Mental health has been top of mind for me since I was in high school, and I didn’t really think I’d talk about openly within the context of my business anytime soon.
But so far in 2022, a series of events have led me to experience some of my lowest lows ever since I started my business in March 2019. Consequently I had to learn to navigate my own mental health struggles on top of many major life changes, transitions and balancing that with showing up for our clients and the business.
I have learned a LOT from 2022 so far and the year isn’t even over yet. I really hope that this conversation can be helpful to anyone who might also be going through their own mental health challenges on top of life, career, and/or business.
P.S. This is a topic and conversation that means a lot to me, so I want to extend a heartfelt thank you for choosing to tune into this specific episode. I hope it helps whoever needs it 🙂
To start the conversation, I want to share just a tiny bit about my own personal journey with mental health.
I also want to add that I don’t plan to go into detail regarding the experience of it because I think that mental health is something we all experience differently. I don’t think I need to share how I personally experience it in terms of intensity or frequency to communicate the impact that my mental health has had on myself.
I also want to reduce the possibility of someone comparing their own experiences with mine and perhaps discounting their own experiences.
I will be sharing only enough to add some context for our conversation and I really want to emphasize that I believe all of our experiences, our emotional experiences and our lived experiences all matter to each of us individually and they will shape us into who we are today.
I hope that no matter what we each might be going through or have gone through, we can learn the lessons and strengthen our capacity to handle the natural ups and downs of life every time we fall.
Depression and anxiety is something I’ve grappled with since I was in high school. I’ve also experienced my fair share of panic attacks since then and have pursued professional support throughout the years such as going on medications and seeing a therapist.
Even now, I’ve been working with a life coach. My own experiences with anxiety, depression, and panic attacks have definitely infiltrated pretty much all areas of my life.
But for this conversation, I want to zone in on how these mental health experiences have initially shaped the way I see myself.
I want to share a few, not necessarily limiting beliefs, but rather unhelpful thoughts I was thinking about myself or unhelpful narratives I was painting about myself and my life.
Without going into detail, let’s just say that my relationship with my own mental wellbeing has always been characterized by blame. I would blame my own “emotional instability” for the reason I’m not further along.
Even till today, I will sometimes catch myself thinking “Look Cheryl, if it wasn’t for your shitty mental health, you would have been able to finish your PhD even while being in a long distance relationship during a pandemic”, whenever I think about my decision to quit my PhD to move to Singapore to be with my husband and become a full-time coach.
Or, “Look Cheryl, if it wasn’t for your inability to cope, you wouldn’t have burned out back in 2019. And you wouldn’t have had to take a break from the business for 7 months. You would have been so much further ahead as a coach or business owner.” when I think back to my 7 month break from my business back in 2019.
Or very recently, “Look Cheryl, if you had better mental health then you would have been able to keep going in your business this year and you would have kept signing clients consistently.“ This thought would come up when I think about how between March to August 2022, there were several months I didn’t make any new sales in a calendar month.
In addition to this highly unhelpful and very mean dialogue I’d have with myself, I’ve also caught myself tacking on the additional thought of “And also, how can you even coach your clients right now if you can’t even deal with your own depression, anxiety and emotional instability?”
As you might have guessed, beating myself up when I was already feeling deeply depressed, confused, and felt like I had little control over my life, career and business, simply did not help at all.
And so, this sort of blaming narrative , where I’d basically tell myself “See, Cheryl? Its because if your shitty mental health that you aren’ able to achieve XYZ or you can’t do XYZ. If it wasn’t for your mental health, you would have been so much better or much further ahead”. And this way of talking to myself definitely was not helpful for neither my life nor my business. Or just myself as a human being.
Another way my thoughts about my experiences with mental health creep up in my business, is having the worry that my audience or client won’t trust me or wont think I can help them if they know I struggle with anxiety, depression, and so on.
This thought definitely stems from the specific societal stigma towards mental health in general or the general sentiment that you shouldn’t allow your emotions to get in the way of work and it’s unprofessional to show your emotions when it comes to work.
Needless to say, throughout my life, I was really worried that people would doubt my potential or ability if they were aware that I also experience episodes of depression and anxiety on a regular basis.
This belief led to me also believing that if I were to show up in my own business in a way that suggests I was not at my hundred percent or feeling my best, my audience or potential clients would question whether I’m a coach they want to work with.
I think this is something a LOT of coaches and entrepreneurs who use social media to share about their work, struggle with in some way, shape or form.
At this point, it goes without saying that if you are a consumer of social media, it’s unlikely that you’ll see someone share about their struggles ESPECIALLY if it’s a challenge they’re currently navigating.
There’s also this “advice” I’ve heard from fellow coaches for entrepreneurs: to share your struggles because it will be relatable to your ideal client, but make sure you only share it after you’ve fully gotten over the challenge otherwise your audience will doubt your credibility.
It’s these types of narratives that lead all of us to think that, oh my gosh, if I’m feeling shit, that means I need to get over it ASAP because that’s not what an in-demand coach should be like.
A coach who is an expert or authority in their niche is not gonna be sharing how they are going through their own shit. Or maybe they don’t even go through shit in general because they’ve got it figured out at this point.
All that to say, I personally grappled with feeling like I was a problem because I often struggled with depressive episodes or anxiety attacks.
I felt a lot of shame about even having such experiences and would constantly blame myself for not being able to “better manage my anxiety or prevent my depressive episodes”. Again, not helpful.
When you put the first two highly unhelpful thoughts together, it became nearly impossible for me to also not have the third unhelpful thought, which is: just not liking myself for who I am, just as I am.
For anyone who experiences some sort of insecurity about themselves, maybe you feel like you have a personality trait that you feel has created results you don’t like.
Or maybe you feel like you’re lacking in some areas of skills or you aren’t good enough.
Whatever it is for you, the way it tends to show up in our business is that we try to overcompensate by looking at what we think is going to be likable or accepted by our industry or potential clients, and we try to mold ourselves into that.
Some specific examples I’ve seen this come up for clients include:
These seemingly not-business related thoughts can really seep into the way we view our business or the way we view ourselves within the context of our business.
This year, for me personally, has brought about new changes and transitions that I have not had to navigate before. There were so many big changes and transitions all happening at the same time. I really struggled as a result on an emotional level.
There were many personal life events that I currently don’t plan to share here, out of respect for my own privacy and the privacy of those around me.
But I do feel comfortable to share that I struggled deeply on an emotional and wellbeing level for a good 7 months of this year.
Here’s a quick recap for context, before I dive deep into the lessons I really want to share:
Earlier this year between December 2021 to February 2022, things were going swimmingly well both inside and out. I think I shared this in an earlier podcast episode, likely Episode 69: Lessons from My First 2 Months of Being Full Time in My Business, where I shared some insights from my first two months of being full time in my business.
At the time, I didn’t know this was going to be a permanent thing. Because I initially planned to take a leave of absence from my PhD between December 2021 to June 2022. So I thought I’d be a temporary full time entrepreneur during these 7 months.
What was absolutely fascinating was that during the first three months, I was kinda on a high in life and, interestingly, my business results reflected the internal state I was in.
In that three month period alone, we created around 40K in sales, which was absolutely fantastic. But here’s what I really want to emphasize. During this three month period, I was just so happy and so, so grateful about life.
I couldn’t believe I was finally able to be with my partner after long distance for almost 5 years and we couldn’t see each other for 19 months.
I was just so grateful I even have the option to pause the PhD and have the financial means to do so. And even meeting new friends in Singapore. I was so unbelievably grateful and I also felt so fully at ease, joyful and free.
In terms of my mindset and what occupied my mind during that 3 month period, I can confidently say that I literally had no expectations from my business.
I wasn’t thinking about whether I was gonna fall behind my working schedule for working on my business or if I’m gonna make less money than normal.
I also released expectations from my career and didn’t think about how this 7 month break was delaying my graduation timeline from the PhD.
I also didn’t think about the biggest stressor on my mind prior to this time period, which was all the dumb pandemic-related rules and restrictions in Hong Kong.
Because cognitively and emotionally, I was on such a high, how I would describe the way I showed up in my business during this time was: I had so much sparkly energy to share!!
I literally had no expectations, fear, judgments or self-imposed criticisms or comparison in my mind. I felt no need to flex whatsoever. My creativity and capacity to create really, really good content.
The way I showed up to talk about my offer or go on mini rants about my views and opinions and basically create content that showcase my thought leadership. And even my skill when it comes to coaching our clients.
Everything I was doing in my business felt like it on another level.
I really really believe our audience and clients could feel this energy and “quality” of what I was doing.
Hence my work really resonated with people and that’s the reason why we were able to sign new amazing clients who were ready to work with me even before they hopped on the sales call.
Then… life happened. Between March to August 2022, the energy I was feeling, creating and giving to others wasn’t there at all.
During this time period, a series of personal events, decisions, identity crises, and overall challenges that I never experienced before in multiple areas of my life. Such as my new marriage, personal finances and mortgage, culture, career, family, friendships, and even living environment at home.
There were so many events happening one after another and they were all happening at the same time. As a result, I struggled deeply and I could see myself feeling extremely depressed during this time, compounded with the frequent episodes of anxiety and panic attacks.
My physical body also responded poorly so the stressors and I developed two balding spots as a result of stress. They were quite noticeable and I stopped tying my hair in a ponytail because it would reveal my two cute little bald spots.
Even though I don’t intend to share the whole list of everything that took place, this was a period of time where I really felt powerless. I felt like I had no control.
I even wanted to just quit my business altogether because I felt like I no longer had the capacity to create for others or give to others as I felt like I was in such a dark place.
To be very honest, there were so many moments where I almost made the decision to just refund all of my current clients and delete everything and just hibernate. I just felt like I had no control over anything, even in my own business.
And because internally and in my personal life, all that was going on, it made a lot of sense why my external business results reflected my internal results.
There were months during this period where I didn’t make any new sales at all.And now, as we’re approaching October 2022, I am able to tell you exactly why that was.
Now, as of this recording, things feel and look very different.
For example, I’ve been posting on Instagram prolifically. I’ve had several people and peers comment on how in this entire year so far, they’ve never seen me post so much on Instagram. And the energy of my content is completely different from what they were seeing for most of 2022.
I think it was no surprise to me that others could perceive this shift in me, because I could see and feel this shift in energy in myself as well.
It might also be no surprise that so far in the month of September 2022, we have created around 14k in sales so far, and the month isn’t even over yet.
What were the realizations that helped me get through March till August 2022? How did I go from months of no new sales or clients, to creating yet another 10k month in my business? How am I now learning to manage my mental health while continuing to grow our business?
This is exactly what I want to discuss – how to take care of yourself, how to really prioritize your well being as an entrepreneur, and how you can feel like you struggle a lot with mental health but still be able to create amazing results in your business and help others.
There were several particular realizations and decisions that helped me learn these really profound lessons.
The one that stands out the most to me was our neighbors renovations.
Currently, I’m living with my in-laws and our neighbors have been doing major renovations since March.
It actually started in January. But the drilling and hacking really started taking place in March and it literally hasn’t quieted down at all even as of September.
The renovations are very, very intense. Both in terms of the sound and the physical vibrations that we can feel. And because this happens from Monday to Saturday between 8:30am-ish to 5pm-ish, it really disturbed my regular working hours as well as my ability to rest and take breaks.
It got to a point where as soon as they started drilling and hacking next door, my body would go into a panic attack even though I knew the renovations would happen. I kept feeling like I had no control. Because panic attacks aren’t something I can control.
But the truth is, there were still some variables within my control. I did try some of those options and explored some of those variables.
For example, there were a few months when I would go to my sister-in-law’s home during the weekdays to do work or have my coaching calls or even to literally just take a nap. Like there were times when I would commute 25 minutes just to take a 90 minute nap.
This was during the time when work from home was still really prominent in Singapore because there were still a lot of heavy covid regulations.
I also did try to work at coffee shops but it’s common for them to have limits on how long you can stay before they kick you out. And there’s been several times where I literally buy a drink, sit down, and the coffee shop people would say I’m not allowed to work there. So I did try some options and they didn’t quite work out.
There was one particular option that I really resisted. Which was signing up for a coworking space membership. I really resisted that option because I thought that I can’t even sign clients or work on my business, so I can’t spend money.
But in reality, I did have enough savings to support this. I mean, that’s why I was side hustling for 3+ years, right?
But because I was so resistant to this option, it was just a vicious cycle of neighbors renovations triggering panic attacks, then I’d be drained afterwards and have no energy to do anything for my business. And the cycle kept going.
By August, I was just tired of feeling awful both emotionally and physically. My balding spots were not improving and I was just sick of not having a quiet environment to do work.
So I spent a day doing research on the coworking spaces in Singapore and finally decided to join one on August 1st. And wow, that changed everything for me.
In August, I literally went there 6 days a week except for Sundays because the neighbors’ renovations don’t happen on Sundays.
I would go even on days where I didn’t plan to create content or do any work. I went there because I just wanted some quiet time to be by myself.
And holy crap. I never realized how much our environment can affect us. Because by the end of August, my balding spots were no longer bald.
Even though right now, it’s almost October and you can still see the spots where there is noticeably less hair than the rest of my head. The fact that it’s much less noticeable because the hair is growing back – that was priceless to me
I think this particular event helped me realize that there are always options.
Whether it’s going to my sister-in-law’s place or the public library or paying for a coworking space, which were all options I’ve tried, there’s always an option.
Let’s be honest, there’s no perfect option. And I think that’s why my mind was so resistant during this time because none of the options seemed super 100% optimal.They all had pros and cons.
The thing I didn’t quite realize at the time was that I did have options and I had control over which option to try. I wasn’t as powerless as I thought.
Because of this realization, I’ve started applying this belief of “I have control over my situation” in other parts of my life and I’m also seeing drastic improvements as a result.
I even applied it to how I view my thoughts and mindset. I have control over my thoughts. Because for many months this year, I felt like I had no control over how I was feeling, how my body reacted to stress, and so on.
But I always have the power to retell the story about myself and my situation. I always have the power to lean into gratitude. I also always have the power to not blame my anxiety, depression, and panic attacks for my results.
And this leads me to the next lesson…
Now, I am confident when I say I know how to coach our clients through failure.
I know how help them get back up even when they fall. If a client is going through their own “client drought” in their business, I know how to coach them through it.
The crazy thing is, I wouldn’t be able to say this confidently if it wasn’t for me literally going through it myself first.
On that note, I think that’s what being a leader now means to me. It means you have to go first. You’re willing to go first, and at times, that also means being willing to fail first and fall first. And being willing to get up first. So that you can learn the lessons, try again, and keep going.
Now, I can feel that my belief in my message, what I do as a coach, the content I create, all of it means so much more to me than ever before.
I’m so grateful I didn’t quit my business because this work means so much to me.
For example, my belief in side hustling as a skill that we all should learn and have in our pockets? This message is literally going to be my north star moving forward.
Side hustling has changed my life. Being a coach and getting coached has changed my life. Being a consumer of content as well as a creator of content has changed my life.
It was also these things that provided me with meaning during this 7 month period in 2022.
The way I can explain this is through a conversation I recently had with a friend where she said “As someone who follows you on Instagram, it felt like you were still posting pretty consistently especially on your podcast, even though your energy was noticeably lower.”.
I shared with her, it was because even in my lowest of lows, I still felt like I had something that can help others. I still wanted to create. I still had those small random bursts of creativity, inspirations and new ideas maybe once or twice a day. And I would capitalize on those momentary bursts.
So what this looked like is whenever I randomly have a burst of OMG I NEED TO SHARE THIS THOUGHT. I would somehow record it somewhere like on my Notes app or Google Doc or I would just straight up type it out on my Instagram stories.
That’s why I had so many text based IG stories during this time and very, very few video IG stories. I knew I had to jump on that momentary burst of inspiration before I go back into thinking about my life problems.
The interesting thing about the podcast in particular was exactly how I was able to piece together episodes. I might write something on my Google Doc outline for the episode like once a day, and then I’d get another burst the next day so I’d flush that idea out, and then another new idea on the following day.
Then by the end of the week, I’d have a full script ready to be recorded. I’d wait till I felt sufficient energy and just record it in one go. Then… I go back to feeling depressed. Like literally. That’s what my content creation looked like for those 7 months.
Another takeaway I want to emphasize here is that I listened to my body and mental wellbeing. I didn’t force myself to create content. I mean, I just couldn’t.
I was already struggling deeply, how can I even force myself to do something? I literally didn’t want to do anything. So trying to force myself wasn’t even a realistic thing because I wasn’t going to do it.
Instead, I was highly intuitive during these months and would capture my bursts of ideas or creativity when they did come up. And only “take action” when I felt sufficient energy. It was not when I was 100% or even 80% energy, but sometimes, 25% energy was all I had. And it was enough to get things done.
And that’s the thing. Sometimes, you just gotta get things done in your business. You can still get things done in your business even when you’re struggling with something or you’ve got a lot of things going on.
But your expectations about how you’re SUPPOSED to do something gotta go. Just get the thing done and go back to your nap.
Earlier, I shared some of the views I held about myself when it comes to my experiences with depression and anxiety. 2022 has really led to these unhelpful narratives resurfacing.
I was really challenged to look at these narratives again and be super honest with myself about whether these narratives were true first and foremost, and second, whether they’re even helpful to me at all
Now, I really truly believe that it’s not a problem to struggle with mental health or to have days where you feel absolutely terrible about yourself and feel zero motivation.
It’s not a problem to feel these human emotions and to go through such human experiences.
When it comes to health in general, which can include mental health, there are so many conversations about “preventative measures” that we should be taking to reduce the “risk” of certain health issues. I think the same sentiment often comes up for discourse around mental health.
Now more than ever, I’m just like, how is looking at my mental health in that way even helpful to me? How is seeing my mental health stuff as something I need to reduce, helpful to my relationship with myself as a person?
Is it even helpful to see my brain as a weakness or to see myself as someone where a part of me needs to be fixed or reduced? Like why?
These are some of the conversations I’ve been having with myself and perhaps one day, I’ll have more flushed out thoughts to share on this podcast.
But right now, I’m really becoming curious and open to challenging my current thoughts about my own brain and my own mental health.
My goal for myself is to be able to fully embrace my ongoing experiences with general depression and anxiety, as well as the specific episodes that might be sparked by particular life events or stressors.
And also to celebrate myself as someone who has these mental health experiences but I’m still creating my best life, growing my business and making an impact in this world nonetheless.
Today’s conversation was important to me, as someone who struggled a lot with the belief that because I have my own mental health shit going on, I am not where I want to be.
I think almost all of us listening to this episode can probably relate to feeling that because they have this one perceived weakness or are lacking in some way or have this one particular trait or characteristic that they don’t deem as desirable, that is why they’re behind or not where they want to be.
I hope that through today’s conversation, we can start to rewrite our story about ourselves and reframe how we view ourselves.
Because we honestly can feel like a hot mess sometimes and still be able to create amazing things in this world. We can struggle deeply with something and still be able to help others.
We can feel like we’re lacking in one area but still absolutely thrive in another area.
But we first need to be aware that we can be both a human being who might have our own shit to work through, and simultaneously be a successful coach or entrepreneur who makes a lot of money and helps a lot of people. You can be both at the same time.
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