Discussing Mental Health – An interview with Abi Lemon

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Mental health is a serious topic and all too common in the design industry, but due to fear most of us keep our problems private, and some never seek help.

To encourage people to open up, to talk about their problems and get the help they need, in this episode Ian interviews Abi Lemon to have an honest and open discussion about the challenges they’ve both faced with mental health, how they acknowledged they had a problem, how they sought out help, and how they’ve come through the other side with a positive outlook on life.

We also discuss toolkit ideas to focus on positivity, thoughts on imposter syndrome, how to work on personal development and a few book recommendations too.

Abi Lemon is the founder of Brand Pharmacy, focusing on adventurous outdoor brands.

 

Discussing Mental Health - An interview with Abi Lemon

Books & Resources Mentioned

 

 

Abi Lemon Interview Transcription

 

Ian Paget: On Facebook I’ve noticed you openly share your story about mental health. And as someone who suffered from anxiety, I appreciate the honesty and openness. Mental health isn’t discussed enough in the design space. And that’s why I thought it’d be great to get you on the podcast so that we can have a honest and open chat about this. And I hope it would help someone out there.

I think to start the discussion, can I ask you to share with us your story and how mental health has played a part in your life?

 

Abi Lemon: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. So mental health has always been something that, even if I didn’t know, it has played a massive part in things that have happened to me and things that I’ve done and therefore my life.

I guess even in childhood, I remember feeling different from other people. I remember being a very shy and kind of a bit of loner, if you like, as a kid, right up to now. And I was actually diagnosed with bipolar too in 2014 and have had over the years probably more clinical depressive episodes than I have hypermania.

So it’s kind of my story from kind of, I guess, a teenager that I did seek out quite a lot of dangerous behaviour. I was always, you know, I’ve been through phases of spending so much money that I don’t have and having these random, crazy patches to absolute black episodes where I’ve not been out of bed. I’ve contemplated the worst, shall we say? You know, I’ve thought about driving my car off the road. I’ve had some … Although I’ve never acted on anything like that. The thoughts of it being just too painful to go on and that life is just too much have been present on for three several periods over the last, I would say, 25-odd years.

As an aside to that, I’m very lucky at the moment that the past, I would say, 12 months or so, I’ve taken my health incredibly seriously. I’ve got myself free from a quite a negative situation relationship-wise that I was in. And I think realistically, external factors play a massive part in my wellness. And I’ve taken steps really to make sure that I’m well at the moment. I look after myself. I’m in a very good place. And I’m kind of seeking, I guess, to understand more about how my brain is working and how I can continue to be in this good place from here on in.

 

Ian Paget: First of all, thank you for being so transparent there. I know personally I’ve got friends and family that suffer with problems as well. And I think just the share or act of actually acknowledging that something’s not right and working through it is important. And I can see that you’ve done that. And now you seem to be in a really good place.

Would you mind talking through how you went about getting help and how you worked through the problems that you recognised?

 

Abi Lemon: Yeah, absolutely. I guess the first time that I really got official help, if you like, was I was in my teens, I guess I was probably 18 or 19. Again I had been through a phase where I pretty much rebellious. I was probably, I was quite off the rails. I dropped out of college. I was big into the rave scene. I was doing things I shouldn’t have been doing and basically seeking out danger, if you like. And it kind of, looking back, I could see that was a hypermanic phase. But at the time it just felt like partying and just being quite crazy, I guess.

The blackness that kind of followed at the point, that kind of age 19, I guess, was pretty intense. And I actually realised that I couldn’t, I didn’t know what to do. I think it wasn’t that I thought, Oh my God, I’m mentally ill or I need some extra help. It was just like, I don’t, I can’t go to work. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know who I am anymore. And I ended up just going to the GP and just basically dissolving into a massive puddle of tears to the GP and just explaining how I was feeling.

And it wasn’t that I was scared to do that. It was just I didn’t know that that was even the right place. And I didn’t know who to tell. My family lived abroad. I was kind of alone, if you like. I just didn’t know who to reach out to. So I just took the decision that I need to reach out to someone, because I’m really struggling here on my own, and that was the GP.

And they were helpful, obviously. They were supportive. I had some therapy at the time and actually started to realise that reaching out for help was probably the best thing I could’ve ever done at that point.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah. I can relate with the idea of getting help. Because whilst I haven’t gone through things like you have, growing up, I had problems with being very shy. And I always thought it was quite normal. But I don’t know if you’ve had it … You know when you need to do public speaking or presentations?

 

Abi Lemon: Yep.

 

Ian Paget: I would get really panicky. And my heart would be racing. And I’d be so incredibly terrified of it that there were times when I made myself ill so I didn’t have to go to school and found it hard that way.

For me it got worse as I got into adulthood. I developed stuttering as a teenager. But what I did is I just avoid those words. So things like “return” … See, I still stuttered a little bit there. But going on the bus, I had to say, “Return to Kings Hill,” which was my school. But what I decided to do was just give the bus driver the money and walk on. I made sure to have the exact amount. So I stopped doing that. And I just avoided saying these words.

But when you get into work, you have to say people’s names. You have to say certain words. You can’t get around it. And for me, it just got really bad. And then I just recognised that, I think a lot of people are scared of public speaking. I think that’s quite common.

But for me, things like shaking whilst eating, so there was a time when there was a group of us around the table with really watery soup and there’s me panicking about eating a bloody bowl of soup, which is ridiculous. But I was a number of things, and I just acknowledged something’s not right. I’m just going to go and speak to my doctor and see if there’s anything to do and get help in that way. And I did personally and there wasn’t an immediate solution.

Just talking about it and knowing what’s causing the issue and knowing what you can do to work through it, for me, helped immensely.

 

Abi Lemon: Absolutely. And I think just like you said, just opening up and just saying it out loud to somebody, it kind of, I always call it naming the beast, you know?

 

Ian Paget: Yeah.

 

Abi Lemon: It kind of names the beast so you can then, once you know what you’re dealing with, you can then kind of find a way around, some way of kind of dealing with it.

The last very bad episode that I had was 2014. I was working in a corporate job, so very high-pressured. You know, good money, really kind of just so much pressure though, just so much pressure. I had so little control, I guess, over my environment at the time.

And I think reaching out is one thing. But I think when you’re in a situation where your external environment can really contribute to how you’re feeling in your mental health, I think reaching out, finding the right person to reach out to, is sometimes a bit more difficult and a bit more scary, because to the outside world, you’ve got a great job. You’re doing well. You’ve got everything going for you. But on the inside, you’re kind of considering driving off the road or throwing yourself down stairs to avoid going to that situation. I know this is quite an extreme thing.

And I think as a designer, I am now lucky enough that I have my own business, and I don’t have to go that corporate, pressured job. We can create a world for ourselves that are maybe a bit different to the person that loves the corporate job. But we can create this environment that supports our mental health and can really kind of, I can’t think of the right word, gives us comfort, if you like. And we can manage that around how we feel, which I still feel incredible gratitude for. Because I know now that if I have a really bad day, or if I’m feeling low, I can have a bad day and no one’s going to see it necessarily, you know? And you can find out those things to look after yourself in that way.

 

Ian Paget: So I’m just curious then, that corporate job, did you make the choice to leave it because you were feeling overwhelmed in that position?

 

Abi Lemon: Yeah, I was actually … It was a kind of mutual “I’m going to leave” situation.

I had five managers in three years. The manager I had before my final manager was amazing. He was very supportive. He understood. I told him about how I … I wouldn’t say he made allowances, because it wasn’t the case. My work was still done. I was still, you know. But he understood kind of how I worked, if you like.

The last person that came into the role about a year before I left the job was very inexperienced. She refused to actually talk about any mental health issues as being something you talk about, even though I had my union … It sounds really awful, but I had the union were kind of trying to help me through this and everything. And in the end we kind of both decided that actually I wasn’t going to continue in the role. And I knew that I couldn’t anyway. I knew I couldn’t. So I wouldn’t say, it wasn’t … It was a two-sided thing. And I decided to leave, yeah.

 

Ian Paget: So I mean, after that, I guess you were in a situation where you no longer had a job anymore. What was it that made you think, Okay, I’m going to start my own business?

 

Abi Lemon: I mean, I was already doing some design stuff on the side. Because that’s just what you do, isn’t it? You kind of … I had little projects going and everything else. So it wasn’t an entirely new thing at that point. I did have something sort of on the side, if you like, that I was building up.

But I kind of, I mean, I had to earn money. I had to support my family. And I had to contribute to the house and everything else. The only way I could see, at the time that I was really in a massive black hole, the only way that I could see that I could contribute anything was to do something that I could fit around myself, if you like.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah.

 

Abi Lemon: And around my health, rather than having to be somewhere at 8:30 in the morning and having to still be there at 6:30 at night. That level of kind of dictates on your life, I found really, really difficult to handle when I was in that low patch.

 

Ian Paget: It’s good that you were able to work through that. I know it’s not … I know it must have been really hard. I’d love to know how you actually went about building that around your health?

 

Abi Lemon: I guess part of, I think, the reason that I’m so well now and that I can cope with my health and everything else is I’ve really kind of spent a lot of time on personal development, as cheesy as that sounds. I was introduced to Tony Robbins of all people when I was in my early 20s. And I never really understood the whole personal development thing until I think probably about five or six years ago. So I’ve tried to get to know myself from a kind of personal development perspective.

I studied neurobiology and cellular biology as an Open University degree when I was also just coming out of that last black spot. So I wanted to learn how physically my brain works and everything else.

So I guess the point I’m trying to make there is I spent time knowing myself and knowing kind of how I felt and how I felt before a crash was likely to happen or the first signs of hypermanic episode or something like that. It was just kind of checking in with how I felt on a daily basis so that I could take steps to not let it go too far or just to have a bad day. So that was kind of the first thing, was really getting to know myself.

To build a business around my health, I guess that was … I love what I do, so that helps. We’re lucky as designers we have a passion for what we do and you feel like you’re kind of expressing yourself in some ways. Sometimes it’s not quite like that. But generally speaking, as a designer you do it, you get into it because you enjoy that and you’re kind of a creative type of person. So that helps.

I think there is a lot of just bloody well get on with it as well, which is really hard when you’re coming out of an episode of depression. Obviously I was also on medication as well. So that helped lift me from the kind of hole, if you like. I wouldn’t say medication is the solution for everybody on a long-term basis. But definitely if you’re that low that you can’t physically claw yourself back to some kind of normality then you have to understand what it can offer you and how it might be able to help. So that really did help me at the time as well. Kind of give me that little lift, if you like, to then be able to, oh, I’m going to get dressed today. I’m going to take my laptop to a coffee shop. I’m going to start contacting some of my old clients and perhaps I can do a logo design today.

But just all those little steps every day. And it wasn’t always … There were days when I didn’t. And there were days when I did. It was the same as anyone. It was really hard sometimes. But you do just have to decide that’s what you’re going to do. And you have to just wake up some days and just do it, even if you don’t feel like it in any way, shape or form.

So it was tough. But it’s kind of also built some scaffolding and foundation for even how I run my business now. Because I think even though I’m not depressed, I don’t have the mood fluctuations I used to, the fact that I’ve got this kind of backbone now that it’s like, okay, so I don’t feel like it today. But I’m self-employed. Some days you don’t feel like it you’re employed or whatever. But I have that kind of backbone that says, “Right, I know you don’t feel like it today, Abi. But we’re going to get up, and we’re just going to do it.” And you do.

And I think that discipline from deciding that I was going to be well and I was going to do something different to what I’ve done for the past sort of 20 years before that was another factor in trying to build something that was supportive rather than something that chipped a bit of me away.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, yeah. To be honest, I can imagine anyone would relate with that. Because I found … I mean in terms of my background, I worked in corporate jobs for like 10 years. And it was maybe three years ago that I decided I wanted to work for myself. But the company offered me a part-time position, so I work for myself on a part-time basis. And it’s funny when you work for yourself and you got no one there to kind of tell you what to do. And you got no sense of pressure or anything like that. I think everyone’s the same. I face this anyway. When my alarm went off at 6:30 in the morning, I’m like, “No.”

 

Abi Lemon: Sod that.

 

Ian Paget: “I want to stay in bed.” And you really just need to sit down and get on with it. Because in a 9-to-5 job, you have to be there at 9 even if you don’t feel like it. You have to sit down and you have to get on with work even when you’re tired, when you’re ill, whatever. You just sit down and get on with it.

And I think when you work for yourself, it’s the same thing. I mean, I do understand when you’re low, because when I started my business, I was coming out of a relationship and my mom just died and stuff like that…

 

Abi Lemon: Oh, bless you.

 

Ian Paget: I felt really low at the time. And that was on the back of my mind the entire time when you just felt really down. But you just have to get on with it because you need things to be done. So I think for everybody, even with mental health or not, that’s good advice.

I’m just thinking, I just want to kind of backtrack a little bit, back to what you were speaking about earlier, because I want to make sure that we cover it. So there was a point in your story when you said that you went to the doctor and you broke down. You asked for help.

 

Abi Lemon: Yup.

 

Ian Paget: We didn’t go into how they helped you and how you worked with them to get the support that you needed. Would you mind talking through that, what the help and support looks like?

 

Abi Lemon: Yeah, the first time at the age of like 18, 19, I would say the help came in the form of the GP prescribing me some medication, and I had some counselling. I wouldn’t say at the time it was … I didn’t know what I needed. So it was kind of, you don’t know what to ask for. You kind of just get what you’re given when it comes to the NHS, which is fabulous because they’re there. But I didn’t, you know, that’s kind of how it was at the time. So they gave me some antidepressants. I had some counselling. I kind of felt better after taking the tablets and having some therapy. And that was kind of it, I guess, for that period.

I went on to, I guess, the next time I went to the doctors … Because I was only on those tablets for, I don’t know how long, a few months maybe and then came off. The next time I was really quite low was I think after my daughter was born, so that would’ve been in 2001. I didn’t have post-natal depression but I did have very bad social anxiety, almost like agoraphobia. I didn’t want to go out of the house or I just felt like people were looking at me. It was just horrible. So I went to the doctor’s then.

And I would say that the support I got the second time, because I was a bit more educated, a bit more wiser, a bit older, was better, because I didn’t just kind of get what I was given. I kind of went in and said, “Look, this is how I’m feeling.” I gave them a bit more information, I guess, about my situation as well. And that again, I was on medication again, but my GP was very good. He used to, they used to follow up with me regularly to check I was taking my medication. They used to ring me every so often. Again, had some counselling, which was really helpful.

So I think the second time, because I kind of felt a bit sort of … Because the first time I’d almost gone away and looked up what depression was and I’d looked up what … So I kind of was a bit more kind of educated, I guess, as to what possibly was out there and how I could, you know, what I might need and also how I was feeling and how to describe that. So I felt the second time, it was a bit more supportive because I felt like it was a bit more ongoing rather than just “Here’s the pills and off you go.” It felt like they were kind of there a bit every step of the journey, if you like, over the coming few months for that.

I think the worst thing that I did in that time, which I think has probably impeded my health and everything else, was I was never fully honest with the doctors as to how I was completely feeling, because I was embarrassed to talk about it. So I think if I had let the GP into the darkest corners of how my thoughts were at the time … I just felt like I couldn’t say that. So that was something I probably should have talked about more with them and felt that I could open up more. But I know it’s sometimes, you go there and you kind of tell them some but you don’t say it all because you’re afraid of what they might think of you or I don’t know … So I should’ve really been a bit more open and probably almost confided in my family a bit more as well. Because I kind of kept them at arm’s length at the time too and just sort of it was in my own head, if you like, which kind of makes it even worse.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, I know it can be that way. I mean, I think it’s worth for the listeners as well if I go through what I did.

 

Abi Lemon: Yeah.

 

Ian Paget: So when I recognised I had something wrong, it was actually when I was at the doctor, because I needed to register a new doctor. We did a health check. And I mentioned some of the problems that I was having with a number of things. And the nurse said I potentially have social anxiety, and she gave me a card for something in the UK called talking therapies. It was something that they had in the area where I used to live. And that was kind of more like a hotline. But they actually had a place where you could go as well.

So I think I just wrote them an email. And then they called. They invited me in. That first session, I felt so uncomfortable going in. It was this, I don’t know, it just felt really … I felt like there was something very wrong with me. And it was really uncomfortable going into this building. But the lady I spoke to was lovely. She asked me to talk through what was happening. And then they booked me in for some one-to-one time.

Basically it was just in a room with a guy who’s trained in mental health and stuff like that. And he didn’t go into anything I was expected him to. I thought I was going to be laid down on a bed. And I thought he’d be asking me to tell him about my mother and stuff like that and really go into the childhood. But he just literally went through, explained how the brain works and the reason why I’m facing this and what’s causing this.

And he went through something called CBT. And it’s a type of therapy where the three different areas are associated. And if you change your behaviour, you can influence everything else. And he just basically spoke through how it works, how fear happens, and gave me some exercises to try.

Some of the problems I had at the time, things like shaking whilst eating in public or holding a glass or something like that, after one session with the guy, it solved my problem.

 

Abi Lemon: Amazing.

 

Ian Paget: Which was amazing. It was just so helpful to have someone explain how the brain works.

 

Abi Lemon: CBT is a wonderful thing, actually. It really is.

 

Ian Paget: So it’s not quite the same thing. But for me, that one … I mean, I had a few sessions with him and a number of telephone calls, but those few sessions I had with that guy changed my life.

And I’m so thankful that I acknowledged that there was something not right with me. And I went to go and get help. Because I know people that don’t get the help and they suffer with these problems all the time. And I think it’s good to talk about it.

 

Abi Lemon: Yeah. And I’m always, always, always open for someone to reach out. Because I think just, like I think I said before, just naming it, just saying the words out loud or even just kind of admitting to yourself that there’s something that’s not quite right, is such a big step. It’s such a big step. And it feels like a valve being slightly released, you know? That kind of pressure that builds up inside.

And yeah, and I think the creative community, there’s lots of us creatives seem to have these things that we kind of bottle up. And the pressure and things as well. And I know amongst men as well, I know there’s lots of men out there that kind of … I know women too, but there seems to be a big thing about male suicides being one of the causes of death now for young men. And it’s just awful that these guys feel that they just don’t have someone to reach out to or can’t. They feel afraid to reach out to somebody.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, yeah. I think it’s worth saying that everyone’s problem is different, and the two of us are not qualified necessarily to help with this. All we’re doing is having a conversation about what we face and how we’ve got help. So if there is someone out there that does need help, like I said, talk to a friend. Talk to a family member. If you feel it’s more serious, go to speak to a doctor. It’s worth doing because you can hear both myself and Abi are in much better places because we did go and seek help. And if you are listening and you’re in that place, please go and get help. I don’t want you to be one of those people that, you know, where the worst happens. That’s an awful situation.

 

Abi Lemon: It is. And yeah, absolutely. And I think, and I know now that if I did feel low again, or the same with you, you would go and speak to the right person.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, it’d be the first thing that I would do. And I’ve got friends and family … To be honest, in the creative space, it’s actually a lot more common than you think, that people have something wrong with them. And all of the people that I know that have accepted that they have something, they’ve gone to get the help and whilst there isn’t always a solution, you know, medication does not solve the problem, it just helps you work through it. But just getting that extra nudge or the extra bit of help allows you to work through it. And I kind of want to encourage people to open up.

 

Abi Lemon: And I think you said the word acceptance. So I think that for me is kind of one of the biggest things that’s helped me run a business. It’s helped me get to where I am, where I kind of I could put hand on heart and say I am well.

It’s this acceptance that actually maybe things are a little bit trickier for me sometimes or it’s just different. There’s a slightly flexible brain chemistry going on or something that’s just not, you know. But the acceptance of that, and the kind of the feeling that “Actually I accept that today is not a great day. but tomorrow I’ll be back and it will be fine.”

You know, I have actually a tattoo that says, one of my favourite sayings, which is “This too shall pass.” And I kind of, that motto, I know it’s a bit cheesy, but it’s kind of my mantra, if you like. Because I know that the really amazing days when you’re feeling great and you think nothing can touch you and you’re kind of everything is rosy, you know, that too will pass. So you got to appreciate those days, because they won’t be like that forever. And that’s kind of a gratitude thing.

But those really shitty, sorry to swear, those black days, they will pass as well. Nothing stays the same. Everything’s kind of in this kind of cycle and this fluctuation.

So for me, when I have the good days, it’s a reminder to be grateful and kind of appreciate it and to kind of use that energy as like a battery charge, if you like. And for those bad days when … And then also that will pass as well. And just kind of reminding myself of that.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, yeah. Something silly that I do is everybody has bad days. And I try to imagine it like a moment in a film. It’s like, oh, this is the bad bit in the film. You can imagine the sad music. It cheers me up in some way. And I know that, like with a story, every story has its up and downs. Every person, everybody has ups and downs through their life.

So if you’re at a real low, just keep working through it, try to think forward how you can solve the problem. Get help if you need it. But just remember that things will pick back up. You’ll have those good days again. And you can work through it in that way.

 

Abi Lemon: Yup, absolutely.

 

Ian Paget: Now, you mentioned about imposter syndrome earlier. I know that’s not mental health in the way that we’ve been speaking and getting proper clinical help, which is what we’ve been speaking about. Well, I know imposter syndrome falls under mental health as well. I know, I think in the graphic design space it’s easy to do this because of things like Instagram and Behance…

 

Abi Lemon: Oh, yeah.

 

Ian Paget: And you look online and you think, I’m never going to be that good. What’s the point? I know you’ve got thoughts on imposter syndrome as well. Would you mind talking about that a little bit as well?

 

Abi Lemon: Yeah, absolutely. Now, I’ve suffered from imposter syndrome in the past as a designer, as a person, in life and at work and whatever. And I know that many of us do, I’d say most of us, most of us do at some point.

So imposter syndrome, for those people who don’t know, is that feeling, that kind of you’re going to get found out at any moment that you’re faking it or that you’re a fraud or that you can’t do what you say you can or that you’re never going to be, you’re not good enough, and that kind of thing.

And yeah, we all get it. I’ve suffered massively with it, especially when I was sort of setting up my business a few years ago. It’s like I’ve been out of design for a little while. I’m kind of really trying to get back into it.

The way I view imposter syndrome is it’s kind of this feeling, because you’re usually going through some kind of up-leveling change, if you like, so you get imposter syndrome because suddenly you’re in a room full of people or you’re looking at stuff that is just that bit above where you are or where you want to be. So it’s kind of, I guess, the way that I see imposter syndrome, for me personally, is that I’m feeling like it because I’m going through some … I’m about to go up to a bit of the next level in what I’m doing. And it’s that fear factor.

To be honest, if you’re feeling that about your life and everything else and you’re looking at Instagram and you’re looking at Facebook and you’re feeling really crap about stuff and … the only way to kind of break the cycle of that, for me, is I delete the apps off my phone. If I started getting really kind of obsessed about how I’m not going to be good enough or I take the stand of “Right, I’m just actually going to delete Facebook off my phone. I’m going to delete Instagram off my phone. And I’m just going to have a pause from all of that.” Because you have to. You have to break that cycle of thinking somehow. So that’s kind of a way, I guess, that I get around those kind of feelings if they’re becoming a bit more intrusive and a little bit more kind of distracting me from my own goals and things.

 

Ian Paget: I find one of the most important things is compare yourself to who you were yesterday rather than to compare yourself with other people. Because if you’re continuously developing yourself and you’re improving yourself, that’s the best way that you can be. There’s no point in looking at work from someone else that’s maybe been doing it significantly longer than you or they had more training than you for whatever reason. There’s no point in comparing yourself with them.Yeah, they are better. They might be more talented or whatever. but there’s literally no point in comparing yourself with them.

Focus on improving you. Focus on personal development, which we spoke about. If you’re not good at presenting, not good at talking, which is my weakness, I’m working to get better, which is why I do things like my podcast or why I’ve been trying to push myself to do speaking at different things and things like that. Focus on self-development and who you were yesterday.

 

Abi Lemon: Yeah. Another personal development thing that I think I’ve latched on to a lot that has helped me, both with imposter syndrome, mental health, with everything, is just this idea of gratitude as well. And I know it’s another cheesy thing I’m talking about, but I start my day with … I got this app. It’s called, I’m going to tell you what it’s called right now, it’s called the Five Minute Journal. And it’s on your phone. And you literally start the day … It asks you for three things you’re going to do today to make it amazing. And then you close the day off with I think three things that you’re grateful for for that day.

Something as simple as just being, finding something every single day to be grateful for, whether that’s you went out with the dog and it was just beautiful, or you got a new client and you scored a 10-grand deal or something. It could be something tiny. It could be something massive.

But for me, and I think to kind of get over some of these issues that I’ve had and I know that others have, is really kind of find these little things every single day to be grateful for. Because there is something in every day. For even in the darkest and most bleak and most horrific, spiky, horrible pit of despair, there is something there. And you have to force yourself a bit sometimes. But there is always something to be grateful for. And the more we get into that practice, the more I think it helps us see the positive in situations. Even though there are situations where there is no real, sometimes no obvious positive, but just having this gratitude for life.

As a kind of a side story, my dad died when I was 27, I guess? So a few years ago. And I was pregnant with my son at the time.

 

Ian Paget: Aw.

 

Abi Lemon: Yeah, my dad had multiple sclerosis. So he was ill for a very long time. The only way you could describe my dad was he was like a voracious life and soul of the party. He played drums in a band. He had his pilot’s license. He was a scuba a diver. He was like the social, ladies’ man. He was this charming kind of guy that everybody liked. Had this lust for life and everything else.

And to see somebody like that have it all kind of stripped away by this illness, I mean, you wouldn’t think there’s any kind of positive in that at all. Because there really isn’t. It was horrible to watch and to see.

But what it has done for me now is made me realise, and it’s taken me quite a few years, because I’m a few years older than 27 now, it’s taken me a few years to kind of really appreciate that, there by the grace of God goes anyone of us. And this whole thing for gratitude and just being thankful for what we do have now, rather than really kind of focusing on what we don’t, which I think is imposter syndrome, which is also kind of the beginnings of a slippery slope into a low mood, is I think a really important thing to kind of try and embrace a little bit. Even though I know it’s hard.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, I really love all the mindfulness stuff and being in the moment and things like that. My partner’s really into that. And I mean, I’ve read a few books and stuff on it as well. And there’s a few apps that help with breathing and stuff like that. And I do think that they make a difference.

 

Ian Paget: The five-minute journal, I didn’t know there was an app.

 

Abi Lemon: Yeah.

 

Ian Paget: I need to try that, but I have the printed one, and I found it useful. It’s really nice to try and think what was good today. And as well, sorry, just to add to that, again, because my partner’s into it, she started a positivity jar, and any time something good happened, you need to write it down. And she’s got all these coloured sheets of paper. You write it down. You fold it up. You put it in the jar. And then at the end of year, we’re going to open them.

 

Abi Lemon: Oh, that’s amazing.

 

Ian Paget: So yeah, there’s loads in there. To be honest, we kind of put it off. We haven’t been adding to it. But there’s loads of things in there. I can’t remember what’s there. But at the end of the year we’re going to go through it. And it will be lots of little moments, little things that you forget. But we’ll be able to go through and I just think it’s a nice thing.

 

Abi Lemon: These are all real parts of a toolkit that you can kind of build around sort of bolstering up your mental health and how you feel even if it’s just kind of … That you have your bad day or whether you’re kind of prone to these low moods, I think anything you can do as part of a kit, if you like, to help feel better and to focus on good things then is really important. And that sounds amazing. And I might do that. I’m writing a note to myself now.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, no, it’s really nice. Yeah, both me and her, we do it together. We write things down. And I can’t remember exactly what we got in there now.

 

Abi Lemon: But that’s good, yeah.

 

Ian Paget: But yeah, we need to add to it. Yeah, it’s nice to focus on being present and the good things that have happened today, rather than focusing on the bad thing that happened last week or this bad thing that’s happening. You try to remain positive, and I think it’s a nice thing.

 

Abi Lemon: And I think it’s like they say with social media. You can have a hundred positive comments on something, and then one negative comment. And it’s the negative comment that keeps you awake and not the 99 other … So it’s really important to find those little positive bits.

And do it every day as well. Really make it a practice rather than just a one-off. Because it kind of … If you want to go into neurobiology, it kind of is this … It creates new pathways in your brain, new kind of neural pathways for how you think. So it does have a physical affect on your health as well as just a kind of more spiritual one, if you like.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, yeah. Now, I think because hopefully we’ve covered all of the mental health stuff in a nice way. We’ve done what we set out to do. So I want to ask you about your agency…

 

Abi Lemon: Go on.

 

Ian Paget: What you’ve set up. You went into briefly earlier.

Now, I know we spoke recently and you spoke a little about niching down. And I did an episode recently on niching down. And I know that you’ve just done that yourself.

Could you talk through what you’ve done, and why you’ve done what you’ve done and what you’re doing now?

 

Abi Lemon: Okay. So before I was just kind of like, I design anything for anybody that wants to pay me. Which is fine if people are kind of bringing stuff to your door. But when it kind of comes to, I guess, more outbound marketing and everything else, I’ve never really niched down before. So that was something I think that, I think Chris Do talks about, I think lots of other people in the industry do talk about kind of finding this niche, not because you turn away every other job, but just so that people, if you are going to do some outbound marketing, you’ve got a focus and direction for it.

The reason I chose the niche I did, which is the kind of outdoor adventure lifestyle space, is because from a purely personal and selfish perspective, that’s what I love. So I’m a snowboarder. I’m a windsurfer. I love to go to Greece and wind surf … I just, I’m always in the outdoors. We live by the beach. I’m in the forest.

So the reason I chose the niche I did was I just really, purely looked at it and thought, What do I like? Who do I want to hang around with as clients? What have I got in common with certain people? If I’m going to go to trade shows and stuff, chatting to people, how am I going to make these conversations genuine and not just kind of “Buy my stuff”? So yeah, that was what I did.

And funny enough, I changed all my marketing stuff, my LinkedIn profile. And literally a week later, I had somebody just fall in my inbox, talk about serendipity, from that niche, who wanted me to do a full identity, brand identity design for them.

So, yeah, watch this space as to how it’s going to work with the niching down, whether I niche further or keep it as it is. But yeah, it was … I kind of, I guess when you’re self-employed, you get to choose who you work with a little bit. And that was my … My choice was to just to kind of work with people in the space that I find interesting and I think I’ve got more of a passion for than perhaps if I was going to go and design a widget logo for …

But you know, if Mr. Widget Guy comes along and says, “Design my logo,” I probably would. But it’s more about kind of the outgoing message, if you like, rather than the inbounds clients.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, I can hear in your voice, you’re really excited about it. So how long ago was it that you made your mind up to focus?

 

Abi Lemon: It was only a couple of months ago, so not very long ago at all, yeah.

 

Ian Paget: Okay. So two months have gone by. What’s different? What’s changed for you?

 

Abi Lemon: I don’t know. I think I feel more comfortable about when I read my LinkedIn profile or I read my stuff, I just feel like it’s more me, if you like. So there’s that.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah.

 

Abi Lemon: So that’s purely from a kind of internal perspective. Yeah, I guess I’ve got more of a target focus with some outbound stuff that I’m doing as well.

I wouldn’t say anything’s drastically revitalised my business or doubled my turnover or anything. But I think from a, I guess, how I feel about the business, and when I kind of put myself out there, I feel I’ve got a bit more direction, rather than just kind of, I guess, just doing a bit of everything for everybody like the local print shop might do. I want it to be a little bit more focused and have some direction, just from a personal perspective.

And I think if I … To watch this space, it’s a kind of test, isn’t it? It might work out. It might not change anything. I think it’s too soon to really be able to decide if it’s a thing that’s going to make a big difference to my bottom line or not.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, yeah. I noticed that you still have it under your previous name. It’s still under Brand Pharmacy.

 

Abi Lemon: Yes.

 

Ian Paget: Are you planning to change that or are you sticking with the name?

 

Abi Lemon: No, I think I’m just going to stick with Brand Pharmacy, yeah.

 

Ian Paget: Okay, cool. Well, it’s awesome what you’re doing. I love that you’re experimenting. So fingers crossed that all goes well for you. And I look forward to hearing an update in the near future.

 

Ian Paget: Well, there’s one last thing I want to ask you. And that’s about a challenge that I’ve seen that you’ve been doing on Facebook, where you’ve been reading a whole list of books in quite a short period of time. What’s the reason you’re doing that and what have you learned from those books?

 

Abi Lemon: So the reason why was there was a few of us in a group that decided we were going to kind of just actually spend a bit of time doing some learning in that month.

So we all did it together. So it was a bit of an accountability thing.

So the books I’ve read now, off the top of my head, I can’t remember which ones it was … But I can tell you, what I can tell you is I’ve got a couple of books in front of me now, one of which I’m in the middle of reading and one of which I think has really kind of affected how I’m doing things at the moment. So I could talk about those two, if that’s okay.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, you can.

 

Abi Lemon: Okay. So the first book is a book called Make Time. Now, that’s written by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, both of which used to work at Google. I think Jake Knapp is well-known for his design sprints, etc.

Now, the reason I picked this up was, as a self-employed person, I’m looking at ways of kind of bookending my day a little bit and making it more useful and productive to myself, rather than a kind of meandering, doing everything all at once and never really finishing anything set up, which is sometimes the way it is, isn’t it? You never get around to doing that.

You never get around to doing that course you bought ages ago or read that book you read ages ago or … So it kind of intrigued me a little bit about the title.

And I guess the premise of the book in its entirely is not necessarily about getting more done in the day. It’s more about making the time to do the things that are really important. And those things are looking after yourself, which I’m obviously, from what we’ve talked about today, is massive in my life.

Those things are the people that are important to you. Those are kind of personal development side of it. So making time to do different things and add skills to your repertoire. So that’s what kind of I think I picked from the book, I guess.

Now they have lots of techniques to do this as … Because there’s two authors, they have this kind of dual written way in the book. So you’ve got Jake’s perspective and you’ve got John’s perspective, and there are different things that you can try and everything else.

The one that I took, I think, was around to-do lists. Because we all have massive to-do lists as self-employed people. And it was about taking basically one thing, your highlight, and just saying, “Right, so what one thing, if I do this today and nothing else, will be kind of the highlight of my day?” And it might not even be finish that logo presentation for the client. It could be out for dinner with your partner. Or it could be my one thing is I need to go to the sports day with my child. So it’s kind of about choosing this kind of daily highlight, I guess, and making sure that actually that is your non-negotiable thing for the day. So that was, I found … I did find the book incredibly useful, especially when if you’re anything like me, have several plates spinning at once and a life and a family and ah …

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, I think that overlaps with that five-minute journal as well. Because I don’t know if the app’s the same, but the book, you would have to write down your three things that you need to get done. So I think that’s … Actually, no, that’s not in the app, but in the book, you write down 3 things that you have to get done. And I’ve always tried to do that. So when, my list, … I’ve got a long list. I’m sure everyone listening to this, it’s a long list. I try to write down one or two or three things.

I like the one non-negotiable concept though. And I liked that you’re considering it not just about work. It’s about personal stuff as well. Because you can kind of forget about that a little bit.

 

Abi Lemon: Yeah, you can.

 

Ian Paget: I forgot about eating before, working for myself.

 

Abi Lemon: Yeah, you forget to go to the loo. You’re like, “I’ve needed to wee for ages.”

No, absolutely. Yeah, I find it really easy to read. It’s a good book with some good techniques for those of us who are perhaps time-challenged during the day and never seem to get to the things we say we want to do, you know? But we don’t prioritise them. So it’s very important. Yeah, so that’s one I’ve read recently.

The book, if we’ve got time, that I’m reading at the moment…

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, we do, yeah. Carry on.

 

Abi Lemon: Is a book called Radical Candor, by a lady called Kim Scott, who again I believe worked at Google. No, sorry, Apple. Yeah, Apple, Google. I think she was employed by Sheryl Sandberg at one point. She’s obviously a very high-level managerial kind of person in the tech space in the U.S.

Now, the book, essentially the premise of it is … The subtitle is How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean. Now, I think it’s really aimed at somebody leading a team and management style and everything else. But that’s kind of the next step for my business. It’s perhaps to look at maybe taking on freelancer or something else to sort of be able to grow.

And it’s just interesting how the premise, obviously radical candor means you’re kind of you’re not fluffing it up. There’s this old-school management styles of giving people feedback that they say you have to sandwich it in the middle of some nonsense good feedback followed by something bad, followed by something good. And she kind of blows it out of the water a little bit and just has this way of actually it’s about being quite honest but not being horrible or kind of … So yeah, I’m about halfway through that at the moment. And that was, I think it was someone like Jonathan Courtney or somebody I saw had recommended this on their Instagram. So I’ve picked it up thinking that might be useful at home as well, maybe. I don’t know.

 

Ian Paget: That sounds really good. That sounds really good.

Now, I just want to say, and I’m sure other people will notice this as well, when you’re talking about your business and everything and all the books, you sound so enthusiastic and so positive. And considering where we started the conversation, it’s hopefully nice … You know, someone out there will be listening to this, thinking, Wow, you started like that. And now you’re doing something like this and it sounds so exciting. You sound so happy. So I think that’s a really good way to kind of wrap up the interview.

 

Abi Lemon: Yeah, good.

 

Ian Paget: Abi, thank you so much for coming on. It’s been really good to chat. And I’m really hoping that someone out there, even if it’s one person, will listen to this and acknowledge that they should probably go and get the help that they need. So thank you for being transparent with your story.

 

Abi Lemon: No, it’s been my pleasure. Thank you.

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