I have always been an extroverted happy go lucky girl, curious about life and people – and I’m constantly reminded about my voluminous laugh.
My friends and family have always been central to my happiness, whilst my career has also been an important part of my identity. I work in the entrepreneurship sector, which I find incredibly exciting as I adore helping people turn their great ideas into a reality. UK entrepreneurs form the backbone of our economy and, more than ever, people are striking out on their own to become their own boss. This is a story about how depression turned me into the entrepreneur I always wanted to be.
My career and life came to a halt last Summer when I experienced my first episode of depression. I have always been one who never deals in half doses, so when I say I got depression – boy, did it knock me for six. I was horrified. I couldn’t help but question how could this happen to someone like me who was on the whole a positive person?
I was six months into a fabulous job with great benefits and I had the freedom to work from home. Before I knew it, I became quite stifled from my own thoughts of working in isolation. Usually I have a positive mindset, but before I knew it I was calling myself a fraud and initial waves of anxiety quickly spiralled into severe depression.
My confidence nose-dived and I couldn’t attend meetings and had such terrible brain fog that I couldn’t write emails, nor conduct simple tasks; I’d entered flight mode and jumped to quit my job out of the intense and unbearable feelings of inadequacy.
Things went from bad to worse and I had to move out of London and back in with my parents, which at 28 years old was not exactly included in my plans. Anyone who has had clinical depression will relate to the feelings I couldn’t seem to fight – despair, no hope for the future, zero motivation and total fear. I felt that I was closing the door on everything that I was once passionate about.
I knew on an intellectual level the frequency of mental illness – that often-quoted statistic of 1 in 4 people in the UK experiencing mental health problems appears everywhere. Yet in the midst of my illness, this failed to comfort me as I experienced shame and embarrassment at my self-perceived career failure.
It took every little ounce of energy that I had left in me to get myself on the waiting list for counselling from the NHS; I was told to wait three months but as the severity of my case escalated I was then fast-tracked through the system. The counselling helped immensely and glimpses of my old self started returning and my health gradually started improving along with the help of supportive friends, running and daily Sudoko (very therapeutic – try it!).
I still felt so ashamed to be out of work and one day I updated my LinkedIn profile to convince people that I was now a freelancer. People in my network must have seen my profile update and I started to receive approaches, which really shocked me! Still with a negative mindset, I questioned why anyone would want to hire me? However, I eventually found the strength to return to London and worked my own flexible hours.
I felt I had nothing to lose and my life-threatening experience fuelled my decision to set up Luna Events, supporting companies with marketing and events that engage early-stage entrepreneurs. Having the freedom and flexibility to set my own hours was so helpful in my recovery as I was able to prioritise my well-being and make my work, work around me. I began a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and learnt Vedic meditation with Will Williams Meditation. A combination of these methods have been instrumental in giving me invaluable tools for managing my mental health.
Becoming an accidental freelancer reignited my motivation and excitement for the future, along with my passion of working within the UK start-up scene. For the first time in what seemed like forever, I have a clear head and a sense of positivity about myself and my career. Of course, there are still difficult days but I feel safe in the knowledge that I have ways of coping that I never had before.
The self-employed are a large and growing part of the UK workforce and I’m a huge advocate for people starting out on their own. However, it is important to remember that being your own boss can also exacerbate anxiety whilst chasing invoices, finding your next business lead, balancing client demands and the vulnerability of losing clients too.
The pros and cons are different for everyone – but on the other hand, the freelance life can be hugely rewarding! You just need to find that balance. Embrace and focus on the flexibility and freedom and surround yourself with an uplifting and supportive network. I work with the team at Enterprise Nation and we host loads of inspirational business events – and there are other organisations like Escape the City and Virgin Startup that can help too.
Months later, I received an offer I couldn’t refuse: to full-time manage the She Means Business campaign with Facebook, and so I have temporarily put a hold on my entrepreneurial journey. I know that the option will be there for me again in the future, and I’m less daunted by it now too. I also learnt an invaluable lesson in life: nothing is definite and you never know what opportunities are around the corner, so hold on tight and enjoy the ride!
I am now very open about my mental health and have a no-shits-given attitude about talking about my story, because it happened and I want it to help others who may be going through a similar experience. Something that I never could have predicted is that, months on, I can honestly say that depression was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I know that may sound hurtful to those still hurting, but going through such a difficult and scary time has given me a new found confidence in myself.
Having, and recovering from, depression gave me strength I never had before – a new lease of life. I thought: if I can get through that, I could take on life in a bigger and bolder way than ever before. I feel as if I’ve been given a second chance. Before I was always scared of failing, but now I know that if I can beat depression, I can beat anything.
I have been fortunate to have the resources and support to help me turn my negative experience into a positive, and I’m now doing everything I can to spread the word in any way I can. Depression doesn’t have to be the end; for me it was only just the beginning