From stressed-out addict to queen of calm – Suzannah Butcher’s Calmpreneur journey
Read how Suzannah Butcher went from a stressed-out addict to the queen of calm – and how it inspired her new business, Calmpreneur.
I was lost and out of control
Looking back at myself a few years ago, I see a woman doing her best. But I also see a woman who wasn’t in control, who was a bit ‘lost’ and who most definitely did not have stress under control.
So how did I find calm in all the stresses and strains of life? It was a turn of events which helped me realise things were going wrong and a particularly low moment led me to make a major decision about my business.
I plunged blindly into business as a new mum
When I first started out in business back in 2008, I really didn’t have a clue. I was presented with an opportunity to sell greeting cards and, as a mum with two children under three, I thought that it would give me something to do other than changing nappies. I had a BUSINESS… it felt exciting and scary at the same time.
Over the next eight years, I started a few different businesses but never seemed to have the whole work-life balance thing sussed. I would swing from being super motivated and being visible, to wanting to chuck it all in and hide under a duvet, whilst declaring to myself that I could not be a business owner. I wasn’t qualified enough. I wasn’t capable enough. I wasn’t interesting enough.
Imposter syndrome and self-doubt swallowed me up. The stress of daily life got too much to cope with.
Life was like a rollercoaster with too many lows
Like most people, my life has been a bit like a rollercoaster, with lots and ups and downs. But for a time, the low bits seemed to last a bit longer and the curveballs kept a-comin’.
Over the period of about 18 months, I lost a close family member, a friend lost her life to suicide, a baby in the family was born sleeping, we were facing enormous debt, my husband got ill, I started the peri-menopause, my business turned to sh*t, and my daughter starting experiencing anxiety.
It felt like we were firefighting and just waiting for the next thing to test our resolve.
Running a business with all that going on was really challenging and almost impossible. Unable to focus properly on work, the debt kept mounting up. And I’ll be honest, I stayed in the shadows. I did the ‘easy’ work. I stayed in my comfort zone.
I started using alcohol to self-medicate
Unsurprisingly, all the stress I was experiencing brought up a lot of stuff from my past which I had buried deep within. I was also using alcohol to self-medicate and had been for many years.
I knew my alcohol consumption was way above the recommended daily limit for women. I didn’t drink every day, but when I did drink I found it hard to stop and I would get fretful if I thought there wasn’t ‘enough’ wine in the house. I was literally drinking away the stress and pain. I was also drinking away money – wine is a very expensive habit.
I had to face the fact that I was addicted to alcohol. Wine was my emotional crutch and I couldn’t imagine a life without it. It was also the perfect self-saboteur. I didn’t realise it for a long time, but drinking was a way to subconsciously sabotage myself…my mental health…my chances of success…my self-esteem.
A few weird coincidences gave me the nudge I needed to give up. It was hard; really hard. I had been drinking habitually three-five nights a week for 20+ years but I did it.
When I gave up, I realised how much I had been self-soothing with wine. I had kept past trauma locked up, which came to the surface like a lightning bolt; my dad’s alcoholism and death, the many situations I was vulnerable in, gas lighting, narcissism and poverty. All those feeling of fear, shame, anger and betrayal started to have a massive impact on my mental health.
It was clear I needed help to process the things that had come up for me, so I went to my GP who referred me to the local depression and anxiety service. They were amazing and offered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which has helped immensely.
Going sober made me realise my business wasn’t working for me
Giving up drinking gave me the clarity I needed to assess my business situation. This wasn’t a conscious decision by any means, but I intuitively knew things weren’t quite right. Had I still been drinking, I think I would have just carried on doing the same things and getting the same (poor) results.
It was over the school summer holidays in 2018 that I noticed my passion for what I was doing started to waver. At that point I was running an online membership club for women in business; I loved creating training courses and I loved my tribe but I was struggling to keep up with everything I needed to do.
My brand didn’t feel very cohesive, there was something not quite right with my offering and I was definitely over-delivering. I felt torn and knew that working as I had been, whilst also trying to maintain good mental health, was unsustainable.
The moment I chose calm
I spent a great deal of time wondering what to do. As it dawned on me the membership wasn’t working and it was never going to work, because it just wasn’t right, I broke down in tears.
I felt like a failure and I felt like a fake.
How could I pretend to be professional and together, when everything was falling apart? I lost count of the number of times I wiped away my tears, took a deep breath and headed to my office to record training. Literally, no one would ever have known!
Telling my members I was closing the membership felt both devastating and liberating. Even now, I still feel like I let them down in some way, although they were all so lovely to me and said they understood. But what was next for me?
Early one Friday morning I was making notes on my phone to help me decide what to do. I asked myself; “What is it? What is the thing? What am I supposed to do? How can I run a business and be truly me? How can I serve people? How can I work around having a mental health problem and actually be honest about it?
And that was it, the idea of Calmpreneur started to form. I didn’t know the name at first, that came later, I just knew if I’d had this life stuff going on and a mental health problem, all whilst trying to run a business, then it was likely there would be other people too.
Everything started falling into place
It’s been a long process, but everything has finally started to fall into place.
Calmpreneur feels so right for me and more importantly for other people. My Facebook group is thriving. People are having conversations about running a business when struggling with anxiety, they’re stepping out of their comfort zones and they’re feeling supported, it’s great.
Moving forward, I plan to create more courses to help people with time management, organisation and work-life harmony, as these have been fundamental in my personal growth and stress management over the past year.
My productivity has improved, I am way more focused and I’m doing things I never thought I could do, including writing this for Talented Ladies Club!
Sometimes I feel a bit embarrassed about my situation but I know how important it is that people see I am a real person, instead of a social media show-reel which makes everything look perfect. Life is not like that for anyone, despite appearances.
Obviously I am not ‘fixed’ and I have days when I struggle, but overall I am a much calmer person now. Life can still be stressful at times but I know the red flags which indicate my mental health might be dipping. No good can come from making decisions in a state of stress and worry, and sometimes I need to take myself out of the equation and look objectively at business challenges.
Forming new friendships with people online has been brilliant too. As solopreneurs it’s vital we understand the importance of human connection.
How you can find the support you need too
If you struggle with your mental health, please reach out for support. There are lots of great resources online to help you (check out Mind) and I’d definitely recommend speaking to your GP if your mental health is impacting your day-to-day life.
Self-care is so important too. I know these two words are banded about a lot on social media, but loving and looking after yourself every single day helps you to stay in control. I am more protective of my personal and work boundaries and although I do give away a lot for free, I also know my worth.
My self-care is a daily routine of meditation, journaling, visualisation, gratitude, getting enough sleep, and of course NOT doing things which sabotage my health, such as over eating and drinking.
My top three pieces of advice
1) Your business failures are not YOUR failures
If you’ve had things not work out for you, it didn’t mean that you personally failed. It just meant that there were other factors which caused things not to go as planned.
2) Be self-disciplined
Don’t take the easy option. I have ‘let myself off the hook’ many times and I don’t recommend it! If you plan to wake up earlier every day to make time for self-care, commit and start. No pressing the snooze button and self-sabotaging!
3) Get a dog
My dog Skylar has been my rescuer. I get outside in nature twice a day (forests are great for reducing anxiety), she has helped me feel more confident making conversations with people (dog walkers are so friendly) and just having her around has reduced my stress levels.
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Suzannah Butcher is the founder of Calmpreneur. Calmpreneur helps entrepreneurs focus on their mental wellbeing and find new ways to reduce stress and increase productivity through training, resources and support.