Mental illness in small business. This is one of those blog articles that rolls around in your mind for a really long time before you finally write it. And I mean a really long time, like since Pocket Admin was established back in January 2018.
Despite the predominance of mental health as an issue in modern society, there’s still a ton of stigma attached to it, particularly in the business world. The writing of a blog article about personal mental health is always accompanied by the thought, “What if it stops people from accessing my business? Will it be my ruin?”
I’m an outspoken advocate of mental health awareness, so right from day one I wanted to write about myself like this. I finally decided now is the time.
Grab a cup of coffee, I’m going to share my unfiltered story with you. This is not a pity party, but my way of letting people know (particularly business owners): You Are Not Alone. You CAN Do This!
The True Story of
Dani & Pocket Admin
I have Type 2 Bipolar Disorder.
It’s no secret. I mean, I don’t stamp “mental illness” on my business cards, but I am open with my clients about my mental health.
I believe in transparency and honesty in business – my clients put their trust in me to help run their business sight unseen, so they deserve honesty in return. Truthfully, I’m yet to have a client who DOESN’T understand. It’s amazing how many people have their stories as well!
Working & Living with an Undiagnosed Mental Illness
At the time I started Pocket Admin, I actually didn’t know I had BPD. In fact, I was only finally diagnosed in the middle of 2019. Before that, I had struggled for years with the misdiagnosis of severe Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
The anxiety had always kind of been there, simmering and then growing but still not really affecting my work. Then the breakdown of my first marriage several years ago really triggered something in me, like something broke. It was an unmanageable explosion of emotion and intense mental confusion.
It was like the pathways of my mind had been recreated by a toddler drawing a treasure map. A horrific mish mash of scribbled lines that are impossible to follow, often with no obvious beginning or end.
All the information stored in my brain required incredibly intense effort to reach. My focus was completely shot because those scribbled lines were so hard to follow, and panic kept throwing up walls. My emotional control was almost non-existent. You have never seen so many tears in a workplace.
I couldn’t bear conversations, televisions and radios around me while I worked because in honesty, my mind was loud enough that it was hard to think. That mess wasn’t just a visual mess, it was loud.
And the paranoia that seems to come with my brand of mental illness … in my mind, everyone thought I was useless and stupid. Heck, I thought I was useless and stupid. I began second and triple guessing every little thing I did and said. My confidence was gone and each and every symptom I experienced built up to epic-levels of panic.
Every time a boss walked in the room.
Every time I was asked to do even the simplest thing.
Every time the phone rang, my emails beeped, or someone appeared at the counter.
Every time I had to move onto a new task and battle my way through my brain again.
At night, my mind wouldn’t stop churning. It would rehash every little thing from not just that day but my entire LIFE. The result? Insomnia.
My 7-year-old son was caring for me instead of being a kid, which only served to worsen my sense of guilt and anxiety. I had multiple breakdowns and self-harmed on a daily basis.
I was desperately chopping and changing meds, trying to find the holy grail that just wasn’t there, all the while my boss was asking me, “So, are you fixed yet?”.
The end of that job was an awful, soul-crushing experience.
Should I have left it sooner, since I knew I wasn’t coping? Probably. But I had suddenly been thrown into single motherhood, so I pushed myself hard. It was like trying to reach your goal by running on the spot.
I worked hard over the next few years in a variety of jobs. I never once lied about my capabilities at job interviews. Everything I insisted I could do for them, I COULD DO. I told myself the anxiety and internal struggles wouldn’t affect the job; I would grow strong.
“This time will be different.”
I wanted to prove to myself that I was fine, so I would charge into a new job at top speed, but it wasn’t long before I’d fall into that paranoia and panic cycle again.
I’m not proud of that phase of my life. I know that it wasn’t really in my control, but I still get residual anxiety and intense regret over how much better I could have done those jobs. Being proud of my work means a LOT to me and mental illness had ravaged my capabilities and reputation.
The Start of Pocket Admin and My Mental Illness Healing
In between a couple of those jobs, I decided to earn a bit of pocket money by offering freelance admin services. It started out as a little idea and snowballed into the business that is Pocket Admin! But it was still a sideline for that first year or so.
In my final “proper” job, I had once again gotten myself into the cycle of panic, paranoia and self-hatred. This was compounded by a personal loss that proved to be my last straw and ultimately prompted the diagnosis of BPD a few months later.
Just before I was diagnosed, I had reached the point in my job where I could barely get myself to work each day and could barely focus or get through the day without crying. I had lost the will to smile and just push myself through the day.
I couldn’t bear feeling that way anymore, so once again (for the final time), I made the upsetting decision to bow out. I was incredibly disappointed in myself.
Pocket Admin became a full-time gig!
I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of sudden clarity that came to me when I started working full time at home! In my own environment, with full control of every aspect of my work, I felt my confidence return and then some. My messy mind map straightened out and I was excitedly re-discovering knowledge and skills that I’d not accessed in a long time.
Though not stress-free, I have control over that stress and it’s pretty rare that I’m stressing over non-existent issues anymore. I am knowledgeable, I am confident, and I am CAPABLE.
My skills have grown at an incredible rate because suddenly I can devour information and store it in an organised brain – I love it!!
Now, I’m not saying everyone struggling with mental illness should run off and start a business. I do kind of feel like I’ve made an extreme choice. I have panic attacks when I think about returning to the workforce, so I’ve fully withdrawn myself from it and created my own controlled environment. That’s a pretty big thing, but the choice I made.
It’s been worth it for me – I’m more productive now that I’ve probably ever been in my life. I’m producing work that makes me proud, and I have a renewed passion for what I do because I can choose not to do the tasks that tend to be my triggers.
I also see it as solid proof that someone can be successful and reliable with a mental illness in small business, it all just depends on the management.
So, Am I “Fixed” Yet?
Heck no. This is likely a lifetime sentence, which was why I needed a committed solution to keep working.
The ugly truth of it is, on the “up” days I feel powerful and utterly invincible. It can be hard to love those days, though, because when you’re waaaay up, you know it’s followed by an inevitable plunge. There are days where my husband has to watch over me and literally wrap his arms around me to help me ride the dark waves (he’s a bit wonderful).
The REAL question should be: “Are You Happy Yet?”
Yes, I am! Despite all the highs and lows, I have made life work for me as best I can and I have found someone wonderfully supportive who makes my ‘drastic measures’ work!
And that’s what you have to do – accept your demons and find a way to make life work for you.
It’s never going to be perfect, you can’t avoid the highs and lows. But you can make the most of what you have.
For Goodness Sake, Everyone – Take Mental Health Days!
On the really bad days when I know I won’t be productive enough to benefit my clients, I take a day off to lay in my hammock, cuddle my cat, enjoy the quiet, and breathe some fresh air.
Taking a ‘mental health day’ gives me a chance to reset and gets me back on track faster so that I can provide the high-quality services my clients expect. Frankly, that’s just good business sense!
Feel free to share my story or share your own story with me.
Let’s fight the stigmas surrounding mental health at home and in the workplace!