Navigating Mental Health in the Wedding Business

"I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy. Because they know what it's like to feel absolutely worthless, and they don't want anybody else to feel like that."
- Robin Williams
I'm not much of a celebrity follower, but when the news of Robin Williams passing reached my Newsfeed last year, my heart sank. No matter which role he played or interview he was in, the man oozed genuine compassion and an authenticity that not many in any industry have. He was one I respected because of his consistent ability to light up a room even from a screen.

When I learned one of the factors in his death, it hit hard. This amazingly happy and giving person struggled away from public eyes. It's a battle I, along with many in the wedding industry, can relate to well: the battle with mental health.

Whether it's anxiety, bipolar disorder, addiction, depression, or another challenge, there is a very large percentage of entrepreneurs out there who struggle, and that struggle rarely comes to light in our heavily-curated social media lives. And we don't talk about it much because let's be honest, it's not exactly the smartest marketing tool when trying to book happily-ever-after weddings. Even writing this feature has been a bit of a personal challenge as it has taken a few months to garner the confidence just to put fingers to keyboard, but when you privately hear over and over the pain wedding friends are going through, you hoist your sail and fix it to move forward.

In an industry where it is all feel good and powered by happiness, wedding pros often struggle when they don't fit that mold. I know I did. But according to Washington Post, Entrepreneur, Inc, Forbes, and other leading business magazines, entrepreneurs with mental health issues make some of the very best small business owners because of their challenges! So how do you work and be successful in one of the best industries that is solely fueled by joy, love, and optimistic futures in the midst of it?

I've asked several successful wedding business owners to chime in with some of their insight and experience and how they've overcome them and made their illness an asset for their business.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood disorders and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. Symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior, and hyperactivity (over-activity). - National Institute of Mental Health

Living with ADHD can be challenging, but running a business with ADHD can be an impossibility, unless you find ways to compensate for your weaknesses and learn to take advantage of your strengths. Staying focused, forgetfulness, and restlessness are all things I struggle with on a daily basis. Fortunately, the flip side to these negative traits are often incredibly positive traits such as creativity, passion, and the strong desire to take risks, all of which serve me well in my photography business.

1. For the areas where I struggle, I take full advantage of organizational apps such as MileIQ and 17hats.

2. Reminders are your friend. I set daily reminders in my calendar, create workflows for each type of job so I can stay on task, and don’t get me started on the Post-It notes all over my office!

3. Everyday provides a new challenge, but by playing on your strengths and finding creative ways to bolster your weaknesses, you can be successful, too!

- Rebecca of Rebecca Keeling Studios

Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. You might feel anxious when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or making an important decision. Anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. These feelings can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships. - National Institute of Mental Health

I can't remember a time in my life when I haven't struggled with anxiety and panic attacks. Running a business and having anxiety can be a recipe for a disaster if you do not learn the tools on how to cope with anxiety.

1. The first thing I had to do was look for outside help. There is nothing wrong with asking for help, whether that is from a doctor, therapist, counselor, or trusted pastor. There is always a root cause of anxiety and once you identify what triggers your anxiety everything else is much easier to deal with.

2. I realized that my anxiety was caused because I didn't know how to keep track of anything. So now I organize EVERYTHING! I love using apps such as Pixifi, MileIQ, and Google Calendar. I keep a workflow of everything so that at any given moment I can see what needs to be done with any of my clients.

3. I outsource the things I am not good at. I have been in business for 10 years, and I admit I am horrible about posting to social media and my blog on a regular basis. Last year, I made the decision to hire a communications manager, and it has been the best anxiety release ever! She and I work together to come up with a monthly publishing calendar for the blog, Facebook, and other social media. She is in charge of making sure it gets posted at the optimal time, including hashtags and any relevant vendor credit. This has been huge because it has allowed me to have time to build genuine relationship with my clients instead worrying about the next time Facebook changes how they let people see our business page posts.

If you struggle a lot with anxiety, my biggest piece of advice is to just start somewhere small, and once you have accomplished that move on to something a little bit bigger. Soon you will feel less anxious!

- Sarah of Sarah Rachel Photography

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. They are different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time. Bipolar disorder symptoms can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. But bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives. - National Institute of Mental Health

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.

Moderation is your friend. 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.

- Heidi of Evolve Your Wedding Business

Everyone occasionally feels blue or sad. But these feelings are usually short-lived and pass within a couple of days. When you have depression, it interferes with daily life and causes pain for both you and those who care about you. Depression is a common but serious illness. There are several forms of depressive disorders. ... [but most involve] severe symptoms that interfere with your ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy life. An episode can occur only once in a person’s lifetime, but more often, a person has several episodes. - National Institute of Mental Health

My first major depression period was in college, and it subsisted for months. I lost interest in things I once loved and wanted to sleep all the time (more than my usual "Sleep is pretty much my BFF!" routine) in the not good way. It took the unconditional love of friends to see me through this dark period. While I wish I could say it was an isolated episode, it unfortunately appeared again while running my business. Beyond the steadfast love of my husband, friends, and even my cats, my clients (photography and the blog) are the ones who get me out of bed every morning. I find myself perfectly situated in the wedding world because I know my depression is an asset-- I know what it's like to be in a black hole, and I never want one of my brides, grooms, or wedding vendor friends to ever feel an iota of that helplessness. It's the drive behind my business; I just want to make people happy.

1. Know your limits. When you are struggling with depression, it's okay to say no more often than usual so you can take time for yourself. You cannot be everything to everyone.

2. Seek help. Hire extra assistants and reach out to your wedding community. You don't have to share all of the details with your clients or colleagues, but being candid is very valuable. We are in the business of relationships; people genuinely do care and do want to help regardless of your state of mind is.

3. Re-calibrate your focus and often. It's easy to go down the spiral funnel when the smallest things trigger the ripple effect. Remember who is literally supporting you and your business. Sometimes the only way to plug through is to know you have people relying on you to make their day amazing.

4. Find the positive. It sounds cheesy, but even if it's as simple as "I got a really nice email today!" To something bigger like "I just booked an awesome wedding at my favorite venue!" Remind yourself that you do have the power to see spots of sunshine daily and celebrate the little things, even if it is celebrating getting out of bed to type up that client invoice.

5. Give generously. While you're in the midst of depression, make it a hardcore habit to give back to your community through education, time, gifts, and other things to put the focus on them. It's easy to close off the world, but being alone while in you're depression can stunt your growth as a small business owner, especially when strangers have no idea what's going on beyond social media or what you put online.

- Chelsea of Bit of Ivory Photography and Tidewater and Tulle

So many thanks go to these wedding pro friends of mine who contributed today as it's not always easy to talk about our supposed "weaknesses." We sincerely hope that you are given the confidence to take charge of your business, to love on your clients, and to own the challenges you've been given. Whether you struggle with mental illness or not, we all have our challenges out there in life and in business. But there's only one of you, and one day, you will find that one client who just needed to know you existed... because you will help them through their wedding day like none other can.

Entrepreneurship isn't for the weak in heart. But strength comes in numbers, and there are a whole lot of us out there in the wedding world. You're not alone, but you are the captain of your ship. Show that ship who's boss through the rocky waters; you have amazing new adventures ahead.

- Chelsea

Photos by Bit of Ivory Photography. To see the full feature and vendor credits for this vintage nautical wedding inspiration, head over to Fab You Bliss.