On a Personal Note: Dealing with My Fear & Anxiety

On a Personal Note

A new series on my blog, On a Personal Note, will be taking a more relaxed and intimate approach to discussing the varying factors of mental health that can affect life on a day-to-day basis for those who deal with mental illness. I’ll be sharing my own experiences with bipolar, anxiety, and depression, and the ways that they continue to shape my personal life and outlook.

As you’ve probably noticed, Hugs + Hexes has been conspicuously lacking new posts over the last three months, and like any writer my excuses have been plentiful: I’ll write when I have more time, I’m not feeling it today, I’m so busy with school, I just don’t have the time to commit right now… All of which, of course, are 99% bullshit. I can write a fifteen page research paper in 24 hours, but not a 600 word blog post? Okay then. 

Yeah sure okay

The harsh truth? I’ve been too scared. I have post ideas, I outline them, I make the graphics for them, I start to draft them… and then I decide that they’re actually terrible and trash them. In the back of my mind there’s always this nagging voice that says, who are you to tell other people how to help themselves when you live on seven different kinds of medication just to not be crazy on a daily basis? I’m just a messed up girl with a 4.0 GPA, a royally screwed up sleep schedule, and what feels like every emotional issue under the sun. But I’m trying.

Here are some of the lies I tell myself (maybe you’ll find them familiar, too):

  • If you write it and it’s not perfect, it’s worthless and you should destroy it.
  • If your creative projects aren’t going to be masterpieces, they aren’t worth creating.
  • Your mental illness discredits everything you say or do.
  • Anything less than 98-100% is failing and you should be ashamed.
  • Why would anyone care what a depressive bipolar millennial has to say?
  • It is better to stay inside your comfort zone where it’s safe than to experience new things. New things are scary.
  • If you don’t micromanage your entire life you will lose control of everything.
  • People won’t like you once they find out that you’re bipolar/deal with anxiety/used to self-injure/etc.

But despite all of these things, I’m trying my best to make a healthy and productive life for myself. I finished my first semester back at school with straight A’s, I accepted a job working as an English tutor on campus, I’m keeping up with my meds and keeping track of my mental, physical, and emotional health with an entirely-too-in-depth Excel spreadsheet (as is my style).

Note: I edited a basic habit spreadsheet that I had found online, and modeled the tabs that I added after my own bullet journal layouts, figuring that it’s less time consuming to just copy and paste a few tabs in an Excel sheet than to hand draw a month’s worth of new pages every few weeks (and isn’t that the truth!)

If my Habit/Health spreadsheet looks like something you’d like to use for yourself or might help you organize your life, you can download a free copy here (and edit it as much as you’d like to to fit your own life and needs!)

Sometimes it seems all too easy to let my fear and anxiety talk me out of doing even the things I love to do– for instance, recently I’ve also been hired as a paid intern to write for a local magazine, and for the last week I’ve been asking myself if I truly want to do it. And really, that’s a stupid question: of course I want to do it. What I was honestly trying to ask myself was, am I brave enough to do it? Because I can’t lie, writing professionally and seeing my name in print would make me prouder than anything I’ve ever done before in my life– but the idea of conducting interviews for articles and attending events and meeting a lot of new people absolutely terrifies me. Like, it makes my anxiety skyrocket just thinking about it.

So yeah, it’s easy to let my anxiety whisper in my ear and tell me all the reasons I shouldn’t go out and try these new things: they’re scary, you might fail, you might disappoint people, you might embarrass yourself, people might not like you… But just like taking the (similarly terrifying-yet-exciting) jump into being a student again, sometimes I just need to tell my anxiety to shove it and try those new things anyway– after all, I walked away from my first semester with straight A’s and a solid 4.0, so I must not be entirely hopeless.. right?

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There are a few things I’m working to do to help myself conquer my fears and anxieties for certain situations (such as writing, and meeting new people):

  • Let go of my perfectionist attitude. This causes me so much more stress than I need, and it’s never worth it. Did I tell you about the time a few weeks ago that I cried when I got a 98.4% on my English final? I felt so sure that I was going to get 100%, and when I missed two questions (two! freaking! questions!) I was utterly devastated. It was ridiculous, and my best friends rightfully laughed at me when I told them.
  • Stop assuming the worst of people. This isn’t to say that I think everyone I meet is a cannibalistic axe-murderer, but I am often more wary of meeting new people than I should be, to the point where sometimes I’ll go out of my way to avoid it entirely. It has less to do with them, and more to do with my own insecurities; I’ll worry that they’re judging the way I dress or the way I talk or insert-other-unrealistic-reason-here. I think I need to just let myself smile and have a conversation without worrying so much about what someone else may or (most likely) may not be thinking.
  • Get out of my comfort zone more often. For me, this can mean anything from taking a chance on a tv show I’ve never watched before, to eating a food I’ve never tried before, to visiting a city I’ve never been before. All too often, I get caught up in my comfortable little safe haven where I watch the same shows and go to the same places and eat the same foods, and it doesn’t usually bother me because I like all of those things– but I’m probably missing out on a lot of other things that I would also like because I’m not giving them a chance.
  • Set aside time to be creative & do craft projects. Last semester, possibly because it was my first time being a student in ten years, I had a slightly manic attitude of “COME HELL OR HIGH WATER I WILL FINISH THIS PAPER I DON’T CARE IF IT TAKES UNTIL 4AM I WILL NOT SLEEP OR EAT OR MOVE OR BLINK UNTIL THE LAST WORD IS WRITTEN” ….. And while I pulled through with great grades, it’s maybe not so surprising that I’ve crashed hard into a depressive state over the last three weeks since Summer semester ended. Remember what I said that one time about my tendency to be ultra-motivated and then crash? It was sort of like that; without the constant influx of assignments and due dates, I suddenly felt purposeless and I collapsed like a marionette with no strings. Okay, what does this have to do with being creative, exactly? Last semester I was all work and little to no play, and what free time I did have I didn’t allow myself to enjoy because I was too busy stressing over assignments and obsessively refreshing my grades on Moodle. This semester, I’m striving for balance. Over the last two days I’ve been digging back through my planner supplies and playing with stamps and stickers and washi tape and it’s the happiest I can remember feeling in weeks. I had forgotten how cathartic crafting is for me, but now that I’ve reminded myself I won’t be forgetting again soon.

Those are a few of the strategies that I’ll be using to help myself manage my anxiety this semester. I still think if I can keep myself from going completely insane by the end of finals week in December, it’s going to be a goddamn miracle. But here’s hoping!

So, in short: try that new thing you’ve always wanted to try, cook something you’ve never made just because it sounds tasty, read books on subjects you know nothing about, introduce yourself to new people without assuming that they already hate you, don’t worry about being perfect, don’t stress out over failing– tell your fears and anxieties to go to hell, because honestly, ain’t nobody got time for that.


5 Simple Ways to Get Over Creative Burnout

Creative Burnout

Creative burnout is a topic that’s been on my mind quite a bit lately, because I’m currently struggling knee-deep through it. You know that feeling when you go to write, and the words just aren’t there? Or you have too many unfinished things on your to-do list, but no mental energy to do them? The cause of burnout is different for everyone, but I know that my anxiety and depression contribute heavily to mine. Creative and mental burnout is a nasty feeling— you know that you should be doing something, anything, productive, but all you really want to do is burrow under a pile of blankets and hide.

When I’m dealing with burnout, which for me is usually centered around writing, I have ideas and flashes of inspiration, but can’t find the words to make them work. And the more days that go by without publishing a blog post, the more guilt and stress I feel. In the past, I’ve shut down blogs because I had spectacular episodes of burnout and months of guilt and anxiety built up because I just didn’t know what to say.

Having occasional bouts of burnout is normal, especially if you’re a passionate creative who eats, breathes, and sleeps your craft— you can’t put 1000% effort and energy into a project and expect it to be sustainable; eventually you’re going to crash. This has been my modus operandi as a blogger for years: go hard for a few months, crash and burn, maybe survive the wreckage (or maybe not). When a friend of mine offered a piece of conventional wisdom that I’d never considered before, it blew my mind:

Copy of Quote

Creative and mental burnout doesn’t have to murder your productivity, and it can even be useful, if you let it. Think of it as a warning bell that you’re getting overloaded and maybe need to step back and recharge, or even just change direction for a while. If you’re feeling paralyzed by burnout, here are a few things you can do to find momentum again:

5 Ways to Get Over Creative Burnout

1. Take small steps every day.

You don’t need to write an entire novel, or finish a whole project in one day. Give yourself time and space to be creative, and pace yourself. If you break things up into manageable pieces, you’ll have a better chance of making progress than when you try to do everything at once. If you’re struggling, give yourself permission to take really small steps— for me, if I even just write fifty words, that’s fifty words I didn’t have written yesterday.

2. Declutter, organize, and rearrange your space.

You’ll be amazed at what a bright, clean, organized work space can do for you mentally. Whenever my head is a mess, my living space usually follows, so taking a few minutes to clean up and organize is essential to getting back to my best creative headspace. Also, sometimes you just need a change; has your desk been in the same corner for the last three years? Has that lamp always been in that same spot? Change things up, move things around. Sometimes having a fresh feeling space makes all the difference.

3. Do something productive but unrelated.

If your brain is feeling stuck on one particular project and you just can’t seem to make progress, go tackle something else on your to do list. Go grocery shopping, do laundry, go out for a walk; give your brain a chance to breathe and regroup for a bit. Or take a few hours to read a book or watch a movie, get out of your own head for a while. I speak from experience when I say that trying to force the ideas onto the page usually doesn’t work out (and just results in a headache.)

4. Make a plan, write an outline, brainstorm.

Mind-mapping is great for those times when you have ideas but have no idea what to do with them. Put everything down on paper, don’t worry about getting things in the right order or even getting complete thoughts out— that jumble of random words might spark the exact brainwave you need later. I know that it always makes me feel better to have a plan (even if I’m 100% aware that I probably won’t end up following it), so take a few minutes and plan your next steps. What do you want to accomplish? How can you get there? Even if your plan just involves making a to do list for the next few days, that’s a perfect start.

5. Talk things out with your friends or community.

Whenever I’m feeling stuck creatively, I usually call my best friend. He’s a fellow writer, and without a doubt the person I trust most to bounce my half-formed ideas off of. We’ll usually spend a couple of hours on the phone or over Skype, and he’ll help to pick my ideas apart— not coming from a critical place, but in a way that helps me to shape and focus and expand them. I always leave our conversations feeling like I could sit down and write a 500 page novel right this instant. If you don’t already have people like this in your life, find them. If you do, utilize them (and thank them.) When our ideas are only in our own heads, we can get stuck in the same feedback loop over and over again; sharing ideas with someone else and asking for their input gives us an entirely new perspective (which can make all the difference.)

Creative burnout, or any kind of burnout, sucks— there’s no way around that. But it doesn’t have to be the ledge where your goals and ideas go to die. If you’re dealing with burnout as a result of depression or anxiety, you’re not alone. Reach out to other people who have had similar struggles, and find your community.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. Are you dealing with burnout lately, or have you struggled with it recently? Tell your story below in the comments, or chat with me on Twitter (@hugsandhexes).