For a really long time I thought I didn’t have “what it takes” to start a business.
When I heard successful entrepreneurs talk about the early days, they’d say things like, “I didn’t sleep for 7 years” and “I’d never worked so hard in my life.” They threw around words like “workaholic,” “hustle” and “grit.”
I’d read these stories—spent after just four hours of work—and think…. I can’t do that. I’ll never have the capacity to work hard enough to make my company successful.
That’s what happens when you start a business with depression.
>>If I get less than 8 hours of sleep, I spend the next day sobbing on the floor.
>>If I have more than two client calls in a single day I have to balance that time with an equal amount of TV. (Let’s just say I plowed through all nine seasons of How I Met Your Mother in a solid three months.)
>>And if I try to fight my exhaustion with caffeine? My brain gets so shaky I end up buried under a pile of blankets trying to calm myself down.
How could I do the hard work of starting a business when the slightest hiccup had me running for my blanket burrito?
Was I destined for a pitiful salary because I couldn’t work the same hours as everyone else? Was my business bound to fail?
OR….. would the freedom of working for myself allow me to focus on self care so I can be productive, creative and HAPPY?
Luckily, the answer was YES.
I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to “fix” my depression. I’ve seen 10 therapists in 10 years. I’ve been on Prozac, Wellbutrin and Lexapro. I’ve tried nearly every form of meditation, gone through yoga teacher training, written thousands of journal entries, tried morning pages, hypnosis, EFT, EMDR and got an emotional support animal.
And every time the sadness hit, I’d feel like a failure…
You’re not doing it right.
You’re not trying hard enough.
What followed was a hideous guilt spiral. The kind that had me sobbing on the couch to my husband: “I can’t keep doing this anymore.”
It wasn’t until I started a business and every waking moment was a chance for me to build something. Something about just needing to get through each day meant that if I wasn’t working, I was taking care of myself so that I could work.
Here’s what I mean…
Before I worked from home, I had to go into an office everyday. No matter what, my butt had to be in that chair from 9am to 5pm. It didn’t matter if I was working, I just had to look like I was. I just had to be seen.
I was miserable, sure, but it didn’t matter if I was happy or not, because it didn’t impact my salary or health insurance or job security.
But now, if I just want to watch cat videos all day, I don’t get paid.
Before, I was just trying to become A Happier Person Without Depression, NOW I just need to be happy for the next hour so that I finish this client call. I don’t need to fix myself, I just need to feel better for a few minutes.
That shift changed everything.
I’ll get through a client call, then I’ll watch TV. I’ll draft a sales page, then I’ll meditate. I’ve structured my entire day around this delicate balance of Work Time and Brain Health.
To be fair, it took me an entire year to figure this out
I originally thought working from home meant I would have more time for self care. I could take walks in the woods every morning! I wouldn’t be surrounded by people all the time! I could cry on the floor when the mood struck!
Hahaaaaahahahaha!!! Yeah, that didn’t happen.
A schedule, set job and a regular paycheck are also great ways to manage chronic depression. So when I found myself suddenly without my usual means of support, I floundered.
Some mornings I did go for a walk. And some afternoons I would lie on the ground until the panic passed. (And it was a definite plus to not worry about coworkers giving me the side eye for sprawling myself across the office floor.)
However, I now know how hard it is to work for yourself when you have depression. When you work alone all day you:
- Have an unpredictable income, which can make you feel worthless if you have a slow month.
- Need a ton of willpower and self-control. When the risk of getting fired isn’t enough to get you out of bed, you’re not going to magically start getting up earlier for long walks in the park. No, you’re going to watch five hours of How I Met Your Mother before realizing you should probably put on pants before your husband gets home.
- Are easily derailed by your feelings. Which is fine if all you need to do is sit at a desk all day and pretend to look busy. But when you’re your own boss, any less-than-productive second makes you feel like a failure.
But there is good news.
For the first time in my life, I had unlimited time and resources to discover what things made me feel good, without the constrictions of a traditional job. And so—for the past year—I’ve been learning how to live, work and thrive with my depression (and anxiety and Tourette’s, because there’s all sorts of crazy up in here) instead of constantly trying to fight it.
I built my business to accommodate my depression. Because you can’t “conquer” sadness through hustle and grit.
Before I get into what worked for me, I have one tiny note…
Some of these techniques may feel familiar. You may think, “I’ve tried this already! It doesn’t work!”
To that I say:
- Not everything works for everyone. Trust me, I’ve been there. If one more person tells me to “journal my feelings” I’m going to scream. Journalling doesn’t make me feel better (I need to get out of my head, not deeper in it). So know that just because one technique works for me doesn’t mean like you should feel bad if it doesn’t click with you.
- Try again. Sometimes it’s the combination of things or a different type of approach that helps. So don’t discount any ideas before giving them another shot.
So without further ado: The seven things I do every week to live (and work) with my depression instead of fighting it…
1. Morning yoga
I went through yoga teacher training four years ago and it was one of the happiest times of my life. Yoga was my meditation, religion, community and workout regime rolled into one.
The problem is that my beloved studio is halfway across the world, I’m painfully out of shape and never want to leave my house.
I tried dozens of home practice videos, but none clicked. Until I discovered Yoga with Adriene. She has everything from hour-long flows to “gentle morning yoga” to “yoga for anxiety.”
But what really helped yoga stick as a daily habit is that I stopped thinking about it as “something I had to do because it was good for me” to something “I wanted to do because it felt good.” I haven’t done any of Adriene’s longer power flows, and that’s okay. Right now, the goal is to start the morning making my body feel good because, usually, my brain will follow.
2. Tapping (EFT)
As an out and proud skeptic, I’m embarrassed to admit that not only do I tap every morning, but it totally works. If you’re unfamiliar with EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), it’s essentially a personal acupuncture practice where you use your fingers to tap different points on your body while saying affirmations. Things like, “I am a brilliant genius writer.” Or whatever. You do you.
I personally love Tap with Brad. His videos are short, free and goofy. I tap for 5-10 minutes right after yoga, and haven’t done the same video twice. The guy has a TON of content.
For the rest of the day I find myself repeating my morning affirmations unconsciously. So if I do his video, “Have a great day,” that phrase will randomly pop into my head. Magic!
I’m a big fan of antidepressants. But with pharmaceuticals come side effects. Prozac made me emotionless. Wellbutrin made me happier, but my Tourette’s worse. Lexapro made me dizzy. Luckily, my special combination of crazy has never been “worth” the side effects, but I’ve also experimented with a lot of different supplements as an alternative. The combination below keeps my energy levels up and my happy hormones abundant.
Here’s what I take:
- DLPA—Meant to block enkephalinase in the central nervous system, which spares feel-good hormones like endorphins and enkephalins. I really feel this if I forget to take my twice-daily pill.
- B Sublingual—If you’ve ever had a B-vitamin shot, you know the magical energy rush that comes from absorbing this vitamin directly into your bloodstream. Those bad boys are expensive though, and a traditional pill doesn’t do the trick. Enter sublingual, a liquid form that’s more quickly digested by our bodies. You can feel this right away. Better than a cup of coffee.
I’ve also experimented with a B complex, fish oil, and St John’s Wort, but I didn’t notice much of a change with any of them. My advice? It can’t hurt to play around (I hope, I’m not a doctor), and if you do happen to stumble across something you love, buy it in bulk and stash it forever.
4. Delete Facebook
I just can’t be on Facebook anymore (#drumpf). The United States is experiencing what feels like the End of Times. And Facebook is a breeding ground for fear and hate—not the ideal environment for people with depression.
No good was coming out me sobbing after each shooting, so I turned it off. Deleted the whole thing.
That was over a month ago and there hasn’t been a single second that I miss it.
Sure, it’s come with it’s fair share of headaches. I couldn’t use Spotify anymore! My friends kept asking if I blocked them!
But still…. Peace.
Intense, glorious peace. I still keep up-to-date on world news using the good old internet, but I’m not mired in the human trash heap that comes with Facebook comments. Instead of scrolling endlessly through horror stories, I spend that time reading novels. Following floral designers on Instagram. Watching my husband obsess over PokemonGo. For now, that’s enough.
5. Afternoon meditation
I’ve long been a fan of meditation apps, especially Headspace. But a few months ago it stopped feeling good. I found myself more anxious during meditation—experiencing that familiar guilt: You’re not doing it right.
After a little break, I started experimenting with different meditation apps, paying special attention to which ones just sounded good in my ears. Which ones made me feel refreshed? Creative? Inspired?
I stumbled across a few YouTube tracks advertising “brain wave music.” To be honest, I have no idea what that means, but I always fall into a delicious nap while listening, so it’s become part of my regular repertoire.
The second track I turn to is part of the Mindifi series. Part positive-thinking, part hypnosis, these apps feel like sleeping in a warm bath with James Earl Jones.
Point being: If you’ve heard meditation is awesome but just can’t get into it, shop around. And don’t worry if you’re “doing it right.” Just lie down, listen (or not), and see how you feel. Honestly, half the time I fall asleep and napping feels just as good as meditating.
6. Wednesday fun day
Wednesdays are my depression’s kryptonite. Weirdly enough, I love Mondays, but after two full days of work, Wednesdays make me think, “Oh God, I’m burned out. I just can’t.”
That’s when I start to spiral. Wednesdays turned into Binge-Watch-Netflix-Days and not only would I feel physically bad (too much TV gives me migraines), but then I’d feel guilty about all the work I didn’t do.
So a few weeks ago I implemented “Wednesday Fun Day,” where I wasn’t allowed to do client work, but I was allowed to tinker with personal projects. Last week I took a course. The week before that I wrote a blog post. The week before that I restructured my email campaigns.
Now I block out the whole day for fun projects. I still feel productive, but it’s work that re-energizes and inspires me.
7. Stick to a routine
My day might sound boring, but decisions sap my energy, so I try to make as few as possible. I take my dog on the exact same route every afternoon. We leave at the same time and stay on the same side of the street while I listen to the same four podcasts.
Here’s what my weekdays look like:
- Wake up: 7am
- Yoga: 7:15-7:45am
- Shower, breakfast, read, coffee: 7:45am – 8:30am
- Work: 8:30am – 12:30pm
- Lunch break, read, walk the dog: 12:30pm – 3:00pm
- Meditate: 3:00pm – 3:30pm
- Work + meetings, etc: 3:30pm – 6:30pm
- Hang with the hubs, go for a walk, watch TV: 6:30pm – 9:30pm
- Bed + reading and lights out: 10pm
I sleep a lot, I read a lot, and I watch a lot of TV. Lots of downtime means that I’m more productive and creative during my work hours.
Living with depression is a constant experiment. What worked for me in college doesn’t work now. What works for me now might not work for you. But that’s okay. If I’ve learned anything this year it’s that our brains are a delicious mystery, and there’s nothing wrong with you if you never “fix it.”