What Having Bipolar Disorder Has Taught Me About Business

I recently interviewed Chelsea LaVere of Tidewater & Tulle for "The Evolve Your Wedding Business Podcast" and during that interview, we got into how you need to know your limits so that you can give yourself the time you need for you.

In that conversation, we discussed how Chelsea has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and I have Bipolar Disorder and when we discussed how that impacts how we work, it made me realize that I hadn't ever really talked about it in my business. There isn't any specific reason for that -- I'm a pretty open book, I just hadn't brought it up because it's normal to me so I don't really think about it. It's about time I do bring it up though because I know I'm not alone and discussing it can only help chip away at the stigma around mental health.

Chelsea told me she was working on a piece for her blog about dealing with depression in an industry that's happy, happy, happy and she asked me to send her a quote. Here is what I sent her:

When I was 18 I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the doctor who diagnosed me gave me some of the best advice I've ever received.

1. Moderation is your friend.

2. You have to pay close attention to what your body is trying to tell you. Only you can know when you are able to go hard and hustle and when you need down time and ignoring that is a recipe for disaster.

I've made this the top priority in my life and the way I work has to support that. That means I batch things and work well ahead of myself so that if I do need downtime, I can take it without there being any repercussions. You have to design your business to support you not only financially, but emotionally and mentally. If you don't intentionally set things up so that you can run your business healthily, it will run you and it will burn you out.

Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 18 made a lot of sense to me and was long overdue. I was told for years that I had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and depression (see the up and down there?) but in the end that turned out to be wrong. It's something that I've seen within my family so it really wasn't a big deal and in my family, having a psychiatrist is normal. I actually didn't even know that there was a stigma around mental health until I was in college. I think that's probably why I'm so honest and open about it -- it's not a big deal to me.

It may sound kind of odd but having bipolar disorder prepared me to become an entrepreneur and has actually taught me a lot of lessons that I would later apply to business.

No. 1. Life occurs in seasons and so does the wedding industry and entrepreneurship

There is a natural ebb and flow to things in nature throughout the seasons that we tend to ignore because we can avoid it thanks to innovations like electricity and indoor heating. In my experience with bipolar disorder, I feel those ebbs and flows and I've had to learn to lean into them instead of resist them. For instance, in the spring and autumn I tend to feel more manic as is reflected by the natural activities of those seasons. In the winter, I tend to do less and feel more like hibernating and in the summer I try to soak up all the sun I can so I do less in my business.

When was the last time you listened to the way you felt and then planned your work accordingly?

Not listening to yourself and understanding your limits (which are not a disability, but instead a red flag from your body telling you to change something before shit hits the fan) is a surefire way to burn yourself out.

One way you could start building your work around how you feel is to sort your tasks based on energy level. That way, you can do the low energy activities when you're feeling kind of shitty and batch those high energy tasks together on days when you feel amazing. Pay attention to the times you feel most alert too -- for me this is late afternoon/evening and so my high energy tasks get scheduled for this time.

No. 2. Moderation is your friend

The doctor who diagnosed me with bipolar disorder was working with me while I was in college so my natural first question was, "I've heard you're not supposed to drink if you're on bipolar medication -- is that actually true?". He said to me, "It can make depression worse but moderation is your friend -- pay attention to how you feel."

At the time, that meant I got to drink and that if I chose to pull an all-nighter, I would relax and rest the next day and make taking care of myself my No. 1 priority.

As a business owner, this applies to intensity of my work. There are times when I am going hard and hustling my behind off and there are times where I'm resting and letting things coast. You can't have the gas pedal slammed down to the floor 100 percent of the time. If you're doing that to yourself currently, I would recommend evaluating if everything you're doing really needs to be done and what you can cut back in periods of rest. This may also mean getting some help in your business so you can delegate some tasks.

No. 3. Self care is not a luxury

A lot of people feel like if they are not working on something, they're wasting time and sometimes I feel that way too. Taking time for yourself can be hard when you have a million things to do but it is of extreme importance.

You know how on a plane they tell you to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others? That's because you are absolutely useless to anyone else if you're not getting the air you need first. When you take time to get enough sleep, to eat well, to exercise, to do things you love outside of your business, you are investing in you and giving yourself that oxygen you require. Your business cannot exist unless you have your oxygen mask on so put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others.

If it feels too luxurious to you, think about how C-level executives in the world's leading companies treat their staff. Google has nap rooms, exercise facilities, thinking areas & laundry service. They know that by giving you everything you could possibly need, you will be able to do your best work. Are you giving yourself what you need in order to do your best work?

No. 4. Know when to ask for help

There have been plenty of times where I've turned to my husband and said, "I need to go to the doctor", or "I need something tweaked with my medicine". Psychiatry is not a perfect science and relies a LOT on the patient being able to understand what they're feeling and ask for help when they need it. This is something I've had to train myself to do and it really helped me in business as well.

I know when I feel drained and I have more than I can handle on my hands and when that happens, I ask for help. That may mean asking for help in your personal life or hiring a virtual assistant to help you get your admin work done. It is okay to ask for help and no one achieves anything great alone. This is why I created The Inner Circle -- so that wedding professionals who are members can have a safe place to get support and ask for help as well as celebrate their victories with people who get it.

You do not have to and can not do everything alone and neither can anyone else.

"If you could cure or get rid of your bipolar disorder, would you do it?"

I've been asked this very interesting question a few times and the first time I was asked this, I had to stop and think because I really had never given it any thought. In all honesty, the answer is no. I wouldn't change a thing.

It's not all rainbows and unicorns but it has taught me a lot about myself, the brain, business and countless other things and if you can learn something from my experiences too, that's even better. Plus, I don't know where I stop and it starts and I like me so I wouldn't want to change that.

I don't consider myself to have a disability in any way, in fact I see it as an advantage at times because I see things a bit differently and have a tendency to question everything. Both of those things come in very handy in business. I don't mind having what is known as "The CEO Disease". I'm not well-suited for 9-5 corporate culture and I couldn't be more happy about that. Sometimes it sucks, don't get me wrong, but I am hard wired to be an entrepreneur and that's something I'm very happy about.

I've learned to run my business a certain way because I'm bipolar, but those changes are beneficial for everyone if only they'd take action and implement them. How can you make your business a bit more bipolar-friendly?

Ups and downs are part of bipolar disorder and they're also part of the entrepreneurial journey. Allowing yourself to have and accept those ups and downs is going to make your entrepreneurial journey so much easier. There are times to hustle and times to pull back but you have to listen to what your body is telling you if you want to avoid burning out. Always put your own oxygen mask on first.