Blogging: How Do?

blogging how do

I’ve been thinking about blogging a ton lately, and about how I would love to do it more frequently and maybe even with some kind of consistency (but, like, don’t hold your breath). The mental barriers I come up against time and time again when I start to think about making a regular hobby of this space are always the same:

  1. I don’t think I’m expert enough at anything that would be worth writing about (except maybe not drinking, but honestly I feel like I’ve blogged that to absolute death). I get stuck on the idea that I need to be THE MOST INFORMED AND ACCOMPLISHED PERSON EVER to write about a topic, which I recognize is just the kind of bullshit perfectionist thinking that can keep a person locked inside of themselves for life if they let it. But what if I get it wrong, you know? Failure is scary. 
     
  2. I’m afraid of writing poorly. There, I said it. What if I don’t do words good and someone points it out or tells me I suck? That would be the worst.
     
  3. I’m still learning to be confident in my ability to show up in my life, commit, and get shit done. It's been over three years since I quit drinking and basically got my life together, but it's taking my brain a while to catch onto the fact that my ability to follow through on things is no longer near nonexistent. What if I decide to make this a regular thing and then just...don’t? That would also be the worst.

So basically I am a bundle of insecurities when it comes to writing publicly these days, but I’m pretty sure the only way to get over that is to just do it. So here I am, doing the thing...and pretty happy about it, honestly. 

Please enjoy this picture of my cat, Floyd, while I go decide just how to proceed from here:

floyd the cat

2016: Year of the Big Bad Burnout

bigbadburnout

I've been writing this post for a week, going back and forth about whether or not I wanted to share the details of the brutal year I had in 2016 or of what it meant for me to truly burn out for the first time. In the end, I decided to share this little piece of what went on with my mental health last year because I think it's important to be frank about these things - especially since burnout has become so normalized in the nonprofit sector despite not being a normal, healthy state of being at all.

It all started as plain old stress during a particularly busy summer. I thought nothing of it, having spent the summer of 2015 working full time hours in my previous nonprofit job while simultaneously attending university classes as a full-time student (a situation I have sworn never to repeat).

Ignoring that stress was a mistake, and my burnout symptoms steadily got worse over the latter half of the year until I found myself becoming unable to function. I quickly learned that stress is just the start when it comes to burnout. For me, the real deal means daily headaches (literally), constant fatigue (despite often sleeping 10+ hours a night), out of control anxiety, complete loss of confidence or interest in hobbies, and - worst of all - chronic brain fog. My ability to think clearly and stay sharp was compromised, particularly in the last few months of the year, which was completely debilitating.  

The months of burnout that I experienced leading up to the end of the year were some of the most humbling and difficult months of my life, but they have also been a blessing for two very important reasons. 

First, I learned that I have become a person who can experience completely debilitating burnout and anxiety and keep going. I've learned to believe in the light at the end of the tunnel despite not being able to see it, and I've learned to look for solutions instead of constantly ruminating on my problems. I've developed resilience, self-awareness, and patience - all tools that I simply did not possess to deal with the excruciating bouts of depression I went through years ago when I was still drinking. Tools that I couldn't have known I'd developed if it hadn't been for this brutal, emotionally taxing year.

Second, and equally as important, the hardships of 2016 sent me running back to therapy, which is consistently the single most useful and difficult act of self care that I have ever undertaken. To walk into a room and tell a complete stranger that you need help because your head is all foggy and you’re having panic attacks before your feet even hit the floor in the morning is tough. It’s mortifying. But when that person responds and you realize that (finally, thank God) someone is listening and engaging with you without trying to pitch solutions to your problems like you just haven’t thought of the right way to fix this enormous hole in your life? That’s magic. That is everything. Therapy is the shit and everyone should have the opportunity to experience it and that’s an opinion for a whole ‘nother post about mental health care, folks.

I am so grateful that the worst of the burnout is behind me (thinking clearly again FTW) and to have earned these tools and lessons to carry forward with me in 2017. 

Happy New Year, friends. I hope it's a good one. xx

No Spend November (Lite)

nospendnovember.png

Last month, Jackson and I decided to participate in a modified, watered down version of No Spend November. We realised that there were a few areas in our life where we weren’t using our money wisely and saw this as a good opportunity to turn that around.

The Plan

My hope going into this challenge was to strengthen my self-discipline, begin spending money more intentionally, and to increase the amount that we are able to dedicate to debt repayment each month. Rather than declaring all things non-essential to life to be off limits for the month, we started by defining what we would and would not spend money on according to our values and known weaknesses/trouble areas.

In order to make this work, I took a look back through our spending in previous months and identified some areas where spending could/should be reduced, as well as those that provide a high enough return to be worth continuing to invest in, even during a month of reduced spending. This is what I ended up with:

OK:
Groceries
Rent & other monthly bills
Cat food + supplies
Replacing a consumable item that we’ve run out of
Theatre, film, festivals, or other cultural events
One weekend car rental (grocery shop/visit parents out of town)
Dinner out for Jackson’s birthday

Stay Away:
Books
Games
New makeup/nail polish
Home decor/other household items
Clothing/accessories
Cake, cookies, etc. (bakery or grocery store) - things I can make at home
Car-share car
David’s Tea
Takeout

I would track our spending using Quicken as usual, but also keep a daily journal to look a bit more closely at my feelings and patterns around the things we were spending money on.

Challenges

Buying junk food at the grocery store. As much as I loathe to admit it - to myself as much as anyone else - I am an emotional eater. This is a coping mechanism that I once had under control, but have been forced to recognise has become more and more of a problem this year as I’ve struggled a bit with my mental health. Watching the small but alarmingly frequent grocery store purchases for a pint of ice cream here or a bag of chips there add up over the month has been concerning, and I am equal parts grateful to have become aware before doing too much damage to myself and annoyed to feel like I now have one more thing on my plate to tackle. 

Tea. Something I found surprising throughout the month was just how much I missed buying loose tea from places like David’s Tea. I found myself getting cranky about not being able to spend money however I wanted in this area, and there were a few instances throughout the month where I almost broke down and just went for it. Overspending on loose tea was one of the things that led me to consider No Spend November in the first place, though, so I restrained myself and eventually it got easier. 

Wins

We ate healthier meals. Surprisingly, the area where I was the most worried about us caving - takeout - was the easiest to avoid. Sure, there were temptations, but I quickly found that by investing a bit more time in meal prep on Sundays (prepping more dishes at a greater volume), I was able to make sure that we had plenty of quick meals on hand throughout the week for a fraction of the cost of takeout. This meant a lot more home-cooked, veggie-filled meals - even on days when neither of us felt like cooking. Bonus: as an introvert who has really been struggling with stress and anxiety these past six months, those hours alone in the kitchen each week have been extremely therapeutic. 

Sunday rituals are good for the soul. ❤

A photo posted by Vanessa Meads (@vanessameads) on

We shopped local more often. Deciding to ditch spending in a few areas decreased the overall amount of money we were spending during the month significantly. This left more room in the budget to invest in local products from local businesses, rather than simply doing all of our shopping at Superstore or other big chain stores. 

I began to feel like we have enough. I grew up without a lot, and have spent the twelve or so years since graduating from high school and leaving my hometown slowly clawing my way into the middle class. It hasn’t been easy, and sometimes I feel frustrated about paying back student loans instead of decorating my space to my satisfaction, travelling, buying the things I want without guilt, or being able to pay for more education without going further into debt. I know that I sometimes spend money on things I don’t need - particularly for our home - just because I want to feel like I can. Saying no to those purchases for a month helped me spend more time appreciating the things we already have, and I have begun to realise that just because I started at a bit of a disadvantage doesn’t mean I can’t get to where I want to be - it will just take patience and continued effort.

Our financial position improved. To be honest, the numbers became pretty secondary by the end of the month. Still, it is worth mentioning that restricting our spending in this way led to an increased cushion in our bank accounts and a sizeable chunk of debt repaid. I definitely feel more comfortable about our financial position now than I did a month ago.

Going Forward

It wouldn’t be realistic to suggest that we will continue to restrict our spending in this way forever; however, there are a few adjustments that we’ve decided to make going forward. We will be eliminating takeout completely from our spending and will instead continue to shop locally as much as possible. I have also decided to go without purchasing any new makeup or new/thrifted clothes for at least another month, and will likely keep that up until spring. I’ll continue to drink plain old Tetley from the grocery store on weekdays instead of loose tea, and will buy loose tea for the weekends from a local shop instead of David’s Tea. And - perhaps the most important and difficult adjustment - I will continue to restrict my spending on home decor and furnishings until I have reached debt repayment goals that I’ve set out for myself.

So that’s that. Overall, I’m happy with how the month went and how well we stuck to our plan, and I’m feeling optimistic about our ability to exercise self-discipline and meet our financial goals in the future.

Have you ever participated in No Spend November or any other spending challenge? What did you learn?