Thank You to the Clients Who See Me as More than Just My Trauma

Gillian Sisley

They see me for the capable entrepreneur that I am, and recognize the baggage I carry is not what defines me.

Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash

For some reason, I was under this misguided belief that, although my trauma was affecting my personal life and everything to do with me personally, somehow my business was safe from it.

In my mind, there was this invisible force-field that wouldn’t allow the trauma from my sexual assault to seep into my business, or even touch it.

That was a very false belief.

And it took a solid year of denial to figure out that there was something very serious going on, and I wasn’t just in a very long-winded funk.

Rather, the future of my business and livelihood was at stake, and if I didn’t act right away, I was going to lose everything.

And if it weren’t for the understanding of my clients throughout this realization and process, that asshole who already stole so much from me as is would have also run off with my business as well, five years later.

I wasn’t having any of it. I was going to reclaim control and ownership of my business.

And I wasn’t going to let my mental illness stop me.

Mental illness hijacked my business and held me hostage.

What a tricker little f*cker, that mental illness.

Without me even realizing it, it had infiltrated every part of my business and was trying to make it explode from the inside out.

And it was using me as a conduit to self-sabotage everything.

I watched helplessly for a year as anxiety would steamroll through my day and paralyze me into inactivity.

I was in a constant state of shame and guilt and fear, because I knew I wasn’t the pilot of my own company anymore. Anxiety was — and it was a cruel puppet master.

It was that little voice in my head whispering:

“Eek, you’re feeling a little anxious right now — probably not the best state to work in. You should wait to finish that client project until later today.”

And then “later today” would never happen.

And there I was, in the mess of another missed deadline, wondering if this was going to be the time a client fired me for being undependable.

I felt so out of control, and yet seemed determined to figure out how to resolve this problem all on my own.

When the truth was, I had no sweet clue what I was dealing with.

I became legitimately fearful that everything I had built, from my clients to my business itself to my reputation, was about to be entirely tarnished and destroyed — all because some bastard from my past felt this misplaced sense of entitlement over my body, and I was still paying for the consequences of it.

Well, not just me. My clients, too.

I had to entirely redesign the logistics of my operation.

It was like, at some point in the third year of running my company, someone walked in and flicked a switch, and suddenly nothing worked the same anymore.

All of the years I’d spent fine-tuning and perfecting my logistics abruptly became completely obsolete and didn’t work. Just like that.

There was one particular client, who was actually my first and I had a lot of love for, who was getting the brunt of the mess.

I would be submitting work a few days later than agreed, and while she’d stated that getting some edited footage for social media wasn’t the be-all-and-end-all of her business, it was still about the principle of the thing, so work still shouldn’t be late.

After about the third conversation around the issue of my late submissions, I knew that these issues weren’t exclusive to my personal life, and they were tearing my business apart seam by seam.

It took a lot of introspection and deep, deep reflection to get down to the bottom of what was going on.
Why did I feel so anxious about certain deadlines, but not others?
Why did this issue exists with some clients, but not all of them?
What was the root of this problem?

I spent many, many hours and days in deep self-reflection, peeling back the layers of the issue to get down to the core, and figuring out what strategy moving forward could possibly combat my powerful anxiety and help me live my life again like a normal, functioning professional woman.

My clients helped me reclaim control by working with me, not just “putting up with me”.

I eventually had to come clean, because if I wasn’t honest then I could possibly lose my precious business that was not only my livelihood, but also something I held a lot of pride in.

I had invested so much into making my business a reality — I couldn’t lose it now.

The clients who I did confide in, bless their hearts, made me feel safe enough to share and, when I did, accepted me with only compassion and understanding.

If I didn’t feel so close to my clients, or feel safe enough to confide my most vulnerable secret in them, I could very well have stayed aboard the ship of my company until it sank to the bottom of my anxiety’s dark, cold ocean floor.

I didn’t want to be a sunken ship.

I wanted to sail and succeed — so I had to take action.

Final word.

This was what I came to realize:

A simple “date deadline” wasn’t working for me like it once had.

If there is a possibility of 12 hours in a day when I could work on something, odds were that I was giving my anxiety an “in” to start acting up.

I would essentially lose control in those situations and enable my anxiety to be the boss of me.

But when I had a “date and time deadline”, I couldn’t get as stuck in my own head. In that case, I was more in control, and even if my anxiety started acting up, I took a stance of action and intentionally worked through my anxious feelings to get the job done and get it submitted on time.

It wasn’t about trying to make my anxiety or episodes of paranoia disappear entirely, it was about figuring out the coping skills and tactics I could use to empower myself to still live my life fully, and not let anxiety be a dictator in my own success moving forward.

I was done being a helpless bystander to my own life. It was time to start living again.

And I couldn’t have gotten here without the support and understanding of my clients.

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