days, months, or years that are filled with weakness and the inability to get out of bed is the way in which your mind is telling you to slow down. Something is off and you need some help. If you notice you fall into this, reach out to your spouse or loved one and have them help you dial down your workload. If you run a storefront or some other business outside of your home, hire a temporary manager or promote an employee. Outsource what you can’t handle and manage what you can. Do whatever you need to do to rest. I have taken extended maternity breaks. I’ve even dialed back on what type of sessions I was willing to take on. The lull, while good, can create some inner turmoil – especially if you identify with your work. But, lean in and rest. 

4. Positive Talk

Depression comes with an internal tape of negative thoughts. If given the time of day, they will spiral you into an endless black hole. Something that has helped me is to write down these negative things and create an opposite. For example, “You’re a lousy photographer because no one is hiring you” turns into “You’re a great artist with so much potential and room to grow”. Or “Look at that photographer. She is SO much better than you” turns into “Look at her! Her style is so unique to her and my style is unique to me.”

5. Identity

Identity is who we are at our core; not our business, skills, or actions. We are kind, courteous, artistic, etc. As a Christian, I set my identity in Christ. This is incredibly helpful for me because God doesn’t change. Always moving, never changing. He says I am creative, smart, beautiful, important, strong. He says I’m worth something. In fact, I can be all of these things while curled up in bed crying because truth is truth whether I acknowledge it or not. When those things are challenged by my circumstances or I’m refusing to believe the best about myself, I can lean on the truth and know that my identity is set in Christ and not the ever changing world around me, my business, or lack thereof.

6. Be Vulnerable

TALK. You must talk about your feelings and struggles. Silent struggles suffocate. It’s a scary place to come to someone with weakness and pain. There are too many what ifs and fears to consider. Overcome those things. I’ve been rejected countless times. I just keep talking until I find someone willing to listen. Blog if you want to, but remember that the internet is brutal and some struggles are meant to be heard by one or two close friends; not the whole world. Journaling is also beneficial. 

7. Hobbies/Passion

Often times as creative entrepreneurs, our business is our passion. Make sure you are spending time working on personal projects separate from your business to keep that passion alive. Photography has always been an outlet for me and I continuously try to have an ongoing side project. The very thing that has kept me going can’t be swept away in the mundane world of business. 

These are the things that work for me. I screw up all the time. I’ve made it to work on time twice in the past few months. But, there is grace. Members of our church have set up care calendars to bring our family meals when my depression hit low points. Friends checked in on me. My Mother-in-law makes a special trip to help me clean. I have a supportive husband who bears the extra burden of parenting when I can’t. He shows me the positive aspects of my business and speaks affirmation. My children excitedly greet me when I finally make it downstairs. My son kisses my transdermal antidepressant every morning. In all honesty, it makes me cry because it shows me how loved and accepted I am in my mess.

Above all, you need to do what’s best for you because we (as a community of humans) need you, in the present moment; literally and figuratively. You are important. Find your support system. Attend therapy regularly. Take care of your soul. Be vulnerable. Rest. Develop your guidelines to manage your depression (or other mental illness) first. Then, adapt your business into those guidelines. A business is wonderful to have, but is never worth your sanity or life.