Business is a pressure cooker. Even for those that don’t have mental health issues — starting a business will take every piece of emotional energy you have, and then ask you for more.
It is not for the faint hearted.
It will scare the shit out of you.
It will also delight you.
The wins will be exhilarating and the losses will be devastating.
If you are following your passion — you will naturally attach your self-worth to your successes and failures. That’s human. Starting a business is both the greatest and stupidest thing anyone could ever do with their life.
Which is why most people don’t do it.
They focus on the stupid bit.
Basically, from the outset, to start a business, you need to be… a little bit nuts. You need to thrive on chaos, or at least a little bit. You need to lean into fear every single day. You need to be able to endure the crippling anxiety of January and June cashflow. You need to feel a sense of purpose that is outside of yourself. You need thick skin, bubble wrap, a double-brick wall and another layer of double glazing on top of it just for good measure.
Let’s face it, business sucks a lot, especially for the first 3–5 years. You will want to walk away at least once a week.
I run a business. I also live with Bipolar Disorder. It’s fine, don’t freak out. I am pretty well managed (isn’t it funny how we have to say that, almost reflexively…), but I would be lying if I said it didn’t have it’s own unique challenges in a business context.
I hated and resented myself for many years. Mostly because I didn’t have the right people around me, and I hadn’t tried and failed to be normal enough to realise I am okay if I can’t make 9–5 work. I am just ‘wired for business’.
There is just one problem.
Being Bipolar and being ‘entreprenerial’ means that there is a very fine line between “a little bit nuts” — like anyone who creates, or dreams or makes risky decisions — and a symptom that needs to be treated.
To be entrepreneurial is to be kind of nuts to begin with. And that’s where having a strong sense of self (knowing yourself really well), being on the right medication and having key people who can help you walk that line, without judgement, are critical to success.
Entrepreneurs think differently. We don’t like to work in day jobs. We are creative. We take risks.
We appear reckless. We are high energy. We also sometimes want to drop the ball and go home. We make decisions and behave in ways that most people have difficulty understanding, and even openly mock and judge.
What’s a normal up and down?
What is an attitude problem?
What is an acceptable level of abnormality, when not being “normal” in many ways, is what helps us succeed in business?
Many of these ‘symptoms’ are, for people who are not mental health professionals, simply an opinion and often a projection of their own values onto another person. I remember sitting down recently with my psychiatrist and waxing lyrical on this very topic.
You don’t understand, that some of these — quirks — are what make me… me.
I know for me, I have learned over time to not hate myself so much for being different. With business, I am able to lean into that cycle and work with it, rather than show up every day, put on a stupid corporate mask and pretend I am normal. I am not.
I let myself be free to go hard and stay up late when I am well and happy and creative, and I ease up on myself and take breaks and allow myself a Horizontal Netflix Day and a bit more sleep when I am not.
It simply means that rather than avoid the rollercoaster altogether, I just need to make sure it is well enough maintained so it stays on the rails. Believe me, I used to not be able to do that and have just upped and walked away, burned bridges and fucked up in epic ways, and jumped off that rollercoaster mid-air.
But somehow I lived to tell the story, and I wish I had had someone to tell me I was actually okay as I am. I wish I had people around me that didn’t pathologise every all-nighter, scrutinise every bit of anxiety or restless night, look sideways at me when I bought something for the business, or made a bold decision that was not a symptom, but rather a decision that needed to be made. I wish I had people around me that didn’t say “I told you so” when I (inevitably) got it wrong. I wish I had people around me that could tell the difference between me being a little bit nutty for doing things they didn’t agree with, and not coping and needing support.
I wish I had someone to talk to that actually understood what it actually means to run a business, without simply seeing me as someone who needed to be medicated into a cubicle, rather than on medication that actually helps me be a normal entrepreneur who is …a bit nuts.
I am now in a position to be that someone that others can talk to. Because I get it.
It is okay to speak up when things suck. You just have to speak to the right person.