Working with Depression: Lean in or Opt out
My name is Alice, I work for myself and I have depression.
Today’s post isn’t my usual marketing talk, but I think it’s something that’s important to talk about.
THE DAILY DECISION
Everyday when I wake up, I’m presented with two options; to lean in or to opt out. We’re all given that decision to make, but for someone who is self-employed, meaning I decide when I work, how long for and what I do, my answer to that question holds a significant influence on my day.
I used to view opting out as weak, rarely allowing myself time off of work or away from emails. The corporate world of work has this weird culture where you’re admired for being busy and celebrated for the sick days you don’t take. As a naive 17 year old I was swept right up into that mindset.
One of the companies I used to consult for literally gave out annual awards to those who replied to emails the fastest. What an awful thing to celebrate.
I lasted 12 months of opting in. It wasn’t that I was consciously deciding to ignore my mental health, I just had no idea how important it was to consider my mind and body when creating a work schedule.
When I stepped into January 2017, my body opted out for me. I worked myself so hard that in the end, my body / mind forced me to stop. After being diagnosed with depression and taking 6 months off of work, I re-opened my company, thinking that it would be the end of my journey with mental health problems.
STILL DEPRESSED, BUT WORKING
In my mind, depression was seasonal, just here because I was burnt out, assuming it would go away once I was rested and working in a better schedule. I was very wrong. It’s been a slow process learning that mental health works on it’s own terms, and accepting that it’s stuck around.
As a bit of a control freak, admitting that my mental health was not something in my sphere of control was difficult.
So after getting over the fact that I couldn’t wave my depression away, it was time to learn how to work in a way that respected my mental health and didn't result in another breakdown (ideally). This meant that my daily decision of opting out or leaning in was all the more important.
The majority of the time, the cloud of depression is present but feels somewhat manageable. Usually the only thing reminding me that I have a mental illness is the daily alarm on my phone to take my tablets. I'm always grateful for these days. These are the days where I lean in. I refer to it as 'leaning' in because often it's not always an instant decision to get work done and have a great day, but some days I feel in the middle, not awful but not great, and I have to push through what I'm feeling and lean into the work I'm doing.
These are big action days, where work gets done and as a result, my business grows. As somebody who loves their work, I love these days!
Some days, that dark cloud feels a little too dark, and I’d rather just sit at home and binge watch Netflix than get anything significant done.
More often that not, I’ll challenge myself to make small victories. Whether it just be to send those couple of emails I forgot to do yesterday or file that months' expenses, I value these easy & mindless jobs which help me to feel like I’ve made some progress, no matter how small.
The reality also is, some days even those tiny jobs feel overwhelming and I literally just do nothing. Even though days like this are a rarity, I feel far better now I’m empowered to take that time away from my computer.
Whether you have a mental illness or not, learning to find a balance between work and rest is paramount to a sustainable work routine which respects both your physical and mental health. Considering how you feel each morning and empowering yourself to make the decision which is right for you, is something I'm passionate about encouraging people to do. I'm certain that the productivity of my good days is undoubtedly increased by the ‘opting out’ days, where my mind is given the time and space it needs to rest. It’s all about balance. What can you do today to value your balance between opting out or leaning in?