I’m on track … sorta?

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Oh my goodness. Life got WILD.

For still unknown reasons, my concussive symptoms just exploded in February. There have been days I’ve slept 12 hours and others where I have barely slept through the night. I’ve had 10/10 headaches and neck pain, dizziness and lightheadedness that has literally knocked me down and so much trouble with word retrieval.

These are some of my many excuses for not following through with this challenge. But, reflecting back on the past year, I’m still going to call it a success.

I learned how to treat myself so much more kindly. I accept that I need more rest and allow myself to take plenty of naps, go to bed early and ask for help with high-energy tasks. I get so excited by small achievements, like completing a tough sudoku or writing for 15 minutes. And I’m indulging in so many great things to mark those achievements. Soy lattes from Lila’s on the way home from therapy? Yes please!

And I’ve noticed that I tend to do kind things for people on a pretty daily basis. I share snacks with people asking for help on street corners, organize clothing swaps to help low-income folks and save energy to do housework to alleviate some of the pressure on my partner.

What I’m missing is doing one big thing for a person each month. Letting this project slip to the back burner was an act of kindness towards myself, but the break has also let me reflect and see the flaws (I’m already doing small things daily) and the huge benefits (learning self-care and having motivation to organize larger acts of kindness).

I’m starting occupational therapy next week and just had my first session back at physical therapy, on top of speech therapy, neurobiofeedback and regular doctor’s appointments, so I’m going to continue going easy on myself for now. But in 2019, I might just be starting this project over again, with new guidelines and challenges for myself.

 

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I’m takin’ a break

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Things with my brain are starting to get better. However, I’m really struggling with resting.

I need to time how long I can do anything before symptoms appear, including neck pain, and then make sure I’m doing that activity for two minutes less than that. I can be in a store for eight minutes, walk for 20 and be on my computer for 10. After that, I need a rest.

It’s taking a lot of energy to remind myself that folding laundry and putting away dishes aren’t really rest times; a rest is when I’m sitting, with my neck supported, not thinking about anything terribly strenuous and not looking at screens. Sunglasses, headphones and crafts are often involved.

While I figure this out, I’m going to take a bit of a break from my newsletter and blog so I can focus more of my mental energy on other online activities, like chatting with other anxious creatives in my new Facebook group (if you want in, just let me know what email is associated with your Facebook account), organizing events in my new city and getting items up on my Etsy shop.

If you’d like to write a guest post for either, let me know! You’ll be hearing from me rather sporadically for the next few months. Current estimations are that I **could** be back to being able to work more than a few hours a week within six to 12 months.

List of reasons to live

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In the past year, I’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts. I’m doing much better, but there was quite a dark period where continuing to live seemed unbearable. This is when I started making lists of things worth living for.

I’ve written quite a bit about my love of lists, besides grocery and to-do lists, I keep a list of activities that will calm me down when I’m incredibly anxious and a list of things and people who make me happy. In a way, the collage of photos on my fridge is a list of people who I love so deeply I can’t help but smile when I look at them.

During a crisis, it’s so hard for me to get my brain working. It’s also critical that I figure a way to do that. So, on top of my many other lists, I’ve made a list of reasons to live.

  • My cats love me so much and they’d be sad without me;
  • I love my cats so much and want to spend all the time cuddling and playing with them;
  • My parents would be so upset;
  • My partner is super awesome and I’m so lucky to have him. I really want to see how our relationship gets more awesome;
  • There are so many books I haven’t read;
  • I still haven’t written my book!;
  • If I died, someone might look at all the snippets of writing and lists of story ideas that are all super raw and unpolished and I don’t want anyone seeing them but me;
  • I have so much stuff. That’d be too much for anyone to go through;
  • There’s a vegan mall in Portland, OR and I have to go there;
  • My yard is huge and it’s ugly and it really needs a beautiful garden. I should be the one to rectify this awful situation;
  • My three nephews are all so cool, clever and funny. I just have to see how they turn out and spend so much more time with them;
  • Although it’s really painful now, I’ll laugh again. I’ll laugh so hard my stomach will hurt and when I think back to that laugh, I’ll start chuckling all over again and it will be beautiful.

Are you as obsessed with list-making as I am? Do you make any unusual lists?

Book review: Since We Fell

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This novel is a hot mess, in a super addicting, gotta-read-until-I-finish way. Dennis Lehane’s Since We Fell is basically a short soap opera on paper. With a main character who suffers from debilitating anxiety.

After a traumatic event, Rachel starts getting panic attacks. She starts to unravel until she reaches a point where she stops leaving her home for months at a time. Stepping out of her apartment doors causes her both intense anxiety and great amounts of pride.

I’m not going to say anything else about this mystery because I’m afraid of giving something away. I don’t even want to go over the general plot because it starts in one place, goes to another, skips over to another time and the finishes with a wild, unexpected adventure. And then just drops off, leaving readers wondering what the hell happens next while giving so much unnecessary information about what went on before. To tell you the first part of the plot gives you no real information and to go further risks spoilers.

I’m not dissing this book at all. Relaying the juicy details of Rachel’s life to my partner gave me great pleasure. “Babe! Guess what happened in my book today??? Well … ”

What I specifically loved about Since We Fell was that the main character had an anxiety disorder. In the past year, I’ve been pretty much non-stop listening to audio books because of my concussion and this is the first work of fiction that dealt with mental illness in a major way. What’s better is, Lehane dealt with it in a great way.

Rachel’s anxiety is normalized by an understanding partner who holds her hand through her recovery, offering the right amount of support while still pushing her to break out of her comfort zone in small ways. It touches on the loss and loneliness that comes with struggling with an unseen illness that most people don’t understand. Her anxiety plays a central role in the novel; as the mystery unfolds, Rachel’s choices are to take a huge leap out of her bubble or risk death.

If you dig mystery, drama and anxious characters, I highly recommend this novel. It’s no great work of art, but reading it is a fantastic way to spend a lazy day.

I’d give this book three out of five cats.

Unhealthy anxiety coping mechanisms

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When I drink, I can’t stop until I black out and pass out. When I start working on something, I find it difficult to stop–no matter how hungry I get or how badly I need to pee–until I’m done. And, even then, I find myself really, really wanting to get started on the next project. In the past, when I started eating junk food, I’d find it to difficult to stop; I’d make grilled cheese after grilled cheese until I was out of bread or munch on cookies until none were left in the bag, no matter how full and sick I felt.

I figured I had impulse control issues and poor self-control, although I’ve been vegan for a decade, studied enough in high school to get a 98 per cent in pre-cal and never handed an assignment in late.

As I’ve been dealing with and exploring my anxiety, I’ve realized these are all coping mechanisms. A early 2017 car accident, resulting in a head injury that I’m still struggling with, took my coping mechanisms away, highlighting how much of a dependency I’ve had on them. Kicking the crutch out from under me forced me to find new, healthier ways to cope with my uncomfortable emotions. Here’s what I’ve got:

  • Write about ’em: In outbursts of complete rage, I’ve sat at my computer and vomited my intense feelings into a piece of writing. In some cases, they’ve actually turned out pretty good and I’ve been able to publish them, giving others some insight into what’s going on with me.
  • Talk it out: I’ve gotten so much better about reaching out to friends and family when I’m feeling like I’m going to snap. I let them know if I’m looking for advice or just need to vent, ask if they’re up for the task of listening and then let it all go. I usually end up talking myself into a place where I can look at the positives.
  • Find the upside: Last year, I moved to the US from Canada. If I had known it would take months, rather than a few weeks, for my cats to follow, I likely wouldn’t have done it. On Christmas day, my little David ended up being hospitalized in our new Montana home town. A few days later, he was transported to another town for an invasive surgery, which was followed by weeks of healing. I was so upset, beating myself up about not having been with him for months, agonizing over whether I could have prevented his suffering. Realizing there’s nothing I could then but care for him, I looked at the bright side. I’d felt like the worst cat mom for months. This was an opportunity for me to love him and nurse him back to health, making me feel like a good cat mom again and giving us a chance to re-bond.

When my brain heals more, I’m going to find more healthy coping mechanisms. I used to love to run and have always loved going for long walks, so I’ll try them out again. I’d also love some suggestions of different things I could try out! What healthy coping mechanisms do you use?

28 things before 29

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Last year, prompted by an article in Bella Grace magazine, I wrote a list of 27 things I wanted to do before turning 28. I didn’t get the satisfaction of crossing much off the list because I’ve been concussed as hell this entire year, which I hadn’t been anticipating when I put that list together. Getting and riding a bike, paying for a tattoo of Cassiopeia and finishing my book just weren’t in the cards for me in my 27th year.

But, it was fun to think of the things I could do in my life and I enjoyed having a list tacked above my desk. It reminded me of all the adventure that’s waiting for me when (although, it’s starting to feel like if) my brain heals. So, for my 28th year, I’m making another list. This time, it’s going to be 28 things I can conceivably do even if I stay in this concussion fog until I’m 29.

  1. Finish writing my book.
  2. Start my next book.
  3. Learn to make vegan cheeses well.
  4. Run outside, alone (well, without another human. Miles will go!).
  5. Learn to sew.
  6. Sew curtains for the house.
  7. Sew reusable cloth gift wrapping.
  8. Increase how much I’m putting away for retirement monthly.
  9. Get published in a hardcopy of BUST magazine.
  10. Create a cozy reading nook in my house.
  11. Repurpose my grandma’s broken wedding dishes.
  12. Plant hollyhocks in the yard.
  13. Draw frequently-ish.
  14. Run a craft sale in Montana.
  15. Go to a yoga with kittens class.
  16. Make a vegan ice cream cake.
  17. Make a terrarium for our home.
  18. Go rock climbing with Lucas.
  19. Hug my nephews Leo and Rueben.
  20. Make a zine for Leo and a zine for Rueben.
  21. Make a large braided rug.
  22. Make cards that look nice.
  23. Start a journal of funny and sweet things that happen with Lucas and I so we’ll have the memories forever.
  24. Put photos of friends and family up in the house.
  25. Get a garden gnome (or 80).
  26. Get a scoby to make kombucha again.
  27. Find actual strange things for my Cabinet of Oddities.
  28. Make the yard more comfortable to chill in.
  29. Get a table at the Helena Farmers’ Market.

My brain is still a rotten mess, so blogging is hard. If you’re interested in guest posting about your struggles as an anxious creative, tips for dealing with anxiety or the science behind anxiety and its treatments, email me at megjcrane@gmail.com.

Build healthy relationships

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I used to hold people at arm’s length. I was afraid of letting anyone in too close because I hated who I was and didn’t wanted others to truly see me; then I’d be alone.

I moulded myself to fit the type of friend I thought those around me wanted. In junior high, I agreed with the friend I spent the most time with that female masturbation was disgusting. I went to parties because my boyfriend wanted to go, even though I hated being in houses crowded with strangers and couldn’t stand having nothing to do but drink and look around for a cat or dog I could pet.

In my early 20s, I met a woman about 10 years my senior through a vegan meet-up group. She started inviting me to events at her home, which led to us frequently chatting via Facebook messenger, be babysitting her kid and her helping me out with rides and groceries. She was openly flawed and I still loved her. Even when I fucked up, she still loved me and I became comfortable being vulnerable and real. I knew she wouldn’t ditch me if I had a different opinion than her, as long as I was respectful.

That woman completely changed my life. I learned what a real, healthy friendship looks like and began striving to model all my relationships after what I had with her. I weeded out the people who weren’t good for my mental health; the ones who didn’t understand I needed time away from my phone and expected me to always be there for them, but who were seldom there for me.

I started being more honest and finding ways to be a good friend despite my anxiety. Opening up allowed the people around me to support me in the ways I didn’t know I had needed and that anxiety lessened. On the worst days, I knew I had people who I could talk to, people who cared and would understand.

Relationships of all kinds are difficult when you struggle with your mental health, but they’re incredibly important for coping and recovering. My number one tip for people with anxiety disorders is to find and develop meaningful friendships to help get you through.

I’ve started a private Facebook group for anxious creatives to chat about what’s going on with their work and lives, ask for advice and give support. If you’re interested in joining, send the email attached to your Facebook account to me at megjcrane@gmail.com and I’ll add you!


So many things are wrong with my brain, which is making blogging difficult. If anyone is interested in guest-posting about their experience as an anxious creative, tips for dealing with the struggle or explanations of different types of treatment, email me at megjcrane@gmail.com.