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?

The ugly side of self-care

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Self-care isn’t always bubble baths, spa days and expensive chocolate. It isn’t always something Instagram-able or costly. When self-care started to be a thing, this is actually why I shied away from it. I didn’t have money to order food in and I was cuddling up in bed early to watch Netflix because the feeling that a giant was standing on my chest and the heart palpitations made anything else impossible.

What I’ve realized is that this makes self-care even more important for me.

Self-care is dragging my ass to the doctor to let her know I’m feeling worse on the new dose of meds. It’s telling my partner I’ve been feeling suicidal and need to change something major in my life. Carrying a water bottle around so I remember to drink water, cornering myself into answering texts from friends so I don’t isolate myself and eating breakfast even when I still feel too nauseous to actively want food at 11 a.m. are all forms of self-care in my life.

It’s important for me to remember this. Sometimes when I’m feeling down, I’ll buy myself a vegan cheesecake and eat it for dinner in the name of self-care, when really I should be saving that money and eating a big salad instead. Especially when I’m so down it’s hard to get myself out of bed and dressed to go to the store for said cake. That sugar isn’t going to do shit to get me feeling better.

It’s when I’ve got the basic self-care down–getting all the nutrients I need, staying hydrated, keeping active, finding time for connection and play–that the fun, pretty self-care can come into my life in a way that adds something beneficial.

What’s your relationship with the self-care trend like?

Just struggling to be kind

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After planning this project, my cat became very ill and needed emergency surgery. He’s home now and recovering, but recovery is slow. I also received my work permit in early January, after months of waiting.

Between these two things, I’m busy af. David hasn’t regained full use of his bladder, so he leaks bloody urine all over. This means the washing machine is always rocking over here lately. I’m cleaning up and comforting him between sending out pitches and writing, wildly trying to find some paid work ASAP.

When it comes to My Kindest Year, I’ve got a lot of excuses for having phoned it in a bit, this week. Yesterday, my nice thing for someone else was going to see live music with Luke, something he loves doing, and my nice thing to myself was forcing myself to go out and have fun instead of cleaning the house.

This week’s been hard and I’m not beating myself up for putting this project on the back burner, scrambling every evening to think of nice things to do, but I’d like to be doing things that are much more involved and out of my ordinary.

For next week, I’ve decided to pre-plan the kinds things I want to do. I won’t necessarily do all them as I may come up with other ideas, but at least I’ve got something to work with.

For someone else

  • Write a friend a letter listing all my favourite qualities of theirs.
  • Send someone a book they might like.
  • Craft something for my mom and younger brother with grandma’s broken dishes.
  • Shovel my neighbour’s walkway.
  • Leave the postal worker cookies.
  • Take Miles to play fetch (yup, kind things for animal count).
  • Make Luke his morning oatmeal (yuck!).

For me

  • Make myself vegan cheese.
  • Order hair dye.
  • Play piano.
  • Spend an hour reading, eating olives and drinking tea, in peace.
  • Make myself a reading nook.
  • Craft something for me with grandma’s broken dishes.
  • Take an afternoon off to wander downtown.

I’m super open to hearing suggestions on kind things I can do for myself and others that don’t require much money! Comment below if you’ve got anything for me.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Letting thoughts float away

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I’m not a patient person. I’m okay with that. I don’t want to waste my life waiting for things to happen or mulling over decisions; when I get an inkling that something might make me happy, I jump on it without second thought. That’s how I wound up going into CreComm, starting Cockroach and taking in three lovely cats.

Dealing with anxiety takes patience, which I haven’t been prepared for. I thought getting it under control—at least to a point where my joint pain isn’t debilitating and my breathing is not regularly laboured—would take no time at all. First, I acknowledged that it’s something I struggle with. Then, I monitored my thought patterns and took note of what was causing the anxiety. Following this, I expected to immediately have the ability to stop thinking in ways that were causing me all the issues.

“I haven’t heard from this person in a few weeks because I’m boring and they don’t want to spend time with me anymore.”

Dwelling on thoughts like this is anxiety inducing. Suddenly chopping them off and beating myself up for thinking that way is almost worse. Still feeling rejected, I’m also feeling like a failure.

Dealing with my anxiety is forcing me to be patient. It’s also teaching me to be gentle and kind to myself. Over the past three months, I’ve completed the free 10 day trial of Headspace, a meditation app (as well as being inpatient, I’m a bit of a procrastinator when it comes to anything that involves taking care of myself). I’ve tried meditation before, but it was never helpful. At least, I didn’t think it was helpful because I didn’t understand the purpose. Headspace was different in that it explains what meditation does for those who practice it. It also gave a few helpful visuals and metaphors.

While doing the 10 minute guided meditations, the speaker suggests we calmly push away thoughts as if they are white, puffy clouds. Thoughts aren’t good or bad; there’s nothing to get upset about when one comes about during a meditation. Just acknowledge their existence then encourage them to float off. This visual has helped immensely when it comes to dealing with my anxious mind.

Some of my thoughts need to be dealt with and shouldn’t be blown away.

“I haven’t heard from this person in a few weeks because I’m boring and they don’t want to spend time with me anymore. Or maybe they’re busy with their child, their parents, their work, their own life. Maybe they have a lot going on and haven’t had time to get in touch. Maybe they’re waiting for me to reach out first. Perhaps they tried to send a message but it didn’t go through. Or maybe we’re just drifting apart and that’s okay.”

Some don’t need any of my attention.

“That cashier was so rude and snappy to me. What did I do to make him dislike me?”

Those thoughts can simply be pushed aside, like cute, fluffy white clouds, without emotion or further thought. Something about this image makes ditching the harmful thoughts easier (and cuter).

I’d expected that acknowledging these thoughts are causing my anxiety would lead to me not having them anymore. That’s not a realistic expectation. At least, it’s not realistic that I’ll immediately be able to stop them. Hopefully I can learn to have a bit more patience throughout this process. And find a few more adorable visuals to keep me smiling along the way.


Concussion update

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Not high. Just hiding from the headache-inducing bright lights!

This is going to be a long, slow healing process. As I’m popping my head back into the virtual world, I’m getting a lot of lovely messages asking how I’m doing. However, being on a screen for more than short periods of time sporadically throughout the day gives me The Headache Of All Headaches, so I’m having to leave most unanswered. Instead, I’ll add little updates to the bottom of my weekly posts until I can send my thanks and love to each online well-wisher individually.

Over the past two weeks I tried out some work and learned a lot about my limitations. At the suggestion of my doctor and physiotherapist, I started back two hours a day. We all decided that I would work 15 minutes at a time with 45 minute to an hour breaks in between. I only lasted one day of this. I was in so much pain, the fogginess returned along with the dizziness and its accompanying nausea. All of this had me wanting to go to bed at 5 p.m. when I closed my laptop for the day.

Turns out that 1.25 hours is all I can tolerate. And I can only work that much and continue cooking for myself, going on short outings and taking care of some of my own housework if I leave two hour breaks between sessions.

This is frustrating. It also ties me more to my home, making it difficult to see friends for the short morning and afternoon walks I was being taken on before I started working again. A few lovely folks have reliably been here for me though and others have popped into my life from time to time, either via my IRL mailbox or by taking me on short outings, so while I feel even more isolated now, I’m not quite so lonely.

Thanks for all the love being sent my way.

xoxo
Meg


Featured photo by The Aucitron.

Cats and kids do it right

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My life over the past few months has pretty much been taken over by toddlers and cats. I’m pretty thankful because they’ve got some good lessons to teach.

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  1. Have a good stretch a few times a day. Make sure to make funny noises when doing so.
  2. When you’re upset, let people know. And let them help make you feel better.
  3. Playtime is important.
  4. So are naps.
  5. And eating regular, healthy meals.
  6. If someone gives you bad vibes, fucking run away.
  7. If you really enjoy someone, let them know they’re (for the moment, at least) your favourite human being.
  8. Saturday mornings are meant for cartoons, magic shows, cuddling and lying in the sun.
  9. Dance parties can happen anywhere, anytime.
  10. If something really pisses you off, just scream the feelings out.

I think I’ll be a lot happy and more chill now that I’ve taken Being a Small Creature in a Human Home 101.