5 Coping Mechanisms to Help you Deal

Ibis Eating Sweet Lemons

Ibis Eating Sweet Lemons

Most people I know are living in a state of uncertainty right now caused by the coronavirus and a downturn in economic indicators. I honestly don’t know how I feel about all of this, because yesterday I felt all the emotions—anger, fear, anxiety-until I accepted that this is the new “normal”.

I recently wrote a nonfiction essay reviewing all that’d happened within the past five years. I reminded myself that the chaos we’ve all been experiencing in gigantic and tiny ways is nowhere near what we’ve dealt with before—at least in my lifetime. We’ve acclimated to every abrupt change, every dogwhistle to attack the Other, and every shitty leader who doesn’t know how to bring people together. The coronavirus is an escalation and many of us worry what’ll happen next. Except, you can’t tell people not to be anxious. Ever try that? They only become more so.

With that in mind, I’d like to share five coping mechanisms that have worked for me in the past.

1. Mental Health Check-Ins

It’s hard to “see” progress you’re making, because unlike physical health there’s no bandage for depression. A mental health check-in is a way of mitigating that, because you “check in” on a semi-regular basis. There’s a lot of different ways to do this. You could use mood journalling and bullet journal graphs so you watch your progress over time. You could decide that you need therapy right now, and go the professional check-in route. Or, you could touch base with friends/lovers/family on a semi-regular basis to share how you’re faring. I’ve used a combination of tactics over the years, and I’ve often found that knowing I am not alone (and not the ONLY person who’s feeling what I’m feeling) is what works for me. Sometimes, that means I check up on people I haven’t heard from in a while, too.

2. Reduce Noise

I’ve mentioned this before, but as a former musician everything translates into a song for me. Every word as a tone, every Tweet is a tiny refrain that carries emotional weight. My head quickly gets “noisy” if I fall into a rabbit hole where I’m constantly watching for updates and I can’t create. There’s too much noise and not enough silence.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with social media, because I’m never quite sure if I can continue on platforms where people’s mental health and safety is not taken personally. Yes, Twitter (less Facebook these days) is a frenzy of breaking news and unverified facts, but there’s so much misinformation mixed in with personal connections it’s often hard to know if I’m stepping into a minefield or not.

I know now I need to mitigate my usage for my mental health. Being online has its benefits and drawbacks because the websites and platforms we use are tools. Multiple studies have shown these tools have an affect on mental health, and as part of a plan to cope with the Chaos Timeline? It’s really a good idea to figure out your relationship to that.

The other thing I’d mention is that white noise and noise-cancelling headphones have been invaluable to reduce external influences. RainyMood.com and FocusMusic.fm are two, great free sites you can use.

Lastly, the opposite is also true. Sometimes, if you’re feeling stuck exploring YouTube! to find new songs or instrumentals is pretty awesome.

3. Drink More Water than Caffeine

Pretty self-explanatory, right? When you’re stressed or anxious hydration can be the first thing to go, which only exacerbates the potential for terrible mood swings or depression. If you’re like me and you’re also addicted to caffeine (I am never giving this up don’t bother trying), this can also mean you’ll dehydrate more quickly.

With body/diet your mileage will vary, of course, it is easy to forget the basics when you’re stressed out. As I’m sure your doctor/nutritionist will remind you, food does contribute to your overall health and well-being. My situation is going to be ten times different because of my physiology, so I don’t have advice to give here. I do favor citrus—especially lemon—when I’m feeling down, though, and I always feel better when I limit sugar.

4. Reframe Self-Care

Sometimes, chaos and unpredictability exacerbate my feelings of anxiety because I enjoy having a certain amount of stability to manage my expectations and workload. Ah-hah! Who doesn’t?

When life’s great, self-care is something I do once in a while. When I’m super stressed out, I add self-care to my To Do list. If I’m on “lock down” and recognize I’m being overwhelmed by the random and frenetic—I add a touch of whimsy so I don’t feel guilty about engaging in self-care. Sometimes I’ll assign numbers to the list of things I could do and then roll dice. Other times, I’ll write ten things on different notecards, shuffle, and then pick.

If self-care is stressful, here’s an easy art project you can do when you’re not at your limit. Grab a shoebox, use old wrapping paper to decorate the bottom and the top, and label it “My Happy Place”. Then, find some sticky notes or post cards and write down things you can do that you associate with feeling happy. These might include: watching a movie, re-reading a book, listening to your favorite band, baking bread, doing your nails, exercising, etc. After you’ve written these activities down, stick them inside the box. The next time you’re feeling like crap, go to your Happy Place, and pick a random card.

I know there’s a certain amount of guilt associated with self-care, and I can empathize with that. Self-care is part of stress management for me. I hope if you find yourself in a similar position you’ll get the help you need. It’s hard to earnestly focus on your health if you don’t think it’s important.

5. Learn a New Skill

To close this short list of coping mechanisms, I wanted to mention how beneficial learning something new can be for your mental health. When you’re in that terrible headspace, it can be challenging to find your way out of the shadows. Learning a new skill benefits me in a couple of ways. First, it helps me refocus my mental energy on something that’s not related to the source of my anxiety. Second, learning often includes progress-tracking, so I can see how I’m doing over time. That slows me down and helps me focus on the moment. And lastly, the act of learning is also a really good way for me to remember life goes on—even in darkness.

If this doesn’t work for you due to financial or time constraints, the other thing I do is read well-researched non-fiction. The voice is usually very calming and filed under sleep aids for me.

I hope you’re faring better than okay. It’s been an interesting past couple of years, and I’m sure there’s more changes to come. Hopefully, there’ll be good news on the horizon.

MANW Check-In Week 4: Celebrating One Month, January’s Accountability, and Turning No into Yes

Congratulations! We’re now in Week 4 of the Make Art Not War Challenge 2017. How are you doing? This month’s theme was PLAY, and I hope you’ve embraced that with vigor. The theme was designed for you to plant the seeds for discipline; I will help you grow as the year continues, by building off of this initial theme every month.

Okay, now that we’re in week four this is a good time for me to check in with all of you and see how committed I’ve been to my pledge.

My Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge pledge:

  • I pledge to devote one hour a day to my original art.
  • If I don’t feel motivated, I pledge to write down the reasons why I wanted to take this challenge for fifteen minutes or one-to-three pages whichever comes first.
  • I pledge to mark down on the calendar whenever I complete a day’s efforts.
  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017
  • I pledge to check into social media twice a week for personal use, and once a month with my local community of artists and writers.

January 2017 Accountability

  • I made original art for one hour every day when I could. I had a convention, and I figured out that making art while at conventions is more involved than I imagined it would be.
  • I did not have a problem with motivation.
  • I used gold star stickers to mark down on the calendar when I made art.
  • I have posted the accountability posts and did use the hashtags #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017.
  • I did fall down on social media usage, because I wanted to keep abreast of political changes and right now I’m regretting that. More on this below.

Okay, so where I fell down was on social media. It’s hard to extricate myself from it, because I do log in for work. The problem isn’t doing that “one quick thing”, it’s the fact that I have had 24-7 access to it on my phone, my dual monitors, etc. So, yesterday I made the decision to remove access on my phone; I’ll put it back when I’m traveling, but for now this is the safest and best approach going forward.

How I’ve Been Using Social Media

In talking to other friends so many of us rely on social media for making plans and remaining in touch as well. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had that begin with “Well, didn’t you see what happened on Facebook?” Even when I do use it, I’m not on it enough to know or read what everyone is up to. I’ve been engaging with Facebook Groups more, though, and I also use Messenger. The nice thing about Messenger, is that it’s a separate app so I don’t need Facebook on my phone. That’s definitely staying.

With respect to Twitter, I was using the service as a news aggregator and… Well, I just cannot have access to the news 24-7, either. The only solution is to disconnect and stick to my original pledge. It didn’t affect my productivity this month, but that’s never the problem. The issue is that it impacts my mood, and that’s when my focus and enthusiasm for my original art tends to go by the wayside.

I’m seeing quite a few of you checking in on the Twitter hashtag–and that’s great! Don’t be afraid to revisit your personal promises, too, because next week’s check-in kicks off a brand new month. Exciting!

Creative Challenge: Turning “No’s” Into “Yes’s”

Some of you may have stopped and started on this challenge. You had every intention of making art every day, of setting aside your frustration, and focusing on yourself. You might feel guilty for taking that time, or might be comparing yourself to other, more established artists wondering if you’ll ever get “there.” Or, you might feel a ton of pressure to be perfect or make a gorgeous, saleable piece of art every time you sit down to create.

Negativity is a Creative Challenge that you’ll have to overcome if you want to establish a routine and sharpen your focus. Right now, what you’re telling yourself is “No, I can’t do this.” The reasons why you’re saying “No.” will vary widely, but that negativity is exacerbated by everyone around you and our current political climate. It does have an impact, even if you can’t see it now; artists are keen observers, because it’s up to

The question you need to ask yourself is: “How do I turn a ‘No’ into a ‘Yes’?” If you cannot say “Yes, I will devote my time to making art and focusing on my craft.” then how can you expect anyone else to publish, buy, or support your finished works?

Your reasons for saying “Yes!” to yourself will also vary; the first step, however, is to recognize that you are saying “No.” Then, it’s up to you to figure out why that is to overcome your personal, often very emotional, challenge. I believe you can do it, and I wish you the best of luck.

Now that we’re a month in–tell me how you’re doing! Comments are open, and I’d love to hear how this challenge is impacting your life as an artist.

Content, Comment, and Moderation Policy for My Social Media

This content, comment, and moderation policy draft applies to my accounts on third party social media platforms and forums that enable me to connect with peers, readers, players, friends and family. Due to the violence, suicides, and bullying fueled by an uptick in racism and xenophobia that is being reported here, here, here, here, and here, the draft of this policy is designed to clarify my stance as I interact with others online, as well as highlight what I do and do not find acceptable in order to make a safe space in my corner of the universe. For the time being, however, I do not plan on re-opening comments here on the blog. That may change if I decide to resume regular blogging, and if that becomes the case I will adapt this policy to ensure commenters are also protected.

This policy draft is my pledge to all those who are connected to me. My readers, my peers, my friends and my family are a melting pot of diverse voices, cultures, and identities. This is my commitment to them and, pending feedback on the draft, further updates may be made.

To comment or add to these points, you may post comments here, on my social media account attached to the link, or you can send me a private e-mail here. I pledge to listen to you and weigh decisions that will ensure the chorus of diverse voices I have come to need, love, and enjoy remains safe.

1.) Hate Speech: The American Bar Association defines hate speech as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” If I see this in a comment or in a reaction to anything said by myself or those who connect with me, your comment may be screencapped or logged, it will be deleted, and you will be blocked/reported.

2.) Microaggressions: According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Some racism is so subtle that neither victim nor perpetrator may entirely understand what is going on—which may be especially toxic for people of color.” Microaggressions will be treated on a case-by-case basis and actions will depend upon what is being said, who’s saying it, and what the outcome of that conversation is. If I perceive anyone is hurt on my page, I will reach out to the person I perceive is hurt and ask them if they are okay and take it from there.

3.) Harassment/Doxing/Death threats: My actions regarding this will be the same as how I treat people who engage in hate speech. I do not, and will not, accept any death threats on my accounts toward any individual regardless of my views on the person being targeted. Death threats are not and never will be okay, and every death threat regardless of how it’s worded will be treated with the utmost severity.

4.) Screening: I pledge to be better about screening those I follow and connect with to prevent 1), 2), and 3) above. As part of that pledge, if you know of someone who is actively causing harm or harassing people we are mutually connected with on a consistent basis, please let me know.

Licensing rights to use, repurpose, or share something similar on your sites is Creative Commons Attribution 3.0.

On Sabbaticals and Making My Own Art

Music Avatar

My planned September sabbatical is almost at an end, sadly. I say “sadly”, because I very much enjoyed not being online this time around or, rather, online in closed circles. The first thing I did, after wrangling my list of paying gigs, was to do some adult coloring courtesy of Sarah Bigwood. And then? Decompression. This campaign has been absolutely ridiculously awful in the sense that there are so many arguments happening online. It’s challenging to get a squee every now and again for something that isn’t so spectacular it takes everyone’s breath away, regardless of whether or not I’m said creator of said piece for squeeing, and that gets to me. When I hear nothing but a single note at a singular volume, fortissimo, with a heavy pedal, it becomes noise and it loses its value.

It did take about two weeks to let the emotional angst flow right out of me, and then another two to right my head and get back in the What I Need To Be DoingTM headspace. Not to be confused, of course, with the What I Think I Should Be DoingTM headspace. Two, very different things–especially for writers. A few thoughts coming out of the past few weeks has reinforced that a) we’re all just making this shit up as we go along b) many (if not 95%) of us are doing the best we can and c) what you know or how you’re regarded means f-all with respect to what you do. As an addendum to that, plus an obligatory footnote(1), worrying about everything else is far too complicated and gets in the way of making art.

I’m sure some of my angst is coming from a charged election, but as I live in a charged state a decompression this time around was sorely needed. Of course, being offline doesn’t necessarily help me get down words faster on the page, but mitigating the words and headlines I consume has had an overall positive impact on my psyche. And, it has allowed me to get back to center and focus on what really matters. The in between spaces, the five and ten minutes here and there when I’m waiting on an e-mail, I definitely want to make better use of those.

What’s ahead? I’m planning on participating in Inktober, but I won’t be following the prompts. I have something specific planned, to add to my growing list of beadtastic-ness, but I’m pretty excited about it. I’m all about interstitial art that connects to the worlds I’m creating, to feel that visceral experience of my imagination brought to life–even in a small way! And yes, I feel like a “fake” artist, because none of the creative stuff I do (outside of words or art direction) is attached to my core business. I don’t know if it will be, either. Art has always been my religion, because it’s a testament to what’s inside. I just know I am totally and wholly miserable without it, and have to fall down this particular rabbit hole with or without the $ attached or the fear that I’m wasting my time.

That’s really been the crux of making my own stuff, and has for a while. We talk about making money as artists all the time, and how hard it is. I would write and make art with or without the money, but thinking about ways to earn it based off of what I already do isn’t evil. It’s counter-intuitive to what a lot of other people thinking about making your own stuff. Suffer on in obscurity, selling 20 copies, or have a book made into a movie. Only, there’s 1,000 different business models in between here and there and everywhere, and it’s maddening to try to control the outcome because it cannot be controlled. It can’t. You can have a background in business, which I do, but that doesn’t translate to how readers or players respond to the work or how many copies are sold. The only thing that can be controlled is how I spend my days, and right now? That means adding my own stuff. Just adding it back in, without the fear or anxiety or worry it won’t matter.

So what’s changed for me? I think the illustration at the bottom of today’s post perfectly sums up my thoughts but, for those of you who cannot see the honey badger, what has changed is that I stopped caring to remove another obstacle that gets in the way of being creative. Anything that gets in the way has gotta go. Stagnation for me, not writing or not designing or what have you, that’s the true death. That’s the beginning and end of the darkness that surrounds me, and I fight back by making art.

I don’t know if I’ll post links to my works or not, but if I do it won’t be every day. There is something very soothing about putting pen to paper, something that can’t be replaced with a mouse and a keyboard. I encourage you to participate if you think it’s a cool idea, even if you’re just lettering or watching what other artists are doing. More art = better for all in my book!

(1) Yes, games are in the category of art. Why wouldn’t they be?


What I Want from a Social Media Platform

Darth Vader Masked Avatar

I was writing a guest blog post recently about hiring for the gaming industry, and in a moment of panic I thought to myself: “Am I going to get harassed for writing this?” Without realizing it, I had internalized a new reality: being online is no longer fun. And, for some, it’s quite threatening, too. Folks are being harassed, creators are getting death threats, and many are losing their jobs–and not always for the right reasons, either.

Being online has become an obligation for authors, and it’s part of online marketing. This is especially true for authors like myself who, truly need, to remind folks that we exist and we write great stuff. Add limited convention budgets and perhaps you might understand how this window to the world has become integral to our ability to connect with folks. Maybe, you might be interested in our new releases or maybe you might be overjoyed by what we’re working on now. Except, when you’re not. Except, when folks online are preoccupied with politics or a natural disaster or what Kim Kardashian is wearing. In other words, we’re getting lost in the day-to-day mundania, and that is having an adverse impact on us, because what those moments do–whether they happen during a book launch or not–is tell us that we need to be online more, to get a word in edgewise. Or, in other words, the twenty-percent of super users who are online all the time are getting harder to reach, because something else, something louder has caught their interest. And, that some “thing” is usually negative in the era of the call out culture.

It may sound like I’m doom and gloom, and I’m really not trying to be overly negative. The issues that I have with social media are not because of an individual poster. They’re systemic, and it’s because the tools were not built with authors–who require a public profile tied to their true identities–online. Cutting off the objection: “Well, then don’t be online!” Many of my friends, co-workers, and members of my zombie apocalypse support network are online, because these are the people I’ve met at conventions and workshops, on vacations and in former places I’ve lived, in countries I don’t visit too often. I also use social media to connect with them, read the news about what they’re up to, and keep abreast of publishing changes, too. So, “don’t be online” isn’t really an option for me. Less? Yeah, absolutely. But not: “Just don’t use it.” The internet has become a utility, and that means there are things I need it for, and other things I don’t.

This list of wants and needs is based on the premise that I, as a user, have to be myself on the internet. I’m sure I am not the only person who’s required to have a public persona, so these may apply to them, too.

  • Verified Profiles – People who use their true identities online should automatically have a verified profile on social media. Period. This can and should be something you pay for, and I feel this service should come with benefits that include other abilities as outlined below. Bottom line, I think people with public personas should be rewarded for putting themselves out there, not punished for our existence.
  • Pen Names – Those who have their identity verified should be allowed to use pen or alternate names. This gets around the issue of people who do not want to use their legal identity for whatever reason, but it does allow the rest of us to know that the network has verified who is on the other end of the line. This allows (me, anyway) a sense that harassment may result in consequences.
  • Rage-Minder – The list of ways users can be harassed is long and sordid indeed. But, I think there’s words that can be plugged into a filter, that will allow an auto-pop up to come up when someone presses “Publish” to say: “Do you really want to post that?” Creators are now getting death threats, and I bet a friendly “time out” post to remind people that Tweet might get them blocked or result in being removed from their social media would cut down on a lot of the crap.
  • Tie Anonymous Users to IP addresses – Yeah, hackers are going to get around this issue by ghosting their IP. I would venture that the average anonymous user is not a hacker, though. Harassment is becoming an ever-increasing problem, and if we can’t verify? Then perhaps we should tie activity to an IP address, instead. Then, when that account gets shut down, that IP address can’t start up a new one or harass somebody else.
  • Curated Interaction – I want the option to check a box that I’ll only interact with other verified users, or a list of certain users. I want the chance to shut off responses to certain posts or Tweets, and the option of blocking other people from conversations I’m having with one or two folks.
  • Categorization – Having the ability to cross-pollinate with other verified users based on categories attached to our profiles, would greatly increase the chance of networking and community. Not segregation, but segmentation.
  • Identity Protection – Since doxing occurs on social media, it makes sense to me that social media platforms should own up to that fact and either have systems in place to help or offer paid services (via a small annual fee) for identity protection–especially since doxers are also viewing everybody else who’s in our network. I want to be alerted when that happens, because my friends and my family do not need to feel the impact of my being targeted by assholes. I also want the ability to say “Yes, I am concerned about identity protection” to these places who sell our data. (See Opt-Out/Opt-In below.)
  • Auto-Delay/auto-boost – The ability to auto-delay posts if there’s breaking news to a better time when folks are actually able to listen, plus the ability to set auto-boost rules for certain types of announcements for other authors like ourselves (e.g. on new release day)
  • Moderation/Harassment-fighting teams – Systems teams designed to combat and deal with harassment on a system-wide level (not on a user-by-user basis). Forums do it, why can’t social networks?
  • Sub-communities – We need private and public communities, not “set up a list on Twitter” or “ask for this FB group someone set up.” Twitter desperately needs pages moderated by users, that can be public or private. FB needs a better way of doing groups, too, that is more like pages but doesn’t favor ad revenue. Allow folks to pay for visibility, even if in increments–and they will!
  • Conversations/Chat – How many times have I heard: “FB/Twitter is not supposed to be used for conversations.” Really? That’s what many folks are using the tools for. We need the ability to have public and private conversations. Suggest when folks begin exchanging Tweets/messages of 3 or more, that triggers a “Do you want this logged as a conversation?” overlay. From there, the people involved in the conversation can decide if they want to mute their chat from outside listeners, automatically collate it and repost the list (as a conversation) for later. Conversations should also be thought of when someone is answering questions via a Twitter chat, so there’s an authority or an expert handling Q&A from the audience.
  • Tagging – Tag clouds may seem so 2005, but seriously… Tagging is one of the easiest ways to allow users to customize their experience. Folks on Twitter are already using tags, for example, and to a lesser degree FB as well. So why not make it official? Let us put word clouds in our profiles, and block tags/categories of conversations to weed out what we don’t want to listen to.
  • Block All The Way – Uh, on Twitter if someone comments on a blocked user, you’re still seeing it. Unfriending on FB means that person can still comment on your posts. Don’t do half-measures. If we don’t want to see somebody, then remove ’em all the way. Mute? Unfollow? Those work for those tricky political situations when you still need to be “friends” with someone online.
  • Design Parameters for Friending/Unfriending – Allow users to set parameters for friending/de-friending follow/unfollow, etc. on a programmatic basis. Don’t make us use outside tools to sort inactive users or spammers. Right now, this is a chore and a half.
  • Status-Pinned Messages on Profiles – I want the ability to show when I’m off-line for a period of time and when I’ll return. Like on vacation! Or at a con! Or on deadline! But, I want to do this outside of pinned tweets or messages promoting something I’ve done as an artist.
  • Scaling Profiles – People are already looking at our profiles for work-related reasons, so why not allow us to scale those profiles? Let us mark a public profile and a personal profile for the same account, and allow us to have different types of followers/friends for each.
  • Galleries – Allow us to add galleries that are attached to what we do as artists. Per above.
  • Opt-In vs. Opt-Out – I found out when I was reviewing my information, that LinkedIn is a source of information for doxing. Linked. In. Seriously? And why is that, may you ask? Because data is worth $$$, and you have to opt-out and aren’t always notified of changes. I want the ability to tell a network once that my data is not for sale.

I’m sure I’m missing something, and this list is only a portion of what is off the top of my head, but I feel there’s a lot more work to be done on social media platforms. The more people use these tools, the more they should improve in my opinion. And, neither FB nor Twitter is innovating fast enough for the end user. It’s still about managing data on the “big picture” scale or looking at advertisers or thinking about incremental changes for individual users. What I want, is to recognize that different people use the same tools for entirely separate reasons, and we need segmentation to better handle the volume and to increase the value of the user’s experience.

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