I’ve been diagnosed, at one point or another, with depression, anxiety, PTSD and ADHD. It’s an annoying characterization of myself because my medical ‘diagnosis’ does not define me. Yet it has also been incredibly helpful to me as it explains certain behaviors and reactions, and gives me the tools I need to research and manage them.
But let me be clear. What I ‘have’ does not equate to who I am. As despite the challenges, we can all thrive.
I can say this now, as I’m in a new chapter in my life with success under my belt. My first consumer product turned into a 35 million dollar retail brand, and raised more than a million dollars for charities. I have presented at the UN, World Bank, and more. I sit on several global advisory boards, helped get mental health added to the sustainable development goals, helped create a youth mental health movement, and shared my story around the world.
So I come with experience and wisdom to share.
I’m grateful to say I been off medication for some time, another feat I never thought I would accomplish as managing my moods on my own didn’t seem within reach. As you can imagine, the combination of anxiety, PTSD, depression and ADHD is not easy to handle as many of them actually create havoc on the other. Even one alone can debilitate a person making the entrepreneurial journey virtually impossible.
And it is not to say medication is bad. It has saved many, many lives. Including my own. I just prefer to work through the ‘stuff’ to get to my core. I may at some point go on meds again, and that is OK. I’m also grateful that today I don’t need them.
So how did I do it? Initially, therapy and medication, healthy lifestyle choices including meditation, exercise, cutting out alcohol and addictions. I got a handle on my triggers which would often spark unwanted life pivots. Ongoing mood management led to practicing presence. And then beyond presence, but actually enjoying the moment. Which of course led to my company.
That was the initial work, and it allowed me to start seeing and manage the various triggers without folding into a heap of despair, or running off to chase the latest addiction that alleviated some unwanted feeling or lack of feeling.
The second step was to approach the ‘diagnosis’ like a curious child. To explore their darkness and light, understand their messages, and use the mess they could potentially cause to instead drive meaning and purpose in my life. And this is what I found helpful with each diagnosis:
- ADHD: I initially didn’t even realize I had the ‘H’ as I’m not necessarily a hyperactive person. I am, however, an impulsive person in thinking and action and this is how it plays out with my ADHD. So how did I manage as an entrepreneur? I created smart coping strategies to get organized including budgeting, hiring an assistant, writing lists, and checking with advisors to keep me accountable. And how does it benefit me? It is pretty powerful once channeled, and I focus on the gifts of creativity, ideation for new products, drive, hyper-focus, and efficiency. It is an incredibly powerful ‘diagnosis’ once correctly managed.
- Depression: This is super hard to handle, and almost impossible to imagine how it might help an entrepreneur. As any entrepreneur knows, we need to get stuff done. Being in bed, unable to move and unmotivated to work does not get us there. At least at first glance. What I found, however, was that I could actually work when I was depressed, from bed, with writing. The power of depression is it takes you to an emotional depth you never knew you had and wouldn’t wish on anyone, yet also gives you insights, deep deep feeling and empathy. It was in my bed that I dreamed up Hopeful Minds, initially called Schools for Hope, something that we are now teaching kids around the globe. It was in my bed, in my darkest time, that I found my ability to write and plan and solve mental problems in a way I never imagined possible. My intense, insatiable, excruciating mental anguish drove my thoughts and ideas, when I channeled them the right way (not to darkness, but to light) to new places I had never imagined with both my business and my nonprofit.
- Anxiety: This may seem easier, as it is an energetic state and in my experience much less stigmatized than depression. However, it can be just as challenging as it can leave us in total paralysis. We absolutely have to stop everything because we can’t get a single thing done and we think our brain might explode trying to figure it out. The good news? I found my brain never exploded. That’s right, it never exploded! I found my anxiety to be a great driver once I could calm the brain down and get present through meditation, deep breathing, and putting all my ‘to do’s on lists in a big brain dump. As even if I didn’t get everything on my list done, simply writing it down and taking a single small step in the right direction got me moving forward again. Once I was moving, the anxiety dissipated.
- PTSD: This is not a fun one. It has thrown me off track as an entrepreneur so many times, and it is such an automatic reflex unless it is truly healed it is so challenging to make progress. As any time I perceive that I am betrayed or abandoned my PTSD kicks in and I freeze. Literally, I’m frozen in thought and action, unable to make a decision or trust people or realize the universe really does have my back. Thank goodness, however, it is a thing of the past for the most part. How did I resolve it? Through lots of EMDR, hypnosis, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Now when I’m triggered I breath. Deeply. Many times. I focus on getting present. And sure enough, the energy moves through me. And what is the benefit PTSD? It made me really aware or my surroundings and how people are feeling. I am hypersensitive to the marketplace, incredibly aware of how audiences or groups are reacting, and have a deep understanding of what is working and what isn’t. It also sometimes forces me to stop and reflect, which is so necessary in business and so often missed because I think I need to be ‘doing’. Often times, it is the ‘being’ where the magic occurs.
Even though the stigma is strong, these are not curses in my life. They are gifts that I simply needed to transform into my full being. To fulfill my life’s mission and purpose.
The beneficial traits of these illnesses can provide unique advantages if harnessed. I manage all of this on an ongoing basis, while not perfectly, with much more grace and success than I ever thought possible. Thankfully, I’ve had great therapists and doctors that have helped me desensitize what triggered all of these different ‘responses’ in the first place, and more effectively managed my emotions thus increasing my emotional intelligence.
When we act from these negative mood states, we end up acting in a way unaligned with who we really are. So, no matter what, as an entrepreneur or anyone else, getting into a hopeful, positive state through meditation, exercise, healthy eating, talking to a therapist, or connecting with your higher power (if applicable) is critical to success.
The biggest tip I can share (which again I’m still working on) is to not ever act from a state other than hope and love. We cannot be in a hopeful state and an angry or anxious state at the same time. Get some distance from the intense emotions and action. Then, once you have clarity, use the emotions to fuel inspired action.
Both The Mood Factory and iFred, my for-profit and my nonprofit, have given me satisfaction and fulfillment beyond my wildest dreams. They never would have been born without my story. I never thought I’d say it, but I am thankful for it. All of it. Each and every diagnosis.
I hope that if you have any of these diagnosis, or any other ones, you don’t let it stop you from pursuing your dreams. As an entrepreneur, you can thrive. Find the hidden gems and use them to your ultimate advantage in whatever you do.
Please do share your strategies, journey, and triumphs in the comments if so inspired.