Mental Health Awareness Month: Entrepreneurship & Mental Wellness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month; as such, this is a timely piece.

I always believed I would never untangle myself from what was a culmination of inherited trauma, and my traumatic experiences warped into some deep-sea tentacled beast without a face. What I thought was a life-long battle with this beast only recently became apparent as a life-long habit of suppression.

While pursuing entrepreneurship for the second time and in the process of losing and gaining support, the wave of emotions stemming from attachment, detachment, mobility, and immobility paired with the emotional labor of depressing founder interviews have triggered me.

Like a dormant volcano and its trembling yet languorous eruption, this faceless beast somehow is making its way to the surface. A cleaving of my mind into two, I’m disoriented and working tirelessly to stitch the pieces back to a whole. And when it is whole again, I am present, motivated, interested, determined, and confident. But when the stitching doesn’t hold, and those tentacles reach through, I am distant, confused, saddened, and constantly questioning my abilities.

It’s typical of me to avoid getting too close to others out of fear they may catch sight of a tentacle. As an aspiring founder, I’m expected not to feel the way I do. Should I feel as I do, it isn’t something to be shared. Nor should I liberally mention how often I think I’m an earthbound Sisyphus with every hurdle in my life — incapable of being freed from my burdens, for whatever reasons.

As I sat in the backseat during my most recent drive to receive treatment with a friendly Uber driver, I tilted my head in disappointment at what would be an embarrassing story of my journey if I were to write one. Enamored by Arlan Hamilton’s hustle and determination, I closed her book resolved that I’d have to admit my experience for what it is. It will be far from sweet Silicon Valley dreams and resemble more like a chaotic concerto — a constant chasing of a single stream of balance and unity.

With years of toxic masculinity and teachings to embody convenient femininity, I always lived in-between and never as exact. Beyond being incapable of busting through my barriers, I often struggled with intentional pursuit. How does a dream come to someone, and in what form? How do I pursue a dream, or any professional pathway, that requires an authoritative demeanor to seize the moment when I’ve always feared authority? Am I allowed to follow such paths and learn to build confidence along the way, or should I come already primed as a fearless boss?

Growing up, we were not to share our “business” with the world. My parents would say to keep our minds to ourselves, and the only friends we had were flesh and blood. Torn between a desire to be heard and a desire to protect myself, I struggled through adulthood and continue to experiment with the best version of myself I should present to the world. Fearful of authoritative figures and unsure of who to trust with my hopes, dreams, and everything in-between, I’ve spent my life unturning every stone in pursuit of happiness, according to me.

Inundated with content suggestions like “Habits Top Leaders Possess” or “If You’re Not Doing These Ten Things Then, You’re Doing It All Wrong,” I’ve begun tuning out checklists I failed miserably at completing because I don’t want to present to the world a human version of a productivity list. If anything, I am painfully human and want to be celebrated for trying despite my battles. I want to read more about people like me who struggle with all the things you don’t typically read in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 lists.

As I frantically rub a concoction of pungently scented oils onto my scalp with hopes of new hair growth, I shy away from my reflection, sporting no longer locs but now a curly fro, to hop in front of camera-off Zoom meetings. Through treatments, I must’ve seen so many versions of myself, altering my hair mostly in efforts to save it. Through the many user interviews I’ve carried out to refine the product, I must’ve doubted my ability to solve those entrepreneurs’ issues. Through everything, through it all, I must’ve told myself I should be better. But I’ve never stopped to lend myself some much-needed kindness.

This Mental Health Month, I want to share that I am not you’re cookie-cutter founder nor human at that. However, to make lemonade out of life’s lemons, I turn my pain into fuel to propel creativity rather than a combustible. And I will surely struggle and explore more effective ways to heal, but I cannot pretend that I am not in pain. I cannot pretend for the gratification of others that I am okay. And as I exist the way I do, with all my exposed flaws, others do, too.

I’m going to keep building because I’m building for others with similar stories as myself. And should I be unable — unsuccessful, I would be proud, knowing that I tried incredibly hard amidst my battles. My goal has always been to build for purpose and not approval. That, too, means falling and getting back up at my pace and in my way to create something authentically.

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Tiffany Patterson

Tiffany Patterson

Data-driven solution & information experience designer creating impactful, diverse, & inclusive digital experiences. Proud first-generation Caribbean-American.