Your “why” could simplify decison-making

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I recently listened to The Slow Home Podcast’s series on finding Your Why  and it really resonated with me. If something doesn’t align with my why, then does it need to be apart of my life?

One episode in the series brings you through finding your values. Mine are:

  • Relationships (with myself, family, friends, strangers, animals, the planet);
  • Adventure; and
  • Passion.

Playing games on my phone is in no way connected to any of my values, so immediately after coming up with my values, I deleted them all. Then I unsubscribed from some of the podcasts I’ve been listening to that I don’t get excited about or that I don’t learn from, the ones that just clutter my feed and stress me out when my phone starts getting too full. And then I spent some time reflecting on how unhappy I’ve been since the car accident, and especially since I’ve moved.

IMG_2902.JPGI’ve been isolated with few friends in my new home and not a ton of connection to the people I love back home. I stay home most of the time. Other than running errands, my husband and I go on a hike once every couple of weeks and occasionally I tag along when he goes to check out a band. And I’m really not doing anything that excites me. There’s a lot of sitting on the couch listening to podcasts and knitting, which is fine, but it doesn’t get me fired up.

A lot of this is because I still have a concussion and just can’t get out much to meet new people, have adventures and work on projects I’m excited about. But I’m also putting precious brain energy towards things that don’t matter, like my phone and Netflix.

With these values in mind, I’ve had some direction in figuring out what I need to do to live a happy life and what can be deleted so there’s more time for what I love, but also time to just breath and relax. It also makes it easier for me to decide if I should say no to a project or restrain myself from committing to something.

Will it help me build deeper relationships? Would it be an adventure? Is it something I’m passionate about? No, no, no? Then the answer is no.

My biggest fear about going back to work full-time is that I’ll get back into the habit of over-booking and over-working myself, saying yes to everything and even offering to take on projects that don’t benefit me at all. I’m thinking this new way of going through life should help keep me on a track to happiness.

What helps guide you when it comes to saying yes or no to a new project?

 

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Routine to reduce anxiety

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I like to jump into my work first thing in the morning. The sooner I sit down at my laptop, the sooner I can close it and go have some fun. Before I moved in with my husband, I used to wake up at 6 a.m. each morning, feed my cats, make coffee and then get to work by 6:30, frantically plowing through my to-do list. Oftentimes, when I was done, I’d just sit on the couch, watch Netflix and craft. Super fulfilling. Super worth rushing through work I love.

In October, during my newsletter challenge to be more mindful, I took a free self-love e-course from Margaret Rushing. It started with carving out time each day to work on the challenge and to dedicate to myself and a routine for me.

I chose 8:30 a.m., right after Luke leaves for work, to do a 10-15 minute yoga video followed by making breakfast in the kitchen while listening to music that gets me moving. The whole while, I focus on being present and in the moment, really feeling each stretch and smelling what I’m about to eat.

And then I sit down to look at what needs to be done for the day, check social media and refresh my emails, feeling both energized and at peace.

Cait Flanders–a self-employed woman who suffered with anxiety–has talked quite a bit on Budgets and Cents about how having a morning routine has helped her. She calls them “slow mornings,” taking time to do something for herself before she starts work.

Taking time for oneself each day isn’t something I really thought I had time for before, but it’s made a huge difference in my days. What’s your morning routine like? Do you take time for self-care at some point during the day? Join the discussion on the Cockroach Facebook page.

Fuck politeness

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Trigger warning: sexual assault.

A few weeks ago, our instructors introduced the close embrace in a tango class I’ve been taking with my husband.

I immediately became nervous. Being pressed up against a strange man wasn’t something I was interested in. Our instructors assured us that the close embrace is only something pairs do when both parties are comfortable and showed us how to set up what we were comfortable with. I relaxed. Sweet. I could just keep doing the same embrace we’d been using for a few weeks.

And then they told us to go ahead, right then, and get into close embrace to practice.

They pulled my out from under me.

I’m a runner. When something scares me or makes me anxious, I bolt. That was my first instinct, but I didn’t want the guy I was paired with to be offended, so I stuck it out, promising myself I’d duck out before the next pairing. But, again, I didn’t want to be rude. And again. And again. Until I was with my husband and he, realizing this wasn’t okay with me, suggested we both leave right then. I didn’t want to be rude to the instructors.

I held it together until we were almost at the car and then I broke down sobbing. Maybe you can imagine, but being physically against and being touched by a strange man who I don’t want near my body is a super shitty reminder of other times I’ve been in situations like (but much worse) than that.

I strongly feel that everyone, especially in 2017, should be expecting sexual assault survivors to be in all spaces and should be giving people ample freedom to set boundaries. I’m putting 100 per cent of the blame here on the instructors.

But there are always going to be situations that make me uncomfortable. People fuck up. People are uneducated. Some people are just rude and don’t care. And it’s up to me to take care of myself and stick up for myself, even if it hurts someone else’s feelings.

Karen and Georgia of My Favorite Murder have a saying: Fuck politeness.

Women feeling like they need to be polite is dangerous. It leads to us not trusting our gut instincts, which can lead to us being raped and murdered. No blame on women here–I’m blaming a society that teaches us to consider other’s feelings above our own comfort and safety. In a much less serious situation, caring about other’s feelings more than our own can lead to being triggered and winding up a sobbing mess in the passenger seat of our partner’s car while we relive our trauma.

I get a lot of anxiety about wanting people to like me but also wanting to protect myself. It’s why I say yes to jobs that I know will put me over the edge in terms of how much work I can handle. It’s why I say yes to under-paid writing gigs and to editing jobs I find ridiculously boring.

Politeness is important, but taking care of one’s own interests and health should come before it.

If you’re interested in joining in discussions like this about being a creative who’s struggling with their mental health, “like” my Facebook page.

A book review: Present Over Perfect

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Reading has been a pastime I’ve thoroughly enjoyed since I was a child, although I haven’t made time to read enough over the last few years. With plenty of time on my hands since the accident, I’ve made my way back to it. Of course, with a concussion I can’t physically read books. Thank goodness for audiobooks!

And now that my brain is mostly healed (although reading for more than 20 minutes is still difficult) but I’m unable to work for pay due to being in the middle of an immigration process, this seems like an excellent time to do a bit of work on myself.

So, I’ve started listening to self-help books, a genre that previously I’ve shied away from with a great deal of hostility. It seemed like a waste of time. What worked for one person surely won’t work for me. That’s true. A lot of what I’m reading in these books is garbage advice, for me at least. However, I’m still walking away with some great lessons and insights that I can apply to me.

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist has a lot more religion that I’d like in any book, but even as an eye-rolling atheist, I was able to get over all the god talk. A lot of what she wrote about actually really resonated with me.

In this book, the author discusses her journey from being an overwhelmed, anxious and too busy writer to living a more quiet and meaningful life where she’s at peace. Sounds pretty much exactly like the journey I was hoping to make before life forced me to just stop.

It’s not really a how-to, but rather a collection of stories of how difficult it was to change her mindset, to say no to work and yes to a healthier life, and to become okay with stillness. This format leaves the reader a lot of space to learn their own lessons from her experiences.

Although she doesn’t specifically talk a lot about mental health, there’s a lot for anxious creatives to learn from her. Specifically, through her stories I got a better idea of which projects I want to accept and which I’d rather pass on. I learned that quiet and stillness are things you can learn to embrace and love. And, most importantly, I learned that I can change me life. It’s just going to be fucking hard.

Present Over Perfect is available as an audiobook (I listened free on Hoopla using my library card) so you can get through it while making art!

Here’s what I did while listening:

Losing control, increasing anxiety

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This year, my life has been spiralling out of my control.

It started off when I literally lost control of my car. The concussion I got from that left me unable to work with no real timeline of when I’d be able to read or write again. And then I moved to the US and was left unable to work both because of the injury and because I needed to wait for the work permits.

I was up and down, going between a deep depression from being unable to do anything to an optimism that things would get better, but everything fell apart incorrect immigration paperwork was filed and we ended up a month behind the process. I’d initially been on track to be back in Winnipeg for the Vegan Handmade Market I’m running on Dec. 2. Whether or not I make it is now up in the air and is basically out of my control. (But don’t worry, it’ll happen whether or not I’m there.)

There’s so much that can be controlled when you’re an artist. What kind of work you do, how you get it out there. When you work, how much you work. It’s one thing I love about being self-employed. As long as I keep working ahead of my schedule, I can basically do whatever I feel like most days.

But there are always things that are out of my control.

No matter how much I take care of myself, some days the anxiety and depression are going to throw me down. I have no power to make sure an editor accepts my work and doesn’t make so many edits that it is no longer recognizable. I can’t make my work permits come sooner.

For a few years, I’ve had wild nightmares. They almost always revolve around me losing control. I’m driving from the backseat and can’t reach the brakes. I’ve taken my cats somewhere off leash and can’t gather them all back.

Being here is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Yet it seems so easy. Just sit still and wait for everything out of my control to work itself out. It’s a good lesson in finally dealing with my control issues and learning patience, and an opportunity to do so. But how?

When’s a time when everything has fallen out of your control? How did it impact your mental health and what did you do about it? Send me an email at megjcrane@gmail.com or join the discussion on my Facebook page.

 

Be professional through the worst anxiety

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Having anxiety can make one unreliable. Just ask all my friends about what I was like before admitting I had an anxiety disorder–I often canceled plans because I was “sick”, ignored their calls and took days to respond to texts (okay, admittedly I still do that last one).

This can be quite a problem when doing creative work for clients. Too anxious to work? You’re going to be missing deadlines.

I’ve been on both sides of this, the overly anxious writer and in impatient editor waiting for a story. You want to get your work in, but you can’t breath. You want to be easy on the anxious writer, but you have your own deadlines to meet.

Here are a few tips for helping avoid looking like an unreliable fool.

Pad deadlines

Sometimes I know I’ll be able to get a job done in a matter of days, but I tell the client it’ll be ready in a few weeks to months. Maybe I finish it in a few days and they get it early and I look like some badass who prioritized their work to get it to them ahead of schedule. Maybe a rush job comes up and I put it on the back burner to finish (still on deadline) later. And maybe I have a total meltdown and need to step away from work for a few days to take care of me. With a padded deadline, I don’t need to feel guilty about putting my health first.

Schedule time to respond to emails, and do it

I often get overwhelmed by the number of texts, phone calls, emails and other messages I need to respond to. And so I put it off and put it off and put it off, and then look super flaky to clients who are waiting on a response.

As a fix to this, I let folks know that I only check my emails a few times a week and don’t respond to any Facebook or other social media messages related to work. If I’m feeling good, I might stay on top of messages everywhere (including giving gentle reminders that email is how I communicate). When I’m not doing so well, I don’t even look at messages until the hour or so I’ve scheduled for this. Then I force myself to go through them all.

It’s tough, but satisfying. Walking away, I’m often stressed that I’ll get flooded with responses and then people will get upset that I’m slow to respond to them. To make myself feel better, I add a little note to my signature saying I’ll be offline for a bit, so not to worry if I don’t get back again for a few days.

Be honest about what’s up

Your client is going to know you’re not an unreliable fool if you just fess up. “Hey, I know this was due today but despite padding my deadline I haven’t had time to finish because I’m being crushed by anxiety.” Then offer solutions, such as someone who could do a rush job for the same price or by giving a realistic new deadline. Just make sure this Plan B is guaranteed to get them the work on time. I know this can be scary, but the only reactions I’ve ever received from doing this have been:

  • Thanks for letting me know. That sucks.
  • Oh, wow. I’ve been there. Don’t even worry about it.

Losing work because of health struggles sucks and isn’t always unavoidable. I get it. That’s a huge part of why I’m working more for myself than for clients these days. One of my personal projects is Motivations for the Anxious Creative, my weekly newsletter for artists and writers who struggle with their mental health. Sign-up today and we can have some productive one-on-one convos about getting shit done.

Terrify yourself, for you mental health

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I  used to be (more) terrified of talking to strangers. Hell, even acquaintances and sometimes good friends. Especially some family.

What changed?

I went to a horrifying college program that forced me to interview randoms on the street, was too cheap to hire MCs for a few Cockroach events and tabled with my zine at craft sales. In other words, I powered through a ton of panic attacks, cried my face off, dealt with nausea so bad I couldn’t eat and spent hours scrutinizing my every word months after have conversations.

It was all fucking awful. But, now when I need to ask someone on the street for directions, I don’t shake quite so much while doing it.

Late 2015, I realized that doing new things terrified me, which was why I’d never pumped my own gas. So, I decided to do one new thing per month in 2016.

IMG_0437.JPGSome things were really no big deal–like spending a night in a private campground–while others were kinda scary–like going on a 12 hour road trip alone. All were rewarding because I was so proud I’d inched out of my comfort zone. And in early 2017 when my now husband wanted to go rock climbing and skiing, I wasn’t quite so scared of doing something new as I would have been a year earlier. At that time, I probably would have had a panic attack at the mere thought of looking like a fool in front of him and faked being sick to get out of it.

As I get back into work after not working full-time for more than five months due to a concussion, a lot of the work I’m comfortable with is no longer there. I gave up my fabulous job at The Uniter and moved to Helena, Montana, where I can’t do freelance work for any local newspapers as I don’t have the work permits. In fact, there’s a lot of my usual work I can’t do for this reason.

So, I’m pursuing some new creative adventures. I’m writing a book, preparing to open a new Etsy shop with items for people who deal with anxiety and creating a free community zine library in my new hometown.

These are all things I may have done eventually, but having so many restrictions forced me to explore new projects a lot more quickly than I might have otherwise moved. Sort of like how challenging myself to try one new thing a month in 2016 pushed me to do a lot of super cool things.

As I push myself, my comfort zone will grow as will my skills. Maybe one day someone will approach me with a super bad ass project that’s outside of my realm of experience, but because I’m so used to being uncomfortable and exploring new territory, I’ll be able to take it on.

What’s your relationship with your comfort zone like, when it comes to your creative work? Are there ways you’d like to push it?