Entrepreneurs face mental health challenges just like everyone else. And the stress of running a business can lead to burnout and feelings of isolation. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’ll be sharing inspiring stories and wellness resources to shine a spotlight on the issue.
Monisha Edwards has always been an entrepreneur. When her family couldn’t pay her college tuition, she paid her own way, launching an on-campus t-shirt business after she taught herself design by watching hours of YouTube. Her enterprising mindset would later put her at the helm of her own successful branding agency after college.
Monisha was at the height of her career when the unimaginable happened: her father was paralyzed from the waist down after surviving a near-fatal shooting.
Because Monisha’s family didn’t understand the magnitude of starting a business, they assumed she was the most flexible and available to be her father’s caregiver. The weight of his daily care fell to her. It was a full-time job, physically and emotionally demanding. Monisha’s mental health deteriorated, and she began to neglect her business.
When her new responsibilities were crushing down on her, Monisha decided to see a doctor—and was diagnosed with anxiety and seasonal affective disorder. She researched ways to manage her symptoms and discovered the healing power of aromatherapy. Making and burning candles in her spare time helped her focus her energy on something calming.
As her father regained his independence, Monisha’s interest in candle making grew. Today, that diversion is Scent & Fire, a full-fledged business. Her original run of candles has evolved to include scents like Socially Distant and Shelter & Chill—two of her bestsellers during the pandemic. She runs the business from her own warehouse space in Dallas, Texas, and has hired several employees.
Monisha’s relationship with mental health still guides everything she does, and she’s become a vocal advocate in the space. This year, Scent & Fire will be launching both a wellness app and a foundation to provide needed mental health services to underrepresented groups.
This is Monisha’s story, in her own words:
Taking care of my dad and trying to run my branding agency simultaneously did not work.
It was so taxing on me because my father had to readjust to his new way of life. He was battling mental issues. And having his daughter help him bathe him and things like that—he just was uncomfortable with it. It was just really emotional. I love my father, but I hated what he was going through.
It just took a toll on me, and eventually one day I woke up and I just felt like I had a dark cloud over my head. I didn't want to get out of bed. I had lost a lot of my contracts, so I couldn't really do much creative work.
When I started getting really good at making candles, my creativity started coming back.
I felt like something was wrong with me. The doctors diagnosed me with seasonal affective disorder and anxiety. They offered me medication, but I declined. In my community, the Black community specifically, we despise mental health stuff. We don’t really believe in going to see a therapist, because that’s rich people's stuff.
And so from there I got on this kick of trying to figure out how to fix myself. I started trying nutritional things to help me with anxiety and depression. I tried meditating, and then I got into aromatherapy. I read about candle making and bought a soy wax candle kit.
I would go home from my dad’s house, pour a glass of wine, and just make a couple of candles. At the time I was making like two or three at a time. When I started getting really good at making candles, my creativity started coming back. It was wild. I was thinking about different packaging concepts and the design and aesthetic aspect of creating a candle brand.
From there I created my first three signature scents and branded them. I posted them on Facebook and everybody wanted one.
I did not tell my mental health story at first because I was scared. But when I joined a small business accelerator to help me grow my brand, one of my mentors was like, “You need to tell your truth. Just think about how many people you could help that actually suffer from the things that you suffer from.”
Eventually I just let it all out. And then from there I just started talking to mental health institutions and organizations and trying to partner with them. And I became a mental health advocate.
There are some days where I’m just extremely overwhelmed. The day-to-day operations with a lot of orders, managing a small team. It’s been stressful, especially with the supply chain issues that are going on right now. There have been some days where on the outside it would look like I have it all together, but I don’t want to get out of the bed.
But I absolutely love making my candles. That’s probably the most relaxing part of running my business. Sometimes I’ll go into the warehouse at night just to pour by myself. It's my happy place.
I do believe that a lot of people buy into the brand because of my story. Because I do get a lot of people that send me emails just out of nowhere to thank me for sharing my story with them and letting me know about the things that they’ve been going through and how I’ve been helping them.
My business just turned three and I’m starting a foundation. We’re in the process of finalizing all the paperwork. I’m creating a pathway to mental health resources and sponsored therapy sessions, but utilizing technology with it.
Managing my own mental health with growing the business, it’s a constant battle, but it has also taught me patience. It taught me how to have more control over my mind.
A lot of people in Black communities don’t have vehicles to transport back and forth to therapy sessions. I’m trying to bring it to them in the comforts of their home. I’m going to be partnering with other mental health organizations to help me achieve these goals because they already have proven and structured programs.
Managing my own mental health with growing the business, it’s a constant battle, but it has also taught me patience. It taught me how to have more control over my mind. Just talking myself through things, letting myself feel what I feel, but at the same time, not soaking in it.
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Feature image by Loren Blackman