From Anxious to Activist: How my anxiety helped me strive for exactly what I want, the way I want it

Elpha was kind enough to feature my career journey (and the large part my mental health played in it) in honor of Mental Health Awareness Week! Read it over on Elpha’s site here, or I’m also going to paste it below for safe keeping. 🙂

“Thinking outside the box” is not so much a skill as it is a survival method when you never fit in that damn box to begin with. I have anxiety. Anxiety has many different faces, but the form it takes in my life often has me avoiding social situations, or any sort of event that might be to sensory-overwhelming. I’m also an entrepreneur, so you can see where this may cause some bumps in the road!

I’ve always had anxiety for as long as I can remember, but I’ve also always been extremely goal-oriented. I would decide that I wanted to do something, and then, come hell or high water, I would get it done. I believe that it was this sort of single-mindedness that allowed me to forge the paths I needed to to achieve what I wanted to achieve. Because the odds were always stacked against me.

I’d like to take a little time-out here. Understandably so, when we have things about us that are different, we tend to be embarrassed or ashamed of them. We may even try to hide them. I’d been doing it throughout most of my life. “I’m sorry I can’t come to your party, I’m sick.” “Sorry I’m late, something came up.” But when it came to my college plans, I knew that if an arts degree was something that I truly wanted, and it was, I needed to get real with myself. I couldn’t always physically attend classes. Some days my anxiety was just too high. I realized that the path I needed to take was through distance learning (online courses), and I would do all the legwork I had to to find colleges that awarded degrees through 100% distance learning. There weren’t many, and I would search online for hours and hours every night. Eventually I did find a few, and though it took me roughly twice the time to graduate as it did for my non-anxious friends, I got my Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts in 2017.

This isn’t to say that you need a degree to be successful; but you do need a plan that works for you. If you know in your heart that you can’t handle on-campus college life, it’s not fair to yourself to apply that pressure. Find another way, or make your own. I kept with this same mantra when I started looking for work.

I knew I wanted to be able to wake up every day and create. I also knew that I still couldn’t make the commitment to commuting to and from an office. Leaving the house was something that was, and still is, very difficult for me. I started my online school search all over again, but this time for online internships. And just like last time, eventually, I found a match. Podcast audio editing – something creative that I could do right from my house!

I threw myself into honing my skills and being the best I could be at audio editing. This work paid off, because through word of mouth I was getting offered more and more podcasts to edit. My clients liked my work so much that they were telling their friends about me; and then those friends would reach out! I decided to give myself a brand name to do my work under: Husmus. Husmus means “house mouse” in Swedish, and that’s exactly what I was: a little mouse in my house scurrying around, getting my work done.

My story could very easily stop there… but it doesn’t. I was editing all of these podcast episodes for all of these badass entrepreneur women, and listening to them week after week took its toll on me. They were talking up panels and rallies and networking events; things that I knew would be super beneficial to grow my own brand, but things I also knew I couldn’t get out there and go to. That’s when the seed was planted for the Husmus Social Circle.

I posted on online forums for female entrepreneurs asking for advice and opinions, and so many of the responses were the same: “I feel like this too… I thought I was the only one.” Like I said before, when there are parts of us that are different, we become good at hiding them. Too good. So good that we didn’t know others were also struggling, since no one wanted to take the first step and admit it. And it’s hard to blame them, really. There’s little to no representation of mental illness in the media; and when there is, it’s often grossly inaccurate.

So I wanted to form a community. I wanted a safe-haven for female entrepreneurs working just as hard as all the ladies going to expos and workshops, but not able to reap the same benefits. A sounding board for women that had to forge their own paths due to their own mental health conditions, just like I did, because the traditional ones just aren’t always possible for us to tread.

The good news is that the more we talk about mental health openly, the more we realize that we’re not treading these paths alone. One day I hope that these events will offer more virtual components, but the only way to do that is by speaking up and showing that we’re a group that is largely underrepresented in the business space, and we deserve more accessibility to these happenings that will help us grow our own brands and businesses into the best they can be.

Henry Ford once said “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” I could not agree more. Working with and around mental health challenges is difficult, but it’s also do-able. Stand strong in the progress you have made, don’t let the setbacks stop you, and keep striving for exactly what you want, the way you want it.

Nicole Canovas is a graphic designer, audio engineer that specializes in podcast production, and mental health activist. She founded her “creative tech services” brand, Husmus, in 2017, and in 2019 started The Husmus Social Circle: a growing hub of resources and support for fellow entrepreneurs working with anxiety and/or other mental health issues. Her main goal in all of her work, be it visual, auditory, or through her writing on the Husmus Social Circle blog, is to ensure that important stories and ideas are shared, and that the voices behind them are given an equal platform from which they can be truly heard.

If you’re ready to share your own story, please do e-mail me at Nicole@husmus.co and I’ll post it on the blog. Talking and sharing is such an important part of not only growing awareness in others, but growing confidence within ourselves!