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.

 

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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.

Rejection anxiety

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Before I send any pitch or story to an editor, I read it approximately 5,000 times. By the fifth time, I’m just tinkering with words that don’t really need tinkering with, but I keep going.

Before even getting to the point of writing anything, I sometimes spend hours on websites I’m interested in writing for, scrutinizing every piece and trying to convince myself that I’m as good as everyone else who’s written for the publication. Granted, it’s a great idea to really familiarize myself with a publication before contacting an editor, but it’d be healthier to be doing so strictly for research and less so to convince myself of my skill level.

I don’t find rejection all that difficult to deal with when it comes from time-to-time. When I worked as the arts and culture editor of The Uniter, my boss and co-workers gave me so much positive feedback and constructive criticism that it was easier to be okay with editors for other publications letting me know they were passing on my ideas.

Barely working as I’ve been since the car accident, it’s been more difficult to deal with rejection. I send out about two pitches a week and hear back sometimes months later, so the acceptance emails and rejection emails are often spread so far apart.

A “Sorry, but this isn’t a great fit for this publication at this time” feels more like a “You’re pretty shitty at what you do and should just quit” when it’s been a while since I’ve gotten a green light.

I’ve chatted with a few friends and posted in an anxiety group I’m apart of, asking what others do to deal with rejection.

Some advice I received was to look at the evidence that I don’t suck balls (I’ve been making a living as a writer and editor for years), remind myself of outside factors (it’s a numbers game: publications get tons of pitches and can’t accept them all, someone else may have just pitched a similar story) and be understanding of my personal circumstances (I’m just getting back in the game, I still have a head injury, I’m dealing with mad anxiety and depression).

A few weeks back, I got a rejection email weeks after sending in a piece I was sure would be accepted. Honestly, I was so crushed that I spent the rest of the day on the couch and today is the first day that I’m actually back at my computer, pushing away the excuses of why I shouldn’t work.

While all the advice I got was helpful, struggling with the anxiety and depression–which has been taking over my life since I moved–along with still recovering from the concussion, I just couldn’t pull myself up. It was more work than I was capable of handling.

To prepare for future blows, I’m going to work on a set of cards that outline how to deal with different situations. On the “rejection” card, I’ll put the above advice. I’m going to make “Sensory overload,” “Panic attack” and “Anxiety for no fucking reason” cards as well. Sometimes the feels get so overwhelming, it’s hard to remember how to deal and written instructions to follow before the situation gets out of hand might be helpful for me.

But, before I do this, I’d love to hear how you deal with rejection? Comment below or join in the discussion on my Facebook page.

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.

 

 

Taking time off

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This weekend, I relearned what it was like to have fun.

Saturday morning I slept in until 8, drove around with my partner and coffee looking for free stuff from “free weekend,” and made a fancy picnic which we had at the park while getting sunburns before taking a walk through three different gardens. 

What’s missing? Work.

I think of some of the volunteer work that I do as “fun” time. I enjoy it and the people I work with. But the fact is, someone dictates where I am and what I’m doing during that time. It’s not real time off. It’s not relaxing. It’s just one more thing to clutter my agenda with.

Saturday was the third full day off I’ve taken this year. It’s time for more.

This week, I’m going to set a goal amount of money I’d like to be bringing in monthly. Then, I’m going to have to start dropping the things that I don’t truly enjoy and that stop me from reaching that goal.

Will I drop all my volunteer work? Certainly not. But I plan on cutting back so I’m spending more time picnicking and less time working for free.

Shattered dreams

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When I was in school I dreamed of the day I was done and could finally stop using food banks and worrying about making rent. I was so excited to buy new clothes when I needed them and go out with friends and buy dinner for my partner. I was going to donate money to animal rescues and buy a house so I could start fostering dogs again. I had big plans.

Now I’m out. I have a job that will pay quite well when I start in two weeks. And I’m scrambling to find more freelance work I can do on the side.

The reality is, saving for retirement, stocking up an emergency fund and saving for a house will eat up most of my pay cheques. Then I’ll have to buy all the things around my home I’ve been needing, like a new tap for the toilet and sprayer for the kitchen sink. And once those things are paid off something else will break. And something else. And the cat will have another outrageous vet bill. And then my partner will go back to school and I’ll be picking up the slack.

It’s fine. We’ll be comfortable compared to how I’ve been living for the past six years, but I wish I had been more realistic with myself while in school. You’re not going to land a high-paying job right out of school. It’ll be a slow growth.

Eventually I’ll have the experience to be paid enough to save a few dogs and buy new, fair trade clothes. But until then I’ll just be thankful I’m done school and can keep the fridge stocked.

Schedule, schedule, schedule

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I’ve been working from home for the past few weeks and I learned an important lesson: it’s really important to schedule your life when one isn’t made for you.

I woke up each morning knowing I had to put x number of hours into this project, finishing writing x article, take photos for x, respond to emails, clean my apartment, get groceries, make dinner and do a dozen other tasks.

So I’d wake up each morning, make myself coffee and breakfast, and then panic about how to finish everything. I’d start one task then partway through jump to another. I got frustrated and scatter brained and got nothing done.

And then I did this.

blogI schedule what I’m doing each hour of the day between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. From working on freelance articles to getting ready for the holidays, every hour I know what I need to be doing.

Here’s hoping this week goes more smoothly than the last few!