I’m takin’ a break

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Things with my brain are starting to get better. However, I’m really struggling with resting.

I need to time how long I can do anything before symptoms appear, including neck pain, and then make sure I’m doing that activity for two minutes less than that. I can be in a store for eight minutes, walk for 20 and be on my computer for 10. After that, I need a rest.

It’s taking a lot of energy to remind myself that folding laundry and putting away dishes aren’t really rest times; a rest is when I’m sitting, with my neck supported, not thinking about anything terribly strenuous and not looking at screens. Sunglasses, headphones and crafts are often involved.

While I figure this out, I’m going to take a bit of a break from my newsletter and blog so I can focus more of my mental energy on other online activities, like chatting with other anxious creatives in my new Facebook group (if you want in, just let me know what email is associated with your Facebook account), organizing events in my new city and getting items up on my Etsy shop.

If you’d like to write a guest post for either, let me know! You’ll be hearing from me rather sporadically for the next few months. Current estimations are that I **could** be back to being able to work more than a few hours a week within six to 12 months.

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Unhealthy anxiety coping mechanisms

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When I drink, I can’t stop until I black out and pass out. When I start working on something, I find it difficult to stop–no matter how hungry I get or how badly I need to pee–until I’m done. And, even then, I find myself really, really wanting to get started on the next project. In the past, when I started eating junk food, I’d find it to difficult to stop; I’d make grilled cheese after grilled cheese until I was out of bread or munch on cookies until none were left in the bag, no matter how full and sick I felt.

I figured I had impulse control issues and poor self-control, although I’ve been vegan for a decade, studied enough in high school to get a 98 per cent in pre-cal and never handed an assignment in late.

As I’ve been dealing with and exploring my anxiety, I’ve realized these are all coping mechanisms. A early 2017 car accident, resulting in a head injury that I’m still struggling with, took my coping mechanisms away, highlighting how much of a dependency I’ve had on them. Kicking the crutch out from under me forced me to find new, healthier ways to cope with my uncomfortable emotions. Here’s what I’ve got:

  • Write about ’em: In outbursts of complete rage, I’ve sat at my computer and vomited my intense feelings into a piece of writing. In some cases, they’ve actually turned out pretty good and I’ve been able to publish them, giving others some insight into what’s going on with me.
  • Talk it out: I’ve gotten so much better about reaching out to friends and family when I’m feeling like I’m going to snap. I let them know if I’m looking for advice or just need to vent, ask if they’re up for the task of listening and then let it all go. I usually end up talking myself into a place where I can look at the positives.
  • Find the upside: Last year, I moved to the US from Canada. If I had known it would take months, rather than a few weeks, for my cats to follow, I likely wouldn’t have done it. On Christmas day, my little David ended up being hospitalized in our new Montana home town. A few days later, he was transported to another town for an invasive surgery, which was followed by weeks of healing. I was so upset, beating myself up about not having been with him for months, agonizing over whether I could have prevented his suffering. Realizing there’s nothing I could then but care for him, I looked at the bright side. I’d felt like the worst cat mom for months. This was an opportunity for me to love him and nurse him back to health, making me feel like a good cat mom again and giving us a chance to re-bond.

When my brain heals more, I’m going to find more healthy coping mechanisms. I used to love to run and have always loved going for long walks, so I’ll try them out again. I’d also love some suggestions of different things I could try out! What healthy coping mechanisms do you use?

Build healthy relationships

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I used to hold people at arm’s length. I was afraid of letting anyone in too close because I hated who I was and didn’t wanted others to truly see me; then I’d be alone.

I moulded myself to fit the type of friend I thought those around me wanted. In junior high, I agreed with the friend I spent the most time with that female masturbation was disgusting. I went to parties because my boyfriend wanted to go, even though I hated being in houses crowded with strangers and couldn’t stand having nothing to do but drink and look around for a cat or dog I could pet.

In my early 20s, I met a woman about 10 years my senior through a vegan meet-up group. She started inviting me to events at her home, which led to us frequently chatting via Facebook messenger, be babysitting her kid and her helping me out with rides and groceries. She was openly flawed and I still loved her. Even when I fucked up, she still loved me and I became comfortable being vulnerable and real. I knew she wouldn’t ditch me if I had a different opinion than her, as long as I was respectful.

That woman completely changed my life. I learned what a real, healthy friendship looks like and began striving to model all my relationships after what I had with her. I weeded out the people who weren’t good for my mental health; the ones who didn’t understand I needed time away from my phone and expected me to always be there for them, but who were seldom there for me.

I started being more honest and finding ways to be a good friend despite my anxiety. Opening up allowed the people around me to support me in the ways I didn’t know I had needed and that anxiety lessened. On the worst days, I knew I had people who I could talk to, people who cared and would understand.

Relationships of all kinds are difficult when you struggle with your mental health, but they’re incredibly important for coping and recovering. My number one tip for people with anxiety disorders is to find and develop meaningful friendships to help get you through.

I’ve started a private Facebook group for anxious creatives to chat about what’s going on with their work and lives, ask for advice and give support. If you’re interested in joining, send the email attached to your Facebook account to me at megjcrane@gmail.com and I’ll add you!


So many things are wrong with my brain, which is making blogging difficult. If anyone is interested in guest-posting about their experience as an anxious creative, tips for dealing with the struggle or explanations of different types of treatment, email me at megjcrane@gmail.com.

Concussed as hell, but still being kind

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This past month has been kind of scary. I slipped on the ice in late January. Although I didn’t hit my head–or even actually fall–the fast forward-back motion injured my already twice concussed brain. Since I haven’t really been feeling better, my partner made me an appointment with a physical therapist who specializes in concussions.

That was this Tuesday and it was terrifying. There are lots of things wrong with my spine, neck, brain and other things. It was too much for my concussed brain to take in, especially when she was doing tests that were extremely draining.

This all makes me so proud of how My Kindest Year has been going. I’ve continued to do a kind thing for at least one person a day. I’m still sending out letters of appreciation. I’ve been making food or gathering my favourite junk food to give to people. I’ve checked in with friends who aren’t doing well.

Being kind to myself has looked very different. Being re-injured and not healing has been frustrating. I want to work to earn money to contribute to my family. I want to cook and clean so my partner doesn’t have to do most of it. I really just want to be able to participate in life. The kind acts towards myself have included finding the positives in this situation, checking in with my body to see what’s going on and doing what is best for my brain even when I really, really would rather keep listening to audio books than take a nap.

I’ve also been keeping up with doing one huge nice thing for someone each month. In January, I organized a few people sending a good friend of mine a basket of self-care items for Valentine’s Day and in February I planned a surprise birthday party for my mother-in-law with my partner.

After an awesome brainstorming session with Jenna Anderson, I came up with a few more things I’d like to do and am already working on two! I may start doing more than one a month.

Life has been frustrating for me, but looking back on the past month and seeing that I’m still managing to stay on top of my goals while never sacrificing my health makes me so happy and proud. Being concussed feels a little less awful when I know I’m still accomplishing things with my life.

Learn about your mental health labels

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Everyone is different and so, even when we share the same mental health labels, we’re going to have very different experiences.

Some people with anxiety are outgoing and avoid their feelings by surrounding themselves with others, while some (like me) retreat from social situations because of it.

This doesn’t mean we can’t learn from one another. It just means that while we’re talking, reading, listening to how other people deal and heal, we have to remember that their strategies might not work for us. And it also means we might have to listen to a shit tone of voices before we find stories that resonate with us.

Here’s how I’m going about learning more about anxiety, depression and PTSD.

1. Books

As I mentioned last week, I’m challenging myself to read one book per month that has something to do with mental health, whether it’s educational or a personal story. Even when I find a writer who I feel gets me, I move on to a totally different author who’s coming at the problem from a drastically different angle.

2. Podcasts

Besides the podcasts with anxious hosts, I check out podcasts specifically about mental health issues from time to time. I haven’t found one I like enough to subscribe to, but I’ll binge listen for a couple hours to one here and there to see what I can learn.

3. Friends

I try to be as open as possible with my friends and others around me. I’m always surprised by how many people start being more open with me about their own mental health struggles and about how much valuable information is hiding within my friend group.

4. Online communities

From following depressed Instagrammers to joining private Facebook groups for people with anxiety, the internet is a great place to connect with other people who are going through similar struggles. I learn a lot from reading about their lives, but I can also get specific advice just by asking for it.

If you’re looking to grow your online community, check out who I’m following on Instagram and see if any of them are up your alley.

My 2018 goals

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My great pal and brilliant freelancer Jenna Anderson and I did our annual goal planning together this year.

It looks a little different for me this year, compared to past years. After 10 months of recovery–during which time I could barely read, write or venture far from home on my own–I now have a radically different perspective on my life. At the time of sitting down for the goal planning, I also didn’t have a work permit and was unable to earn money in my new home country of the US, so making financial and work related goals could have been setting myself up for failure.

Instead, my goals focus heavily on my top three values: relationships, passion, adventure.

Here’s what I’m hoping to accomplish in 2018:

Health

  • Do something active five days a week
  • Quit drinking
  • Try one new breakfast food per month
  • Get back on anti-anxiety meds
  • Start therapy again
  • Increase the amount I’m putting towards retirement savings

Relationships

  • Do one, big kind thing for a friend each month
  • Send birthday cards to everyone I love
  • Check out one different group in Helena each month until I find one I like
  • Find a way to stay in touch with all my family as a group

Adventures

  • Try one new things each month
  • Go on three non-work related weekend trips in Montana, each to a different place
  • Go on five day trips in Montana
  • Drive a car again

Passion projects

  • Run a Vegan Handmade Market in Montana
  • Finish writing my memoir
  • Come up with a short-term work place
  • Start selling knitting online

 

My goal planning doesn’t stop at a list. I’ve got an entire day planner committed to this. The larger goals are broken down into steps. All have either deadlines or points along the way where, if I’ve been successful up until that point, I’ll reward myself with a gift.

If things go as planned, I’ll be buying myself Mikyoko’s cheese, an indoor lavender plant and a treadmill.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to see how I do throughout the year.

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.