A book review: Present Over Perfect

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Reading has been a pastime I’ve thoroughly enjoyed since I was a child, although I haven’t made time to read enough over the last few years. With plenty of time on my hands since the accident, I’ve made my way back to it. Of course, with a concussion I can’t physically read books. Thank goodness for audiobooks!

And now that my brain is mostly healed (although reading for more than 20 minutes is still difficult) but I’m unable to work for pay due to being in the middle of an immigration process, this seems like an excellent time to do a bit of work on myself.

So, I’ve started listening to self-help books, a genre that previously I’ve shied away from with a great deal of hostility. It seemed like a waste of time. What worked for one person surely won’t work for me. That’s true. A lot of what I’m reading in these books is garbage advice, for me at least. However, I’m still walking away with some great lessons and insights that I can apply to me.

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist has a lot more religion that I’d like in any book, but even as an eye-rolling atheist, I was able to get over all the god talk. A lot of what she wrote about actually really resonated with me.

In this book, the author discusses her journey from being an overwhelmed, anxious and too busy writer to living a more quiet and meaningful life where she’s at peace. Sounds pretty much exactly like the journey I was hoping to make before life forced me to just stop.

It’s not really a how-to, but rather a collection of stories of how difficult it was to change her mindset, to say no to work and yes to a healthier life, and to become okay with stillness. This format leaves the reader a lot of space to learn their own lessons from her experiences.

Although she doesn’t specifically talk a lot about mental health, there’s a lot for anxious creatives to learn from her. Specifically, through her stories I got a better idea of which projects I want to accept and which I’d rather pass on. I learned that quiet and stillness are things you can learn to embrace and love. And, most importantly, I learned that I can change me life. It’s just going to be fucking hard.

Present Over Perfect is available as an audiobook (I listened free on Hoopla using my library card) so you can get through it while making art!

Here’s what I did while listening:

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.

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.