A Personal Story About the Importance of Mental Wellness

May 3, 2024
10-12 min read
Need to Know

By Hilary Laney

This is a story about how depression and anxiety took over my well-being without much warning and the path I took to get back to a healthy mind and body.

Before the pandemic shut down our world and more specifically the events industry, I was a confident passionate business owner leading a team into growth and opportunity. I was just as dedicated to my business as I was to my family, partly because it was a family-owned business, but also because I loved the work I was doing and the people I served. My business was thriving because I was thriving. Growing a small business takes a lot of work and I will admit that at times the line between my work life and personal life was blurred. I think I had existed in that way for so many years, 16 to be exact, that it had become my normal. Looking back, although I was succeeding at all aspects of my life, I was actually barely hanging on. The best comparison is that of a juggler – all the balls were in the air, but what I didn’t realize is that if I dropped one of them the rest would fall. This is what the pandemic did for me.

Many of you may be thinking, it was a global pandemic, and literally everything fell apart to some degree for everyone. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself because how could I have been expected to continue juggling when there was nothing left to juggle. I agree, but my perspective of that reality was very different because up until that point, I was naïve enough to think that nothing could bring me down. I was convinced that I had already experienced the most challenging circumstances someone could face while running a business. So, even a year into the pandemic, I was still operating with that mindset.

I am able to tell this story with such clarity now, but when I was going through it, I could not see what was happening to me. I was so focused on keeping my business alive, my team employed, my family’s investments intact, my household happy – all of the balls in the air. Juggling. In reality, what was happening was external, something that had nothing to do with me, so I had lost control. The harder I worked to keep the balls in the air, the worse I felt. Everything was a failure of mine in my mind.

Fast forward to March of 2022. I went to my annual doctor’s appointment where I filled out one of those questionnaires that helps them understand what sort of mental state a person is in. Whether they are showing signs of depression and/or anxiety. I must have completed those forms dozens of times and never thought twice about it, but this time was different. As I was reading the questions, I started to realize that I was experiencing the symptoms they were asking about. I answered yes to many of them and I couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking that couldn’t be right and so I would just wait to hear what the doctor had to say before I got too worried. The doctor confirmed my concerns and by the end of the appointment, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

The good news at this point is that I finally understood what my mind and body were going through. That all the sadness, stress, loneliness, fears, sleepless nights, desire to drink wine every evening, lack of engagement with my friends - all of it had an explanation. I was depressed and struggling with anxiety. Knowing the reason gave me a sense of comfort because I am a problem solver – so I was able to start addressing the problem in a real way rather than ignoring it.

The challenge now was figuring out how to treat it. I didn’t want to take medication, so I knew it was up to me to change my lifestyle. A lifestyle I had built over the past 18 years at this point. One of blurred lines between my work and personal lives. A lifestyle I was actually proud of and boasted about because I felt I had “figured it all out”. Here I was, faced with the notion that everything I had worked so hard to achieve, was not actually working for me. How does one completely rebuild their life at age 42 and at a time when all I felt I needed was consistency because the pandemic had already brought on so much change?

I started with research. I wanted to truly understand what depression and anxiety are. What causes them? What are all the possible symptoms? How common are they? How do people treat them without medication? Will my family, friends, and employees understand? Who will be there to support me?

Once I had answers to all my questions, I was able to build a plan for what my new life would look like. The first thing I had to examine was my role as a business owner in the events industry coming out of the pandemic. It took a lot of soul searching, self-reflection, conversations with trusted mentors, family members, and friends before I came to the realization that my business was a huge contributor to the mental illness I was experiencing. That was a very difficult notion to accept. For me, that was like hearing my own child was harmful for me. I didn’t know how to make a change with that part of my life in such a way that I would get healthier, but also feel fulfilled in the work would be doing.

Ultimately, selling my business was the right answer for me, my family, employees, and customers. I knew in this new market, we needed to join forces with another event company. This meant finding the perfect fit for my team, brand, clients, and partners. From the moment I made this decision to the time that my company was officially sold, and I was in my new role as a Chief Revenue Officer of a larger company – only 5 months had passed.

During those 5 months, knowing I was going to find a solution for the challenges I was faced with as a business owner, I was also focused on my day to day routine. I implemented a technique I learned many years back from my executive coach, Christina Marie Kimball, called Time Design. This is a pragmatic approach to scheduling one’s time week to week. It involves doing an audit of your time to determine how much you are spending in each category of your life (physical activity, commuting, work activities, time with family, etc.). Every person will have different categories, depending on where you want to be spending your time. The idea is that you adjust the bucket of hours you spend week to week in each category depending on what is most important to you. I realized I was spending far too much time at work and not enough time with myself and my family. I started doing yoga every morning, spending Fridays working in a new location to get out of my house, taking the kiddos to school in the mornings to get more time with them, and choosing to spend more quality time with my family and friends.

I also learned through my research that putting a focus on deep breathing can really help with anxiety. I came across a tool called The Shift, which is a 2” metal tube that I now wear around my neck every day. You put your lips on one end of the device and after inhaling through your nose, you then exhale through the narrow passage. Due to the shape of The Shift, you are forced to exhale slowly and in a controlled fashion, which naturally calms you down. I began wearing it on a chain around my neck every day and in the beginning, I was using it a few times a day. Whenever the stress of the day got the better of me, I would use it and it would help me through those moments. Now, I still wear it every day, but almost never have to use it. Just knowing it’s there has become intention enough for my mind to remain calm. Every morning, I put it on, I think about how I want to have a calm day, and I remind myself to breathe.

Another very impactful decision my partner and I made was to take our long overdue honeymoon to celebrate our 10-year anniversary. We could not afford it and it required help from my parents to watch the kids for two weeks, but that trip saved me. To have the opportunity to step out of the day to day operations of my business and the routine with our kids to just focus on ourselves and each other was exactly what I needed. It helped me remember why I was working so hard in the first place. It reminded both of us how important it is to remain connected and just have fun with each other. Fun! We all could use more of that in our lives, right?

Now, 2 years after my diagnosis and heading into mental health awareness month, I cannot help but be so grateful for the enlightenment my doctor provided me. It was so important to have that support and to be provided the resources I needed to get healthy. I am also grateful for everyone who encouraged me through my journey back to mental wellness. It hasn’t been easy, and I still struggle in some ways. But my support system knows what I am going through, and everyone understands when I advocate for myself - even if it means canceling plans because I am overwhelmed with life. Finally, I am so thankful for the team at TPN for taking a chance on me and my company. For giving us a new opportunity to thrive.

It is critical that we as humans, parents, partners, friends, and working professionals particularly those of us in events, talk about our mental health. Good or bad. We need to be there for each other and practice empathy for those who may be struggling. Carrying that conversation into the workplace is important because that often times can be the cause of many people’s struggles.

I have included a list of resources below that I found helpful through my journey. Please feel free to connect with me if you have any questions or just want to talk!


The Shift Breathing Tool – This is the breathing tool I purchased and wear every day.

Christina Marie Kimball – Christina Marie is my Executive Coach whom I have worked with on and off for nearly 10 years.

We Do Hard Things – Glennon Doyle, Abby Wambach, and Amanda Doyle seriously helped me in my lowest times. They are so positive and help others realize their potential. If you have not listened to it, you absolutely should!

Finding Me – Viola Davis wrote a memoir and I read it while on my trip to Tahiti. Reading about her perseverance through an excruciating upbringing and poor treatment throughout her career really inspired me. Her story helped me realize we can get through anything as humans, we just have to keep moving forward.

Tahiti Legends – My partner and I used this agency to help us book our “honeymoon”. Being an event professional, I didn’t want to have to plan anything and they made that possible!!!