Amanda Munday is the sole owner and founder of The Workaround, a coworking space with childcare in Toronto. She is a skilled storyteller with years of experience growing companies through social media, traditional marketing and public relations. Her first memoir Day Nine details her experience of severe postpartum depression which culminated in an 18 day involuntary stay in a Toronto psychiatric ward. Amanda has received international media coverage including being named an inspirational speaker in Forbes Magazine. She is also a regular contributor to the Globe and Mail on topics related to economic opportunities for women and universal childcare. In November 2017 she secured a federal petition on universal childcare which was tabled in the House of Commons.
In this intimate chat, Amanda Munday talks about her experience of postpartum depression and what it taught her about pain and healing. She also shares about the importance of sleep and why we need to create safe spaces for ourselves.
I love how you are jumping into the conversation. I think one of the biggest surprises for me around being a founder is, you can read all the books, go to all the conferences, and find all the mentors. But the volatility of the journey, how crazy it can be, it’s hard to explain.
Entrepreneurship is so different when you experience it.
Completely different. Unlike anything I have ever experienced and I delivered my one baby backwards and the other with no medical intervention and drugs. Neither of those experiences are as intense as a day of being an entrepreneur. It's just out of control, out of control. Because it is. It's crushing lows with epic satisfactory highs.
When things get really low or I have the "Will I make payroll?" conversation, I have to reconcile with decisions: Is this a signal to slow down OR Is this the trope of the entrepreneur, because success on the other side is so good.
I don't have the answer, but it's what I'm thinking now is what is required to run this business and how much of it requires me to push beyond what I think I can do.
Yeah. Have you found clarity to that yet?
I think I've learned to be okay with the ambiguity of "I don't know either way. I'm not sure either way, so we're going to keep going.” While being okay with "I don't know if I'm doing enough, and I don't know if I will know because I have to break."
You know what I mean? It's like I have to choose rest.
Yeah. I love that you're bringing this up. I feel like so many founders hit that point, where they're asking themselves, "How much more can I push? How much more can I bring when I've already given so much of myself to the business?"
I know for me, when I had my first startup, I hadn't done enough self-work. I wasn’t aware how far I could really go [safely] and I pushed myself way, way too hard.
I had this thought, because I think today is, I don't even know what. Two weeks or more without a day off, because the last two weekends, there's been events in my space. It's hard to ask my staff to work on weekends, so I do it. And I went to this entrepreneurial feminist forum on Sunday and Monday, so I was exhibiting, at a table from morning to night.
Everything on paper says this is it. This is the limit. I need to take a break. I need to take a break tomorrow or it's not going to be good.
And yet, still, I worked the last two weekends. I cruised through it without breaking incrementally or recognizing that I should have asked to delegate something. Even talking now, I fully cruised for too many days in a row now and it's exhausting.
One of the things that I learned... I was in the psych ward. I don't know if you want my whole story for your interview or not, the psych ward.
Yeah. Please share as much as you want to share. What I will also say is that the more vulnerable you are, there are people who are experiencing something similar in silence.
Thank you. I'll back up with a story. I've worked in marketing for many years and led companies, not my own. I led in senior leadership marketing roles for the last 15 years in tech startups, SaaS, female-funder-type organizations. Everything was good.
I got pregnant in 2014 and took a very A-type plan with my pregnancy, had my date of pausing employment scheduled for June 1st. I was due on June 22nd. I was giving myself a perfect three weeks of, quote, “me time.” I had the nursery complete, I had the picture-perfect, idyllic baby shower, and my husband had scheduled some time off for the baby.
And then she was breech, which means she was backwards, so we knew for a few weeks that she was probably going to end up in a C-section. I struggled with that because I had diligently planned for and wanted a natural birth. When I found out I had to have a C-section, I struggled a lot with what that meant because it just wasn't the plan.
But I got lucky in that my midwife allowed me to try natural breech deliver. And it worked. I was able to have a natural birth, even though she was backwards, which was a bit exceptional and very rare in Toronto at the time.
So the adrenaline of all of that and everything related to breech birth, I didn't sleep. I didn't sleep for nine days at all.
Nine whole days?
Nine whole days, no sleep.
Like 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there, 20 minutes here. Then my family recognized that I wasn't sleeping, and would take the baby, give me time alone, turn the lights down, close the blinds, take the baby out of the house, and I would lie there, awake, unable to sleep.
It was when I started to know, "Something's wrong. I have every reason to sleep, and I can't sleep." I couldn't eat, I had no appetite, and I was, by all definitions, hysterical. Anything would cause extreme tears. Just crying everywhere.
Then I started to believe, not just suspect, but genuinely believe that my baby was going to die. It wasn't really the way a new mother, a new parent, might say you're worried about the baby because she's new. I was certain she would die, certain. So I would do things, like look at three-month-old clothes that we had and think, "That's silly. I won't have a three-month-old baby. There's no way."
What I couldn't do was, I couldn't place why I was so sure that she was going to die. I worried that the reason I couldn't place it was because I might hurt her. Rolled all of that in with this idea of a completely mismatched definition of motherhood from what I had expected. Because what I expected was the mother in a rocking chair cooing at the baby, while my husband brought me fruit on a plate. Everybody surrounding and loving me and me having rest in between, watching Netflix specials with my baby.
None of that was true. Instead, I was topless and engorged and sore and crying and sleep-deprived. All of that mashed up into nine days of complete torture and unable to see anything. On the ninth day was the day I called my midwife and said, "I'm going to die. Either I'm going to hurt the baby, and then I'll kill myself, or I'm going to kill myself and the baby won't live because she can't live without me." Which is false, but that's what I believed at the time.
She suggested I go to the ER because the ER was the only way to get immediate help. She had called some of the hospitals in the area to see if they could get me into an outpatient postpartum program, but it was one of those things where they thought it was going to be too late. I called my midwife, and then we went into the ER, and I was given a form that said that I was institutionalized. "You need to stay here. It's for your own safety."
The typical time that they hold you is 72 hours. I was there 18 days in the psychiatric ward.
Part of that was because I developed a fever. The fever was persistent, and it didn't break even after three different IV medications, antibiotics. They couldn't break the fever, but they couldn't identify the cause
And it's my belief that the fever was a complete rejection of this entire experience. It was my body saying, "Enough." The sleep, the psych ward, a complete breakdown of everything.
There were no other symptoms. My blood count was fine, I wasn't dehydrated, all of that was fine, but I had a persistent high fever for four or five days. They kept me on monitoring, but they kept me in the psychiatric ward.
That's a lesson in rest. That part that was frustrating, even as a founder, about why that happened to me. They basically said, "You're sleep-sensitive and you can't go without sleep."
Other than PPD [postpartum depression], there wasn't a diagnosis beyond that. I didn't get a traditional diagnosis like bipolar or manic-depressive or any other diagnosis except postpartum, but postpartum itself is a symptom of something else. They said it came on from sleep.
So I wholeheartedly rejected that diagnosis in the hospital, which is partly why they left me there. But I was adamant that there's no way I could have such a severe shift from the day she was born, when I was like, "Let's flip the baby" and laughing, to nine days later, having a completely psychotic break.
I was like, "It can't just be sleep. There's no way. There's something else wrong. I have a chemical imbalance, I have an undiagnosed illness, I have something else." And the doctors were like, "No, it's sleep."
It took me years to recover from this and genuinely accept that that was real diagnosis, that sleep was the reason. Which is why I say I must protect sleep. If I don't protect sleep, I have a consequence that I've lived and I can see it.
So I got out of that experience, I went back to work. I went back to work in September, and I found out I was pregnant in February that following year. I hadn't even been back to work a year.
At this point, I was working for an up-and-coming startup leading marketing. Blessed that I didn't have fertility issues, blessed that I had a baby that came out without notice because I didn't have to decide whether or not I could manage another pregnancy, knowing the first one was so rough. But hard because I wasn't ready to do it again. I wanted to go back to working and building my career and kicking ass and did not want to go back off on leave.
Then, when I was four months pregnant with my son, that's when my father died by suicide. Everything I worried about that was going to happen, that I was sure but couldn't place with Fiona [my daughter] happened to me with my father.
He comes from an IT background. He had worked in tech his whole life. He was CTO for lots of companies, so this idea that it wasn't just a thought. In his case, it was action and it was really hard to reconcile. And because I was four months pregnant, I couldn't grieve it, because if I allowed myself to absorb and grieve his death, there was a deep concern from medical professionals and my family that it would land me in the psych ward again.
And now my son is two and we just went through the second anniversary of my father's death. The last one that I went through was rough.
I was dark for weeks and couldn't place why. I developed a tumor, which is benign, and a really severe, severe pain in my neck. I saw a lot of doctors, who weren't really sure why. It was finally one of my therapists that said to me, "Well, you should think about drawing a connection between the physical pain in your neck and the way your father died. The fact that we are around the anniversary of your father's death and that you didn't grieve it, it is possible that you're manifesting his death in this pain."
To which I again completely rejected. "Well, that's not what I'm doing. I have a muscle that is sore and I need treatment." But I did all the treatment and did acupuncture, and I did everything, and it didn't change. At one point, I wasn't driving because I couldn't turn my neck right.
I did a lot of work in trying to expunge grief through the spring. Just cry and allow myself to just be in it for a while. And within a couple months, my neck got better. I didn't do anything, other than allow myself to sleep and rest and feel it.
Oh, man. I'm just sitting with this before responding.
…The first thing that came up for me is I wanted to acknowledge you for your courage and your honesty in sharing your whole story, because it isn't spoken enough. The real effects of pain and grief and unprocessed emotion.
There's real consequences that happen, so many founders have experienced these symptoms. Like Ariana Huffington, who collapses randomly in her office and later starts Thrive Global. Thank you for sharing that because it opens up the conversation.
It's so the cult of the founder. The other one, Deciem, the abnormal beauty company.
That founder, you could see his pain in some of the Instagram stories that he was sharing, before he was removed from his company too. It's really hard. It's hard when you see founders, like Deciem and Elon Musk removed from their companies. It's sort of, "They had a breakdown, but this company's got to keep going.”
I so love that you brought this up. In the tech industry, the buzzword for mental health is burnout like, "Okay, okay, that's acceptable to talk about. But not the real things that cause me suffering."
I started off as a Special Education teacher many years ago. In that field, many of our students were survivors of deep, deep pain. For the most vulnerable populations, it was kids who cut themselves, kids who use drugs, kids who survived abuse. It was tough.
They trained us specifically for triggers, how to identify them and what to do afterwards. They’d train us on nonviolent communication. They'd train you on creating a safe container for yourself or others.
And then, when I chose to be at tech founder I was like, "Oh." This volatility that founders experience, I didn't know how bad it was until I actually experienced it. I'm like, "Whoa." Where are all of the supports for founders?
It's like a cliff, falling off a cliff. You're right, because there's not opportunity to reflect on the highs and lows because they're recurring and they're constant. You were taught as founders to learn to live with the rollercoaster, learn to live with the ride.
But it's okay to say, "Whoa, that was a hard day, and I need a few days to recover and process that hard piece." Or even the really high piece. Even to sit: How did I get here? What did I do right that I can replicate to do more right things? It's very hard to have built-in time for self-reflection when you're running a company.
I did a lot of mindfulness work when I was pregnant, after my father died. I really resonated with this idea of thoughts are just thoughts. We can let the thoughts come in and we can let the thoughts go.
Because otherwise, you really, really go down.
It's so easy to go in that spiral, too.
Easily. That is kind of tricky, now that I think about it, because I have to look forward and then stay grounded. Look forward and stay grounded at the same time.
I have a question about this because I love that you mentioned about grounding. When it feels like we are being swept into a storm, we need an anchor. Something that keeps us balanced and in perspective.
My curiosity is, what grounds you? What's been your anchor?
Thank you. There's a few things. Most honestly, sleep. And when I say sleep, I don't mean, "Go to bed, 7 hours of sleep." I mean, periods of big, long sleep. Like 12 hours, 14 hours, even if I'm awake and fall back asleep.
But really, the physical grounding of my bed and my space and my blankets and my room, not a hotel, not travel, not a plane, not a friend's house. My bed in my home with my surroundings.
I really mean, when I say it grounds me. No matter how brutal of a day it was, whether I just found out a friend died or I got the money after a business plan. Whether it was so good or so awful, I get into that bed and I'm like, “I've been here before and I've woken up.”
And I really tell myself that. "I will close my eyes, and I will wake up." That, to me, always comes back to, "Deal with it tomorrow. Whatever it is, deal with it tomorrow, because a little bit or a lot of sleep will help."
The other thing… my children ground me, by nature of them being young. They're babies and because they're four and two, they have a really good emotional meter on them. I've really enjoyed watching them reverberate off of me. They can and do echo how I feel without me using language. If I'm very tense, my son might grab my hand and stroke it. He's two.
They give me the break, even if it's really temporary, to stop thinking about work in a way that I didn't before I had kids. Before I had kids, there was no forced pause. If I wanted to work until 4 in the morning, I'd work until 4 in the morning. Who was going to stop me? But this world really forces me to go home and try to do dinner and talk to them. If I bring anxiety and anger and frustration into the home, they see it. They feel it, and they respond to it.
These things create my safe space.
Well, thank you for being a part of this. Touched by your trust in this movement and all that you shared. Congrats on your launch of your book [Day Nine] as well!
Shoring up resources for founders in that state is important. I think your project is going to do great things. I do though.
Thank you for being a part of this. It means a lot.
Of course, especially when so many of us have been through it. Love it. Love your work. You're doing amazing.