image credit: Eilidh Rhead
People ask me all the time how I balance the raw and often unpredictable experience of bipolar disorder with owning a business and being an endurance athlete, and I don’t think I’ve ever had what people consider a “good” answer.
This post comes to you courtesy of Off We Go: Entrepreneurs & Mental Illness, a guest post series coming to you every Tuesday while I’m off, writing and Internet-less, at Hedgebrook. Today’s post is by Nicole Antoinette.
Listen to me read this piece below:
I’m an entrepreneur and I have bipolar disorder. And yet, I can’t tell you the “truth” of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur who has bipolar disorder, because the real-life experience of both of those labels – “entrepreneur” and “bipolar” — are entirely different depending on the person.
What I can do, though, is tell you my truth. I can tell you the one thing I believe above all else, and that’s this: There’s no formula for success. You don’t have to be a certain kind of person with a certain set of magically acquired skills (or, more appropriate for this discussion, you don’t have to be a certain person without a certain “limiting” condition) in order to do what you want to do. Your path will look different than someone else’s path, even if you’re both striving toward a similar goal, because that’s the nature of individuality. What works for me in any given situation might not work for you, and vice versa. It might take me twice as long or I might do it twice as fast or I might decide halfway through that I don’t actually want what I thought I wanted at all. That’s how life works — with or without mental illness.
People ask me all the time how I balance the raw and often unpredictable experience of bipolar disorder with owning a business and being an endurance athlete, and I don’t think I’ve ever had what people consider a “good” answer. Because my answer is this: I just do. It’s exactly how a similar conversation went when I asked a friend how she maintained such a thriving business amidst the chaos of raising young children. “I don’t know,” she said, “I just do?”
You figure it out along the way. You accept that there’s no definitive guidebook to being who you want to be, doing what you want to do, and having what you want to have. And then, once you’ve accepted that, the only thing left is to just do the thing you want to do. And if (read: when) you encounter obstacles and setbacks, you find a way around them.
Picture this: You’re walking home one afternoon and you come across a lone orange cone sitting in your path. So, you walk around it, and you keep going. But let’s say, instead, that it’s 10 orange cones. What would you do? You’d walk a little more to one side to get around all 10 cones, and you’d keep going. Now, let’s say there were 100 cones, or 1,000, or even 10,000. What would you do? You’d be annoyed, probably, and frustrated – and maybe even a little unsure of how to get home since you’ve never had to go a different route before, but you’d find a way nonetheless. You’d take as big of a detour as you needed to take; you wouldn’t just sit down in the middle of the sidewalk and say, “Well, this is too big of an obstacle, so I guess I live on this sidewalk now because I’m never going home again.”
And yet, that’s exactly what we do with our deepest dreams and desires.
We say we want to write a book or build our own business. We know we want to bake the perfect layer cake or learn how to code or run a marathon or launch an Etsy shop — but we don’t even start because we’re afraid of what might happen should we one day encounter those 10,000 orange cones. We ask ourselves how we can do what we want when we already feel like we don’t have enough time or enough money or enough expertise or enough _______. We — especially those of us with mental illness — often wonder what the point of doing something big is when there’s such a real possibility of getting derailed by depression or anxiety or whatever our own personal struggle is. But I’ll tell you the point. The point is this: The time is going to pass anyway. The minutes and hours and days and weeks and months and years of your life are going to keep chugging along, whether you’re doing what you want to do or not. You are going to fear your fears regardless. I’ve lost days to depression; entire weeks were swallowed whole by the overwhelming enormity of trying to do something as simple as get up off the coach and use the toaster. That’s depression. But guess what? The possibility of that happening again is the same regardless of whether I’m doing the work I love or not — and doing the work I love might even help.
Are there ways to set yourself up for success? Of course. And the things I do to manage my bipolar disorder and nurture my business (keep to a regular sleep schedule, be aware of shifting moods as they occur, exercise daily, breathe deeply, eat whole foods, take short but frequent breaks throughout the day, know that some days I’ll have more energy than others, use kind words when speaking to myself – especially when things don’t go well, be prepared to ask for help, etc.) might look surprisingly like the things that anyone else who doesn’t have mental illness might do to feel their best on a day-to-day basis. That’s because these self-care truths are universal. For me, it all comes down to one main rule: Don’t be an asshole to yourself.
I have spent a lot of time — way too much time — trying to fit myself into other people’s best practices for what makes a “successful entrepreneur.” But, in the end, we can’t just copy someone else’s roadmap. Or rather, we can, but we’ll always wind up frustrated and confused as to why it doesn’t work for us the way we expected, which then leads us to draw self-limiting conclusions such as, “I’m not trying hard enough” or “I’m not doing this right” or “I’m just not cut out to be successful.” But that’s not true. None of that is true.
You — you — can do any fucking thing you want to do. You just need to build your own roadmap. You need to pay attention to yourself and learn what works best for YOU. Be honest about your triggers (for me: not enough sleep), about which times of day you feel better than others (for me: mornings), about which situations drain you and give you anxiety (for me: crowded networking/social situations with tons of people and stimulation), which foods alter your mood (for me: sugar), etc, and build your life accordingly. For example: I do my most important work earlier in the day, I prioritize sleep over pretty much everything else, I plan significant down-time following a very extroverted event, and I choose to limit my sugar consumption. Why? Because those things work for me. Period. And, honestly, it means that being an entrepreneur is actually the absolute best choice for me, because I can tailor my business and my daily schedule to my individual needs in a way that would never be possible in a more traditional job setting. But, again, that’s just what’s best for me – and I only figured that out through years of experimentation.
Which brings us to what I’m really trying to say here, and that’s the fact that the only way you can ever know what’s possible for you is to go for it. To experiment. To not let obstacles become excuses and to instead commit to always finding a path around the orange cones, no matter what.
Nicole Antoinette wants to live in a world with less bullshit. She helps people change their stories – the ones they tell about themselves, to themselves – so they feel safe about changing their habits and, ultimately, their lives. She’s the founder of A Life Less Bullshit, an online powerhouse that provides simple, actionable, and powerful strategies for ditching what you think should want in favor of what you actually do want. Sound intriguing? Sign up here for free weekly tips for a BS-free life.