It’ll come as no surprise to you that people who lead advocacy organizations have direct connections with the causes for which they advocate.
It’s the same for me.
When I advocate for women-identified and non-binary entrepreneurs in Canada, I do so because I am a self-identified woman and have experienced the challenges of building a business. And particularly when I advocate for further mental-health support in this country, I do so because I’ve experienced the worst of it first-hand.
Most of you won’t know this about me. I was diagnosed with persistent major depressive disorder in my early 20s. Since then, I’ve had several debilitating episodes of depression.
To control my mood disorder, something I’m not ashamed or afraid to say plainly, I take a bunch of different psychotropic medications.
I’m not here to sugar coat the details of living with depression. It’s serious. It can often involve self-harm, changes in behaviour, crippling anxiety and guilt, and can feel mind-altering and out of body. Over the years, I’ve heard and seen the “recommendations” of how to “get out of a rut” and “stop feeling sad”. Depression is so much more than just feeling sad.
During a particularly dark period, a psychiatrist worked with me through an outpatient program and I’ve been relatively stable for almost 10 years.
As you can imagine, living with a mental illness is exhausting. Constantly monitoring yourself for mood changes, symptoms, and regularly checking-in with your state. Your loved ones do this, too. “How are you doing?” is no longer a throwaway greeting, but instead becomes a loaded question.
Now, add growing a business (or the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce!) on top of this. Suddenly things become more terrifying. I often fear having another depressive episode because it would impact me and my family, my staff, and the Canadians I advocate on behalf of.
Suddenly, aided by a global pandemic, we’re in a perfect storm for a mental health crisis.
I felt the pressure increase. Our volume of work at CanWCC sure did because members were significantly impacted. Many members were closing their businesses, filing for bankruptcy, unable to perform work tasks, and burdened by increased home responsibilities. Social support systems were forced into isolation, we lost daily contact with our habits and friends, and we stressed about the health of those around us and ourselves.
Summer wasn’t summer, fall wasn’t fall, and the normal holiday break was anything but restful.
I noticed my symptoms of depression rearing their head in the summer. I felt overwhelmed and was unable to concentrate.
I’d describe it like treading water. Spending the majority of my time and energy keeping my head just enough above the water’s surface to keep things from crashing down.
If you’ve ever felt this way, you’re not alone.
I was, thankfully, able to get some rest in December over the break.
Feeling overwhelmed is still how I’d describe my state. Over the last year, I’ve learned that I need to manage my expectations of what I can realistically achieve and help others manage their expectations of me as well.
2021 will be a big year for CanWCC which means a big year for women-identified and non-binary entrepreneurs across the country, too.
2021 is also going to be the year where I take care of myself better than I ever have before and learn to lead an organization with an eye on its long-term success.
As team, we’re going to learn to avoid burn-out and make sure we are all in a good place mentally.
I believe part of this starts with declaring these goals to you. Being transparent with my team, myself, those who love me, and even those I’ve never met in person. Depression is not a dirty word. It’s very real.
Know that when you see me and the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce advocating for increased support for mental health, there is all of this behind it.