I first met Suzanne when she was pregnant with her daughter who is now 4. We were sister Doterra Wellness Advocates. I remember when Suzanne was leaping out of a job and into motherhood and entrepreneurship at the same time. Motherhood and entrepreneurship are two more-than-full-time jobs, and I was in awe. When I came to the research for my book, it was clear to me her story would be an important one to include.
You’ll notice that Suzanne responds to a new question: what are the social and systemic factors that affected her mental health as an entrepreneur.
Shortly after sending out some of my first invitations to women entrepreneurs I knew, it occurred to me that I had missed an important factor in my research questions. Mental health isn’t solely about the individual.
Systemic and social conditions can and often do have a far great impact on mental health than the lifestyle factors over which we have control, and I thought that was an important element of research that needed to be included.
Listen in or read below to learn about Suzanne’s mental health story, how she came to learn about the importance of boundaries, and what social factors played a role in her journey.
My name is Suzanne Campeau. I am first and foremost a mom and I am self-employed. I tend to do more contracts in administrative, administrative work. That’s my background. I worked as an administrative assistant for many years for the assembly of First Nations. And now, I try to get contracts that allow me to work from home so I could be home with my daughter.
I’m Anishnabe from Nipissing First Nation. I grew up in Ottawa, more specifically, the east end of Ottawa in New Orleans. Currently, I live in my husband’s community Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg in Quebec.
My mental health story
My mental health story starts probably when I was very young as a child, and I remember, you know, as an adult now, thinking back to that time, my parents had called it the “what if syndrome,” and I would lay awake at night knowing that it was anxiety, but I would lie awake at night and think of all kinds of things that would keep me awake.
Like, what if the house caught on fire? What if mom or dad got hurt? Or what if what if… I remember at one time going for tests for asthma because I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. And really what was happening was anxiety.
Fast forward, I’m 16 years old and something kind of something happened in gym class, I think it was like a ball or a puck or something came flying by my head. I had been particularly under a lot of stress, we had just moved to a new city. I was under a lot of stress and pressure being 16 years old. I was in my principal’s office because I couldn’t breathe.
I said, “I think I remember I got tested for asthma. When I was a little kid, my brother has asthma, maybe that’s what this is.” And my principal looked at me, she said, “Suzanne, you’re having a panic attack. It’s fine. You’re gonna be okay. Put your head between your knees.” What ended up happening from there was my journey with taking care of my mental health.
I was able to see a psychologist. She actually came to the school. I would see her at least once a week. She gave me tools to help me with my anxiety and helped me walk through things. And really, I saw her well into my early 20s. My father passed away when I was 21. So she really helped me through that, through his sickness, and after, until I moved on.
I moved to Ottawa when I was 22. I hadn’t seen a mental health professional, up until a good you know, over 10 years, but I had always had those tools that were that I was given when I was 16. I always had those in my backpack, and I pulled them out whenever I needed them. My anxiety went through peaks. I would go through high peaks of anxiety. And then, you know, the bow peaks and I was really fine. I’d go through depression, all through my 20s, going into my late 20s.
I’m in my mid-30s. Only recently have I started seeing a therapist again. I had about half a year, about six months, of seeing a psychologist. I had a number of family issues come up. Also, the global pandemic, being on lockdown, being a stay-at-home mom of a young child. My husband ran for chief of his community and so there were a lot of things happening through the pandemic that just kind of piled on and piled on.
I wasn’t taking care of my mental health,
I was taking care of everyone else’s before mine. I had a bit of a meltdown, I guess, I had a bit of a crisis happen. It was starting to affect my physical body. I would shake. Certain things would trigger me and my body would shake, my face would turn red, my heart would start beating, I’d start to go into panic mode, and, you know, my breathing would come faster.
That’s when I realized I needed help. I needed to put everything down because I need to be okay so that I can take care of everyone else.
Seeing a psychologist really helped me unblock a lot of things that were happening to me. [It helped me] get things moving and flowing again. One of the most important things that I learned through this last series that I had with my psychologist, I finally learned about boundaries, boundaries with myself, boundaries with all of my relationships, including boundaries with my child, my child, my husband, with work. That was something that really helped me put things into perspective. It’s okay to say no, it’s okay to say you’ve got a lot on your plate. It was really eye-opening to be able to work through these things.
Learning about boundaries was eye-opening.
As somebody who is a helper, somebody who puts everybody’s feelings and everybody’s issues before mine, this was something that was really challenging for me to work through. However, once I got there, it felt amazing.
Learning about boundaries really helped me with all of the other issues. It brought down my anxiety, it brought down my stress a lot, because I’m able to now put [situations] into perspective: is this crossing a boundary of mine, or am I crossing a boundary with myself? That was something, in all of these years that I’ve had, my 35 years of being on this earth–I’m not saying that I’ve got it all figured out–but this is something that’s really helped me deal with my anxiety and my stress, especially through this pandemic and being home.
This is where I’m at now, I’m in a pretty good, I’m in a fairly good place. I don’t mean that everything’s sunshine and roses. Although this nicer weather that’s coming in, it’s, it’s… we recently had the first day of spring. We’ve been really lucky, we’ve had really nice weather, and it really changes your mood. Also, we’re able to get outside a little bit more.
Needless to say, it’s not always sunshine and roses, I do still have some bad days, but I’m able to be less hard on myself now when I have those bad days. And I’m able to use all of these tools that I have to help me navigate through the feelings and the emotions.
Mental health means your state of self-thinking, your self-thoughts and your emotions.
What mental health means to me
To me, mental health means your state of self-thinking your self-thoughts and your emotions. Having this anxiety from a very young age, I’ve always had a very negative self-talk narrative. For my mental health, having to face this, it’s very uncomfortable sometimes, having to face that and try to change the conversation because it’s been happening for so long. Having to face and change it into positive or just not negative. I’ve learned also that it doesn’t always have to be chipper and super positive but just changing it so that it’s not so negative.
I still go through the what-ifs. One of my therapists had told me, that helps me: One time I said, “What if I get hurt?” And then she said, “What if you don’t?” That’s what I meant [when I say] it doesn’t always have to be super positive and good, but just changing your narratives that it’s not so negative. Mental health, to me, is defined by my self-talk that goes on in my head, paired with my emotions, you know, feeling sad or guilty or anxious.
How I care about my mental health and my mental wellness today
That goes on what I was talking about before, with boundaries. This is a huge step for me. With my mental health journey, it’s very new, but I am absolutely loving the results. So knowing boundaries with myself, boundaries with my other relationships, and that’s been really, really helpful for me.
Another way that I am caring for my mental health and wellness today is: as a stay-at-home mom with a husband who is very busy, and his schedule is very unpredictable. I’m alone often and having to pick up a lot of the responsibility at home, while also, you know, running my own business. It’s very challenging to find time for myself. How I try to take care of my mental wellness for myself is by trying to be very communicative. I have a lot of open communication with my husband about what my needs are.
That might look like I need to take a yoga class. So [I say to him] “If you could have Charlotte [our daughter], if you could have our daughter, and just watch over her or just not book anything, try to make sure nothing gets booked around this time.” Or, “I’m going to go do the groceries by myself.” Just finding times where I could be open and honest with my husband about the things that that I need.
A lot of times [what I need is] alone time [because as a mum] I am “on” 100% of the time. Oftentimes that alone time comes after my daughter is asleep. I might just binge watch a show and it might go too late, which isn’t really fair, because then I’m tired the next day, but sometimes it’s the only time that I have to myself.
I make sure that I’m communicating with my husband, when I’m feeling a little bit overwhelmed, that whenever it’s possible for him if he could help pick up that or I can put some of the responsibility on him so that I could have some alone time.
During my alone time, it might be listening to a podcast, it might be meditating. It might be even just going to the grocery store by myself. Those kinds of things are really important to me.
Being able to recharge in my homelands, being close to my family and even physically putting my feet on the ground in my homelands is so important to me and important to my well-being.
Another thing that is very huge for me, is going back home, being able to go home to my mom’s house. We live along Lake Nipissing. Just being able to recharge in my homelands, being close to my family and even physically putting my feet on the ground in my homelands is so important to me and important to my well-being.
This was something that I discovered through this round of therapy. That came up, how much I miss being home, how much it means to me being home and being close to my family, and how I felt like I took it for granted when I was living there. So that’s another very important thing for me: to be around family and being home in my community.
A mental wellness tip for women entrepreneurs
On top of the things that I’ve mentioned about setting boundaries, really doing the work to identify what your boundaries are in different relationships, I can add: finding moments of peace, finding those “me moments,” where you’re not working, you’re not taking care of everyone else, the time that you can have that’s just you, where your body and your mind and your soul and your spirit can be at peace.
It is a really important tip to find those moments and try to find those moments often… even physically so that you can lower your cortisol levels and your body’s not always constantly in stress. It’s very important for your all-around health to have those moments where you can meditate where you can. You know, just turn them off button for a little while.
If there was one thing that I could share about mental wellness for women entrepreneurs, it would be to be kind to yourself, to find things that motivate you to keep going. Try and not be so hard on yourself when, [with] all of the things that you have going on, you need to take a step back, and just knowing that it’s okay to do that.
Be kind to yourself and know your boundaries
I have said this over and over again, but I think it’s really important to know your boundaries because that could play into a lot of stress and anxiety that comes along when we’re trying to please everyone. We’re trying to do it all at the same time.
Knowing that it’s okay to ask for help, and also knowing when that time is because I find often as women entrepreneurs who are mothers, we are trying to do everything. We sometimes have to do everything. All the responsibility falls on us. We have to do the cooking and the cleaning and the groceries and getting everybody to their appointments. And you know, go into the post office and picking up the mail on top of being a mom.
Being a mom, you’re [also] a doctor, a therapist, a chef coming up with meals, and a supportive partner. And then mix that all in with trying to run your own business, it gets very overwhelming very quickly. So knowing your boundaries, knowing when it’s time to ask for help, knowing that it’s okay to ask for help.
Systemic and social factors that have had an influence on my mental health as an entrepreneur
Being a mother who’s an entrepreneur has also set its challenges. Systemically [this notion] that you have to have a job a nine to five job at an office to be this measure of success, and that there’s no room for life’s challenges [is a problem]. I think this has affected my mental health because making the decision to stay home with my daughter really affected my mental health. [It led to] that negative self talk” “This was an awful decision, I need to be working a job to make money to make everything better.”
I really had to work through that and pivot and try to find different ways to make myself feel better and not so guilty, but also keeping this true to myself that I’m doing the right thing by staying home. Eventually, I started to get back into work and taking small little contracts and helping out administratively. I noticed that it started to make me feel a bit better than I was working again but in a different way. It felt like it was more on my terms. I just started doing what was natural for me.
Now that I’ve been doing it so often, it feels strange to say that I’m working for myself, but I am. These are my hours that I like to work. This is my availability. This is how much I charge.
[Going] back to the question, systemically having that pressure, that [idea that] having a nine to five job was the only way, that really affected my mental health. Transitioning into working for myself, was a really hard challenge to get over. But, you know, with working on it, and trying to change that talk, and just communicating about it more with everyone around me, my husband and my family and my mom, I really started to realize that what I’m doing is really great.
I get the best of two worlds. I get to stay home and raise my child. She’s going to be going to school in September and I will have spent four years raising her by myself. I feel so honoured and privileged to have that opportunity to be able to do that.
A lot of older people in my family still have that notion of nine to five is what you need to be doing. Now the people in my life have seen how I work. I work really hard. And I also work at being a mom and having to juggle all of that. I think it’s come around to being a little bit more socially acceptable. But I guess if I’m going to talk about my mental health, there was a struggle. They [older people in my family] are seeing a lot of friends, old schoolmates that I might have gone to school with or that I used to work with a long time ago, seeing everybody who is my peers, having the cookie-cutter type of lifestyle– married with children have a good job and a beautiful house, all of those things–and feeling like I wasn’t adding up to that.
That was something in my head that I had to really, work on to say that, you know, I’m working for myself, and I got to stay home with my daughter. We had a lot of challenges. But, you know, overcoming them has really made us a lot better in the end. A lot of times when I’ve had offhand conversations with any of these people–not that I keep in touch with all of them–[they have said] ” I really wish that I could have stayed home with my kids. You’re so lucky.”
It’s this perception that you see this cookie-cutter type of family, and thinking that that’s what is socially acceptable and that the type of lifestyle that I chose might not be as socially acceptable. But I just bring it all down to having to work through that self-talk and trust my gut and my instincts. In the end, it’s been four years of this way of thinking but in the end, I am grateful that I had this opportunity to have a different type of lifestyle that fits outside of the norm.
Connect with Suzanne:
Don’t miss out!
Want to get priority access to the entire series by women entrepreneurs on staying sane as they ride the emotional rollercoaster of running a business? Fill out the form below to get new posts right in your inbox.
<– Previous article in series Next article in series –>