Before Mullein & Sparrow became the flourishing luxury beauty line it is now, it was just me. Me, alone in my tiny Brooklyn apartment, sitting on the floor of my kitchen mixing herbs, oils and blossoms until dusk turned to dawn.
I was passionate and excited about the success of my new brand and yet—unwittingly at the time—I was also dying a slow death by deprivation. Sleep deprivation, that is. In truth, I didn’t even think of sleep as an option for me in those early days. I had so many things to do and too little time to do it all. This was about a year or so into the fashioning of my line. At the time, I was running a cute little brick‑and‑mortar store in Brooklyn, on my feet working nine or ten hour days, and then returning home late at night and fulfilling Etsy orders by hand until 4:00 or 5:00am. It occurred to me during those long nights that, as tired as I was, I was also excited and driven by possibility. I was coming to the realization that it had always been my dream to be an entrepreneur and I was finally doing it. I came from a family that was brimming with entrepreneurs (both close and distant relatives) so I grew up hearing story after story of self‑made people: people who were capable and dared to live on their own terms. These were the people I always had a deep respect for and looked up to and now my own entrepreneurial path was underway. These thoughts fueled me through the long nights and it was all incredibly empowering—but it also came at an incredible cost: the cost of my well‑being.
DAY AFTER DAY FOR NEARLY A YEAR I KEPT UP THIS CRAZY ROUTINE, RUNNING ON LITTLE MORE THAN FUMES AND THE BELIEF THAT THIS WAS WHAT I HAD TO DO IN ORDER TO SUCCEED.
Looking back, it is difficult to imagine how I did this. And for how long I did this. I was fueled by a combination of determination and drive, countless cups of unsweetened black tea, and arguably a touch of mania. Day after day for nearly a year I kept up this crazy routine, running on little more than fumes and the belief that this was what I had to do in order to succeed. My own parents had a small business so I had seen first‑hand the kind of work and sacrifice having your own business can demand. I didn’t know what, if anything, would come of my business and all of this hard work, but if it didn’t succeed it wouldn’t be because of any lack of effort on my part or because I needed a weekend off. I felt as though I was alive in a new way, stimulated by potentiality and learning so much about my own capacity along the way. I’d like to think that I always had a good work ethic and that the people I’ve worked for would vouch for the same, but, working for myself unleashed something else, something beyond work ethic and it’s hard to explain. It felt very do or die, but not in a fatalistic sense, more in an invigorating sense, and I was experiencing it to the fullest. I suspect that it felt so powerful because I was aligning in a new way with myself, like I was coming alive to my deeper purpose, and this was an adrenaline rush in and of itself. I was getting at most two hours of sleep a night, and out of survival necessity I suppose, I gradually became accustomed to it. It became my norm; an alternative did not exist in my mind. My sleepless hours, I told myself night after night, were my requisite dues as a budding entrepreneur in the competitive beauty market.
It is easy to see in hindsight how drastic and dreadful this all sounds, but at the time I was so deeply focused on the long game, and so very disconnected from my more immediate bodily needs that I couldn’t even see the damage I was causing to my health and wellbeing. In fact, it wasn’t until multiple friends directly confronted me about it that I was made even remotely aware of the fact that my lifestyle needed to be reexamined. More than one close acquaintance came up to me, took a look at the ghost of a woman that I had become—my face gaunt and pale, my eyes bloodshot and shadowed by deep, dark circles of fatigue that had become a constant presence—and implored with notable concern, “Anit, What are you doing? You need to stop this. You need to stop this right now, because if you don’t, you will die.”
Mildly perturbed by their pleas, still I pressed on. Night after night, month after month. But as they say, the body keeps the score. And my body was no exception despite my continual efforts to convince it otherwise.
While I continued refusing to acknowledge I had a problem, my body began to acknowledge it for me. The profound fatigue. The taxing physical, mental and emotional stress. My body went into survival mode and began to fight for itself. At first the signs were subtle—or at least, concealable. My eyes became so swollen I could hardly keep them open. My solution? Not sleep; sunglasses. I began wearing them daily to work. Shady, yes, but sufferable. I refused to give in.
Then it got worse. Welts started appearing all over my face and body—symptoms I could not ignore. Disconcerted, I visited my GP who, like my friends, expressed heartfelt concern. I left with a prescription for prednisone, and despite my loathing for having to take this medical route—as an advocate of natural healing and herbal remedies, I told my GP “No way am I taking steroids!” but he was nonplussed and told me that, quite frankly, I had no choice—I took the medication. But of course, I knew this was merely a band‑aid; there was much deeper healing that needed to occur. I also knew that survival by daily prednisone dose was in no way in line with my vision for myself and my life. I recognized that I had to make a major change in order to live in integrity with myself and my dreams but I wasn’t yet ready to accept a more balanced approach.
As soon as I awoke to my problem, my body crashed. It was as if once I was consciously aware and my mind was in the game, my body gave up fighting. I literally could not get enough sleep.
IT WASN’T JUST ABOUT GETTING MORE SLEEP, IT WAS LEARNING HOW TO HARNESS MY DRIVE AND MY PASSION IN A HEALTHY WAY. IT WAS MOVING AWAY FROM DO‑OR‑DIE TO DO ALL THINGS WELL, AND THAT WELLNESS NOW INCLUDED MY OWN BEING.
One of the first things I did following this GP visit was take a much‑needed break, and I signed myself into Kripalu for a long weekend—just to rest. I slept, meditated, slept some more. In the few days I was there, it finally dawned on me that I might actually become seriously ill if I returned to my old behaviors. I also realized that, while I had thought I was achieving so much more by not taking time to rest, I had actually been holding myself back for so long. I had not been operating at my full potential. Not even close. I vowed to myself then and there that I was going to start prioritizing myself and my own self-care. It wasn’t just about getting more sleep, it was learning how to harness my drive and my passion in a healthy way. It was moving away from do‑or‑die to do all things well, and that wellness now included my own being.
Around this time I also stumbled upon Arianna Huffington’s TED Talk—the one entitled How to Succeed? Get More Sleep —where, to a room full of type‑A women like myself, she declares, “The way to a more productive, more inspired, more joyful life, is getting enough sleep.”
This deeply resonated with me. If the co‑founder and editor-in‑chief of The Huffington Post, an incredibly successful woman, was advocating getting more sleep, surely there must be something of value in a few extra hours of somnolence. Her call to action for a sleep revolution was incredibly persuasive in helping me give myself permission to rest. This felt uncomfortable at first because it seemed not to reconcile with my idea of ambition. I did not understand yet that ambition can be quite powerful coming from a calm and restful space; that working smart was as much a skill as working hard. Understanding these things took time, and the realizations may sound simple now, but each one of them were revelations when they came.
These days, I aim for 10 hours of sleep per night, and I can say with certainty, it has made all the difference in the world. I feel energized, renewed, better able to conquer the everyday tasks that being a busy female founder entails. Getting adequate sleep was the catalyst to reexamining my entire approach to business and life. I remain as ambitious as ever but now I’m much better at prioritizing myself in the scheme of things. It takes tremendous inner strength to run a business and working myself to depletion is no longer a viable course of action. I don’t just feel like myself again, I feel like my 2.0 version.