Being flexible for my health

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I have a clear picture of what I’d like my work life to look like. I want to wake up early, grab a cup of earl grey tea with a splash of soy milk and sit down at my desk to work. I want to be able to work for hours at a time, but also be able to take a day or afternoon off once in a while to go for a hike or indulge in a little self-care. I want to have lots of healthy snacks around and remember to drink lots of water throughout the day.

This is something I was so close to having before the car accident. After a second concussion recovery set-back in the past year, I’ve been back to only being able to be on the computer for a maximum of 15 minutes at a time, needing at minimum a 45 minute break afterwards. I have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, so if I don’t wake up when my partner’s alarm goes off, I want to stay in bed. If I wake up at 5 a.m., I’ll happily get up, but regret it by the early afternoon. I’m always forgetting to eat until I’m so hungry I’m shaking and I know I’m not drinking as much water as I should, but it slips my mind. As do my vitamins, which are so important for my brain right now.

My ideal work life is lovely and beautiful and I still am working towards it, but it’s just not realistic right now because of my health. So, I’ve been finding ways to work that keep this in mind.

What this mostly looks like for me right now is a gigantic mess of scrap paper, button-making supplies, yarn, paint brushes and wheat paste all over our living room. Between my little bits of time on the computer, I’m making envelopes and buttons to sell in my Etsy shop and knitting scarves to sell at markets.

This isn’t what I want to be doing with my days, but it’s what I can do, so I’m choosing to be happy with my current work life while still working towards the ideal. My health is always going to be more important than my work, so I need to be flexible in order to be able to get shit done and take care of myself.

I’m spending some of my computer time editing photos and listing items in my Etsy shop. Check it out!

How do you alter your work life to your current health needs?

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?

 

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.

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.

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.

 

 

What’s up with Meg J Crane?

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I’m switching up the format a bit right now to let you know what I’m up to.

I’ve let you know a bit about a survey I’m doing to see what sorts of things I can do to support creatives who have anxiety, I’m planning a weekly newsletter for creatives who struggle with anxiety and I’m focusing this blog’s content more on what it’s like to be a creative who deals with poor mental health.

Here’s the deal: While I’ve only recently gotten a name for all the issues I deal with, I have had anxiety and depression since I was a child and PTSD since I was a teenager. Through the absolute best and the absolute worst, I’ve always been a writer. Sometimes I’ve also used other mediums to express myself, but even on days when I’m too depressed to pick up a pen, I’m always a creative at heart.

I’ve learned a lot. Through starting to open up about my mental health, I’ve connected with so many other creatives who are dealing with similar feelings. And many of them come to me with questions about how they can improve their life. Rather than keep giving advice and support on a one-to-one basis, I’ve decided it would be most efficient and helpful if I started focusing more of my career on supporting and motivating other creatives with mental health issues. (Which doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t want to still have those one-on-one discussions!)

A huge portion of my life is dedicated to my creative work, my mental health and trying to help other people, so it only feels natural that I finally combine all three.

But I do want to know how best to help people on a bigger scale. Check out my survey to let me know if I’m on the right track with the things I’m thinking about and to leave me some suggestions of your own. You can also send me an email or post a comment here if you’ve got thoughts for future blog topics or want to talk more about products.

And, of course, sign-up for my newsletter if you think it’ll help you. In it, I’m prompting a lot of private convos with my audience and I’m so excited to get started with the first one on July 31.

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?