Bow out to avoid burnout

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***TRIGGER WARNING: I talk about sexual assault. But here’s a version without triggers.***

Many creatives are also super political. That’s super cool. The world is fucked and we all gotta do our part to make it better. But burnout is real.

I can remember completely melting down in my third year of university. I was taking a couple gender studies courses and the stats were devastating. One night, I got drunk and cried on my balcony alone when I learned how many women are sexually assaulted in the USA.

Now, I know the world is shit. But that doesn’t stop information from destroying me.

When Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby first made the news for their fucked up, irreproachable behaviour, it hit me hard. I sobbed in my room alone. I berated some of the men in my life for not doing enough. I harboured a rage that stopped me from being able to work.

I followed Ghomeshi’s initially case, but quickly realized it was going to crush me.

Instead, I ignored the news. When others tried to talk about it, I put in my two cents about the importance of believing victims, let those I was talking to know how dangerous judging women who come forward is and then changed the subject. I heard the verdict when it came out, but I don’t know what all happened in between.

I don’t need to follow sexual assault cases to know that most men—even when they admit to their crimes—get little more than a slap on the wrist for rape. I also don’t need to follow those cases to do something, though.

I can write about consent and have conversations with men in my life about sexual assault. I can encourage others to think about respect when it comes to women’s bodies and demand it for myself. I can trust victims and talk to others about the importance of giving them support and allowing them to have a voice.

It is okay to take time away from the news and heartbreaking bullshit of the world, from time to time. There’s a big difference between sticking your head in the sand and getting a little distance to heal, rejuvenate and gather the strength to keep fighting.

It’s also okay to find ways to fight that cause you the least amount of harm.

This is especially important for people who battle with mental health issues. When the chemicals in your brain are handing you heavy, life-stopping blows on the regular, you don’t need anything else holding you down.

One thing I can offer to help you keep going through the mental health struggle is a weekly newsletter I’m now putting out that gives creatives motivation and support based on my experiences dealing with anxiety and depression. Sign-up now and together we can keep working for a better world while taking care of ourselves.

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Bow out to avoid burnout (trigger-free version)

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Many creatives are also super political. That’s super cool. The world is fucked and we all gotta do our part to make it better. But burnout is real.

 

It is okay to take time away from the news and heartbreaking bullshit of the world, from time to time. There’s a big difference between sticking your head in the sand and getting a little distance to heal, rejuvenate and gather the strength to keep fighting.

It’s also okay to find ways to fight that cause you the least amount of harm.

This is especially important for people who battle with mental health issues. When the chemicals in your brain are handing you heavy, life-stopping blows on the regular, you don’t need anything else holding you down.

One thing I can offer to help you keep going through the mental health struggle is a weekly newsletter I’m now putting out that gives creatives motivation and support based on my experiences dealing with anxiety and depression. Sign-up now and together we can keep working for a better world while taking care of ourselves.

Have mental health check-ins, even when life rocks

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Sometimes everything is going great and then WHAM! Anxiety hits your right in the fucking face.

Super polite.

I’m pretty bad for this. When things are going great, sometimes I’ll just take on more and more, thinking that my anxiety, depression and PTSD have magically gone away! I’m cured! I’m a normal human who can do normal things, like work 10 hour days seven days a week without lunch followed by an evening of emotionally supporting friends or volunteering. Because that’s normal … Then I’ll suddenly be hit with a wild panic attack or depression so severe even getting out of bed to feed my kitties is nearly impossible. And getting out of bed to feed myself actually is.

A way to avoid this is to stop from time-to-time to do check-ins. On a wildly awesome week when you’re ahead of your game, instead of working ahead, take a bit of time off alone to just reflect. What are you feeling? Why? Is there anything you’re not thrilled about? Can it be changed? If all is well, just take some time for regular self-care or do a little self-spoiling. Just because the garden is looking good doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be watered and fertilized, you know?

When things are getting a little hectic, schedule some alone time in. It’s okay to say no to a friend who needs help or to extra work for a little regular maintenance.

Hey, you’re taking time to read this! So maybe you’ve got a few minutes now to chat with yourself about how you’re doing? I recommend it.

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!

Assume everyone has anxiety

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An editor hasn’t gotten back to you a few days after you sent an email? When this happens to me, I start to panic that they don’t like me anymore. I’m too annoying. Because I’m open about my mental health, I look crazy and they don’t want to associate with me. My last piece was shit and they don’t want to work with me anymore.

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Me when I don’t hear back from an editor for a few days. Photo from Amen Clinic Photos AC.

For days, my mind will run wild. And then they’ll answer. Everything is fine.

I get like this with so many social interactions. A cashier is rude to me? Someone cuts me off in traffic? A friend doesn’t return a phone call? There’s something wrong with me.

But, I’ve also been on the other side of this.

I’ve been the editor who doesn’t answer for days because my anxiety gets so bad, it’s hard to bring myself to refresh my email feed, painful to answer the important emails and absolutely not possible to respond to anything that isn’t essential.

And then the anxiety clears and I’m back at it.

I’ve started taking a new approach to life where I assume everyone is feeling as shitty as I feel at my worst. The cashier needs a smile. The driver needs me to let them go without repercussion (I’ll keep that fist shaking in my head). The friend needs compassion. And the editor just needs patience.

When I first started opening up about my anxiety, a lot of people told me they had no idea it was something I struggle with. People have been in the same room as me–played a game with me–while I was having a panic attack and didn’t even notice. I realized there could be people around me whose minds and hearts were racing, but who didn’t look the part.

Deciding to treat everyone like they have anxiety, I first thought I’d be tiptoeing around, as some people say they feel like they need to do around me. Then I realized that what I need isn’t tiptoeing; what I need is for people to hold their tongues on snarky comments, and be calm, quiet and kind.

Imagine if we all acted like everyone around us was having a rotten day. I think society would be a better place, don’t you?

To receive weekly emails full of motivation and support to help creatives who have mental health struggles be able to continue doing the work they love, sign-up for my weekly newsletter, which is being launched this summer.

Re-motivating or revamping?

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I can get into this wild rolls where I feel like I can do everything I want to. Turning Cockroach into a full-time job, making the arts and culture section of The Uniter kick ass, keeping my apartment clean and balancing all my relationships seems like something I can manage. I pitch new stories and projects, start major and messy crafts, and commit to helping a friends move, clean, cook, everything.

And then something knocks me down. Maybe it’s a sick day or a cruel editor or an interviewee who’s being a huge jerk for no reason. It can be something as small as a friend asking if they can talk to me about their bad day when I’m really busy, sending me into a massive panic attack because I realize that I just can’t do it all. I just can’t.

Fuck.

I’ve been in this slump for a few weeks now. While I’m going through my usual pump-up routine to get myself moving again, I’m realizing that I can’t do everything my life is currently demanding of me. I can’t expand Cockroach while continuing to do so much other work. I can’t keep living in this apartment alone without all the work I do. I can’t get a roommate because I work from home and need the space. I don’t use the space in fun ways because I spend most of my evenings and weekends outside of my home helping friends and family. Because of the time I spend on them, I can’t take care of myself and I burn out.

My dilemma isn’t that simple. There are many more layers of excuses. And that’s just what they are, excuses.

This isn’t a slump I can motivate myself out of. This is a slump I’m not crawling out of until I make some major life changes.

Fuck.