Mental Health, Self-Employment And Creating Your Own Life

Debbie StokoeArticle by Debbie Stokoe

I didn’t expect to write a book. Growing up, I didn’t ever believe that I would be a writer. But as my life took strange and unexpected turns, I started to realise that at one point I was going to have to share my story.

After suffering bouts of severe depression caused by work-related issues and staying for too long in stressful professional careers, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about having to go back to some extremely dark places and describe what happened. But I knew that I had to do it to help others going through similar situations. And getting what happened to me down on paper meant that I could finally put these difficult times behind me. A win-win situation, surely?


My memoir, Awakened, addresses many issues that have affected me – childhood perfectionism, fear of failure and success, work-related mental health issues, struggling to find my passion and purpose. I discuss how my ambition and competitive nature took the joy out of my childhood and teenage years.

A combination of low self-esteem and laser-like focus and determination caused me a lot of pain. I also reflect on the dangers of choosing a career too early and pigeonholing yourself into a life without trying other things.  I firmly believe we need to experience life before making big decisions which affect our future.

It was difficult for me to write about my depressive episodes, as part of me didn’t want to let myself go back to those times.

Getting Back In Balance

I’ve tried so many ways to get back in balance, and I discuss them in the book. Exercise works, but you have to fight through the lack of energy and negativity about moving for it to have any positive effect.

Medication is necessary when you’re severely depressed, it’s a chemical imbalance after all. I take an anti-psychotic and have to live with the notion that I might have to take it for the rest of my life. After years of feeling terrible, it switched the light back on for me.

When I was in hospital l also had Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) which was extremely effective for me. I became interested in holistic therapies and spirituality, which has given me hope and a belief in something bigger than myself. This has helped massively.

Finding Your Passion

Finding my passion (writing) and starting a blog five years ago has also played a crucial part in my ongoing recovery. I realised I could be paid to write for businesses and became a copywriter, and I’m currently changing the focus of my business to well-being.

Being self-employed helps me to some extent, but it can be a roller-coaster of emotions. Sometimes I question whether it’s the best way to stay in balance.

The final chapter of the book is where I share what I’ve learned walking this path, as well as the books, organisations and other things that have helped me to recover and live a ‘normal’ life again, whatever that means.

After learning a lot during two years of self-employment, I’d love to share some tips with you if you’re thinking of starting a business or struggling with self-employment:

Limit Your Time On Social Media

It’s so easy to get pulled into spending all of your time online when you’re self-employed. I have felt very isolated and low this year and I realised that it was because I was spending too much time in front of a screen. Now I limit social media to two hours a day – an hour at lunch time and an hour in the early evening.

Put Your Health First 

It’s so easy to burn out being self-employed. You’re wearing lots of hats and the pressure is on to make money quickly. It takes time to build a business, so don’t expect too much too soon. Make sure you have a strong self-care routine in place to help with the stress – exercise, eating well, seeing friends, delegate work that you don’t enjoy. Plan in social media detoxes when you feel overwhelmed. Go on a retreat or a relaxing night away to get perspective.

Don’t Compare Yourself

It’s easy to see other people appear to be doing really well on social media and start to feel bad if you’re going through a difficult patch. Realise that others may have been self-employed for a lot longer than you or are getting help that you might not have. Work on your own self-esteem and self-love and don’t spend time feeling inferior.

Make Sure Your Passionate

Running a business is a labour of love and if you’re not passionate about your business, it will be very difficult to keep going especially when things get tough. Don’t just start a business for the money. Who are you helping? How you can you effect change? What’s the bigger picture?

Ask For Help

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you have to do everything by yourself. Make sure you get a mentor or coach early on who you can chat regularly with about the challenges. Figure out what you enjoy doing and what you hate and then see if you can pass those tasks to someone else (a lot of people don’t like accounts so find an affordable accountant). Try to make things as simple as possible to avoid overwhelm.

Awakened is available on Kindle and is soon to be available in paperback on Amazon.

Debbie helps small business owners to stay in balance via wellbeing and spiritual coaching and events in the North East of England. Find out more here.

She has also created Breathe In Business, a self-care support group on Facebook for self-employed people. To join click here.

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Lou - Woman Ready


I'm Lou, founder of Woman Ready. I started this blog as I realised lack of confidence had affected so many areas of my life over the years. I want to feel bolder, more inspired, more empowered, more self-assured - and I want other women to feel the same.

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