This week, I did something I don’t know if many other business owners would do. I went on my podcast and talked about mental health and my personal journey for Mental Health Awareness Month.
I want to raise awareness for those of us who are high-functioning people living with mental health conditions. This is a very real and raw episode with my personal story. At the end of this episode you will hear a few stories from my colleagues and their own personal experiences as well.
Within my family, I grew up with parents who were psychiatric social workers. I also had a number of people in my family who had mental health challenges, and who were unfortunately able to function.
I had small bouts of depression when I was a teen and young adult, but I didn’t know what a “depressive episode” really was until after my first son. I had postpartum depression and felt totally unable to function. I was in a fog and couldn’t snap out of it, but I knew that something was wrong. I tried everything to boost myself back up, but it just wasn’t happening. It felt like I was in a hole — and that’s when I realized: this is what depression really is.
Eventually, I did get the help I needed to come out of that postpartum hole. I didn’t have another bout of that extent until a few years ago.
As business owners, many of us have some sort of anxiety. It’s normal when your income relies on your ability to show up at the studio or serve your clients one-on-one. It’s normal to worry about making ends meet when a pandemic shuts down your business. All of that is what I’d consider “a healthy dose of anxiety.”
But for me, about three years ago, I hit a point where I realized that my anxiety — and my need to be in control to avoid the anxiety — had created a business where everything relied on me. I was overwhelmed and it felt like everything was just too much.
Rumination and overthinking were my main “habits,” and I found myself constantly just planning out everything. How’d I handle horrible situations, what would happen if something went wrong in my life or business. I was just thinking myself sick basically.
I found myself hiding away at home, or snapping too much at my kids. My husband and I were not really in sync. I just found myself starting fights with people and kind of just bringing the vibe down. It got to a point where I realized I was actually miserable.
I knew I needed to get some help. I met with a few different therapists before I found the person I’m still working with today. It’s “talk therapy,” which I know I wasn’t sold on at first. But little by little, my therapist helped me break down all those thoughts I have in my head about emotions, anxiety, etc.
After working through that and sort of breaking down those walls, I realized that I was unable to really express emotions. I thought before that emotions were a sign of weakness, and that wasn’t what I wanted. Thankfully, I worked on this with my therapist and realized that there was something missing. I wasn’t being my full self. I was wearing a bunch of armor, as Brene Brown calls it.
All of my therapy came to a head when I was really struggling with overthinking and rumination. I was so worked up that, while driving, I just thought about literally driving my car into the lake. I wasn’t wanting to die, necessarily, but the thoughts were just so incessant, and I wanted a break.
At that point, my therapist was smart enough to recommend that I visit a psychiatrist (a doctor of psychology, who can prescribe medications). I worked with him and, through a series of tests, we figured out that I basically have a high-functioning anxiety disorder, with markers for bipolar disorder and depression. All of this was kind of shocking to me, because I was very high-functioning. I had a multi-million dollar business by this point. I had a good marriage and kids and all of that. I wasn’t unable to do anything.
He prescribed a few medications and it took a while to find one that worked. Working through the first few medications was a bit frustrating, but the medication I’m currently on is wonderful. Now, combined with talk therapy, I’m better able to work through the tools I need to handle my anxiety, rumination, etc. It takes the edge off for me, so that when a thought pops into my head, I don’t have to react to it.
If you’ve ever reacted to your thoughts like they’re real, you’ll probably understand how amazing that is.
While I am eternally grateful to have the resources to work with a psychiatrist and a therapist, I also know that simply sharing my experience has made a huge difference. I have tried many many times to break up this “unhealthy relationship” I have with my anxiety, but she seems to be extremely committed to me despite my frequent requests for her to move out. It’s why I talk about it openly now. To let people know they are not alone if they are having these feelings and that there is help and support.
I also want to note that not everyone experiences depression or anxiety in the same way. Your symptoms may be more severe than mine, or they may be less severe. Either way, it is important for you to know that your pain is valid and you deserve to get relief from your suffering. I hope my vulnerability gives you strength to share your story and get help and know you are not alone.