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The Reality of Mental Health Awareness as an Entrepreneur

Depression is like drowning, except you can see everyone around you breathing.Like thousands of other teenagers, I found solace in self harmĀ and substance abuse. I’ve sat aloneĀ in darkness (bothĀ real andĀ imagined), andĀ contemplated suicide more times than I can count. I had my first brush with a mental hospital in high school. As a young adult, I found another way to self-medicate: work. It didn’t take long to land in the hospital again.

My Welcome to AdulthoodĀ wake up call was not just a realization that you had to work hard, take care of yourself, and thatĀ life wasn’t fair. It was that I had a lifelong diagnosis that would forever need to beĀ micro-managed. That the words “mental illness” or “bipolar disorder” alone could conjure up seven kinds of crazy when spoken, and telling anyone at a job about it was a nail in the coffin of steady employment. That I was a living breathing risk not just to myself, but to others.

Entrepreneurship gave meĀ a gift.

It opened my eyes to a world where I didn’t have to worry about losing a job because I needed to get my head back on straight in an in-patient program. It gave meĀ the tools and resources to financially take care of myself using my own passions and skills.Ā But it also tookĀ me into a world where remaining aware of how I was mentally checking in was vital.

It's like a man riding a lion. People think, 'This guy's brave.' And he's thinking, 'How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?Entrepreneurship is hard.

Hard is an understatement.Ā One of my favorite articles in INC. Magazine was published in September of 2013, The Psychological Price of EntrepreneurshipĀ and itĀ introduced me toĀ this little gem from Toby Thomas:

It’s like a man riding a lion. People think, ‘This guy’s brave.’ And he’s thinking, ‘How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?

There are days that I wake up and curl under the covers, burying my head away from gnashing teeth and a ferocious appetite, hating that lion.

The days where looking at myĀ email inbox of threeĀ hundred twelve unread messages pushes me into a self-paralyzing panic.Ā The days when the twenty-two cents in my bank account seem to have a voice of their own, screaming Failure!Ā andĀ Loser!Ā The days when my four year old asking for a drink feels like she’s asking for the world on a silver platter.Ā The days when I can be foundĀ sittingĀ in the bottom of my shower, crying and asking myself,Ā What am I doing?!

ButĀ then there are the days that the lion turns into a kitty cat.

The days thatĀ emails waiting for me mean an abundance of opportunities and pathways. The days that depositing a check into my bank account is a validation and success call. The days that three o’clock in the afternoon means playingĀ in the backyard with my kids because I can. And the days that I know what I’m doing, because it’s following my dreams and totally rockingĀ it out.

And the beauty of entrepreneurship is that I’m not alone in any of those days.

The truth is, we all have our things. The things that tear us down, that get under our skin, that apply pressure when we could really use a break. And as entrepreneurs, we have to support each other and rise above our battles together.Ā 

If you have struggled in the same trenches of living the life you dreamed of, I want you to know you are not alone. I’m standing right here, right now, swearing to you that you aren’t. And it’s okay to talk about it. In fact, please talk about it.

If youĀ are rubbing up against hard times, long cries, and second guessing, I want you to reach out. Talk to someone. Take advantage of the mental health resources available to you. Get help if you need it.

IfĀ you are thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend, or need emotional support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline atĀ 1-800-273-TALKĀ (8255).Ā 

Mental Health Resources

For the rest of May, I’m going to dish on keeping your sanity as an entrepreneur, from productivity tipsĀ to keeping your health in check.

Is there anything you want to ask me? Anything you struggle with as an entrepreneur? Let’s hear it in the comments below. I want to help.

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39 Responses

  1. Brilliant post! I am trying to set up my company and not really sure about how to do the business side and how to work out the costs, etc when pricing the products. It does stress me out as, I get it in theory but not in practice. It costs a lot of money to get any help. Based in the UK. Have good days and bad. Wish there was a foolproof method or guidelines to help figure this out. Seen a few but they just graze over it with a flimsy example. Still, plodding on…

  2. What a compassionate and articulate article. More people need to read you!

    After months of struggling with my soap and skincare “hobby,” I found your website and this post in particular. Thank you! I started making and then quickly formulating skincare last fall. In January I contracted the soap disorder. šŸ™‚ However, it’s terrifying! I need to sell my products so I can make more. I have a crazy-making full-time job, too. In fact, my full-time job is ridiculously and unnecessarily stressful — I’m a teacher. I’m hoping that I can afford some sessions with you to straighten it all out. Again, thank you for a brilliant article and beautiful website.

    1. Awwww, thanks, Cynthia!!

      I bow to you as a teacher, they do so much for our future and are compensated so little. Plus the stress! Entrepreneurship will be a cakewalk in comparison, I’m sure!!

      I’d love to have you front and center in a few sessions! Thanks for stopping in!

  3. You pinpointed my struggles to a T. I have really low bad days (or weeks… or months) and then I have good days (or weeks… or months). Rarely do I have a spectacular day (even more rare a spectacular week.. never a spectacular month). When the good (and rare spectacular) do come around, it makes things so much more clear and I feel focused and proud of what I’m doing. It’s all about climbing out of the hole you can sink into (or dig yourself into) with the bad times. I sometimes feel worthless and dumb and I shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. It doesn’t help that I don’t have tons of support from family, however my husband is very supportive and I have a handful of supportive friends. I count on them to help me in my climb into the good times. Even snapping a photo of something I made and a response with “beautiful” or “too cute” is a boost.

    Thank you for sharing your lion. It means the world to know that someone like you (a successful soapstress) has similar struggles with a fledgling like me.

    1. It’s always about the bumps and bruises of the road! Sometimes, you are up, and sadly, sometimes you are down. I always remind myself that there is ALWAYS light at the end of the tunnel. Nobody is burying me alive. šŸ˜‰

      Everyone struggles with their own demons, I promise you! No one is perfectly happy, 24/7/365, even if they seem to be. You CAN do it, and you will show all those non-believers that you can rock the house. Keep on keeping on, Shannon.

  4. I don’t make soap but have certainly experienced the slippery slope of waning confidence with a sunset of darkness. This is a well written piece, Kenna, and you’re refreshingly bold to step out of the main stream and into a muck puddle. Your direct address of that will certainly be an extension of a hand to help lift us out of the muck. Your forgiveness, compassion, encouragement and more, for all, is greatly appreciated.

    1. Sometimes, we need someone who isn’t afraid to talk about the dark and the light, and I think that’s especially true as entrepreneurs. If all we hear and see from others is about the light, our own personal darkness starts to feel a lot more bleak. Thank you so much for being such a huge supporter of my work, and of course, of me as a person, Rick, it means the world to me. šŸ™‚

  5. Brave lady….been there, done that and totally identify. The trick is to reach for impossible stars and to avoid looking down. I think a level of madness is needed to become a successful entrepreneur and work does help to tame the lion. As you get older you also realise that the lion’s teeth are probably as loose as yours.

  6. Thank you for this post! I’m strictly a hobbiest as a soapmaker, it keeps me sane and offers a concrete artistic outlet in the rush of my real job…I’m a writer. Stress, depression and other mental health issues are rife in that community as well. Many of us rush to the world of writing as an escape and end up riding the lion, which is such a perfect analogy. Anyhow, thank you again and I’ll stay tuned the rest of this month. šŸ™‚

  7. Thanks for writing this Kenna. I have some demons too which I’m not brave enough to immortalise on the internet just yet, but suffice to say it’s a struggle some days. Being a mum is hard enough, add to that financial pressures and the fact that as an entrepreneur it’s all up to little ol’ me to make it happen, it can feel like the weight of the world some days. It’s nice to know there’s others out there climbing a mountain too. Plus I got a laugh from the image of that man riding the lion and wondering how he got there! xo

  8. Thank you Kenna,
    I am awed by the compassion in the soaping community. This post was really a hands up from God, as I search to find awareness, tools, and love to embrace our children. ( and , to know when to step back ) The words mental illness, bipolar etc. still have such a dark cloud associated with them …We tend to walk around them with words like ‘shy’ , ‘anxious’, ‘reserved’, as we try to help our kids and friends step into the light of living with purpose. You are an inspiration , as you wrote with such honesty and practicality. In my ‘Ben’ inspired journaling today , you, the kansas city memories last month and your post is what I’m grateful for !

  9. Thank you for sharing your story Kenna. It’s so brave of you to open your heart and share how your personal journey took you from a potential disaster to absolute success, even with the challenges you face. Bless you!

  10. This came at a time where I nearly convinced myself that people with bipolar shouldn’t run a business. Thank you. I’m going to clean up my cyclone hit soap supplies šŸ™‚

  11. What a wonderfully authentic, open and caring post Kenna! I have been a psychotherapist for close to 21 years and was recently smitten by the soap making bug. Starting up an entrepreneurial business as a soap maker seems to be so much harder than starting up my private practice ever was! And despite all the awareness and knowledge I’m “supposed” to have as a therapist, I frequently engage in this mad dance of self doubt and self confidence! You’re certainly on the right track sista, as I love what you’re doing and appreciate your honesty, hope and vision. Happy to be joining you on this ride.
    I keep dreaming about combining my two loves and so if you get a chance, go check out my blog too:

  12. While we haven’t met, you are so clearly a beautiful and sensitive young woman Kenna. It’s apparent in how you conduct yourself on FB, your blog, and your YouTube videos. It’s evident in your beguiling music and artistic soap.

    You’re stronger than you know. You’re charting new territory (soapy waters, šŸ˜‰ and that takes guts. You give voice to shortcomings which helps to demystify emotional states, and that gives all of us permission to be real.

    You keep up the excellent work, do it a moment and situation at a time, as we all must. BTW, you rock!

  13. It’s so important to have a balanced mind, then everything else in turn will be balanced. I try to maintain my “sanity” and keep myself grounded. As a work from home biz owner things can get a bit haphazard but I’m managing. I find it helps if I go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier too. That makes me feel like I’m simultaneously getting more sleep and time.


  14. Reading this at this time was much needed. I suffer from depression. I do at times feel alone. I just had the sitting in the shower crying so my children wouldn’t see my tears. The feelings you described are mine. I thank you for this post and your uplifting words. You are a true inspiration.

    1. Hi Kenna, I was hesitant to jump in here to this convo but I have to tell you. I watched your Modified Tiger Stripe Swirl Soap video on YouTube which led me to your site, where I signed up and found this article. This hit home so hard for me, that I was reduced to tears reading the article and it took me 2 days just to comment. I can’t tell you what a tremendous help it is to come across another soaper writing about this. In a world that is so competitive and a bit cold to me at times, you’ve extended a olive branch. I can’t begin to tell you what a huge help this is for me. The fact that you’re willing to address this and talk about it, is beyond impressionable. I applaud and commend you for doing this. Do you realize how this very act and article can bring about change in someone’s life that is struggling with these issues? This article is me to a ‘T’, through and through. I’ve been struggling with this since childhood and have been diagnosed with clinical depression, post-partum (after I had my 2 children). I’m really, really struggling right now and I am going through it all alone. I too have to cry in the shower to keep my 2 children from enduring my pain as well. I’ve not been able to make soap or do any of the things I love for a little over 2 years now. I live in Canada and I’m trying so hard to get help. I’m trying to get back to my hobbies and crafts, since after my children, they’re the only things that I love and are keeping me here. I really need a friend, mentor, guidance, an ear, a non-judgmental person to help me through this struggle that I’ve been going through on my own for so long. It’s so hard. People don’t care, it seems. In fact they are sometimes even more cruel and heartless when they know these details about a person. I’m not really sure where I’ll end up, but I hope I get through these storm clouds. Thank you for being that ray of sunshine that lets me know there’s a way out of the storm and clear sunny skies, are hopefully not too far ahead. Thank you, thank you, thank you Kenna. I wish you continued success and prosperity now, and always. All best to you and your family this holiday season!xo

  15. Thank you for sharing. Entrepreneurship gave you a locus of control you may not have had previously. You did not look back and both fortitude and creativity got you where you are. Again, thank you for sharing.


  16. Coming from a few years late, but…

    Thank you for this post. I needed it today. I’m struggling with starting up my own company while having (sometimes debilitating) mental health and chronic pain issues. I’ve been waffling between being on top of the world, and feeling like the lion’s got its teeth around me…pretty much daily. So reading this was a reminder it’s just part of the journey!

  17. I was thinking about doing a blog post about my mental illness and how it affects my business, my family, and me. I could have written a lot of what you wrote in a much less articulate way. I really dislike blogging, but I know it’s important to do it if I want customers. I started my business when I had decent enough mental health (for me), but my mental illness took over soon after I started. I lost the momentum I had gained. I had to do some things over again when I got better because I basically just stopped doing things related to my business, being a mom, and being alive. It was a daunting task to take on, and I thought about quitting because starting was easier than picking up after I went off track. I even lost my perfected soap recipe. I made a new recipe that I loved, and I eventually found the old one months later. I made myself just do one thing each day even if it was just to take a couple of pictures of products and upload them to my laptop. Some days I could do more. I found medication that saved my life, but it’s definitely not a panacea, but I’m much better than I have been for years. I still have bad days now and then. I was able to slowly but surely start fixing what I messed up during my mental health crisis. I’m a brand new business that is just starting to build a customer base, and I tell myself that it takes time and that I had a good reason to have lost so much productivity. I kind of get charged up when I hear a “caching” on my phone. It doesn’t happen weekly or even monthly, but I did just open up my website a few months ago.

  18. Kenna,

    Thank you for sharing! I needed to take some mental health time this year from my job, I work in a hospital, and found that me doctor was reluctant to help me! Thankfully I have an incredible boss who helped me get the time that I needed. With the help of counseling and sleep I have come to realize that I am a stronger person and that I am resilient.

    We need to help others not be afraid to get help for their issues. Thank you for helping others with your story!

  19. Hello. Resonates with my thoughts exactly. I started with my very 1st fair in Dec. It was terrible as it was a kids school and the location was bad. Plus in the city where I live, I do not have any close friends the way I did in my earlier city, nor do we have family here. Nevertheless, I started my soap biz with just 3 product lines. But after winter vacations, I went into a downward spiral, missing family and just about having zero interest in any daily activity. I felt terrible at my kiddo returning from school and having to see her mum all devoid of any energy. (we used to dance crazy dances, talk, walk, bake, have friends over) This May I decided after. debilitating back ache I am setting. wrong example for my kiddo, Started eating healthy and working out every single day like a maniac. My mood went from rock bottom to lively in a week. I have big dreams but very little confidence. Customers love my products but am unsure how to market them. My husband who is from retail says I need to make new product lines to attract customers, but I get overwhelmed. (doing little) Lastly, His fear is that there will be many more newbies thus leading to my business prospects getting affected. How do I install confidence in myself? (have started working out to look better and feel better)

    1. I’m so proud of you for taking positive steps in your life! That is a huge, difficult change!

      Kenna writes quite a bit about mental health on the blog, and you can find more of those articles by clicking the mental health tab at the end of the article.

      You can find tips on marketing your handmade soap on the blog as well. as for your husband’s advice, more often than not, soapmakers think that bringing more value means increasing the variety of their product line. Thatā€™s bringing in more inventory and reducing your cash flow, not providing value! Check out this article about value and pricing for more info.

      Regarding newbies, time and time again, I hear soapmakers say that the handmade soap industry is oversaturated. Itā€™s just not true! But you know what is oversaturated? Handmade soapmakers who try to hawk their products using the same position in the market. There are tons of untapped or poorly dominated niches in the personal care products industry.

      Itā€™s important to fully develop your target market so you can see if you are really hitting an oversaturated market. If branding is new to you, consider snagging our guidebook/workbook.

      I think we can all relate to battling that fear and lack of confidence!

      The good news is, you are in the right place. From basics on the blog, which youā€™ve found, to peer support in our community forums. And, as you figure out where you really need to dig in, we have premium content in our Resource Library. Kenna even offers one-on-one consults and reviews (labels/websites/etc), if you get really stuck.

      We are cheering you on!

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