Ask Me Anything week continues with a question from the lovely Alex:
Hey, Naomi Dunford,
I think my question is too personal and scary, but if I don't ask I'll feel stupid later.
I really connect to a lot of your material, because of how messed up my life has been.
I really want to have a sustainable business. I work on things all the time (I draw, and write books), but I'm such a screwed up everything-complicated-long-story that it feels impossible.
How do you go from having nothing to actually making some kind of money? How do you get through the ridiculous parts, where you're almost not even a functional human, and gather yourself together enough to be professional enough, shiny enough, and genuinely useful enough to have a business?
Is there a point where it's just too much, and I should accept that I'm a discardable human to all the other people? How do you get from “I'm completely screwed over because of [life-story]” to “I make fifty dollars a month consistently, and now I can use marketing techniques to make more”?
I hope that's not a stupid question.
I don't want to give you my website or anything, because I feel stupid. But my name's Alex.
Thank you for sharing your story. You're in a painful place right now, and for that you have my compassion and my empathy.
I'm going to address your question in two different ways. I'm going to address the personal part, and I'm going to address the business part.
The Personal Part
Alex, you're depressed.
I'm going to guess that you know that.
I know, because I suffer from depression, and it has a vocabulary of its own that is not the same as ours. You sound like Depression, not like Alex.
Depression uses words like messed up, screwed up, impossible, ridiculous, not even functional, discardable, screwed over, and stupid.
I could go through your message with a marker and highlight everything I've said myself, and almost the whole page would be yellow. (Or blue! Ha! Depression joke!)
The first time I suffered from significant, This Is Seriously Messing Up My Life depression was in the early 2000s. My husband strongly suggested that I go on meds. (We'll say “strongly suggested” but “begged” would be a more accurate word choice.)
I didn't do it.
For years. I wanted to do it “naturally”. I wanted to do it “myself”. I wanted to “build resilience”. God only knows what I wanted, but I wanted it.
Then I found myself five months pregnant with a bottle of pills in my hand, not absolutely certain why I shouldn't knock them all back. I called the hospital, THEY put me on meds, and through some miracle, they worked.
Later, I went off them, because I was better. And I was better for a long time. I was pretty proud of myself, actually. I beat depression! I beat anxiety attacks! I'm amazing!
Then it started getting worse again. A few years ago, maybe? But I didn't notice it for what it was. I thought it was PMS. I thought it was PMDD. (PMS on steroids.) I thought it was perimenopause. I thought I had a tumor. I thought, I thought, I thought…
Every single month I said, “If it's still this bad next month, I'll go on meds.”
Every single month it was WORSE, and I did nothing.
(You'd think I'd know better by now.)
Then one day it got really bad. I'll spare y'all the details. Let's just say that the next morning, I hauled my ass to a walk-in clinic and said, “Give me meds.” The guy took one look at me and said, “Yes, ma'am.”
(Note: How bad do you have to look before total strangers say, “For the love of God, woman, please, take some goddamn drugs”? Pretty bad, let me tell you.)
The meds helped. But I resisted them for years. Some people don't like drugs – they think therapy's better. Whatever, honey – pick your poison.
Just know that these thoughts? THEY ARE NOT YOU. They're depression, and they're messing with your head, and they're making you think that YOU think things you do not.
So, personally? Please get help.
If you're feeling like this, you need to find someone in a white coat and say, “Help me”.
If you're already on meds, you need to find YOUR person in a white coat and say, “Help me – these aren't working.”
If you're already in therapy, you need to find your person in a white coat and say, “Help me – I need drugs, too.”
But get help. You need it, and you deserve it.
Now, I promised I'd answer your business question as well.
The Business Part
I'm not going to tell you when to quit, and I'm sure as HELL not going to tell you not to quit. That's the kind of advice best left to coffee mugs and inspirational printable posters on Pinterest.
I will tell you of a time I was in a very similar place, though.
A few years ago, I started a side business, based on one of my hobbies. (Jewelry making.) I sunk an incredible amount of time and a truly unfathomable amount of money into that thing. I neglected this business while I was at it, and at the time, it felt like I may have neglected it beyond repair.
I exhausted myself, I injured myself, and I put almost every one of my eggs in that basket.
It didn't work.
For a long time I thought and weighed and considered – is it failing? Is it just too new to have traction? Am I a quitter? Am I a failure? How embarrassing is this, really?
Finally, I decided it was time to pull the plug. “No point throwing good money after bad,” as my nana used to say.
I logged in to shut the site down and found out I'd made my first sale.
Awesome, right? Validation from the universe? A sign? A cosmic fortune cookie motivating me to keep going?
Nah. I shut it down anyway.
Being in that business, however briefly, cost too much. Not money, although mother of God, it was expensive. But… me. It cost too much me.
As someone with a fairly fantastic history of quitting good things, keeping at bad things, and every conceivable mistake in between, you're not going to hear me telling you to quit or not.
But I will tell you something I've seen a lot, in case it happens to apply to you.
When you're feeling like this, it's often because you're pulling your punches. You're holding back. You're holding onto a narrative that it might not work, or probably won't work, to keep yourself from getting hurt. That's causing you to hold back, which leads to it not working, which leads to the self-fulfilling prophesy.
(It also provides the safety of a worldview that stays the same, which the psyche always takes comfort from. It's not great for growth, but the amygdala sure enjoys a consistent reality, even if that reality is not a particularly successful or enjoyable one.)
People who feel how you are feeling are rarely busting their asses anymore. It feels like it will hurt too much. Their narrative is often one of things they don't do – because doing has become associated with so much pain.
My advice to you is this:
Do not rush, but only when you are ready (and after you've seen that person in the white coat), give yourself two choices.
One, go balls out. Act like the bravest badass the world has ever seen. Do everything you've been holding back on. Give your business the very, very, very best you have. Perhaps you will fail, but if you do, you will have failed spectacularly and you will never have to wonder what might have been if you had tried.
Two, mercifully let it die. Stop the suffering. Take your business to the business vet, hold its little business paw, and put it to sleep with grace and dignity. Grieve, move on, and know that one day, the lessons to be learned from this will be revealed.
Either way, choose boldly. I promise you that if you do that, you will never regret your choice.
I'll be thinking of you and wishing you well.