Freshco’s Blue-Collar CEO Mandy Rennehan is a big personality, and she’s the first to admit it. But her friendly and boisterous nature can hide that she sometimes struggles with depression. Rennehan is the public face of the retail construction company she founded in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, her hometown, more than 20 years ago.
It’s no secret that she’s a proud and outspoken voice for women in leadership and redefining perceptions around blue-collar work. What’s less known is that she manages depression. She’s honest about how she’s feeling with her team—men and women, baby boomers and millennials. “I don’t make shit up,” says Rennehan. “I tell you what’s happened to me in my 42-years.” In an exclusive interview, she reveals what it’s like to live with depression, and how she’s helping others to be vulnerable and confident:
ON HER DEPRESSION
I’ve fought depression my whole life. I’ve got a big personality, and a lot of people will go, “you suffer from depression?” It’s like, “yeah.” You have to realize I give a lot of people my energy, which allows them to find themselves. After that energy goes out, I’m depleted. I’m aware as I’ve gotten older, that if I don’t fill up that tank, I’m not able to keep doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
I use depression as an opportunity. I’ve had to, because of who I am, instead of using it as a negative tool. And I sharpen that tool every day.
Depression creates a world you’re unfamiliar with. It’s like someone put me on an island, and I’ve had to figure out how to clothe myself, how to start fires on my own, and how to find food. My mind goes to a place that isn’t who I am 90 per cent of the time. When I get there, I realize that I don’t want to talk to anyone and I don’t want to see anyone. It’s almost like two distinct personalities. You experience a massive serotonin drop or a shift and you don’t feel like yourself. Your mind is so powerful and it’s important to understand how to train your mind to be more consistent. I can now recognize the signs to be able to say, you need to get out of here and go over there, because there’s a lot more gas in that pump.
When you're high performance like me, depression can act as a warning sign. High performance people need to be more careful than others, because sometimes they don’t know when to stop or slow down. You’ll be going full tilt until you get a mental or physical indicator that you can’t ignore. It stops you in your tracks. That’s where I step back, and ask, what am I doing? What’s the goal? Is this my priority? I use this time to reflect and refocus my energy, and I do a lot of deep breathing to anchor myself.
So, for me my biggest things are exercise and understanding heart rates and how they affect my mind. I see depression like a blood clot: it stops your blood from circulating and it becomes stale. High-intensity exercise pushes that clot through. Instead of it sitting and all of the blood pooling in one area, my blood is circulating around it; I can breathe again. When it [sic] comes on, I can’t have alcohol or depressants. I need to be careful. That adds to that clot. How I eat is another thing. Those are things I can control and use to control it.
DEPRESSION AS AN OPPORTUNITY
My expectation of myself is to use the gifts that I’ve been given to the fullest. My expectation has always been based on what I know my threshold is. I never put an unreasonable expectation on myself, because I truly understand my bandwidth and potential.
My soul was mature at a young age compared to people around me. I always had that intuition of knowing what my potential could be. Believe it or not, depression has actually helped me in some ways. It’s helped me dig deeper to understand why energy depletes, and why people like me with personalities like mine, have to be careful. It’s almost like a performance indicator, it tells me when I need to backup and re-evaluate. I use depression as an opportunity. I’ve had to, because of who I am, instead of using it as a negative tool. And I sharpen that tool every day.
We just need to be aware of those around us and each do our best to support others if we notice they are struggling.
You start to realize that you have to be careful about who’s in your life. People are probably the biggest cause of depression in my experience. I’ve made people my business my whole life, because I didn’t have anything else. I didn’t have money. I didn’t have mentors. I’m sensitive to people and respect where they’re at that day or what they need from me.
I find most people don’t respect others in this way. Most people don’t realize or understand their power, and how they can affect other human beings quickly, just by the way they walk and talk, their stance or facial expressions. So, this is why society, in my opinion, has become more attracted to technology, because it doesn’t talk back. Human confrontation is important, and shouldn’t be feared. We just need to be aware of those around us and each do our best to support others if we notice they are struggling.
CONFIDENCE IS BEING WHO YOU ARE
Confidence is about being comfortable with who you are. I’ve never apologized for who I was. I’ve never hid the fact that I’m female or gay. There's a thin line between confidence and arrogance. When you see someone authentically, who truly believes in themselves, that’s confidence. I believe in people’s personalities and their potential rather than their resumes.
VULNERABILITY IS CONFIDENCE
At Freshco we don’t get mad at mistakes. Mistakes are vulnerability; vulnerability and confidence go hand in hand . Being confident allows you to say, “I screwed up. I learned. I’m not going to do this again”. It’s human to make mistakes. The first thing I tell my clients before we work together: people in my company are going to make mistakes. They won’t be perfect. They're going to fix it quickly because they’re accountable, which is why I hired them. All of a sudden I’m not putting them in a place to fail. That’s what brings on confidence.
DEPRESSION AS A BUDDY
Depression has been something I’ve turned into my buddy. I’m not ashamed one bit to tell the world that I suffer with depression, because I've used it as a tool to make myself and other people more successful. That vulnerability is what makes me, and makes me a true leader.
If you are feeling depressed, call the Crisis Services Canada Hotline at 1-833-456-4566, or text 45645, or go to https://cmha.ca/ for additional resources.