How I overcame mental health difficulties in business

I was quite surprised when I started to share my own fears, vulnerabilities, challenges and periods of my self-worth crisis, that so many other talented ladies felt the same way.

When I realised that years of putting pain into a drawer and using that commonly renowned trait of ‘resilience’ had actually meant I was broken inside, I discovered things about myself that I wish I had been aware of before I was perceived as ‘successful’.

And I realised that, perhaps, my journey in business could have been a bit easier over the past 20 years.

Oh my goodness, life! – It can be beautiful, complicated, happy and dreadful, all in one day. We think we have to put up with so much; we push ourselves so hard and then we realise that for years, we have been a little bit broken inside.

Something stops us in our tracks and we actually realise that most of our pain is in our heads and how we take control of it is what will define the rest of our lives. We decide, enough. Life has to be a little easier inside my head, perhaps I can’t change everything that happens but I can change the expectations, the pushing for outcomes and my specific definition of success.

Maybe the people that I follow have a different view on success and ambition to me and it is time I worked that definition out for myself.

Last year I saw a psychologist

I went to a psychologist last year and I sat there and said “I want to tell you what has happened in my life over the last 10 years and I need you to tell me whether this is normal and that I should just continue regardless or whether, actually, this is madness, I have been unfortunate and I need to take stock, grieve, repair and put my broken pieces back together”.

Her reply was “I think you need to acknowledge, repair, talk and decide what you want to do to move forward”.

So, I did just this. I committed to six months of learning about myself, accepting things that I cannot change and identifying the parts of me that I was not honouring. A wise person told me ‘when you know better, you do better’.

My emotional scars are beautiful

I read a great saying by Lao Tzu ‘to be whole, first you must be break’, and that is what I decided I was going to do. I then read the lovely Japanese saying that ‘they repair broken vases with gold leaf, and make them more valuable after they have been broken than they were before’.

The same goes for myself. 12 months on, I value myself far more and I have redefined what success, ambition and happiness means to me. I am honouring my values, my ambition and I am whole with a number of scars now gold and beautiful.

In business, we invest in being a better person

In business, we adapt. We cope with angry people, with disappointments, we attempt to have control over things that we cannot change, we fear failure, we embrace our weaknesses and tell ourselves we lack. We invest in being a better person through books and TED talks, but better for who? Better for what?

When we take time to think about the life we want to lead, the things that really matter, we take time to respect the emotions we hold. When we learn the aspects of life that challenge our mental state, nurture who we are and take care of our overall health, this is when we really start to live.

Repair can happen while we’re living our life

My six months wasn’t spent on a beach, in bed or on a psychiatrist’s sofa. I still worked and had a smile on my face, no one needed to know what I was going through, I retreated in my own way, I didn’t need to make a noise about this decision.

Repair is not scary, it can all happen around the life we have. Very few of us can stop working or want to. It just takes some light bulb moments, a great guide or a person who knows how you feel and identifies with you.

I was categorised as an ‘A Type’ personality and business person, and diagnosed with a form of depression that is ‘the curse of the strong’ as Tim Cantopher defines it. There are millions of us; we keep going, wear a mask and when cracks start to show we work even harder.

There comes a time when we need to nourish all of ourself

Our desire to heal and reset ourselves is mostly about realising that there comes a time when we have to nourish all four parts of ourselves: our heart, mind, soul and body. Perhaps as we move into a new year, this can be our greatest New Year’s resolution.

Maybe in 2019 you can paint yourself in the gold leaf, honour your scars and allow yourself to identify, accept, love yourself and heal. Hopefully, you’ll become more whole than you have ever been and as a result, value yourself even more than you have ever allowed.

In 1998 Penny Power founded the world’s first business online community, Ecademy. She has been a business owner, speaker and writer for 20 years. She was awarded her OBE by the Queen in January 2014 for her contribution to entrepreneurship in the social digital world.

Photo by Sean Witzke