Running A Business With A Mental Illness

by Allie Nimmons

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 19 years old, I never thought about how it might affect my career. At the time, I didn’t even know what I wanted to do for a career. I just knew that it was affecting my eating and sleeping habits, my schoolwork, and my friendships. I never thought that eventually, I would have to juggle it with running a business by myself. But alas, here I am.

Since March of 2016, I’ve been running my own business; web design. It’s a half-way point between freelancing and running an agency. It’s just me however, at the desk in my living room, designing websites and helping others better understand how to navigate the internet for their own business goals and success.

Sometimes, my spacious living room feels like a suffocating prison and there doesn’t seem to be room for both me and my business as the walls close in. And because I can’t get medication specifically for this disorder, here’s what I do to cope.

1. Freak Out

If you’re not familiar with bipolar disorder, it mostly means that some days I’m over-the-moon, recklessly enthusiastic about life and have tons of motivation. And then some days I’m so depressed, it physically paralyses me.

The former mood is easier to deal with as a business owner, because it means I get a lot done. But the latter is really where I get my butt kicked. Those are the days I can’t work. I cancel meetings with clients, I can’t read or write because I can’t focus, I forget who I am and snap at people, and I feel like the biggest fraud in the world.

So, I stay in bed and cry. I don’t eat or drink anything, I don’t talk to anyone, I hide. And in our #hustle mentality, this is pretty unacceptable.

2. Make Lots of Lists

So after I freak out, I try my hardest to claw my way back up what feels like a 90-degree glass wall. And that typically starts with lists.

I like lists. While I’m depressed my brain feels like spaghetti: all my thoughts just slip through the cracks and fade away. It’s hard to focus and I can’t get anything done. Lists help my brain feel more like a waffle: all my thoughts can fall into organised pockets and have a solid place to stay until I can address them.

I have a bullet journal for work which is organised by day, then I have a brain dump page for more detailed lists. I even have a personal bullet journal for personal lists. Keeping everything on paper in a pretty way helps me regain some sense of composure.

3. Be Prepared

Scar had it right (sort of)! One of the things that helps me best, is to prepare my business for a meltdown so that I don’t shoot myself in the foot later on down the road. For example:

  • Most of my payments are automated so I don’t miss anything. Same goes for social media.
  • Most of my projects are extended from the get-go and I try to always be ahead of my deadlines so that if I need to take a mental health day, I don’t fall behind.
  • All of my templates and documents are easily organised on Google Drive so I don’t ever have to scramble to send out a contract or invoice.
  • In most cases, I make it clear to my clients up front that my business is just me, so if they don’t hear back on an email right away, not to panic.

4. Focus On Minimalism

One of the things that genuinely helps me when I’m in a depressive state is minimalism. Simplicity. Lack of clutter. Fewer things to think about. Fewer things to clean and put away.

A lot of times during my depressive state, in order to chase that serotonin high, I often shop. I’ll go to the thrift store and buy small, cheap things. Just the act of acquiring new things makes me feel a little bit better. But as I try to shake myself out of my depression, I realise I suddenly have all this crap I don’t need!

So I’ll purge. I’ll clean my closet or my drawers and part with stuff I don’t like or don’t need anymore. It doesn’t cure my depression, but it does make me feel a little more in control. Which translates to helping me get back on the horse as far as my business is concerned.

Taking simple steps to make sure I’m taking care of myself first and everything else second is important, and the best way for me to manage my overwhelming emotions and feelings when also trying to run a business. It’s not always easy but planning, taking it slow and knowing what works for me have proven to make a huge difference.

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