Running a Small Business With Dyslexia, ADHD and Anxiety

Getting My Dreams Off the Ground

Running a small business can be stressful on its own. Add a learning disability (LD) and a dash of anxiety into the mix and it can seem impossible to get your dreams off the ground. 

In this article I hope to be as honest as I can to give a realistic view of what it's like to run your own business while coping with dyslexia, ADHD and anxiety. This is just my experience and by no means do I speak for every person who has a learning disability or anxiety. Even the thought of writing this blog gets my heart racing. So many thoughts run through my brain. What will people think? Check your spelling. Will anyone actually read this? Spellcheck. Stay on track. Be interesting. SPELLING! And this list goes on and on and on and on. You get the idea.

How I Started Running a Small Business

I have been running a small business for 5 years now. In this time I have had some incredible highs and lows. Something I have grown to understand is that anxiety can intensify the highs and lows to a level that can be unmanageable and downright scary. I can't even begin to describe the thrill of being asked to be on the news or that you have been accepted into a show that is difficult to get in to. On a good day, when things are relaxed, it can be tough to process the emotions that come with good news. But almost always the good emotions are short lived and panic sets in. The thoughts start racing and fear takes over. "I'm not good enough" "I'm going to embarrass myself" "People are going to laugh at me."

So why did I decide to get into business in the first place? I know right? The answer is quite simple. Passion. Passion is a crazy phenomenon (spell checked that word)  that makes people do crazy things. I suffered a lot with Post-Partum Depression (PPD) with my first child and found sewing to be a fantastic outlet. I was able to take my creativity and put it into something that made me proud. Somewhere in that time I developed a true love for the craft and needed to find a way to continue. I started by doing some small orders and shows around town. That grew into a website and wholesale accounts. How did I get past everything and go for it? I sought out counselling to help me cope with the anxiety and did a lot of homework. What I am left with today is mild general anxiety and fewer and fewer tough days. As for the learning disability well I just learned to accept it as part of who I am. This was not easy because it is something I have tried to hide for most of my life. I was only diagnosed in university with dyslexia and ADHD. The diagnosis came with a lot of mixed emotions. I finally had a word to go with what my brain was doing, but now I also had a word that made me different from my peers. Failure was a good friend of mine at this point in my life. I had failed 4 classes in high school and mercy passed several others using my coping strategy of being a people pleaser. Hiding on the flip side of all of these failures was a gift in artistic ability. I was always painting, sketching and crafting. I knew that I had something to offer. I am far more open about everything (hence the blog) and find ways to make it a positive.

While counselling couldn't help me change my LD it did help me cope with it in a healthy way. I used to have a lot of anxiety because of my dyslexia. Spelling and numbers are a big part of running a small business and making mistakes can be very embarrassing. I've been really good at hiding my disability since I was a child and developed many coping mechanisms (spell check) to disguise it. I was always the class clown, a master in deflection and in most recent years have used Siri to help with spelling on the daily. Since seeking help for the anxiety that comes with trying to hide a part of who I was I have found it much easier to accept it and share it. I have found that most people have been quite accepting and it has actually opened more doors for me. Don't get me wrong. I still meet people who think after seeing something a few times I should be able to understand or memorize it or that I'm not trying hard enough to understand, but having coping strategies has helped me feel less intimidated or bothered by these attitudes. I still have discouraging and self-deprecating thoughts, but now I ask myself "Is this thought serving me?" "Is this thought helping me move forward?" I will admit it doesn't always work and sometimes I need to ask for help, but in most cases it does slow me down enough to consider the situation in a different light. Counselling also helped me develop my own strategies for getting through the waves of anxiety that come with stress.

Managing Stress and Anxiety as a Small Business Owner

Where I do continue to struggle is the days and weeks after a big show or busy market season. I absolutely love meeting new people, chatting with customers and connecting with people. What I didn't know about myself before getting into this business is that there is a price to pay for revving so high for a long period of time. I call it the After Market Crash. Maybe it's the Libra in me seeking balance or maybe I am an extroverted introvert I haven't decided the exact reason, but what I know for sure is that I really need to practice self care during the crash.  

Self Care sure has a buzz word feel to it and when you are under a pile of stress and demands, be it personal and/or professional, it can seem like another chore to add to the to do list of things to do. What I have figured out though is that self care can be whatever you want it to be. My ADHD brain takes little holidays all the time, but this is not self care. In fact the little holidays can often be the antecedent to procrastination. I used to think it was serving me and in some ways it does, but not in a self care kind of way. Finding time to take care of yourself can be difficult, but not if it's non-negotiable. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money either. Defining the time in the day that is just for you and taking it can make all the difference. We are like rechargeable batteries. At the end of the charge we still work, but they aren't as strong and you know that very soon they will stop working all together. So what do we do? We put them on the charger so they can reach full power and get back to doing what they do. I guess what I'm saying is that we all need to figure out what our charger is and make use of it so we can recharge and get back to full power.

I have a few chargers that are just for me. I love shopping for new records, a good book, going for a walk, wine and yoga. In fact I found one yoga class I really loved (don't worry I will share for all of my YXE pals) that did a lot for getting back to a fully charged feeling and made me think about how I do things in my day to day. I've been going to Jodi at Modo Yoga Saskatoon for a few years and really get a lot out of the way she challenges her students. At my very first Hot Yoga session I remember feeling like I might be carried out on a stretcher. It was so hot and so sweaty that I was sure I was going to pass out. Jodi just reminded us that we could take all of the breaks we needed and that we would get through it. I'm pretty sure I spent the whole class in child's pose. So much time that she came over and taught the remainder of the class beside me. In the moment I felt like a total dork, but it was her reassuring messages that this class was just for us and that there were no expectations. After hearing those reminders throughout the class I realized I was right where I needed to be doing the best I could. Did I compare myself to Bendy Brandy beside me? Hell ya, but it was after the class, when the doors flung open and the cold air hit my body that I felt a rush of exhilaration. My mind was so clear. There were no swirling thoughts of what I had to be doing or what I was going to make for supper, just a deep sense of peace. I felt happy. I was happy for having finished the class I thought I couldn't do and I felt happy for the people my classmates who were challenging themselves. That's pretty much when I knew that my cup was full. I was back to experiencing joy for others who had shown up for themselves repeatedly and trying their best.

Massage and Acupuncture

Taking time for yourself can be a difficult task. It can be hard to carve out time that is just for you. Feelings of guilt creep in when you think you should be spending time elsewhere. I have found a way to take the guilt out of making time for self care. Are you ready for it... I don't care! I am always feeling guilty for something but I actually don't care to feel guilty for making my health a priority. Click here for a link to some great resources and benefits to massage and acupuncture. 

 The Next Chapter

As ForEverly Yours Clothing Co enters its 6th year in business I am faced with more challenges and successes. We are growing again and looking to spread our wings. We are about to stock a few new stores with our products and are entertaining the idea of finding a new space. With all of these dreams and realities whirling around it is easy to feel overwhelmed and unprepared. Probably why I'm booked in for massages until the end of the year and getting back to my mat. Thank you for all of your support and encouragement throughout the years. I have shifted and grown into a person I never thought possible. I am so grateful for all of you who continue to make my dreams of small business ownership a reality.  


To hear some funny antidotes about life with dyslexia and ADHD check out this podcast with Celebrating Simple Life. Spoiler alert you will hear the word "boner."