As a leadership coach I experience many entrepreneurs and executives who walk into this work with belief systems that support their successes, yet unintentionally fuel feelings of isolation, loneliness, and despair. Belief systems that take on the internal thunder of “No one cares like I do,” “If I rest I will slip,” “It’s all on my shoulders,” “Everyone is watching,” “I’m in this all alone.”

These beliefs are a breeding ground for stress and anxiety which, if gone unchecked, can lead to depressive swirls.

Depression first acutely grabbed me after my first son was born. He was conceived just weeks before I stepped into a new role as a young CEO.

With an air of invincibility, I sought to make a strong, early impact within my company. I piled a lot onto my plate and looking back now, I can see that it was too much. As the CEO of a small business with limited resources, this is easy to do. A major initiative that year was to migrate to a new accounting system… an effort I had perfectly timed to be complete on his due date.

He, of course, came two weeks early.

After a long labor, where I was still delegating duties with phone in hand, a bruised, crying, and desperately hungry newborn was placed on my chest. Wide-eyed and exhausted, I was launched into motherhood. While my brain and body were still fully locked into drive mode, I begin to realize my son needed something very different from me. Specifically, he needed a slower and more attuned pace that I wasn’t at all ready or prepared for.

As my personal and professional identities were at war with each other, and I began to disintegrate, my body was thrown into an acute postpartum depression.

When we got home, that accounting project was still looming and needed to be wrapped up before tax season. So I worked. And nursed him. And worked more, and nursed him more, and stole sleep when I could.

From the beginning, we struggled to establish a nursing relationship and these work distractions didn’t help. Before the accounting project was complete, an infection settled in my breast. Within hours it moved swiftly through my tired bones and into my blood steam. I was admitted to the ICU with septic shock. With a 50% mortality rate, they weren’t sure I was going to make it through that first night.

My body was forcing a slowdown.

I spent a week in the ICU, where they saved not only my life but also my milk. Because of their care, I was able to continue to nurse him throughout his first year. The physical act of feeding my son with my own body was what helped me slow down, feel more connected, and attune both to him and to myself.

Yet, I emerged from the hospital after that week with a level of fatigue that I’d never experienced before. Fatigue led to stress that I was not able to get anything done. Stress stirred up anxieties that I was failing… not only as a CEO, but also as a mother. Somewhere I had come to believe that a focused, unencumbered devotion, which seemed no longer possible, was a key to my success. Hampered, now, by a family, I couldn’t completely throw myself at my work. And, distracted by work, I couldn’t be full-on at home.

As my personal and professional identities were at war with each other, and I began to disintegrate, my body was thrown into an acute postpartum depression.

My ability to press on past these mental and physical obstacles was faltering. Mistakes were made. My vision became foggy. I was haunted with the guttural fear I would screw this all up. I was in tears most days that the one who would be hurt most was my newborn son. I was suffering in silence, protecting my secret struggle of depression from my company and my leadership team.

Throughout my postpartum struggle, my biggest hurdle became me. My whole life I had learned to power through, yet this was not something that could be powered through. I had little awareness of my need for help and even less capacity to ask for it.

The shame of appearing weak, bleak and pessimistic can keep many executives and entrepreneurs from asking for help.

This summer, over a cup of coffee, I met John Panigas, who shared with me his own similar story as a CEO struggling with depression. Rising from those experiences, his mission, today, is to “challenge the status quo of the attitudes, causes, and effects of depression on leadership” and assist leaders in healing themselves and their teams. Last month John spoke to my Vistage group, sharing insights I didn’t know about entrepreneurs and depression:
– In multiple studies, 72% of entrepreneurs report mental health concerns.
– Entrepreneurs are four times more likely than the general population to suffer from depression.
– Some of the feelings and habits of entrepreneurs (exhaustion, worry, insomnia, recklessness, isolation, rumination, over or under indulgence) can mimic the signs of depression.

One thing I did know was that the shame of appearing weak, bleak and pessimistic can keep many executives and entrepreneurs from asking for help. It kept me from asking for help. Over time the postpartum, depressive fog lifted and then returned again, and then lifted and then returned yet again. With each pregnancy it became sharper, stayed for a little bit longer, and I did everything I could to bury it deeper. It wasn’t until my business was long sold that I finally reached out for help. Interestingly, when I had less on my plate to do it was harder for me to suppress the emotional rumblings that had been fanning my flames of anxiety, stress, and depressive episodes over the years.

It’s important as a leader, as a parent, and as a human to become aware of this inner noise. To build capacities that help you listen to your stressors and anxieties and evolve into more resilient ways of being. To recognize when a wave of depression may be cresting within you. To learn to be grounded in something beyond the level of success you do or don’t achieve in a given day. To ask for help and be open and able to receive it.


Weekly Mini-Practice

To help you engage with these concepts in your own Leadership Journey, here is this week’s mini-practice:

Defining Help: This week pay attention to the uneasiness in your belly, the crawl of tension up your back, when you feel in over your head. You may be struggling with knowing which step is next to take. Maybe you are holding one too many ropes, or juggling one too many balls. Maybe answers you once knew now feel elusive. Inertia may have your feet cemented to the ground. Sit still, breathe, and rest in this uneasiness for a moment. Scan your body and your heart. What help would bring support to you in this place of tension?


Serious depression is a medical issue, and it’s important to seek support. Therapists who specialize in working with entrepreneurs and executives can be found at and John, in his book Crazy, Who Me?, gives specific tips on how to find a great one. You can learn more about John Panigas and his journey as a leader overcoming depression at .


Originally published at on November 7, 2019