Working It: How Jessica Manuszak Built a Rock Solid Business After Hitting Rock Bottom

By To Write Love on Her ArmsNovember 9, 2017

Too often we hear from people who are worried that they can’t achieve their dreams or have a successful career because of their mental health issues. We hope our “Working It” interview series proves that it’s possible to do that and so much more.

You can read the first installment, with YA author Zan Romanoff, here.

TWLOHA: For our readers who aren’t familiar with you or your work, can you tell us a little about who you are and what you do?

JESS: I’m Jess Manuszak, the electric lightning bug and shouty mastermind behind Verve & Vigour Copywriting Studio in Denver, Colorado. I’ve worked with 100+ clients you’ve heard of, built a pretty solid financial base for myself, and haven’t even been scolded yet for cursing too much on the internet. #winning

Or at least that’s the cutesy way I introduce myself at parties.

But if we’re sitting cross-legged on my couch watching house flipping shows and scrolling mindlessly through Twitter, I’m just Jess.

Am I still the founder of a copywriting and marketing company who really gets off on what I do, both professionally and personally? Absolutely. But I’m also the friend with Bipolar II who bails on plans last-minute. The wife with Borderline Personality Disorder who picks fights. The travel buddy with PTSD and agoraphobia who just wants to sit in the hotel room. The “boss bitch” with newly-diagnosed ADD.

It sounds like there’s a lot going against me, and in some way, there is. But over the years, I’ve taken those gray, concrete barriers to my “success” and carefully stacked them on top of one another—not to build a wall, but to build a staircase for myself to somewhere better. Balanced. Stable.

So to answer your initial question, I’m Jess, the determined powerhouse who will grind away at the world until I’ve made my mark—mental illness be damned.

TWLOHA: How does mental illness affect your life and work?

JESS: I’m about to get uncomfortably honest. In the past, it’s cost me a lot of great relationships, good opportunities, and straight up JOY. My mood disorders, especially, were like a wildfire most of my life: carelessly charring everything in their wake and growing hungrier as they intensified.

But now, about 4 years after my initial Borderline and Bipolar II diagnosis, I’d say mental illness only impacts my day-to-day in small ways that might be annoying sometimes, but typically aren’t destructive or dangerous anymore. It’s not all cured, just really well-managed.

TWLOHA: What steps do you take to manage your mental health?

JESS: I really try to support my mental health from just about any angle I can. That way, if I slip up in one area (ex: missing a week at the gym), I have the rest of my positive habits to help pick up the slack and keep me out of The Depression Hole (←worst place ever).

A sampling of my personal support: leaving the house every day, elevated heart rate for 30 minutes every day, take my meds 100% of the time on a set alarm schedule, spend 5 minutes with a quick meditation app on my phone, attend at least 2 social activities every week, see a psychiatrist and psychologist twice a month, drop the shame of being in inpatient and intensive outpatient, complete upkeep work in my dialectical behavioral therapy workbook, shower at least 3 times a week…you get it.

Is it sexy, shiny, or coated in glitter? Oh sweet lord, not in the slightest. But by having a master checklist of things I know help me feel better in my phone keeps my self-care consistent (thereby effective).

TWLOHA: What would you tell someone who doesn’t think they can manage their own schedule or support themselves while dealing with mental illness?

JESS: When I first started cobbling together what my own personal care looked like, I got really overwhelmed at the thought of doing all of these good habits every day forever and ever until the end of time AND running a business. Exhaustion, much?

But the raw and unvarnished truth is we’re all works in progress. You don’t have to completely overhaul your life overnight, introduce 100 positive changes before breakfast, or do every single thing every single day. Start small, build from what feels good, and go from there. Once helping yourself out becomes a habit, the management piece becomes a whole heckuva lot simpler.

Though mostly, just remember that if you want something badly enough, you will find a way to make it work for you. For example, I only schedule calls with clients very first thing in the morning so I don’t have time to think about it all day, get anxious, cancel the call, and then feel like a failure for cancelling (which catapults me into a negative self-talk spiral, blah blah, blah.)

Supporting yourself takes effort, but don’t forget that working for yourself means working with yourself.

TWLOHA: Do you ever feel wary about speaking so openly your mental health? If so, why did you decide to do so anyway?  

JESS: Ugh, I wish I could say I was 100% comfortable with it, but I’m just not. (I’m 76.9% comfortable with it though, so that must count for something.) Ultimately, my own personal fear comes from the stereotypes that exist about “freelancers” (unreliable, hard to track down, unprofessional, inconsistent), and the stereotypes that exist about mental illness and mood disorders (unreliable, hard to track down, unprofessional, inconsistent). I mean, talk about a Venn diagram, amIright?!

That said, I knew I couldn’t complain about the stigma and then just stay silent. The real turning point came the day I checked myself into inpatient a few years ago. There I was, staring at my swollen eyes in my bathroom mirror, clutching a bag of clothes under one arm and a lifetime of baggage under the other. “I love you,” I whispered, desperate to hear those words out loud. “I’m here for you. And I’ll never leave you.”

I wanted to say those words to the world. But instead I settled for taking a mirror selfie (swollen face included), posting it on social, and being very clear about the message:

  1. I’m not well.
  2. I need help to be well.
  3. I will be proactive in getting help to be well.
  4. And this is something to be CELEBRATED FOR EVERYONE.

Nothing changes if nothing changes, and silence stays silence if no one speaks up. As someone with such a messy mental health diagnosis, I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t add my voice to this revolution.

TWLOHA: Finally, is there anything you wish someone would have told you when you were struggling? Or something you’d like to share with our readers who are struggling right now?

JESS: I wish I’d had someone who had hit rock bottom take my hands and tell me that things WILL get better, because they’ve been there and they’ve survived. (None of the fluffy stuff from friends who “felt anxious that one time” ever helped me.)

So consider me that person for you. I’ve not only hit rock bottom—I bought a house there.

And I’m telling you with uncomfortably intense and complete certainty that these huge feelings you’re having aren’t bigger or more powerful than you. When you find your way out—and you will find a way out—you’ll leave breadcrumbs behind you to make getting out the next time easier. The breadcrumbs become a worn path in the dirt. The path becomes a flashing neon-lit concrete sidewalk, pointing you towards the exit so loudly you couldn’t stay stuck if you tried.

Keep your head forward, little bird. All the best stuff lies ahead, anyway. <3

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Comments (7)

  1. Johanna

    I love you so much Jess, and yet after reading this, I love you even more. You are a truly marvelous, fantastic, perfect arrangement of atoms, and I’m so glad you are a part of my life.

    Reply  |  
    1. Jessica Manuszak

      The feeling is the most mutual feeling IN ALL THE LAND. So glad you’re in my corner. <3

      Reply  |  
  2. Adriana

    I love you just from reading this blog post. Bless you for being brave and sharing. The stigma is worse with bipolar 2 and borderline personality disorder especially. I have both and also struggle with anxiety & depression. I feel misunderstood and unheard and useless at times. You just gave me an example that not only can you work with mental illness, but you can have your own business. Say prayers or keep me in your thoughts cause I’ll be venturing back out to take some online college courses mid-January and balance my one job. It’s simple and doable, but my mind wants to tell me I can only handle one thing. Best of everything beautiful! ?❣️

    Reply  |  
    1. Jessica Manuszak

      Girl, I’m sending you the warmest and fuzziest hug (that likely lasts about 10 seconds too long, because FEELINGS, okay?) Borderline is a rough one, namely because the name alone makes it sound like we’re wildly unstable, when really we’re just *wounded*.

      I WILL say that doing an intensive outpatient program and some regular CBT work with my therapist has all but “cured” my Borderline after a few years (according to my doc), and THAT has been one of the biggest factors in making my business successful…largely because my Borderline was like a self-destructive time bomb just waiting in the wings before I got a handle on it.

      Once I realized that (for me, at least) Borderline was a learned behavior in response to trauma, I could retrain those behaviors and reprogram my gut instincts to use coping skills instead of flipping the eff out.

      I got off on a tangent, but this is all to say HEY! I see you. I’ve been there. And I can tell you–genuinely, truly–that you’ve got this sh*t on lock.

      Reply  |  
  3. Lee

    Thanks for helping people.

    Reply  |  
  4. Kat

    I’m finally ok with the thought that I may have to deal with mental illness for the rest of my life. It no longer seems to bother me that my self-care includes medication, talk therapy & a safety plan. What’s most difficult to accept, however, is all of the lost time & all of the stolen moments. You’ve mentioned being “uncomfortably honest” about your lost relationships, opportunities & joy. That’s where I am stuck. I, too, have lost so much & find it hard to believe that it is all lost forever. I remain heartbroken. The grief is still so hard to bear. Like you, I have hit rock bottom. I’m still very low, but I am still here. . . reaching out, seeking help, longing to be strong & courageous — like you & others. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Reply  |  
  5. Kinley

    When reading this, I felt a spark of warmth throughout my chest. To me, your words made an impression and not many can spark that. You say you have borderline personality disorder, and, after being diagnosed, I do too. I have only had this knowledge for about two and a half weeks now, so it’s all still fresh.

    When I first was diagnosed with BPD, I was sitting in rehab for about a week and a half. In this rehab, they have you complete a psychological testing with about 500 questions after substances are flushed from the body. It took me about only 30 minutes because most of the questions I would read and end up clicking, “Very agreeable”. They were not hard to understand since I related with about each one of them. My test scores demonstrated I produced several elevations across several scales labeling me with BPD and PSTD.

    Hearing this was terrifying (not knowing what it was) but at the same time relieving. I knew there was always something more than just depression and anxiety stirring up inside me. The doctor who discovered this new luxury ended up giving me this booked called, Sometimes I Act Crazy, to help inform me further. Reading the first few chapters really frightened me because it described living with BPD as hopeless and, in most cases, lethal. That’s when I closed the unbearable paperback and decided sleeping was my new best friend.

    The thin, white sheets and the sharp blue pad, also known as a “bed”, seemed much better than facing what lie behind my door; help and acceptance. After a couple of days of dejection, one of the staff members came in and insisted I get up. The people pleaser I am got up, swallowed the pain, and began the daily routine of endless classes. Though things just kept getting worse. I was violated by another patient and triggered back to my childhood trauma, rules were changing and nothing was consistent, nightmares raged within my slumber, and, worst of all, darkness was engulfing my perspective.

    I was really trying to overcome these obstacles, but when there’s no effort left within… it’s seemingly impossible. After an indecent with another patient, I broke. I caved into the thoughts of old, bad habits and went straight to my room to do just that. I dis-parted my razor and did what I knew how to do. Seeing that first stream of blood granted me the comfort I had been looking for. Not even two hours later did I tell my therapist and was room searched/on watch. I instantly regretted it because I didn’t have the safety of my bladed tool or my privacy.

    The darkness took hold of my thoughts then which lead to the idea of checking myself out. I had formed the plan of committing yet another suicidal act. I was completely empty and the impression of death was beyond reassuring; it was MY solution to EVERYTHING. After millions of attempts of keeping me in inpatient, nothing changed my mind; I was dead set on leaving. That whole day perfused of inky black.

    I called my boyfriend to come get me because I was afraid of what my parents would do (I’m 19 but they have always had a big say on my life). I was planning on having my boyfriend drop me off somewhere that was I could consume all of the medication the rehab had released me with without anyone stopping me. When seeing his worried face and smelling his familiar scent, expectation of staying alive emerged.

    Since that day, I’ve gone to AA meetings and made amends with everyone that was worried about me when I checked out, including myself. My family and I have a better bound and respect one another more. I’m day 41 of sobriety and about a week without self harm; couldn’t be more proud! I’ve read more than halfway through the book that once discouraged me and found out it’s pretty insightful. It’s more of a guideline rather than a manual is what my boyfriend states; that idea puts my mind at ease. I still struggle everyday, but the struggles have decreased and my hope for a better life has increased, especially after reading your article.

    This may be too much information, but I personally wanted to let you know you’re definitely not alone and you are much appreciated. I’ll keep my head up as long as you do too-thank you.

    Reply  |  
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