Battling Depression Encouraged Me to Become an Entrepreneur

Depression among entrepreneurs seems to be rarely discussed in favor of the glamorization of being ones own boss. Aside from talks about startup depression among tech founders, honest discussion about the emotional upheaval of those who are freelancers or who run larger organizations seems null. However, for me, depression was one of the reasons I wanted to be an entrepreneur.

Early in my career in administrative services, I sought help for chronic depression stemming from physical health problems and bad circumstances. Balancing work with frequent doctors appointments, including separate appointments with my primary care physician and my therapist, was difficult. If there was ever a need for intense therapy, I’d miss a lot of work. Soon after returning from a three month leave from my job supporting a QA exec, I was terminated.

With the money I got in severance, I bought a computer and started writing proposals for marketing and customer support on Elance. I landed my first project on the very first proposal. Other successes followed. I also tried to balance work as a virtual assistant by accepting temporary and contract positions. After landing a full-time project that ran a year, it was clear that I needed to go part-time. I secured a part-time contract working for a realty association supporting their research department, but not for long…

Although this gig only required me to come in three days a week, the frequency of appointments and severity of my depression required me to take another disability leave. Since the job had only been part-time, I supplemented my work there by being supporting a client who needed help with content marketing and strategy. Shortly after going on this second leave, the work from the side gig increased and allowed me to report enough earnings to get off of state support.

This boost allowed me to still work part-time, but to earn enough and have the freedom to take care of my health. The one client provided referrals, making growth very easy in the first year. In the second year, I struggled because the work got to be too much and I felt a bit all over the place. Eventually, I had to terminate some contracts that didn’t work out well in favor of projects that weren’t as demanding.

Over the years, I’ve learned to ride the great moments, create lots of content, produce several events for visibility and to do a lot of planning when I feel great, so that when the grips of the depression grab hold, I can operate on power saver mode, doing only one or two priority tasks a day. I keep phone calls to a minimum to avoid distractions and focus most of my work on content development, social media, and community management projects to ensure I could schedule things in advance and check in when I need to.

When I can, I schedule speaking assignments, which allows me to sell to a large audience with a minimum amount of effort. I also blog to keep myself in the public eye and to be connected socially to prevent feelings of isolation.  At one point it became clear that I needed more passive income. I started to diversify my offerings to include individual and group consulting and online classes to my blog followers. There were also times that I had to pass on extremely stressful projects unless the budget was conducive to bringing on subcontractors to help out.

It helps for me to be open with my audience and let them know what I am going through because it has established me as a thought-leader who was authentic and open about the realities of running a business with mental and physical health issues. It gave other people permission to do the same thing and it made people trust me. As a result, I’ve occasionally been called on for life coaching outside of my marketing consulting practice.

Related: Managing Your Business When Dealing with a Personal Crisis

There are periods when I do very well and don’t need the added support of therapy. Still, at some points in my entrepreneurship–now being one of these periods–I have sought out medical help. At times, I have had intensive therapy and medication. I particularly found dialectical behavior therapy helpful because of its emphasis on doing things mindfully and practicing distress tolerance. The skills I learned through therapy help keep me focused on work and to be kind to myself. It also helps me not to compare myself to other entrepreneurs.

Related: How to Overcome Comparison and Collaborate Better with Others

Additionally, one doctor advised me several years back that continuing work would be crucial to my healing process. So I did what I could – learning additional skills over the years so that I could provide added value with less work. By staying busy, I stayed in business.

I now understand that self-care is not an inconvenience. Being open and understanding that my challenges doesn’t diminish my qualifications is reason for me to continue seeking help, continue leveraging my experience to help others, and to continue building a company that allows me the freedom to take really good care of me.

Being an entrepreneur battling depression has been a journey but one that I will continue winning.


Do you have a story to share about the mental cost of owning a business? Email allyn@allynlewis.com <3

If you are in crisis, please call 800-273-TALK (8255). If you are worried that someone in your life is suicidal, call the same number and they will help you. For more information on suicide, prevention, and coping with a loss to suicide, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a number of informative and helpful resources – https://www.afsp.org.