No. 1: Unraveling the Stigma of Depression to Get Sh*t Done

Today I’m going to share something vulnerable with you. Something that I allowed to define me for years before I found my way through it. Something that frequently surprises people who discover it for the first time. 

I have clinical depression.

The last time I shared this with someone, they said, “But you’re so optimistic!” I’ve also heard, “I never would have guessed - you’re such a sparkly, happy unicorn!” 

All totally true! And I have clinical depression. This is possible because depression isn’t actually about being sad, despite the common misconception. Depression is simply a chemical imbalance in your brain related to how it processes seratonin. Sadness is a possible symptom of untreated depression, but it’s only one of many. Others include: apathy, general discontent, lack of interest in things that normally drive you, mood swings, getting too much or too little sleep, irritability, eating too much or too little, social isolation, fatigue, and/or a lack of concentration.

I discovered that I had clinical depression about 4.5 years ago. It felt like I suddenly lost all my willpower. My brain was still raging with ideas and ambition, but it was like I had lost all ability to manifest anything - to bring it out of my brain and into the world. I had to take a sabbatical away from my business, and had trouble leaving the house. The turning point was a conversation with my friend Jen, who is a Type-A Overachiever like me. We were catching up over the holidays 4 years ago when she said, 

“You know Colleen - I really don’t think this sounds like a willpower issue. It sounds like a medical problem. Have you considered asking your GP about this?” 

It took her one breath and 10 seconds to say it, and it completely turned my life around. First of all, because I realized I could go to a regular medical doctor to discuss this, rather than a therapist. At the time, I wasn’t ready to face a therapist, and that fear had prevented me from seeking professional help. Secondly, because my GP asking for my family history resulted in my learning that nearly everyone on both sides of my family has suffered from depression. This – plus the information the doctor gave me regarding the inherited brain chemistry issues causing the depression – allowed me to move through feeling ashamed of the issue and towards addressing it.

Fast forward to September 2015, when I officially launched Rowan Coaching, my personal brand and career coaching business. I was sure I had found my calling. Coaching seemed to use all of my superpowers. It both came naturally and was deliciously challenging. 

Still, I was nervous. Opening Rowan Coaching had revealed a new question: if you are in the business of inspiring others, how do you live your own life? This question is difficult enough on its own, and further complicated when you add clinical depression to the recipe. Is it possible to have depression and inspire others? Further – is it possible to have inconsistent brain chemistry and effectively manage a business in a way I’m proud of? 

One and a half years in, I’m super excited to share the answer: it’s a fabulous, resounding HELL YES! My business is growing continuously – in fact, my profits have increased over 35% from 2016 to 2017. I freaking love what I do, my clients are awesome, and I’m about to start traveling the world full-time. I'm in Berlin as we speak! I’m not saying it’s perfect – not by any stretch. It’s just that now, instead of feeling depressed, I feel like I have clinical depression. Just like I have two arms and a good singing voice. The same way I’m stubborn as heck, and have a huge, sparkly personality. Some of who I am needs managing, all of it needs nurturing, and none of it prevents me from creating my passionate life.  


How did I do it? Well, here are the top-level tips that have worked for me. I’ll be sharing additional details, tips, and resources as the series continues!

How to Manage a Business and Depression: My Top 10 Tips

  1. Work with the needs of your brain, body and personality – not against them. In my case, this means not having a routine, so each day looks a little different. It means having no plans every single Sunday, so I have a day to give into that depression devil on my shoulder. It means staying in touch with my doctor about my brain and health. It means starting each day with a client call - because I love coaching my clients, and it wakes me up and inspires me to jump into the rest of my day. 

  2. Ignore the “rules” about how you’re supposed to run a business. If you are living in alignment with your values and providing your customers with real value, then who cares? If your brain wants to work between 11am-7pm, then set that expectation and stick to it. If you prefer working on retainer to freelancing across many projects, then design your work that way and fight for it. It doesn’t matter how you choose to organize your business (and your life), as long as you communicate it clearly, and it benefits both you and those you serve. 
  3. Ask for help, connect, and collaborate. In my case that meant switching from luxury branding to coaching, because it keeps me connected with amazing, creative people on a daily basis instead of working alone on my computer. When I felt like I needed more brains and accountability in my business, I brought together three other female solopreneurs to form Working Title Collective. Together, we serve as a combination Mastermind group and Advisory Board for each other’s businesses. When I have a bigger project or idea to bring to life, I reach out to my community for collaborators. Lastly, I try to connect as many people as possible. This last one is another way to ensure you are creating value for your customers, even if you’re having a low bandwidth day/week/month. 
  4. Learn how to say no when you need to - and how to recognize when going out would actually make you feel better. You’ll have to overrule your “critter brain,” which always advocates for doing the comfortable, familiar thing. (More on that in #8.)
  5. Change your mindset from negative to possible. Commit to changing your thinking habits where they aren’t helping you, and have the discipline to stick to it. The conversation you have with yourself defines who you are and who you can become.
  6. Build personal credibility (and trick yourself into starting) using the Minimum Viable Action method. I’ll post about that next, but the short story is this: even if you don’t think you can do a lot, you can definitely do a little. Even if it’s writing just one paragraph, doing 5 pushups, walking around your living room for 10 minutes, or talking to one person – there’s almost always something at which you can make progress.
  7. Decide - at least for today - that feeling good and proud of yourself matters more than feeling comfortable. Get ready to be un-comfortable as the path to earning the life you want. It’s so incredibly worth it! 
  8. Create a balanced schedule that supports you to be your best self – including giving yourself time to intentionally do nothing. You know you’re going to need it, so design your life so that the time is already there, instead of freaking out one morning and cancelling all the things. This activity is a super-helpful place to start!
  9. And last on this list, but first in practice – handle the basics. On a regular basis…
    • Shower, do your hair, brush your teeth. Make at least this commitment to functioning. If you’re not there, that’s ok. But you may have some more work to do on your mental health before you launch a business. Don’t worry – the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll get there! 
    • Get dressed in things that make you feel stylish and confident. Forget about trends - just wear what makes you look and feel great!
    • If you’re on any sort of medicine or vitamin regimen, be consistent. 
    • Cuddle with living things (puppies and kitties included, obviously. I have two you can snug, as needed).
    • Leave the house. Depending on where you are mentally, this might mean “get some sunshine on your stoop for 20 mins.” It doesn’t have to mean “go to a networking event.”
    • Cook real food using real ingredients on a fairly regular basis.
    • Have a budget. Don’t give your brain extra shit to freak out about. (Again - you can keep this simple to start!)
    • Call and spend time with your tribe. Stay vulnerable to those people, even when it’s hard. Let them love you. Ask them to kick your ass sometimes. Listen and do your best to be there for them too. 
    • Move your body. From the perspective of Minimum Viable Action (we’ll talk about that next in the series), you just need to do something. Personally, I’m a fan of putting on some Anita Baker and Stevie Wonder and throwing myself a one-woman, mid-day dance party. But you know - you do you. 
    • Play! Be goofy and laugh as much as possible. Do whatever it takes. Tell fart jokes. Play with dogs. Have a stupid faces contest with your roommate.
Me with the ladies of Working Title Collective, a group of female entrepreneurs (and friends!) who come together to serve as each other's advisory board and accountabilibuddies. We're a fabulous collective, including Brand Identity Designer  Cody McBurnett , Marketing Specialist  Julia Lovallo , Photographer  Lydia Billings  (not pictured), and myself. We make it work!

Me with the ladies of Working Title Collective, a group of female entrepreneurs (and friends!) who come together to serve as each other's advisory board and accountabilibuddies. We're a fabulous collective, including Brand Identity Designer Cody McBurnett, Marketing Specialist Julia Lovallo, Photographer Lydia Billings (not pictured), and myself. We make it work!

Your particular blend of depression management might look different than mine, and it’syour job to keep “tweaking the design” until you discover it. You’re going to have good days and bad days, and it’s going to stretch you in a big way. The only thing you have to do is keeping putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t give up. Change is cumulative, so even the smallest progress matters. Just keep at it! 

Depression does present a challenge – there’s no way around that. But it doesn’t define you. It’s just one more thing about you. When you relate to it as information, it’s actually super helpful. As a business owner, you will also face unexpected challenges, and the same set of steps are required: observe, decide, act, repeat. You’ll know yourself a lot better as a result, which will turn out to be one of your best professional and personal assets. 

Depression doesn’t have to prevent you from accomplishing your dreams. It doesn’t decide. You do.