Living With the Mean Reds

I remember the first time I heard Audrey Hepburn utter those words. I was sitting with a friend, watching Breakfast at Tiffany's for the first time, and I started to cry.

I felt relief. Relief that I finally had a way to describe what the stressful, overwhelming, terrifying emotional state that frequently overtook me.

That's what anxiety is like. It's like getting the mean reds.

Let me tell you a little more about what living with anxiety is like:

It's trying to write this post. Over and over and over again and deleting it all because as I see the words forming on the screen and my head starts to swim and my heart starts to pound and I think

You're so stupid. Nobody wants to hear what you have to say.   

Or being so ashamed of my story, of how I found myself fighting this almost-daily battle against myself that I I spend more time trying to breathe deeply and fight back my tears than actually typing anything at all.

I wrote a huge post, earlier. About how my anxiety led me to my suicide attempt at 16, about the ways in which my abusive relationship with my mother has left cracks the size of the Grand Canyon in my self-esteem, about how I've struggled with feelings of guilt, fear and, most importantly, of worthlessness for as long as I can remember, and you know what I kept thinking while I was pouring my heart out?

Nobody wants to hear your stupid thoughts. They're going to think you're an idiot for even thinking that they're worth sharing. You're not good enough to talk about your anxiety when there are other people out there who have it so much worse.

That's what living with anxiety is like. I spend my days second-guessing everything I've said, everything everyone has said to me, and worrying that somehow, some way, I'm going to ruin everything for myself and everyone. It will all be my fault.

I spend hours analyzing and re-analyzing the smallest of conversations. I re-read text messages and try to figure out the ways in which that person must be angry, or irritated, or disappointed with me, because I am always expecting someone to be angry, irritated or disappointed with me.

I've been this way for as long as I can remember. Due to a seriously abusive relationship with my mother and being a member of a family unit that operates on guilt and negativity I've developed this tendency to always assume that I'm not good enough.

Every single memory, every interaction, every milestone, is peppered with moments where my chest clenches up and I feel tears welling up behind my eyelids. 

Did I just say something stupid? Oh my god they must think that I'm such an idiot.

Do I even deserve to be here? I'm such a fraud, I'm a sad excuse for a person and once they figure it out I'll lose everything I've worked so hard for.

Does he really love me? Because I certainly don't deserve to be loved. I'm too stupid and worthless and too much of a burden for anyone to want to love me.

People tell me I'm strong. They tell me that I'm smart, that I'm motivated, that I'm able to do anything that I put my mind to. I have a list of accomplishments as long as my arm that I'm so fiercely proud of, yet there's a voice screaming in my ear that I'm a fraud. 

That I'm a stupid, worthless fraud.

Believe me, I realize how irrational this sounds, but anxiety isn't rational.

Some days I feel like I can't manage. The vice grip on my chest becomes too strong and I can't hold back the tears and I hide in a bathroom, or behind my sunglasses, or best of all under my blankets where I can just disappear until the feelings fade enough that I can try to put on a brave face and pretend like I'm okay again.

Most of the time I'm just pretending. Pretending that I feel at ease, that there isn't a perpetual knot in my chest, that I'm not worried that someone will wake up and go "aha! You never deserved any of this, you awful, terrible, worthless person!"

But pretending only goes so far.

Talking helps. Talking, crying, screaming it out helps. I'm slowly learning to accept that I don't have to be ashamed of having a mental illness, or that it's only a very small part of what makes me "me" but there are hard times, and I never know when it will strike.

But I'm getting better. I wrote this post, even though it took me several hours, a lot of tears, frantic text-messages to get reassurance that yes it is okay to talk about this on the internet of all places and no, nobody is going to think I'm stupid for feeling this way.

Let me repeat (both for me and for you): nobody thinks you are stupid for feeling the way that you do. Your feelings are always valid, no matter how irrational they may seem or how often that voice in your head tells you they aren't. You have value.

I have a long way to go before I'm able to rid myself of the Mean Reds, and maybe I'll never get to a point where they're 100% gone, but I'm going to get better.

Please, if you're feeling any of the same things that I described in my post, talk to someone. Call your mom, your boyfriend, your best friend, or, if you're feeling too overwhelmed, the Manitoba Suicide Line at 1-877-435-7170 or call any of the other 24-hour crisis hotlines to get help

There's no shame in reaching out. Together we can beat the Mean Reds.

(I wrote this post for #BellLetsTalk, a hugely important campaign which encourages open discussion to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. If you know someone that you think might be suffering from mental illness, please reach out the them and let them know that they are loved & supported.)  


The Suburbs

The place where I lived my childhood is gone.

The street is still there, but the deep ditches where I used to watch tadpoles and, later in the season, scoop frogs into my tiny hands, are gone.

The bridges that extended over them where I spent hours on my tummy, watching the water rush through the long grass with my friends, have been dismantled and taken away.

The fields on either side of my street, which connects Main Street to McPhillips Avenue, have been swallowed up by cheap particleboard, concrete driveways, and houses in pale, inoffensive shades of beige and grey stucco.

In the spring we would put on our too-big rubber boots and wade through the flooded plain, chasing each other through the tall green and orange plants. We used to pull bulrushes, fat and bulbous, apart above our heads, showering everything in their soft wool and watching it drift away in the wind.

We spent our summer afternoons climbing around an old, small hill covered in trees at the end of a dirt road that ran parallel to a ditch which ran parallel to the train tracks. There were old, large pieces of concrete that we, using all of our collective strength, pushed into "couches" and "chairs" to sit on in place of the long grass, which had spiders hiding in it.

There were small burned-out areas where older kids tried to start fires every summer, and the black, charred remains of the trees fascinated us. Especially when, against all odds, they would begin to bloom again in the following year.

The city would come and re-tar our back lane in the middle of the summer and our naked feet would get sticky-black as we chased each other on bikes or on foot over the newly-filled potholes.

One summer we had mice in our attic. I remember my dad pulling one, stiff with rigor mortis, out of a trap that he had set and saying to my mother, who was delirious with anxiety "we live next to train tracks and have fields on both sides of the street. What did you expect?"

In the winter more City workers came in huge plows to clear the back lane, pushing aside the snow to form a jagged, uneven wall along the lane that we would climb over in our thick snow pants. At night we would toboggan in the glow of the streetlights.

I would to fall asleep to the sound of the trains going by. The sound still soothes me.

I used to look out from my parents' bedroom window, over the lane and over the field behind our house. Before I was born you could see right to the Perimeter Highway, but slowly newer developments began popping up and creeping ever-closer.

We moved when I was ten, before the suburbs crept nearer and took over. There had been talk of a wall to divide the new subdivision with my old back lane; now there is a tastefully-high fence that runs along the outer edge of the yards. 

My old street runs like a vein between two new subdivisions, which flattened the hill and cast big, imposing shadows over the little houses on Murray Avenue. It once felt worlds apart from the suburbs, but in recent years has become consumed by it.

I've heard people talk about having to drive up my old street to get to their identical, perfectly-paved streets which lead to their identical stucco houses with their identical yards with a single tree in front.

They talk about the old, dated duplexes with brown wood features and chain-link yards; the useless, weird, vacant space in front of their property where the ditches used to be; the back lanes that spoil their view.

They can't see it for the beautiful place that it was because the suburbs have consumed what made it so magical. 

On the surface it feels like I've lost that place forever. That it was surrendered to the inevitable march of progress, to urban sprawl,  to hastily-constructed homes with no soul. 

But Murray Avenue still has a heart. You just have to know where to look.

Come with me, sometime. I'll show you.

Taking It Easy

Stayed out way past my bedtime yesterday to catch Attica Riot's amazing set at The Cavern, where I danced my face off with John, Adam and new Twitter-to-IRL-friend Doug McArthur!

Also kinda obsessed with this dude from Sc Mira's style. It's so Mark Ronson, don't you think?

They also played this AMAZING cover of Life at Last from Phantom of the Paradise. Unbelievable!

My #Project365 photo was of this super young couple seated in the whiskey bar where John and I were hanging out before the show. They were so cute, they didn't even look 18! When the dude poured the beer they were sharing (aww) he didn't tilt the glass and basically poured a bunch of foam. So charming to watch.

Was feeling super lazy today so I spent the day hanging from the couch, answering some emails, updating my LinkedIn, posting to Tumblr and watching Twin Peaks. What a weird show.

Hope you had a lovely weekend!

xox yr girl Shaner

10 Things I've Learned While Dating an Entrepreneur

"Everyone says that they want to date someone driven" John said to me last night "but most people can't actually date someone with drive and ambition because they feel threatened by it."

He made this comment as a result of a conversation we were having about the kinds of things that we talk about with one another. 

Mostly, we talk about work, projects we're working on (freelance or otherwise), ideas we're brainstorming, and articles that we've read online. Most of our conversations are purpose-driven, go very deep, and circle around a few key topics such as Virtual Reality, product development, writing, content creation, and our views about life and our place in it. 

While, admittedly, John is slightly more "on" 24/7 than I am (I'm more like 23/7, sometimes I need to switch on the Wii and play Twilight Princess for the zillionth time) we're both pretty much talking, thinking, and working on stuff constantly. 

Dating someone who is this "on" all the time has been an adjustment. I've never dated an entrepreneur before, and making the switch from dating guys with regular 9-5 jobs that get forgotten once 5pm Friday rolls around has taken some real getting used to.

Below are 10 things that I've learned in this crazy almost-year of being together:

1. Get ready to have a lot of free time

Personally, this works well for me because I also have a ton of stuff on the go and we can optimize our time together, but for a lot of people this would be a real challenge -it's hard to be with someone who is constantly thinking about or talking about work. 

However, this is a good opportunity to make sure that you don't get too caught up in the relationship and become one of those couples who goes into complete hibernation mode once you get together.

2. Passions don't count as "work talk"

I still struggle with this, honestly. Sometimes I just don't want to talk about VR anymore -I don't want to bounce ideas about virtual experiences all night, and because so much of what my partner's work does involves VR sometimes I have a hard disentangling talking about VR the passion from talking about work. 

But it's important to make, and remember, this distinction.

3. Take an active interest in their work or you will go crazy

This relates to the previous point. I learn by seeing and doing, and if I'm just looking at a screen and saying "mm-hmm" my eyes glaze over pretty fast. 

By asking questions, giving feedback and trying to be involved in whatever they're working on, it not only keeps you from going crazy, but also makes them feel validated, important, and can provide them with feedback or ideas that they may not have received otherwise.

4. Kiss your bender days goodbye

When you work for yourself every day lost to a hangover is a day where you could have been improving your service or replying to clients. 

So the days of partying from dusk until dawn and depleting all of your brain waters to the point where going on Facebook is a challenge quickly become a thing of the past.

5. They will forget things. All the time.

At least, things that aren't work-related. John can recite minute details about code he's written or the intricacies of a project he's working on, but he needs constant refreshers on what we have planned this weekend, the grocery list, or phone calls that he needs to return. 

It's not that they don't care -far from it, in fact- but the space in their mind is at a premium and if something isn't an immediate, pressing need (like work) then it gets filed away somewhere, likely to never be seen again.

6. You aren't their only priority

Let me be clear: a good partner will always make you feel special and like you are a major priority in their life, but you shouldn't be their only priority and you might not even be their top priority all the time. 

There are definitely days (a lot, in fact) when I know that John's company is taking precedence in his head over our relationship, and that's okay, because I know he will make "us" a priority if it needs to be.

7. You don't have to be like them

While being with someone who is motivated 24/7 can do wonders for your own motivation and productivity, when you just want to spend the day vegging out eating an entire can of Pringles while marathon-watching BoJack Horseman and they'd rather work on, well, work, it can be hard not to feel like you're just wasting your time in comparison.

But it is totally okay and healthy to take breaks, which leads me to my next point...

8. They need help "turning off"

If left to their own devices they will just work and work and work. That's it. So sometimes they need some gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) prodding to actually relax and not just focus 100% on work-related stuff. 

9. Forget having a regular schedule

Traditionally-employed people tend to have pretty predictable schedules; even people working shift-based work, like a server or a nurse, generally have a pretty firm grasp on when they are and aren't available. 

When you're dating an entrepreneur every available hour of the day can (and likely will) be put towards working on something. This is in addition to the meetings, meetups, Skype calls, conferences, hackathons, and other hustle-type activities that come with the entrepreneurial lifestyle. That's just how things are.

10. You will have doubts early on, and that's okay

Dating someone who is constantly focused on other things can be taxing, and I have definitely had moments where I feel lonely, annoyed, or frustrated -and I'm a pretty driven person, myself! 

But the longer we've been together the more I've tried to adjust my expectations around what are and aren't reasonable demands to make of my partner, and when it's okay to make those demands (spoiler alert: I'm not always the greatest at identifying those times...) 

There have been difficult moments, sure, but more often than not this crazy roller-coaster ride has been filled with moments of exhilaration, excitement, pride and, most importantly, fun. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Have you dated an entrepreneur? What was it like for you? Did I miss anything? Tell me!

The Illusion of Being Busy

Last Friday night I found myself alone. 

John was with the Campers at the screening of the Innovation Alley movie, my plans had fallen through, and I had a few hours to spend however I wanted. 

Sitting in Second Cup in Osborne Village, plucking away at my laptop and sipping my London Fog, I got to thinking about how busy we all "appear" to be all the time - always going places, seeing people, sharing pictures and thoughts and experiences. 

It started to feel a bit overwhelming, to be honest.

Since I've started my #Project365 Instagram project I've tried to make a point to go out and have an experience, or find something interesting worth photographing every day.

It's not that I lead a boring life - far from it, I'm actually quite busy day-to-day, but a lot of that revolves around my 9-5 and being on my laptop doing freelance work.

Not exactly glamorous, and I'm pretty sure that if I Instagrammed my computer screen as often as I find myself parked in front of it, working, I'd have zero followers pretty freakin' fast.

So I started thinking about the idea of "looking busy" and figured I'd ask you guys what you thought, and if you feel social pressure to "look/be busy," through what you post online.

Some of my favourite answers are below & honestly really surprised me:

Not busy, no...I think everyone knows I'm busy! I make an effort to look thoughtful in what I share. No junk.
Kendra Jones

"I'm always busy. Sometimes that's just busy laying down on YouTube, sometimes it's work. I'm busy with my time and that's fine."
Brett Enquist

Busy is a choice, but some do see it as a badge of honour.
Claudine G

Nope. I live for me not others. Took a while to learn that though.
Terri F

Everyone (or almost everyone) has a day job that keep them occupied. I'm more interested in how people spend their non-work hours, whether it's going on vacation, reading a great book, cooking or playing outside.
Shel Zolkewich

Hell no. I'm as busy as I wanna be. And you can quote me on that.
Jeope Wolfe

No. I am busy a lot, but if I'm not, I'm not gonna lie about. That would be dumb. #TrimbleDoesntConform
Adrian Trimble

What about you? Do you ever feel pressured to "look busy"?

Never underestimate breakfast

I knew a guy once who went to a music festival. After a night of partying, still awake, he was ready to crawl into bed when another, more seasoned friend said

“hey man, I’m going for breakfast. You should come.”

The guy, ragged and tired and worn-out and beaten up from a cocktail of unmentionables consumed from early in the night to late into the morning, said

“nah man, I’m just going to grab a nap. I’ll meet up with you later”

And the other guy said

“seriously. You should come for breakfast.”

But my friend stayed behind. He dozed and spent a few difficult hours grasping at the idea of sleep.

Eventually he gave up and headed back to the festival, still feeling rough and ragged but not wanting to waste the golden opportunity to party and dance and listen to music in another city.

There was the other guy looking bright-eyed and bushy tailed and in as perfect health as someone who is on a festival-induced bender can reasonably look.

My friend stood there, red solo cup full of beer in hand, nursing his hair of the dog and trying to rub the circles out from under his eyes.

The other guy looked at him and said

“You should have come for breakfast.”

Tags: Life Breakfast

"Carry Bolt Cutters" & Other Advice from Werner Herzog

Recently I came across a list of advice for filmmakers courtesy of Werner Hergoz, which I thought was particularly interesting. 

Taken from Werner Hergoz - A Guide for the Perplexed by Paul Cronin, some of the maxims are pretty specific to filmmaking (“That roll of unexposed celluloid you have in your hand might be the last in existence, so do something impressive with it”) but some others, like "Learn to live with your mistakes" and "Develop your own voice" really hit home.

Here they are, what do you think?

1. Always take the initiative.
2. There is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it means getting the shot you need.
3. Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey.
4. Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief.
5. Learn to live with your mistakes.
6. Expand your knowledge and understanding of music and literature, old and modern.
7. That roll of unexposed celluloid you have in your hand might be the last in existence, so do something impressive with it.
8. There is never an excuse not to finish a film.
9. Carry bolt cutters everywhere.
10. Thwart institutional cowardice.
11. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
12. Take your fate into your own hands.
13. Learn to read the inner essence of a landscape.
14. Ignite the fire within and explore unknown territory.
15. Walk straight ahead, never detour.
16. Manoeuvre and mislead, but always deliver.
17. Don’t be fearful of rejection.
18. Develop your own voice.
19. Day one is the point of no return.
20. A badge of honor is to fail a film theory class.
21. Chance is the lifeblood of cinema.
22. Guerrilla tactics are best.
23. Take revenge if need be.
24. Get used to the bear behind you.

Happy Tuesday, dears! 

xox yr girl Shaner

Letters to Who I Was 5 Years Ago

Found via Tumblr. Just love this so much.

Tags: Life Thoughts

What Doesn't Seem Like Work?

While out for coffee I read a great article by one of my favourite writers, Paul Graham, called "What Doesn't Seem Like Work?

In it he talks about how his father knew at 12 what he wanted to be which he admits is unusual and is something that I can't relate to at all because at 12 I don't think I was thinking much farther than the test at the end of the week or when the next Zelda title was coming out.

Anyway, Paul Graham's dad wanted to do something involving maths (he is a mathematician) and he said that he used to consider the quizzes at the end of textbook chapters as rewards, and that the text was just advice on how to solve them. 

Which is just... crazy. That sounds like the exact opposite of anything I want to do, ever.

Which is exactly the point.

"The stranger your tastes seem to other people, the stronger evidence they probably are of what you should do."

Most people that I talk to dislike writing. Or they tolerate it as something that they have to do, maybe for work or a project, but by and large most people that I know don't want to spend hours writing posts, monologues, rants, poems etc and honing their "voice" as a writer. 

I've always been a passionate reader and writer but it took me a long time to figure out that writing should be a big part of how I make my living, largely because I grew up thinking that the only options for a writer were publish a book or become a journalist, but that's a post for another time.

I love writing and would happily do it all day. It's what I live and breathe, even though to a lot of people it seems like a boring, uninteresting task.

Which is what sets me apart from other people, and what makes me so good at it.

But it's taken me a long time to figure that out.

What's something that you love to do that other people hate doing? Have you made it a part of your professional life?

How to Stay Motivated and Get Shit Done

Life is insane right now.

I walked into the office today with a million things on my plate and of course another million smaller things popped up along the way. Add to it managing client work, personal projects and secret (soon to be not-so-secret) projects I spent the morning feeling like I'd much rather crawl under a rock than actually do any of the stuff that I need to do.

Except I can't.

So instead of throwing myself a pity-party I decided to spend my lunch hour jotting down a few of the ways that I get shit done and stay motivated when I feel like this:

Figure Out What I'm Avoiding, and Why

I'm scared by things that I don't know but that doesn't make a lot of sense when I say it out loud, so here's an example to illustrate what I mean:

I want to get into podcasting but I have no idea where to start, so I Google "how to make a great podcast" and open a bunch of tabs, but then get overwhelmed by all the new information and, oh hey, Reddit sure looks interesting right about now... and then 45 minutes later I still haven't finished that first article that I started. 

It's easy to put off things that make us go beyond our comfort zone or, in my case, confront the fact that I don't actually know everything about everything. 

Figuring out why I'm avoiding something helps me start taking steps to work at it.

Make Time by Making Time

I know I sound like my mom but seriously I'd never get to the gym if I didn't pre-pack my gym bag the night before. Same goes for laying out work to get done in the morning and organizing my thoughts the night before by creating daily to-do lists (my saving grace). Little things like that make me feel a million times more organized (even when I'm a total gong show) and can really save time.

Put The Goddamn Phone Down

Otherwise known as: get the hell off social media, which I have a huge problem doing. I put my phone face-down, close my tabs (yes ALL of them) except what I need and have notifications disabled on both my iMac and my Macbook, so nothing "pops up" to notify me on my screen while I'm attempting to focus.

I've also had some really good experiences with SelfControl, which is a tool that allows you to set a timer which will cause your browser to behave like it's offline. You can whitelist or blacklist certain sites so that you don't have to totally disable the internet (calm down) while trying to focus. It's a Mac-only product, though. PC users can use Freedom, which is similar.

Figure Out When I'm Most Productive

I kick the most ass in the morning. In my ideal world I would get up, hit the gym or go for a long run, then settle in with a cup of coffee and do my thing until about 3pm which is when my energy takes a nosedive. 

Also: take breaks! If I've been working for several hours and feel my brain waters getting low it's totally okay to go for a walk to grab groceries or (just this once!) check out what's happening on Twitter. I try not to guilt myself about these breaks (though sometimes I fail) but I know that letting my brain chill out can really boost productivity if I've got a long haul ahead of me. 

Get Lit

Obviously I don't mean getting stoned and useless. I mean sitting somewhere where it's bright, preferably near a large window or (when the weather permits) sitting outside. I have a great goose-neck lamp from IKEA that I love at my desk, but sitting anywhere with some nice non-fluorescent lights is key to getting work done and not ruining my eyesight or giving myself a headache.

Organize My Mess

I'm a neat freak and I hate working in sloppy spaces. Sure, when I was writing 30+ page papers in university and had several stacks of reference notes all over my desk for one particular project I could handle it, but that's different. What I mean is the keeping the area around where you're working clean (or relatively so).

Is it dusty? Are there old dishes everywhere? Are there leftover papers, pens, notepads, books, whatever all over the place? For the love of god put it away. 

Clutter clutters the mind, or however that saying goes.

Also if you're a girl putting fresh flowers in your work space make you at least 96% more productive. Scientific fact.

What about you? Do you have any tips for getting shit done and staying motivated?

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