On March 17th 2018, a few hours before my 27th birthday I knelt at the foot of my toilet bowl as if in reverence… except I wasn’t worshipping. I was spilling my guts out.
I think throwing up to be one of the worst experiences of the human existence and at that moment where the contents of my stomach hit the water in the toilet bowl, their meeting almost drowned out by the retching noises coming from my throat, I hoped that it would be a long time before I found myself in such a position again. But my hope was not to be honored. Throughout the next day I would throw up a couple more times and I’d spend the large majority of the next few days curled up in a foetal position trying my best to shield against the worst abdominal pain I’d ever experienced in my 27 year existence.
At the time, the hypochondriac in me calmly conceded that I was suffering from a case of gastroenteritis. My sister had suffered similar symptoms a few days prior and I figured I was paying my dues for my recent entrance into my new profession- teaching- so I didn’t do too much googling. I Googled, but not too much.
A week later I fell ill with one of the worst flus that I’ve ever had. I hadn’t even fully recovered from the gastroenteritis yet, and this strange brand of virus had infected me. I again conceded that I was paying my dues for my recent entrance into my new profession. I was determined to soldier through and rebuild my failing immune system but the effects of being sick for such an extended period and the debilitating nature of these experiences were beginning to take their toll on me.
On March 24th, 2018 at 9:53 pm I made the following entry in my journal:
This afternoon at about 5:36 pm, I had a mini meltdown. Depression is something that I’ve been dealing with for years and I’ve probably wrongly accepted it’s frequent visits into my life as something I must deal with. I’m never suicidal; just overwhelmed, unhappy, lost, angry and confused. And I’m usually in control but this afternoon I sat on my bed and sobbed uncontrollably.
I’ve not been my best the past few days and it has hindered my ability to go to my job with enthusiasm; to teach my students confidently, to mark papers, write notes or even meet deadlines. To compound this, I have $3,000XCD in debt that I owe at the end of this month and I know not where the finances will come from. I owe C* about $1,500 and I owe the bank $40,000XCD (btw I’m down to $29,000 since writing this… Yoohoo!). I’m also confused about what step the Lord wants me to take next. All of the “companies” that I’ve invested time and finances in seem to be failing. I am motivated to do nothing at all. I’m 27, broke, unhappy, confused, continuously failing and alone.
I have so many interests. I have so many gifts and talents and I really am trying to cultivate every last one of them and return them to my Lord. I’ve offered up the oil and flour left in my cupboards but no miracle has turned up yet. I’m still at my last in a place of famine.
A few hours later I had calmed down sufficiently, allowing me to take a different tack to solving the issues of my discontent and feelings of being fatally burdened. Well, to be honest I wasn’t looking to think or solve. I wanted to relax and I opted to do so by continuing to read a book that I had recently started: The Achievement Habit by Bernard Roth.
I was only on Chapter Two, but from Chapter One, I had already discovered a method/technique/process that I would apply to helping me achieve my life’s goals. It was a 5-step method to applying Design Thinking to design one’s experiences and life.
The first step is to **empathize**. This calls for taking into consideration the subject’s needs and desires, to figuring out the issues and to figuring out how to help. In this case, I am the subject so it became imperative to look within myself and ask myself what I wanted. I came up with the following list:
1. To become more productive
2. To make better use of my time.
3. To read more books.
4. To write more.
Still on the first step, I came up with the following issues:
1. Subject does not make efficient use of her time.
2. Subject cannot efficiently balance all of her responsibilities.
3. Subject does not read enough and finds herself to be lacking in wisdom and knowledge in her areas of expertise.
4. Subject misses too many deadlines.
5. Subject feels like there is no autonomy, mastery or purpose to her life. In other words, she lacks motivation.
6. Subject loses focus easily.
7. Subject lacks discipline.
8. Subject’s goals are not attainable. She underestimates the magnanimity of her goals, rendering her unrealistic in her expectations.
The next step in the process is to **define the problem**. Based on the lists I came up with, I was able to clearly define what I think to be the problem:
*Subject is unproductive because her life’s current design, events and environment does not foster a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose. Subject is also unproductive because she cannot stay focused long enough to complete tasks set.*
The next step is then to **ideate**; to find solutions to the problem(s) identified. It appears to be fairly simple: I am freaking out because I lack control, mastery and a sense of purpose. I freak out because I feel lost. I freak out because I don’t like not having something to do or work towards. I also have a focus issue and in light of these things I’ve come up with a proposed solutions:
1. Pray about purpose and direction.
2. Regain a sense of autonomy by always having a clear plan on achieving the goals set out. I also intend to regain a sense of autonomy by taking a more disciplined approach to scheduling my life.
3. Regain a sense of mastery by taking a more disciplined and purposeful approach to reading on the subjects which interest me.
4. Improve focus through practice, proper nutrition and exercise.
The next part of the plan is to develop a prototype. The writer is sure to say that it does not have to meet the mark of perfection. But truth is there are some parts of the prototype that I cannot yet develop because I’m broke. In order for me to implement part 4, I need money to be able to pay for a gym membership and to be able to purchase the food that I need to get implement a nutritious diet (cause it’s way cheaper to eat absolute junk here). And maybe I’m exaggerating about my broke-ness… but in the meantime I’ll work on the prototype, and tweak it moving forward.
From the moment I understood what design is I’ve loved it: it is about providing solutions and I love doing that. This process works beautifully with my approach to life and I think I’ll be using it for years to come. There is an immense sense of power that comes with knowing that you have this much control over your life. Still, I am mindful that God is sovereign.
My journal entry is classic Chadia: a problem solver needful of control; a problem solver extremely hard on herself. I seemed to think that this experience was a one time thing and I’d found the solution. Applying Roth’s design approach, I was back in control. But I’d learn. I’d never before dealt with this beast called anxiety. It was bigger than anything I’d ever dealt with before. And it was certainly not a one time thing.
Anyways, post my journal entry I seemed to be dealing well with the stresses of my new job, the stresses which came with trying to get my group of companies to the point where I envisioned them, the stresses of dealing with my overachieving self, and the stresses which came with the very slow pay off of my debt. Roth’s design approach was working. But June 27th would come and it would be the beginning of a chain of events that would force me to reconsider the way I’d been going.
On the evening of June 27th, a friend invited my sister and I to go along with her to pick up another friend. Our mission was to drop him off at his house, about a 30-40 minute drive away from where we lived. My friend who invited us hadn’t been home for 2 years, and it was great having her back. We did what we normally did: go for long drives, talk a whole bunch of nothing, giggle, laugh incessantly and EAT. That night, we decided to stop at a fast food joint before we made our trek.
I ordered a Zinger combo for my night’s feast. As we sat in the jeep readying to devour our meals, I opened my sandwich and immediately the scent of rotten lettuce assailed me. Since everyone else had Zinger sandwiches, I asked whether their sandwiches smelt alright and remarked that something was wrong with mine. My sister, most likely trying to quell my growing paranoia about my health and dying, made some joke about how “crazy” I was becoming and just like that I decided that I was probably smelling something that wasn’t there. and so ignoring what I smelt, I wolfed down the Zinger. A couple of hours later, I began to pay the price for ignoring my instincts. Here I was again, 3 months later, bowing before a toilet bowl.
Fast forward a couple of doctor visits, many pounds lost, and a slowly returning desire to eat to July 12th. Okay, let’s back track a couple of days. On July 10th, a friend was hospitalized and the issue he faced was without question life threatening. If it hadn’t been caught at the moment that it’d been caught, he probably wouldn’t be here today. On July 12th, my sister went to the hospital to visit him and she brought home the report, sharing our friend’s gratitude that this had been caught at the time that it had been. For some reason, as she relayed the story, I started to feel a tightness in my chest and my ability to breathe seemed highly compromised. I knew that I wasn’t dying but I just wanted her to finish her story so that I could leave our living room to go to my room and figure things out.
The things that I encountered were the genesis of a series of panic attacks that would leave me so nauseous that I couldn’t eat and my already frail frame would become frailer. They were the genesis of a thought process that said, “You have to grow these companies, you have to finish ALL of these books, write these songs, record and release them because you have no time and you are dying”. My anxious mind fed me these crazy thoughts, and I grew even more anxious when the logician in me countered them by telling me that there was no way I was going to accomplish all of the things that I wanted to accomplish in the space of time that I wanted to accomplish them. Over the weeks that would follow, anxiety crippled my life.
True. The tipping point had nothing to do with entrepreneurship per se. But the tipping point was just that: the tipping point. For years, I had been putting my body and mind under extreme strain, worrying about finances, paying bills, coming up with new ways of adding and subtracting, ensuring that people are paid, losing hours of sleep that I can NEVER catch up on, and dealing with difficult, unreasonable clients. I had also come out from under over a year’s worth of stress associated with launching a subsidiary. And so yes, while the tipping point wasn’t necessarily entrepreneurship, the way I travelled the journey was partly to blame for what had started on the evening of July 12th. And because the tipping point wasn’t necessarily entrepreneurship I was reminded that I’m not just an entrepreneur. I think sometimes we often forget that entrepreneurs aren’t just entrepreneurs. They’re wives, husbands, daughters, sons, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, team mates, congregants and friends, and all of these various roles can add to the strain on our faculties. And here I was…
Today, I’m in a much better place but I’m only better because I’ve made some serious changes in the way I do things. I’ve had to create my own rules and forsake the crowd. I’ve had to do things that I thought would be impossible for me and although this is not by any means the full capture of the list of changes that I’ve made, I’d like to share some of the ones I think will most resonate with you as an entrepreneur and most importantly, as a plain human being.
I Talk About It
One of the reasons I started Caribbean Entrepreneur is so that Caribbean Entrepreneurs would have a space to talk about it. Entrepreneurship is no walk in the park, but entrepreneurship in the Caribbean is its own type of beast. Coming in, I knew it would be difficult and I was hoping that some of the veterans in the game would be willing to share what they’d learnt on their journeys. I envisioned us writing openly, sharing the difficulties that we encounter; sharing explicitly our highs, lows, hows and whys. But, it’s been a tough journey. Caribbean Entrepreneurs guard fiercely their difficulties and failures. I’m freeing mine.
So I talk about it…
I tell people that one time I was so broke I couldn’t pay to renew the hosting and domain for this website and as such Iost ALL of the content. I tell people that I couldn’t make the payments on my loan and that the bank threatened to take me to court. I tell people that I hate working a 9-5 and I’m only doing it so that I can pay my bills and keep this dream alive. I tell people I didn’t sell as many books as I wanted to. I tell people I’m frustrated that I’m this talented, with this many passions and too little money and still stuck in a rut. I tell people that a few months ago, I offered this blog – this company – to a few people free of charge, no strings attached because I was so tired of working and not growing at the pace I expected.
Talking about it – anxieties, failures, fears, difficulties – with people is one of the greatest tools that I’ve used to manage my mental health. Whether it be a therapist, colleague, friend, or family member sharing with someone helps to take the load off your shoulders. You tend to find that many people are encountering the same hardships and failures that you are. You find that you’re not alone, that some have came, seen and conquered and in some instances it will be the gravity of your experiences that provides a balm or some sense of comfort and reassurance to someone else.
I Sleep Today
When I was young and careless one of my favorite phrases ever was, “I’ll sleep when I die.” Even today, at 27, matured in age, one of the most difficult disciplines for me to adopt is sleep.
Yes. I said discipline.
In the 21st century, sleep has become a discipline because somehow you and I were cultured to believe that success hinged or hinges on our abilities to forgo sleep.
We are frequently bombarded with memes and articles that tell us that if we must attain anything great in this life, we must put sleep on the back burner. And sometimes for a particular season this becomes true. We may be working on a particular project that requires us to devote most of our time and energy toward it, but when sleep is something that is RARELY included in our lives, it becomes dangerous.
So I sleep today…
When it hits a particular time, I shut down the laptop, shut off the phone, stop responding to messages, and I lay on my bed. Because I’ve cultivated bad habits sometimes it takes me near 2 hours to fall asleep even after an 18 hour day. But I’m doing my part and hoping my body will come along for the ride.
I Put Me First… Sometimes
Leaders eat last…
This has been the adage that has supported my leadership style in the 4 years since I’ve been an entrepreneur. For me, it meant helping one of my team members meet their rent or the unexpected medical expenses that can come with an ailing child while the bank hounded me endlessly about missed payments on my loan. For me, it meant always finding it necessary to make the time to help family, friends and total strangers solve their issues, leaving me with a backlog of my own.
Oftentimes it is preached that the moment we take time to ourselves, the moment we shift our focus from someone who is not us, we are selfish and uncommitted and for some inexplicable reason, I subscribed to that philosophy. After my anxiety scare, I recognized the need to make an actual effort towards self care. You can’t take care of everyone else if you’re sick or dead. I’ve made it a point to put Chadia first… at least sometimes. I respond to messages on my own time if their content isn’t urgent, I tell people No and I’m learning to do those things without the accompanying burden of guilt.
I’ve learnt that there are times where you will need to forsake everyone and everything and go into that quiet place. It rejuvenates and prepares you to serve; to lead.
Give It A Rest
We’re lectured on the virtues of perseverance, determination, resilience and being tough-skinned. We’re rarely, if ever, told to give it a rest. We’re rarely told to give the company, non-profit or small business a break so we can focus on taking care of ourselves. Before anxiety made a grand demonstration of its power in my life, it was unfathomable to me to give it a rest. Every hurdle had to be overcome, every mountain had to be climbed, every difficulty had to be conquered. Today, I understand that if my health and well being isn’t at optimum level, the company suffers and I suffer. Today, I understand that if for some reason I’m unable to do it, the company will do what it will do. It became glaringly evident to me that even though the things that I seek to accomplish with these group of companies are important and valuable to society, that I can’t accomplish them if I’m not able to function optimally. So I gave it a rest.
I left the companies alone, and I stopped responding to emails that weren’t a matter of life and death. I stopped marketing and trying to make the sale. I let people wait, and they didn’t die or didn’t kill me. Today,I’m excited about the vision for my group of companies again, but I know that if running them and growing them ever lead me into a place where I’m once again overwhelmed, for the sake of managing my mental health, I WILL give it a rest.
And I know. It’s probably shocking to hear me speak about just letting it all go if it comes down to it. But… Give it a rest!