Creating a Business That Supports Your Mental Health Needs

My name is Taylor Lee, and I have been a full-time professional painter for almost three years. You can’t see me right now, but I’m grinning with pride as I write this because there was a time when I didn’t think that something this good could really work out for me.

You see, I have bipolar disorder, and it was very difficult for me to “fit in” in a lot of other circumstances (such as college and the typical 9-5) for many years.

In 2017, I decided that I needed to take matters into my own hands to create a business that played to my strengths and supported what felt like were weaknesses at the time.

I filed as an LLC, switched my Instagram account from personal to business, and committed to this wild idea of becoming an artist who would not starve. I am incredibly grateful that I get to do this work. This is something that I built with a lot of intention, determination, and hard work, and I feel like I gain back more than I put in.

Here are some of the ways that I arranged my business to fit my needs:

1. Flexible work hours allow for my range of mood shifts

I struggled in the past with other jobs that required me to clock in/out at certain times on certain days. I know that this is a basic responsibility as an employee and it’s important to be consistent. However, in other jobs I felt really guilty about being unreliable because I would either be the hardest worker or the slacker, depending upon my moods (which was something I didn’t want to necessarily discuss with my employer).

For a long time, I told myself that I was a terrible employee. That simply wasn’t true! I found that with flexible work hours I could work hard consistently while still accommodating my shifting moods. My schedule doesn’t have time blocks for each day. Instead, I work in what I like to call “creative cycles.”

Something that I experience with bipolar disorder are mood shifts, which alternate along a scale between mania (hyperactive energy) and depression (a lack of energy). When I’m closer to the manic side of the spectrum, I can put in long hours and never run out of energy. I’m very productive and excited, feeling the creative juices flowing.

Conversely, when I’m depressed I want to do nothing more than binge-watch This Is Us on Hulu. Neither of these moods are perfectly teased out; sometimes I feel a mix of both. But working for myself means that if I’m feeling energetic I can work past typical business hours and if I’m depressed I can rest and recover.

As you can imagine, this lifestyle doesn’t work for typical companies or businesses because they usually need to adhere to strict schedules and deadlines in order to meet their goals. For my business, though, it works. I feel these manic/depressive cycles pretty predictably at this point and so I align my collection launches around them.

I mostly create paintings and come up with new ideas for projects when I’m energetic, and then I switch over to marketing work when I’m not super energetic. Also, I recently hired an assistant who helps support me during these shifts and she can pick up the slack or back off whenever necessary.

2. Working from home lets me monitor my mental and physical health regularly

Working from home is important to me for multiple reasons:

  • For my mental wellness, I need to be around my support system constantly, which is my husband and my dog. They encourage me to take breaks, which is something I wouldn’t otherwise do. I used to skip breaks all of the time at my other jobs and I would get burned out quickly.
  • I’m also really intense and spontaneous and that can be disruptive in a coworking environment. My husband is really wonderful (he works from home as a freelancer, so we share a space). John will listen to me chatter away when I’m excited about an opportunity or leave me alone when I’m deeply focused on a project; he kind of goes with the flow and that allows me to be as intense as I need to be.
  • Food security: very important! Remember that energy I talk about having and how I never want to stop myself for breaks? That includes food breaks. I love having meals and snacks ready to go in the likely event that I either don’t want to stop what I’m doing or just don’t feel like eating. My husband and I can also just as easily stop our work to walk down the street for ice cream or even have a spontaneous picnic.
  • Room for therapy. Because of my flexible work hours, I get to go to therapy twice a week at a time that is during normal business hours to work on my mental health. I can also add on an additional session really easily if I need it or reschedule easily when we’re going out of town for an exhibition or conference.

3. I am able to stay productive while still doing something that I love

I get bored really easily and when I get bored I get nihilistic and full of despair (thanks, depression!).

So it’s better for me to have something to fill my days and painting is perfect for that because I can become totally absorbed in it. I love that I have a job where I get to do something that serves as a creative outlet, that I enjoy and that challenges me – I can do it for as many hours as I want!

It keeps me feeling productive and makes me feel like I have a purpose. It’s also my way of connecting with people in a more genuine way than ever before.

People assume that artists are eccentric. So usually when someone meets me through a job, Instagram or however, I don’t feel pressure to be anything other than myself and that makes life just so much better.

When I first set out to start this business, my main goal was to find a financially lucrative way to contribute to my family while also making accommodations for living with bipolar disorder. I got so much more than that.

Every day I get to feel productive and purposeful, keep my overactive mind occupied, pour as much of myself as I want into my passions and connect to people locally and globally. I feel empowered as a business owner on so many levels. I am mentally healthier than ever before and have a renewed love of life.

Taylor Lee

Taylor Lee is an artist, designer and mental health advocate based out of Charlotte, North Carolina. She is one of Honeybook’s 20 On The Rise and has been featured in Design*Sponge, Badassery Magazine, and Spectrum News Charlotte. Taylor’s work has been shown in both solo and group exhibitions across the country, and she has been an artist-in-residence at the Arquetopia Foundation in Puebla City, Mexico and at Artsplosure in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a mental health advocate, Taylor works to raise awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding neurodiversity by being candid about her own journey with Bipolar Disorder and its role in her work. She is an official ambassador for the advocacy group and clothing line I&I Outfitters, has collaborated with Project I Define Me, and is named as one of 35 Mental Health Instagram Accounts to Follow in 2019.

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