Sheen Sagalongos: My experience with anxiety and entrepreneurship

Sheen Sagalongos is doing what so many of us only dream of, no matter our age: she’s running her own business. But along with the many upsides to being self-employed — flexibility, autonomy, freedom — Sheen is vividly experiencing one of the downsides that few entrepreneurs talk openly about: debilitating anxiety. Here, in her own words, Sheen shares her story.

Isit here in my home office, alone, on a Friday night. I could have gone out to see some friends or make new ones like a regular 24-year-old; I could have blown off some steam after a long work week of working at a financial institution and at my startup, Kanekta, but nope — I chose to do this.

Often, I’ve been told that I’d have to make numerous sacrifices as an entrepreneur:

Social life? Nah, expect to consistently work nights and weekends.

Moving out? Big purchase? Sure, with whose money?

Stable career? Ain’t gonna happen, buddy.

I mean, they weren’t wrong. My startup won’t build itself. But as I sit here contemplating on my next step, I feel directionless.

I plan, and I execute; I plan, and I execute. I’m doing numerous things: researching, hiring, bookkeeping, finding investors and mentors, applying for grants, constant meetings, cold calling and emailing customers, and more. My plate is always full; I’m always on-the-go, yet I feel like I’m going nowhere. Nothing is working. I’m aimlessly drifting from one task to another for days, weeks, and months and it felt like it wasn’t going to end.

Yet despite all of this, I was introduced to an investor from Silicon Valley. I don’t know how, but I got lucky.

Finally. It’s actually happening.

There was this moment of pure, absolute bliss. Anything and everything was suddenly possible. I start to visualize what could be — no, what will be. But as the realization started to set in, it starts brewing inside me again.

I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m going to do. What do I know? Nothing. Who am I? Nobody. I’m in over my head. I know I’m not good enough to do this so how will I even impress this big shot investor? She will see right through me. I’m a fraud.

“I start to visualize what could be — no, what will be. But as the realization started to set in, it starts brewing inside me again.”

A couple of days pass and now I sit here by my kitchen table, my “home office,” at 8:30 am as I wait for the call. It wasn’t until 1:00 pm, but I felt paralyzed to do anything else. I caught myself looking at the clock every minute. I started to get restless and my thoughts started to race.

And just like that, I got sucked in…

I started to sweat. My hands slowly trembled. My heart raced and pounded like it wanted to break free from my chest. I could see my chest move up and down with each and every heartbeat under my clothing. I could literally feel my blood rushing through my ears and my tinnitus worsened. I got up to grab some water, but my legs felt numb and disconnected from my body. I just stood there, waiting for my body to just snap out of it. But I was unable to move and I started to become eerily aware of, but disassociated, from everything. I wanted to throw up and my bowels wanted to explode. I was gasping for air and I felt like I was choking.

Then I started to cry…

Something is wrong. Why does it feel like I’m losing my mind? I’m going crazy and I can’t stop it. Why isn’t it stopping? Is this a heart attack? Am I dying? Is this what it feels like?

Spoiler alert: I didn’t die. I passed out for what felt like hours, though in reality, it was probably closer to twenty minutes. I got up and felt like my life was literally sucked out of me. My body was in shock. I was exhausted — utterly drained.

It was just another panic attack.

“I got up and felt like my life was literally sucked out of me. My body was in shock. I was exhausted — utterly drained.”

I’m no stranger to it; I’ve been living with it for the past six months before this episode, but it’s not really something one gets used to.

More than a year has passed already since that episode. I’m 25 years old today, turning 26 in a few months. And as 2018 wraps up, I’m able to steal a few minutes away from my work to reflect on my entrepreneurial journey and my mental health.

And you know what? It’s not bad at all. We’re getting some sales in, businesses are signing up, our team is expanding, and we got a pretty sick partnership with the World Fair Trade Organization so things are looking pretty good.

I’ve learned (and am still learning!) to cultivate different healthy habits to cope with my anxiety. With the support of numerous amazing individuals in my life, it’s gotten much easier with time.

I’ve gotten so much better at separating things that I can and can’t control which helps me put things into perspective. Why should I worry about things I can’t control? I don’t need to suffer twice.

Sure, I still have numerous unanswered questions, but I’m confident I’ll eventually figure it out. In reality, no one really has it figured out and I think that’s quite comforting.

I’ll have my bad days here and there and I totally know I will continue to have them. However, the difference between then and now is that I’ve stopped ignoring the existence of my anxiety and fully embraced my awareness of it.

Awareness of my anxiety is freeing.

Whenever irrational thoughts and moments of self-doubt re-surface, I’m finally aware it’s my anxiety taking control. Once I’ve named and acknowledged it, I can tell myself that that’s not me and I can slowly take back control. It’s a fleeting moment and it will pass like it always does.

My anxiety is debilitating to a point that I’ve separated my life into two eras: before having anxiety and living with anxiety. I don’t know if I can ever go back to what my life was like before having anxiety, but I can only hope and try at this point. For something that’s affecting numerous people, especially entrepreneurs, it’s not something that’s talked about freely and that needs to change.

So, to all other anxious entrepreneurs out there: know that you’re not alone.

You are not a fraud. You are good enough. You have the capacity and skill to build your vision.

You can find the right strategy to grow. And you can execute plans to move forward.

There will be so many moments where you’ll put on a face and portray this perfect sunshine-and-rainbows life in front of your co-founders, your team, your network, or your loved ones because you feel like you have to. And that’s okay, that’s understandable.

Just know that you’re also allowed to be scared, to be vulnerable, and just be real, because this constant portrayal of fake perfection is isolating.

Trust me, I know.

The biggest thing standing in your way is yourself, and only you have the power to change your mindset and unlock your own potential.

This piece originally appeared on Sheen’s personal Medium profile. It is now part of Dot Health’s #HealthStories series, where we highlight individuals from across Canada and their experience with the healthcare in Canada as a patient, provider, or advocate.

Dot Health is a Toronto-based digital health company that believes health information belongs in the hands of its owner: you. Through our mobile app, we empower Canadians to own and control their health data, from clinics, hospitals, labs, and pharmacies.

Sheen Sagalongos is the co-founder of Kanekta, an online wholesale marketplace that connects ethical brands and suppliers to B2B buyers across the globe.

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