Amy-Lynn has learned to strike the right balance with self care, work and family!Hellooooo CoWomen! I’m so excited to get to share with you an interview with business/life coach, freelance copywriter, and blogger, Amy-Lynn Denham! I was motivated to pick her brain for an interview after reading how she is an entrepreneur with chronic pain, mental health concerns, all while being a mother. These complications required her to find ways to work that suited her changing energy levels alongside work and family demands. She is a successful woman with a drive to empower other solopreneurs. With the experience to prove it!

1. You manage your chronic pain while still supporting your family and maintaining your career. What is your process for setting your work and family goals, while making time to practice self-care for your pain? 

It’s hard to keep all those balls in the air, if I’m honest. I’ve learned, though, that it’s important to practice self-compassion. Most people cannot keep them all in the air at once.  So, I delicately decide, day-to-day, which balls I will juggle and which I will place on the shelf. If my health is in crisis, I step back from everything and put my entire focus there. I am very lucky to not be the sole provider for my family. My husband has been extremely helpful in the regard of work and family. It’s a privilege I am well-aware of.

Finding my groove with health care/self-care, family, and work has taken considerable time. I spent about a year keeping extremely detailed notes about my pain, energy, other symptoms, eating habits, sleep issues, etc. To figure out exactly how much is too much for me to handle (in terms of work, exercise, etc.) and how much is realistic for me to take on. By building appropriate boundaries with myself I am able to better balance all that I have on the go.

Unfortunately, a big part of this process has been letting go. I have had to find acceptance for the fact that I won’t be at every baseball game, every lesson; that I won’t be able to go after every business opportunity or follow every passion and hobby that I have. It wasn’t an easy process.  There was grieving involved, anger, sadness, you name it. But it was worth it to find that I may not be able to “have it all” but I can have a piece of it all. And still be able to properly care for my health.

2.      You have a degree in psychology and work experience in group empowerment and personal consulting/coaching: in your experience, what do you think prevents people from being entirely self-motivated? Why do we need external support? 

As humans, we are social creatures. It’s just something time has bred into us, because we are safest in groups.  We aren’t made to have all of the answers. We are made to learn, to grow, and to work together.  So, honestly, I don’t want to see a world where we are entirely self-motivated and self-sufficient. In fact, I find that the best ideas and the best growth as people and societies happens when we come together and help each other.

To get deeper on a person-by-person level, though, I think that there are a lot of negative messages out there which are simply scaring people. We live in a time where fear is the best way to sell things, to control people, etc. It surrounds us. The news is almost 100% negative (depending on the source) and we often only get that first story – the breaking news bulletin – which scares the crap out of us, but rarely do we see the follow-up story on how the problem was solved, etc. We are also taught that people who achieve great things from modest circumstances are “special.” They are “outliers” and only achieved what they did by luck of the draw. Subscribing to that belief will only have us telling ourselves, “Oh, well I didn’t get the luck in the draw so there’s no use trying.”

It takes a community of empowering people to empower a person – to counterbalance those negative, fear-based messages they’ve received all their lives.

3.      Do you see a difference between how men and women motivate themselves, and if their obstacles to success differ?

Now that’s a deep question. I work predominantly with other women and always have, so it’s hard for me to speak much on the professional side about men in this regard. What I can say, though, is from personal experience and just talking with people outside of a working atmosphere.

I see some of the same obstacles for men and women and some that are different. For example, it’s been my experience that women are underestimated, thought of as too emotional to make level-headed decisions, or that their male and female counterparts worry that they will over-compensate for these stereotypes by becoming mean, overbearing, and rigid. It’s really hard to maintain a good balance as an empowered woman when people have all of these conflicting expectations of you before you even walk in a room.

For men, though, I see that there is quite a challenge when it comes to things like weakness, mental health concerns, and fear. Traditional workplaces don’t often encourage men to be honest about these struggles and it becomes compounded when they believe they need to hold these things in and act “tough.”

I am quite happy, though, to live in a time when more and more people are working to remove these stigmas for both men and women and to help people embrace all parts of who they are – even when they are angry, sad, scared, confused, or overwhelmed.

4.      I know from my own personal battles with anxiety that sometimes I am literally too exhausted to work. On your blog you mention your own struggles with mental health; do you have any tips on managing the fatigue or short attention span that accompanies anxiety or depression? 

Meditation. I was very fortunate to learn about mindfulness and meditation when I struggled with anxiety as a teenager. It was very helpful in calming my thoughts, stopping them from spiraling out of control. It brings me back to a place where I could see more than just the anxiety situation. It’s important to remember, though, that meditation is about the act not about the result. It’s not about being able to completely clear your mind – it’s about training your mind to clear itself.

Your brain literally creates neural pathways when you think things, do things, etc. For whatever reason (often trauma or disappointment, etc.) people who become prone to anxiety or depression create neural pathways. This leads their thoughts down these negative paths the way that water follows a riverbed – it’s just carved into the ground and the water really doesn’t have any other choice. By using meditation and CBT techniques, we can start to carve new pathways. It takes time, though. It’s not something we can just do overnight. But with every meditative practice, we start to carve new paths for that water – we start to rewire our brains and divert those thoughts down new paths.

You don’t have to try to turn your negative thoughts into positive ones. It’s more about finding realistic thoughts that follow a middle path. For example, I am afraid of tornados. As a child, I would hide out in the basement for the tiniest thunderstorms because of the chance of a tornado. I can’t tell myself that a tornado will never happen and that it’s impossible for me to experience one. That isn’t based in logic and no matter how much I say it in my head my brain throws it out and refuses to create that new riverbed.

When I look at it more realistically I can see that the chances are very small that I’ll be in the direct path of one. And if so, I will have ample time to save myself if I keep a cautionary eye on the weather. And ultimately, that I am missing out on more by hiding than I am by chancing it.

5.      How can women with personal barriers to success (mental health, family responsibilities, poor health) manage client relationships if they require flexibility with, for example, meeting deadlines?

So me, honesty has always been key. I wouldn’t want someone to be dishonest with me in work and so I will not be dishonest with my clients. That’s a scary thought, though, because what if the client won’t work with us if we have a barrier which could affect the working relationship. I suggest being up-front, honest, and clearly outlining the ways that the barrier could affect things. 

For example, will you occasionally be late on deadlines? Does your barrier mean you work best if given a lot of work at once and then complete it gradually? Or that you work better if you can be in contact with your client often? When are you available to talk?  Do you need to turn your phone off on weekends and evenings? Can you take conference calls in the middle of the night – or ever (if you have kids in the home typing may be your best bet)? How many hours can you realistically work in a week? ETC. Don’t commit to more than you know you can actually accomplish, either.

I know it’s scary because the client could choose to walk away, but who wants that client anyway? Your barrier will rear its head, and when it does that type of client will leave you stranded. Better to create a relationship with one you know is understanding of your situation.

6.      You don’t work a typical 9-5 job, and with a family and health restrictions, who do you turn to for support to relate to your unique work-life balance?

Social media has been great for finding people who live similar lifestyles to me. It’s a great place to just laugh about the same chronic illness inside joke or to vent how frustrating it is when you have almost finished a project and have to step back from it. I don’t get deep emotional support in those places (personally) but it’s still helpful. If things get really difficult I have a trusted therapist I turn to who has always managed the right balance of tough and understanding. Sometimes I need to change my thinking while also reminding me to be easy on myself. 

I think having a therapist or coach is a huge help. Let me rephrase, I think finding the right therapist or coach is a huge help. If it doesn’t work out the first, second, third, twentieth time keep looking. Finding a therapist or coach is like dating – you won’t be a good match with everyone.

7.      What’s the one thing you would say to someone battling mental or physical challenges? 

Get flexible with your thinking. We are so used to thinking of life in a particular way – the way it’s all supposed to play out. My biggest challenge was to accept that my life path is not what I wanted it to be.  Family and financial constraints meant putting my masters and Ph.D. on hold. Health meant stepping back from my career completely for a period of time and then having to re-start it. Trying to push myself to where I thought I would or should be, though, only hurt me. I had to let go a little.

So, stop holding yourself to the standards you would hold your perfect version of yourself to. Stop thinking, “If I was well I could…” or “I should be able to…”  because you aren’t. You aren’t a perfect person so you aren’t going to live your perfect life. Holding yourself to those standards will only undermine the things you do accomplish, and stop you from seeing how far you’ve really come.