Haters gonna hate, and it’s hard not to care

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On a survey I’m throwing around about things I could offer to help creatives with poor mental health, someone made a comment that read:

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I’m slow to respond to messages due to my anxiety, especially the past few months since the car accident, but I respond to all comments on my blog and social media posts, all emails and, eventually, most texts and Facebook messages.

Who do I not respond to regularly? People who I tell repetitively that what they’re dropping on me is too much for me to handle and that they need to find someone else (here’s a list of resources) to lean on. People who are constantly negative and demanding help, but who rarely offer the same in return. People who act as though they are entitled to my time and energy, regardless of what else is going on in my life.

I don’t think I’m more worthy of anyone’s money than they are. I’ve just learned a hell of a lot from my struggle and I’d love to help others with theirs, but I can’t do that without making a few bucks to pay my bills.

No matter what you do, there will be people who don’t like you. There will be people who demand too much and who shit on what you’re doing.

After reading that comment, I immediately went to my inbox and responded to all my messages, feeling bad that maybe I’d ignored someone who needed help. And then I concussioned out so hard and had an absolute shit night.

It’s a good reminder that you can’t help everyone until you’ve helped yourself, and some people aren’t going to be understanding of that. There’s a time to listen to feedback and there’s a time to ignore it and put yourself first. I should have done the latter, especially given that I know I don’t ignore anyone who is struggling who is asking for help in a respectful and non-intrusive way.

That said, if you’re a creative needing support through your mental health journey, take my survey and let me know what you need from me!

 

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Money anxieties of the freelancer

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Image by Snebtor.

Money is something I’ve always been worried about. When I’m making a lot, I often check in to ensure my savings accounts are on track to reach goals. When I’m making very little, I frequently check my accounts to calculate over and over whether or not I’m going to make enough to pay all my bills (Spoiler alert: I always do).

It wastes a lot of time that could be used finding more work, actually working or relaxing. Basically, it wastes time that could be used on something productive.

Tools I use to deal with money anxiety

  1. Keeping careful track of my finances by budgeting;
  2. Frequently updating lists of companies I can contact for paid work;
  3. Keeping a list of what money reliably comes in weekly, bi-weekly, monthly and bi-monthly;
  4. Keeping a spreadsheet of my income over the past several years;
  5. Having examples of times I creatively came up with money (like using Patreon to keep Cockroach going!) on hand.

Having all of this info available at my fingertips, I can quickly take a look at my financial lists and spreadsheets anytime I’m feeling insecure about money. It gives me confidence that I’ll be okay (as I have been in the past) and gives me tools to come up with gamelans for making $xxx before bills are due. Instead of wasting time logging into my bank account and crunching numbers, then brainstorming which clients always have work for me, it’s all available immediately.

One tip I learned from Budgets and Cents is to think back to a time when whatever you’re anxious about happening happened. First of all, has it happened? Second, what did you do? Did you survive?

Acknowledging that I’ve always managed to come up with the money I need, when I need it, puts a lot of my anxieties to ease.

Money anxiety is something freelancers commonly deal with. Are there any other anxieties that you as a freelancer are regularly plagued by?


I’d like to start offering products for people who struggle with their mental health. Take a quick survey to help me figure out what would be most useful and you’ll be entered to win a $25 gift certificate to my Etsy shop, which will soon be packed with hand knit winter wear, buttons and zines.

Upside to freelancing when you’ve got anxiety

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Entering the freelance world can cause mad anxiety for someone who doesn’t have an anxiety disorder, but that doesn’t mean the job-free life isn’t for those of us who deal with this particular mental health issue. For me, there have been many health benefits of becoming self-employed.

1. Freedom to prioritize

Some days, I can turn my anxiety into motivation to kick butt. Other days, my heart beats so quickly I worry it will explode and I can hardly get out of bed. As a freelancer, I can get three-days worth of work done during one high energy, excited day, and then stay ahead of my work in case I need to take a mental health day later. Freelancing gives me the freedom to prioritize different aspects of life on different days, so high-anxiety days can be given over 100 per cent to self-care.

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2. Lose job-specific anxieties

Snotty co-workers, late buses, no clean work clothes. Having to leave home everyday to work comes with it’s own set of anxieties that sometimes become so normal, they’re not recognized as daily stressors. Leaving a job means leaving all that. And means working all day in sweatpants, if that’s your thing. Personally, I’ve got a killer collection of fancy-patterned tights that are well-worn through my work week.

3. You can’t be laid off

With freelancing, the biggest thing I hear newbies and wanna-be’s say is that they’re scared of not finding enough work. That’s fair. But when you’re your own employer, you don’t need to worry about getting laid off. Sure, you might lose a gig that makes up for part of your income here or there, but it won’t all be gone in one fell swoop like the traditional 9-5 could be.

4. Pick and choose work

If one client is constantly filling up my voicemail on the weekend, despite me asking them to communicate via email outside of work hours, I just drop them. As a freelancer (once you’re in the swing of things), you don’t need to put up with clients who don’t respect your time and preferences. It gives you the power to only work with people who don’t push your buttons the wrong way, unlike with a traditional job where you don’t have a say on who your boss, co-workers and clients are.

4. Turning back is allowed

After a few days, weeks, months or years of freelancing, you can decide it’s not for you and go back to a traditional jobs. There will always be jobs out there, but there won’t always be the opportunity to strike out on your own.

In all honesty, as a freelancer, money gives me a shit ton of anxiety in ways it didn’t before I started my self-employed journey. Next week, I’ll visit that topic, but, in the meantime, check out my Facebook page where I post links to all the articles I get paid to write and some of those I’m paid to edit.

List what ya love for anxious emergencies

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When I’m in a foul mood, it’s hard to remember what makes me happy. That’s why I like to keep silly photos on my phone of the people and animals I love.

 

I also like to keep a list on my phone of things I can do to cheer myself up.

  • Go for a walk
  • Read a book
  • Play with the cats
  • Grab a tea at a local coffee shop
  • Knit and listen to podcasts
  • Garden

It’s similar to what I used to do with keeping a gratitude board on my wall, but more specific in that it gives me actions to take when the anxiety takes over my mind and I can’t come up with a plan on my own.

This is especially helpful when other tricks–like encouraging negative thoughts to float away–aren’t working.

Recently, I’ve decided I need to add another list. Some days, I’m so motivated and pumped up about work, I feel like I can do everything I want to do and will be so successful. Other days, I have no faith in myself or my abilities. I become so self-conscious about what other people might be thinking about me and my work. I worry that I’m going to fail and wonder how I’ll survive.

So, I’m working on a list of things to motivate myself! Here’s what I’ve got so far:

My list is short. Clearly I need a little help building it. What do you do to get yourself excited about you and boost your confidence? I’d love suggestions!

More importantly, if you’ve got silly photos that you can’t help but laugh at, no matter how angry or anxious you are, I’d love if you could share them on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook and tag me @megjcrane!


Concussion update

I’m still very much concussed. I’m up to working two hours a day, 30 minutes at a time with two hour breaks in between though. Whooooop!

What’s been hardest is that I’m getting a small taste of life and it’s making me want more. I finish a half hour of work and start getting pumped up to do something else fun, like go for a run or cook or read, and then remember that the next two hours are all about rest. No screens. No reading. No thinking. Just sitting, listening to an audiobook and knitting something basic.

It gets harder when other people don’t understand. “I’m having a bad day and don’t think I can walk that far to meet you. Do you mind coming here?” The correct answer is “No problem,” or “That’s not going to work for me today. Can we reschedule?” Not “Why?” I’ve had this injury for three months and I’m beyond tired of it. I’m also beyond tired of talking about it and explaining what a concussion is, over and over. If I say I can’t do it, please just accept that and move on. I’m not avoiding that activity because I’m “hiding from the world” or being a brat. It’s because it’s not good for my healing brain.

Here’s what I need:
-Few messages, short and concise, only when there’s a reason, and space to answer in my own time when my brain is feeling up to it;
-No voicemails. For reals. My voicemail message even reminds you;
-Hangouts close to my home or with rides built in;
-Quiet–no yelling, no loud music; and
-Not being questioned when I say what I need.

Thanks to those who have been patient and understanding.

xoxo
Meg

Stop before anxiety makes you

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I spent a great deal of last summer working from bed because I was having too much joint pain to sit at my desk.

Since 2009 when my right hand froze in a painful claw one afternoon at my retail job, I’ve seen many doctors and specialists who’ve had no luck giving me answers. Last year, my doctor suggested it was a symptom of my anxiety.

The pain and anxiety don’t always go together–with my knees, wrists and elbows doing the worst during changing weather and rain–but they often do, making me think my doc is on the right track.

The symptoms caused by my anxiety have a huge negative impact on my life. There’s the pain, headaches, shortness of breath, fatigue and nausea. Discovering that all of this was caused my something going on in my brain was a wake-up call: I can’t work until I need to stop. I have to take more breaks to take care of me, otherwise I won’t have the energy to do even the most basic self-care, like eat healthy and exercise.

I’ve tested this out a bit, especially with the concussion. Can’t I just work until I start seeing a few signs that I’ve over-done it? If I work too hard one day, I can just even it out by working less the next, right?

Not so much.

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Days when I work too hard, I’d like to be able to hide away in a drawer with Stella.

It’s good to push yourself in ways that lead to the development of new skills and abilities, but striving to do more in a certain time frame doesn’t really work that way. Instead of becoming capable of doing more work over time, you become capable of doing less as health deteriorates.

Maybe it’s sort of like a car. You can only drive it so much before it needs some regular maintenance. You push that too much and you’re doing damage that is going to take a lot more energy to repair.

For me, I find that I only realize I should stop working when I start experiencing symptoms of my anxiety or concussion. And then I don’t stop working right away, but wait until I’ve completed another task.

I’ve started setting strict limits for myself. Stepping away from the desk and taking time to cook a nice meal, do laundry and take a bath have become as important on my to-do list as meeting my editing deadlines.

I’m going to challenge myself this week to schedule an hour in the middle of the day to do something that nourishes my body and mind. Maybe I’ll spend my lunch hour going for a walk in the forest, make a nice breakfast before I start the day or relax in a warm bath with a book. And I challenge you to do the same! Let me know how you spend your hours and how it makes you feel.

Don’t try to do it all

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On the days I sit at my computer from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., I feel great about how much I’ve dedicated to my work but feel like I’ve neglected my health and relationships. When I take an afternoon off to drive a friend to an important medical appointment, I feel bad for not giving my work enough attention. I’m often distracted when relaxing at the spa on a weekday, wondering what kinds of emails are pilling up without my constant attention.

With this concussion, my inability to do it all has been highlighted. Each day, I’m supposed to work for 15 minutes five to six times, leaving at least an hour and a half break to rest in between. I need to do a number of brain exercises, make sure I’m eating healthy and drinking plenty of water, do a bit of housework so it doesn’t pile up to an unmanageable amount, and connect with friends to keep from getting too isolated and depressed. I’m also supposed to fit two short walks into each day and do some exercises for my neck every second day. And I need to push my brain a bit by re-introducing activities from my pre-concussion life, such as reading books, shopping and watching movies.

With a brain that isn’t functioning fully, this is overwhelming. I found myself with mad anxiety and a fatigued brain when I tried to get through my full to-do list before crashing for the night.

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Examples of how I’ve been structuring my days since being back to work with a concussion.

What helped a great deal was making detailed schedules for each day that included time to exercise and do chores, and told me when to eat. Through doing this, I realized that I can’t do everything in one day; there simply isn’t enough time. And that extends beyond this concussion.

Work-life balance is a confusing concept. There’s not much involved in work compared to the rest of life (sleep, food, play), and sometimes one component of life becomes more important than any other, requiring everything else to be dropped. My concussion is a great example. From the moment I crashed my car, my health became my number one priority, and my relationships and work had to be set aside.

Striving for a balance where every aspect of life is getting enough attention on a daily basis is unrealistic. Part of the reason why I wanted to freelance was to have the flexibility in my life to be there for others when they need help, so I shouldn’t be stressed when doing so.

I think some of this pressure to have it all and do it all has come from outside sources. In our society, we talk a lot about striking the perfect work-life balance. But, lately, I’ve heard from Paul Jarvis, Jean Chatsky and the rad women of Budgets and Cents about why they think this is unrealistic, and it’s encouraged me to examine my own life.

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For me, striving for a work-life balance is beyond unrealistic. It’s damaging. My chest is frequently buzzing with anxiety. Many days, I can use this energy to fuel productivity. Some days, I become so overwhelmed by everything I feel I need to do, the buzzing paralyzes me and I’m unable to answer text messages, check emails or focus on one task long enough to finish.

I’ve decided trying to strike a perfect balance is another instance where giving up is beneficial. I’m going to focus on no longer striving to have my entire life under control everyday. I just want to be able to pay enough attention to everything to be happy, and that might mean letting some things fall to the wayside permanently (so long, folding laundry!) and others for short periods of time.

What’s your relationship with the work-life balance concept like? Does it help you make sure you’re not spending too little time anywhere or, like me, does it make you feel like you’re failing somehow?


You may have noticed this came out on Monday instead of Friday. That’s because I’m getting ready to launch a weekly newsletter that will send motivational words to freelancers and creatives who struggle with anxiety. It’ll be similar to the blog, but more tailored and concise, with action steps you can take to better your life and career. It’ll be coming out every Monday morning to help folks start their week off with excitement and confidence. Whoop!

Multi-tasking madness

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I used to pride myself on my ability to multi-task. I can eat meals while working, having conversations through Facebook messenger with friends who need a little support and snuggling my cats.

Just because you can do something though, doesn’t mean you should.

The chaos of juggling multiple things at one time left me too anxious to go on by mid-day. What I had accomplished wasn’t done as well as it could have been, kitty cuddling included. No one and nothing was getting my full attention, meaning I wasn’t doing a good job taking care of myself, writing, being a caregiver or being a friend.

This wasn’t something I acknowledged as being an issue until I got a concussion. For weeks, I couldn’t even knit anything that didn’t have the absolute most basic pattern while listening to music or my brain would fritz.

Learning to focus on one thing at a time was difficult, but it paid off in that I was able to get more done in the end. As I heal, I can see how beneficial this light on multi-tasking life will be.

In this go-go-go, busy, hyper-connected world, it’s tempting to cram as much into as little time as possible. Here’s what is helping me change my mindset.

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Photo by Bonnie Tsang.

1. I want to be my best self

If you can get something done with only part of your attention focused on the task, imagine what you could do with your full attention?

I can write an article in fragmented pieces between answering emails, but it’s often only after 10 or 15 minutes of struggling with words that the sentences suddenly begin to flow and the writing feels natural and unlaboured. It’s pieces written like this that don’t need much proof reading by me and that editors rarely send back with major changes. In the end, focusing my full attention on this one task saves me time, but, much more importantly, it allows me to put out into the world the best of me.

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Photo by Daniel.

2. I want to have real experiences

Ever have a conversation with someone and later not remember what you chatted about or, worse, in the moment realized that they’ve paused for a response and you don’t know what to say?

Beside being rude, it’s proof that you’re missing out on real life experiences. I don’t even want to think about the countless times I’ve returned home from spending time with a good friend, regretting that I was too focused on watching my phone for an email to have really enjoyed their company. Instead of having the memory of a rich interaction and the positive feelings that come from that, I was regretful. But also a little too busy looking at my phone for another email to register this fully.

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Photo by Home Thods.

3. I want to enjoy life

Always listening to podcasts while walking through the forest, how will I ever hear the birds? Looking at my phone on the park bench, I might miss an otter swimming passed in a nearby pond. Working while chatting with a friend, I might not notice the subtext of the conversation.

I’ve been trying to practice mindfulness throughout my days lately. Noticing the sounds, smells and sights of my surroundings has enriched the most mundane moments of life, including standing on a downtown street corner waiting for my shopping buddy to arrive. And pulling my mind into the moment—rather than dwelling on the to-do list, financial issues and odd social interactions—reduces how much anxiety builds up throughout the day.

It’s hard to fully enjoy all the rich complexities of life when the brain is trying to do too many things at once. It’s been through meditating that I’ve discovered how beautiful life is when it’s simple. From the concussion, I learned how focusing in on one thing is kind to our overworked brains.

Like what you’re reading here? Then you’ll be interested in my new newsletter! This summer, I’ll be launching a weekly newsletter sending motivational words to freelancers and creatives who struggle with anxiety. It’ll be similar to the blog, but more tailored and concise, with action steps you can take to better your life and career. Sign-up now and don’t miss out on even one!


Featured image by Daniel Lobo.


Concussion update

img_1172.jpgAs I get better, it’s been more difficult to gauge what is pushing it too much. Earlier this week, I had an amazing day with no symptoms. The next day, after scooping dog poop and weeding in the back yard, mopping the floors, making lunch for Lucas and I, working 1.5 hours and sitting in the sun listening to podcasts about finances without a hat or sunglasses, it dawned on me that I’d only had such a good day because I’d spent most of my time between 15 minute stints of work sitting still with a hat and sunglasses, even when in the shade.

Sigh.

Having a successful day requires so much mindfulness. It’s a great lesson, but one that I’m slow to learn. Maybe I’ll get it down by the time my brain is healed and ready for full action again. In the meantime, a couple of the musicians from Cottonwood Club, a band my partner is in, gave me this lil’ fellow to keep me company on my side of the car. They also gave me a container of homemade vegan cookies, but I might have already eaten them…