Eliminate clutter

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Life is noisy and busy and chaotic.

For me, that can be difficult to deal with when I’m anxious. Too much stimulation is overwhelming. Too long of a to-do list leaves me panicked. Too much physical clutter to sort through to find what I need is frustrating.

Earlier this year, I came down to the US without any of my belongings and decided to stay. It’s going to be a while before I can get anything, so I’ve been experiencing life without a kitchen full of all the fun gadgets and without a totally decked out craft supply. My closet is pretty bare and our food cupboards aren’t overflowing. This is different than what I’m used to.

It’s made me realize that not only do I not need a lot of what I had before, it was actually making life more difficult. When I needed anything from my baking shelf in my Winnipeg home, I pretty much have to take everything out to be able to find what I was looking for. In my Helena home, I can just pop up on my tiptoes and spy the baking powder hiding in the corner.

This has made me think a lot about simplifying my life.

I surround myself with to-do lists a mile long that are impossible to complete in one day. I have dozens of apps on my phone, but only use a few daily. On Facebook, I’m constantly getting notifications from groups that I just completely ignore. By doing this, I’m pretty much setting myself up for failure. There’s no way I can do everything and pay attention to everything in one day.

So, I’ve started to slash it back and think about what is absolutely necessary. I’ve unsubscribed to many emails and turned off notifications on apps. My pal Jenna Anderson actually just posted a list of the ways she keeps her social media under control and I’m using her tips to do a little Facebook weeding. My daily work to-do lists include bare minimum that I want to accomplish. In some cases, thinking about my why helps. Does this app really do something to help me in my why? Nope. Then it’s trashed.

This is also a huge reason why I took pressure off myself to respond to Facebook messages in a timely manner, especially when people are sending me videos and links to articles. As a general rule, I don’t even look at what people have sent me unless there’s a specific reason for sending it, like a friend wants to discuss the book mentioned in an article or have found a craft they think I’d enjoy doing.

Do you find yourself overwhelmed by the stuff and noise in your life? Do you need to simplify? What can you to do right now to make that happen?

 

Work how works for you

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There’s so much advice out there on how to run a freelance business, but not all of it is worth following.

Here’s why: I’ve been managing myself since I was six years old and bringing homework to the dining room table before dinner. I know the time of day I work best. I know how often I need breaks. I know the kinds of clients I want and I know the ones who will give me mad anxiety.

If you’re honest with yourself, you probably know how you work best, too. And I’m not just referring to time of day.

Freelancers need to find where their audience is chilling online and be there. So, if your people are on Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr, that’s where you should be? If you ask me, no. I poke around for groups and platforms where my audience is chilling, but I only put energy and time into the ones that I actually enjoy. Tumblr is fine and all, but it’s just not my jam. I know that spending lots of time on a Tumblr would not be great for my mental health, so all I have is a super neglected page for Cockroach. I’m still pretty into Facebook and really digging Instagram right now, so that’s what I focus on.

The days when I start getting myself into trouble are the ones when my anxiety manifests as this powerful energy to get shit done. Now.

When I blow through my daily to-do lists for the entire week, I’ve been known to check out free online freelancer courses. In my surge of excitement I’ll start the course, re-evaluating my core values and mission statement. Then I’ll get to a part about needling to post x number of times on Twitter a day and lose interest because it’s just not for me or become super anxious because I feel like I’m doing this freelance thing wrong. Sometimes I actually go so far as trying to implement their advice, but that just ends with me losing all my steam and need to take a mental health day from trying to do too much that just doesn’t feel right for how I work.

The fact is, unless you’re being mean or unethical, there’s no wrong way to freelance. Being self-employed is all about working how works best for you, and that’s exactly what I do.

Something new I’m trying out is a weekly newsletter sending support, love and motivation to creatives who struggle with their mental health. It launched today, so sign-up now and you won’t miss another week of it!

Kicking anxiety’s butt … for a minute

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No matter how on top of projects I am and how far ahead I work, there’s always going to be the odd day when work needs to get done, but the anxiety is crushing. Cue mad panic.

I’ve found it’s best for me to go into this situation with a plan on how to deal with these days. And that plan’s first step is to make a plan!

1. Plan the day

For me, making decisions is so difficult when I’m anxious. My brain is already running on overdrive and can’t handle the extra work. Before I get too lost in panic, I sit down and write out every single micro step involved in accomplishing whatever’s got to get down.

With the steps written out, I schedule them at different times, leaving space where I remind myself to eat, grab water, shower or just chill.

2. Cut the excess

On these days, I pull everything off the to-do list that isn’t necessary. Sure, I like to post on Instagram everyday, but my career isn’t going to fall apart if I skip a few. As much as a healthy meal would benefit me, on high-anxiety days that require me to accomplish something, I’m grabbing whatever is quickest to eat. The less there is to do, the easier it will be to get through the day.

3. Reward!!!

When I’m done what has to get done, I stop and drop. Go for a walk. Crawl into bed and doze. Watch Netflix. Read a book. Stare at the wall. I do whatever the anxiety allows me to do, and don’t do any more than that. Other celebrating the fact that I got shit done despite my anxiety.

Days like this are becoming fewer, but I still struggle with anxiety basically every day. For a better picture of what (my) life as an anxious freelancer can be like, follow me on Instagram!

Are mental health labels helpful?

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It was only a couple of years ago that my doc suggested my many ailments could all be caused by anxiety, and shortly after that the term “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” was used to describe what was going on with my body.

With this diagnosis, I could move forward with a better understanding of what was causing me issues. I went to the Anxiety Disorder Association of Manitoba for help, joined online support groups and did a heck of a lot of reading.

Then, a few months ago, I had a one hour meeting with a psychologist. Based on a multiple choice questionnaire I filled out and a conversation in which she bluntly asked me about being sexually assaulted with two other people in the room awkwardly and silently watching me, she slapped two more labels on me.

“I don’t even know who told you you have a Generalized Anxiety Disorder,” she said, sounding like she was rolling her eyes, before telling me I have PTSD and persistent acute depression. (My family doc gave me the initial diagnosis, by the way, after years of getting to know me). “You’re focusing a lot on anxiety,” she said, implying there were other issues I should be concerned about. The way she said this, I felt judged. Her tone made me feel like I was monumentally fucking up when it came to taking care of myself.

“Okay. So, what should I be doing differently?”

I’d told her I was cutting back caffeine, doing yoga and meditating, seeing a counsellor, doing cognitive behavioural therapy, and planning to exercise once my concussion was history. Her one suggestion was to go back on meds after the concussion had healed, which I was already planning on doing.

So, in short, I was doing everything right for all three mental health issues, despite focusing too much on my anxiety. I walked away from that appointment laughing because I was more fucked up than I’d thought, but there wasn’t anything for me to do about it.

What was wrong with the appointment with the psychologist wasn’t that she diagnosed me with mental illnesses, it was that she assumed she knew me well enough in that short period of time to diagnose me and pass judgement on how I was dealing with myself. I wondered if she was looking at me as someone fucked up by these conditions rather than an individual person different from everyone else dealing with the same struggles.

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Ad from Trauma and Dissociation.

Everyone has anxiety, sadness and bad memories. They plague me more than people who don’t have an anxiety disorder, depression and PTSD, but that doesn’t really make me that different from anyone else. I just have more intense feelings. When these conditions are used as labels by others, they alienate me.

Through my mental health diagnosis, I’ve realized that self-labeling can be super helpful, as long as we’re the ones in control and we’re putting ourselves in groups.

I’m an anxious, depressed queer femme vegan feminist with PTSD from multiple sexual assaults. With each label I chose, I found a community of people who support that part of my identity. Almost no one knows me in my entirety, but that’s okay because I’m the only one who needs to.

“Freelancer” is another label I adopted that allows me to reach out to communities of people who have similar struggles as I do.

Labels are tricky. While they can be empowering when we give them to ourselves, being prescribed labels has the opposite effect. While poking around to prep for writing this, I found quite a few articles about the dangers of giving patients mental health labels.

Have you had negative experiences after been given a label by a medical professional? What are your thoughts on mental health labels?

Stock replies to anxiety and freelance questions

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What can I do for you during a panic attack? Don’t you ever worry that you won’t make enough money? Wouldn’t going out for a bit help you get over your depression? Why can’t you ditch work to hang out Wednesday morning when you’re your own boss?

The questions I get about my mental health, career choice and the intersections of the two are quite repetitive and I’ve found myself answering them frequently, sometimes needing to tell the same friends multiple times that I’m trying to keep steady hours during the week and will only infrequently and for good reason take a day off.

I’ve answered well-intentioned and rude questions alike many, many times. Even questions that are super helpful become a huge time waster and a bit annoying when answered a dozen times.

I also often find myself drowning in messages from friends. Having dozens of texts to reply to gives me mad anxiety, especially when some require thoughtful responses.

After February’s concussion, the repetitive questions became bad for my health. Why can’t you answer text messages? What happens when you go to the grocery store? Can’t you talk on the phone?

Having to think through the answers gave me wicked headaches and made me dizzy, but I wanted to keep friends in the loop and let people know why I wasn’t responding to the silly Facebook messages they were sending to cheer me up.

My now husband suggested I write stock responses to copy-paste to friends.

Great idea. And a great idea to carry over into my anxious freelance life.

What can I do for you during a panic attack?

Thanks for asking! I need to not be touched and not be peppered with questions. If you could just grab me a glass of water, help get me somewhere quiet and calm, and then be patient, that’d be super rad.

Don’t you ever worry that you won’t make enough money?

Yup. All the fucking time. But worrying about that won’t help pay the bills. I have some tools for dealing with my money anxiety.

Wouldn’t going out for a bit help you get over your depression?

Nope. That will just make me anxious and self-conscious about how shitty I’m feeling. I’m better off staying at home and taking good care of myself here.

Why can’t you hang out Wednesday morning if you’re self-employed?

I need to stick to a schedule and get work done. If I ditch work every time I don’t feel like working, I’d never get paid. If I get ahead of my schedule, I can take a bit of time off. I’ll let you know next time I’m thinking about playing hooky and maybe we can do something fun?

 

Join in on the discussions about what the freelance life is like for people with mental health struggles on my Facebook page.

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!

 

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

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Sometimes, life gets to be too much. I’ve never liked to admit that before. Actually, I couldn’t really admit it because I didn’t believe there was a limit to what I could handle. Growing up, I watched my dad work 12 hour days regularly. On weekends, he’d pop into the office and then come home to do work around the house. If he wasn’t visiting clients at their homes, he was putting up new walls in our basement or planning a second bathroom for the house (although, for years the closest we got to the project being finished was an outline of a toilet in sharpie on the cement floor).

Instead of seeing this drive as unhealthy, I admired it and held myself up against my dad. If I grew up to be any less hardworking than him, I knew I’d be disappointed in myself. When I decided to become a freelance writer, I realized I could take productivity to a whole new level. No wasted time commuting to an office, working on evenings and weekends would be easy and I could take trips whenever I wanted without having to book an actual holiday and put an auto-response on my email. That was sort of the dream, for me—travel a lot without being lazy while doing so. Why take time off for vacations when I can take work with me?

There are a few good reasons to step away from the office and leave it behind. For one, because my entire life is an overwhelming swirl of work and helping others and caring for others and struggling to pay bills. Or because “self-care” and “relaxing” are words I use but not actions I take. Mostly because sometimes I’m just going to fucking crack and I need to get my head somewhere else.

Last week, I skipped blogging because work and life was just too much. I was in Montana with a couple of friends from high school and I had every intention of spending the mornings working, afternoons having fun and evenings relaxing. I’d even picked what I was going to blog about and had a work to-do list for every day of the trip.

15781854_10154186572803316_1439979173_n-2And then I just became so fucking weighed down by drama that followed me from home, emails from people I work for who I hadn’t let know I was going away and pressure to try to stay active on social media after my phone went missing. I broke down and stopped doing anything, instead becoming the self-destructive and wild woman I was before I tried to get my life in order.

Old habits die hard. Especially when you’re with the people who you formed them around initially (Love you ladies! Sorry I’m still such a bad influence 😉).

15782709_10154186569953316_1478655649_n.jpgThe trip turned into a drunken mess for me and my lungs are still recovering from the cigarettes and cackling. But it also served as a reminder that I need to just stop and chill more often. Maybe if I hadn’t left for Montana so wound up, it would have been easier to turn down drinks and spend a quiet, relaxing and sober week away from home taking in the scenery and finding inspiration.
With that lesson learned for the 5,000th time, I’m off to go for a walk through Assiniboine Forest with a good friend and then I think I’ll see if my new two-year-old roomie wants to craft with me. And maybe then I’ll plan a do-over trip, which will include no plans to work.