In Leadership With A Mental Illness

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me . . . You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”  Walt Disney

Are you a manager?  Director? Pastor? CEO? Speaker? In the public eye? Do you suffer from depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness?  If so, I understand you.  I understand the challenges and joys of living with the stigma, or as some might say the “gift”.

In many areas of my life, I take a leadership role.  I love it and thrive on it.  At work, I am the Coordinator of Community and Family Services, I am on various leadership teams at my church and lead a small group. I also volunteer in leadership roles within the community.  And of course, being a mom, I help co-lead my family.  Yep, I’m a leader.  But, as you’ve read in throughout my blog, I also suffer with mental illness.

Truthfully, as you may have read, I’m just coming out of a low season of my life.  It’s too bad, because (like most people), I have a lot going on.  I didn’t feel as clear and tended to get overwhelmed more easily than normal.  However, I managed through it.  I understood when I need to step back, take a break and recharge.  This is one key in managing a leadership role.  For me, sometimes a simple walk in the woods helps rejuvenate my soul.  Yet other times, it takes much more.

What I do worry about is people worrying about me.  As a leader, I need to be available when people come to me. It’s very difficult when I’m not in a good space myself.  I feel heavy with my own sadness and exhaustion. It’s then when I find it most challenging to help others and be in the public eye.  That makes me sad.  Yet, I’m no good to others when I’m not in good shape myself.  I love the analogy about flying in an airplane and the oxygen masks come down.  The flight attendants always instructs  us to put ours on BEFORE we put it on our children.  Why?  Because we can’t help them if we are unconscious.  Same goes for leadership.

Yes, I do unfortunately still feel shame.  I know I shouldn’t, especially since I write about it and tell others they shouldn’t.  It’s something I’m still working on.    I “should” be able to handle running the programs and campaigns at work.  I “should” be able to handle my family.  I “should” be able to handle life. And you know what?  I can and I do! But I don’t do any of it alone. In all areas (work, church, community and  home) I do everything with volunteers, friends and family.  That’s how we were made…to live in community together.  We do life together.  It’s pretty awesome.  We need to surround ourselves with people we can trust and be real with.  I have  my incredibly supportive family, a close circle of trusted friends and recently a wonderful new mentor.  All of these people help advise and encourage me, as well as, most importantly, listen.  Since I am the one that many people come to for direction, having people in my life to listen to me without judgement, is key.

And  you know what else I’ve discovered?  It helps me to help others.  I know when I step away from my own  issues to listen and understand others, it really helps me.  Now, that’s pretty awesome!

There are many leaders in the bible who dealt with potentially depressing circumstances but still went on to do great things (David, Paul, Jeremiah, Job). Clearly, they put their hope in God and trusted  Him alone to completely guide and direct their lives.  That’s what I do.  I don’t know God’s plan for my life, but  I do know I must trust Him.

There are also many other world leaders that suffered with a mental infliction of some form.  Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill J.F.K. to name a few.  Not only were they great leaders, but through their depression/mental illness these leaders were able demonstrate a greater degree of empathy and a greater concern for how others think and feel .  That’s an advantage in leadership.

So, overall, there are 5 key items of consideration that I do to provide self care in a leadership role:

1. Rest and recharge
2. Community
3. Know my limit
4. Help Others
5. Trust God

Are you in leadership and suffer with mental illness?  How do you manage?

“We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… Therefore we do not lose heart.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”

4 Replies to “In Leadership With A Mental Illness”

  1. Love your courage Linda and agree with all your message. 🙂 . There are so many that struggle at times, including me, and many of us have or do carry leadership roles and responsibilities. Yet the stigma/fear still remains that holds some from coming forward and speaking up about their struggles – and in turn receiving help that is available. Bless you for standing up and opening up. You are always an inspiration and a valued friend.

    1. Thank you so much, Sharon! You are a wonderful, compassionate leader and I’m thankful to know you.
      It’s true that many of us hide it, for fear of being “not good enough” in our leadership roles. Yet, the more I discover, the more I understand that it can actually help us in our leadership roles. Now that’s good news. 🙂

  2. Thanks Linda for sharing this. Those overwhelming feelings of sadness are so real. I kept my depression a secret for years because of the stigma attached to it. The more open I became about it, the more people I found that are in the same boat as me. I love reading about how people cope with life and depression. It really helps. Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration 🙂

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