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?

 

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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.