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.

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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?

 

Helping others for my own mental health

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After the car accident in late February that left me with a concussion, I had to focus on my own health. I have never in my life been so self-centred and self-involved. And I had to be. I don’t regret it. At times, doing anything other than listening to podcasts and mindlessly knitting set me back in the recovery process.

But as my brain came more and more out of the fog, I became incredibly self-conscious of how selfish I’d been.

Helping others is a big part of who I am. It gets me out of my own head and makes me feel like I’m contributing positively to the world, even when I’m too anxious to leave my home. Through Cockroach’s Stitching Hearts project–which I created and continue to run–I can even do creative things that I have a lot of fun with, which benefits me as well as others.

And just the act of doing something kind for someone else makes me feel less anxious and depressed.

A recent article by Amy Ellis Nutt, she writes about a study that showed anxious college students avoided social situations less when they consciously committed several acts of kindness per week.

In my weekly newsletter, I’ve been challenging people to strive to change one thing in their life each month (drink more water, eat more produce, connect with friends). In the next few months, I’ll be challenging everyone to find a few more ways to spread love. Join my list now to get weekly motivations for creatives who struggle with their mental health and to get in on the challenge.

Or join my Stitching Hearts group on Facebook where I’ll share the latest info about the helpful projects we’re working on, and offer support and inspiration to other members.

 

This messy house is the right house for us

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A few week’s ago, Mindfump’s post titled Ways To Manage Your Environment for Better Mental Health really got me thinking about how much my space impacts my mental health. It’s something I wrote about a bit last year when I just couldn’t keep my home clean.

Maybe it was more that initial post about being embarrassed about having a ridiculously messy home that first got me thinking about the impact of my space on my mental health. Prior to that, I put a great deal of pressure on myself to keep my home clean and tidy because I thought it would be good for my anxiety and depression, but all it really did was make me feel like shit.

Since then, I’ve gotten married and moved. All my stuff has been left behind, for now, so we’re essentially starting over from scratch, only getting what we absolutely need to have before my stuff comes and somewhat slowly deciding how we’re going to use our extra bedrooms and massive basement. It’s an opportunity to create a home that works best for me.

So, what works best for me?

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1. Light

Not having natural light and bright light actually upsets me. When I’m in a home with poor lighting at night, I get grumpy. So, pile in the lamps!

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2. Bright colours

It’s not so much that bright colours make me happy as dark colours make me feel like I’m somewhere dingy and depressing. So bring on the colour with all those lamps!

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3. Silly things

I’ve talked about this before. It’s harder to be sad in a room full of strange cat statues than it is to be in one without. Shout out to my pal Michelle Rondeau for all her cat gifts, including this cat skeleton and cat tissue box cover (the tissues come out the bum!).

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4. Life

Same deal with plants and animals. I’m so much happier in a bustling, green home. Before I got here, I sent my husband a list of plants we had to get. Then I got here and bought them all, plus an extra few.

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5. Projects accessible

In my old home, I tried to put my crafting projects away each and every time I was finished. Which sometimes meant I was pulling my mail cart or button-making supplies out several times a day. Talk about a waste of time. I’ve realized it’s so important to keep the things I love doing out, not only to save time but also to encourage me to be creative. If the colouring books are right next to the TV, I might feel inspired to pick up the pencil crayons and listen to a podcast rather than watch a show and be less productive.

IMG_1973.JPGWhile I like my home to be sanitary and things put away enough that it’s possible to find what I need, it’s more important to me that I get some quality time with my husband, my book and my knitting needles each day than it is that the toilet sparkles. While I don’t care if the lawn ever gets mowed, I really want some trees and bushes around the yard so I’ve got some cover to nap in the grass without anyone starring.

Creating a home that works for us probably means we’re going to be a judged a little by guests, but I can’t say I’m always judgement-free when I walk into a spotless house that feels more like a hotel than home. So fuck it.

Messy this place shall stay.

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Rejection anxiety

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Before I send any pitch or story to an editor, I read it approximately 5,000 times. By the fifth time, I’m just tinkering with words that don’t really need tinkering with, but I keep going.

Before even getting to the point of writing anything, I sometimes spend hours on websites I’m interested in writing for, scrutinizing every piece and trying to convince myself that I’m as good as everyone else who’s written for the publication. Granted, it’s a great idea to really familiarize myself with a publication before contacting an editor, but it’d be healthier to be doing so strictly for research and less so to convince myself of my skill level.

I don’t find rejection all that difficult to deal with when it comes from time-to-time. When I worked as the arts and culture editor of The Uniter, my boss and co-workers gave me so much positive feedback and constructive criticism that it was easier to be okay with editors for other publications letting me know they were passing on my ideas.

Barely working as I’ve been since the car accident, it’s been more difficult to deal with rejection. I send out about two pitches a week and hear back sometimes months later, so the acceptance emails and rejection emails are often spread so far apart.

A “Sorry, but this isn’t a great fit for this publication at this time” feels more like a “You’re pretty shitty at what you do and should just quit” when it’s been a while since I’ve gotten a green light.

I’ve chatted with a few friends and posted in an anxiety group I’m apart of, asking what others do to deal with rejection.

Some advice I received was to look at the evidence that I don’t suck balls (I’ve been making a living as a writer and editor for years), remind myself of outside factors (it’s a numbers game: publications get tons of pitches and can’t accept them all, someone else may have just pitched a similar story) and be understanding of my personal circumstances (I’m just getting back in the game, I still have a head injury, I’m dealing with mad anxiety and depression).

A few weeks back, I got a rejection email weeks after sending in a piece I was sure would be accepted. Honestly, I was so crushed that I spent the rest of the day on the couch and today is the first day that I’m actually back at my computer, pushing away the excuses of why I shouldn’t work.

While all the advice I got was helpful, struggling with the anxiety and depression–which has been taking over my life since I moved–along with still recovering from the concussion, I just couldn’t pull myself up. It was more work than I was capable of handling.

To prepare for future blows, I’m going to work on a set of cards that outline how to deal with different situations. On the “rejection” card, I’ll put the above advice. I’m going to make “Sensory overload,” “Panic attack” and “Anxiety for no fucking reason” cards as well. Sometimes the feels get so overwhelming, it’s hard to remember how to deal and written instructions to follow before the situation gets out of hand might be helpful for me.

But, before I do this, I’d love to hear how you deal with rejection? Comment below or join in the discussion on my Facebook page.

Sensory overload

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Prior to the accident, sensory overload is something I experienced, although I didn’t really understand what it was. Since the accident, it impacts my every day. So. Much.

For those who don’t understand sensory overload, here’s the best way I can describe it: You know that feeling you get when more than one person is trying to talk to you at once? Well, with sensory overload (at least in my case), each individual sound–from a car driving by, to the floor creaking, to someone speaking–is like a voice demanding my attention. Bright lights, strong scents, the touch of a hand. Every single thing the body can sense is demanding full attention, at the same time.

With both my concussion and panic attacks, this culminates in what feels like the brightest light suddenly flashing inside my head and I know I need to immediately flee and get somewhere quiet and dark.

While this impacts all creatives, it has particular difficulties for those of us who need to be on computers. The brightness of a screen and tapping of the keys can make getting work done difficult, if not impossible. But I’ve found it is possible to get my brain to calm the fuck down so I can keep working, or at least keep it from a total freak out.

Make sure all needs are met

It’s so strange, but every single sensation just adds to my overwhelmed brain. That includes feeling a full bladder and empty belly. When I start feeling sensory overload coming on, I head to the bathroom, grab a drink of water and then find a healthy snack.

Relax

After this, the best thing to do for me is find a dark, still place. One of my nephews has autism and when he’s feeling overwhelmed, he ducks into his bedroom closet where he’s got soft pillows to relax on.

This might sound counterintuitive, but I find putting on a podcast that has no sound effects or music to be super helpful. When the brain is overwhelmed, a shout from outside or pop from an appliance can have me skittering and shaking in bed. But expected sounds–like the voices of folks from my favourite podcasts–don’t have quite the same effect.

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Unsuccessfully avoiding sensory overload at the last Half Moon Market in Winnipeg.

Wear shades

Sometimes you can’t just stop life and cut the sensations driving your brain over the edge. So, if you’ve gotta get up and life, wear sunglasses. If you do this in public, people are going to oh-so-annoyingly accuse you of being drunk, high or hungover. But it’s better than being blasted out by bright lights.

Get headphones

Having headphones on will help cut out some of the unexpected noise that can push me over the edge. They’re not so necessary at home, but if I’m in a car with multiple people who are having conversations or am walking down the street, you can bet I’ve got something over my ears, feeding me the sweet, sweet sounds of Guys We Fucked.

Dim the lights

Working through sensory overload isn’t a thing, but sometimes work has to get done. Between breaks to calm my brain, I make sure all lights are dim. This might mean throwing a sheet over a bright lightbulb, lighting the room with soft night light or turning down the brightness on my computer and phone screens.

 

If you experience sensory overload, how do you describe it to people? I’m very curious about this! And what do you do to take care of the situation? Comment below or head over to my Facebook page to join other conversations like this.

 

 

Be your own coach

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Somedays fucking suck.

Somedays, I can barely breath because of the crushing anxiety. Somedays, I forget about all my successes. Everything just seems absolutely hopeless. What’s even the point of continuing to freelance? It’s not going to get me anywhere.

The evidence against my extreme pessimistic views are in my bank account and resume, but when you get down too deep, who’s going to remember that? Not me, let me tell ya.

But if not me, who else?

It’s not my husband’s, friends’ or fellow freelancers’ responsibility to drag me out of my depressive holes. It’s my own.

Finding inspiration or storing evidence against my false beliefs is helpful, but sometimes I just need a good pep talk, and who better to give me one than myself? After all, I know myself and what gets me out of a slump better than anyone else.

I’ve gotten rather good at giving pep talks by regularly offering them to friends when they’re not feeling like their awesome selves. It takes a little practice to be able to turn that around on oneself, but it’s important because, especially as a freelancer, you can’t always count on someone being around and having the right words.

Here’s a basic, standard, probably not super helpful because it’s not personalized pep talk:

You’re doing great. Despite everything your brain puts you through, you still get shit done. Incredible. Some people would crumble under the anxiety, but not you. Sure, it gets you down sometimes, but you get back up. You’re a badass, kickass human being who’s taking on the world like no one else can. Pick yourself up, take a day to rejuvenate and keep up the great work.

Wanna practice your pep talk skills? Shoot me a draft of what you’d say to yourself at megjcrane@gmail.com or post it on Instagram and tag @MegJCrane.