Shh… Don’t Hire the Crazy People

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Anxiety Attack

Anxiety Attack

Crazy don’t mean dumb.

I’ve always been fairly upfront about my issues with anxiety and the struggles I have in my day to day life. Recently I was advised to rethink the wisdom of sharing this information. After all, I’m a writer and entrepreneur and people won’t take me seriously if they know I have “issues”.

I’m well aware that there is a stigma around mental health and some serious myths about it. Since my usual reaction to advice such as this is to tell the person to stick it up their ass, I thought I’d devote some time to explaining why they should stick it up their ass.

  1. If you have mental health issues, you’re not reliable. I don’t know where this one came from but nothing could be further from the truth. When you have a mental illness, you’re very aware of how others see you so you work very hard to overcome that. Now, I don’t know how it is for others but, for me, anxiety is a demon with a pitchfork poking me in the ass on a fairly regular basis. If I don’t check things three times and have it ready to go well before the deadline, that ol’ demon starts warming up his pitchfork. Reliability is not an issue for those of us with mental health issues. Having a private crying jag in the middle of the day sometimes is but not reliability.Of course I'm crazy. I'm a writer.
  2. People with mental health issues can’t do the work. Now, I’ve heard this one again and again. I’m not sure if the belief is that the insanity will interfere with the work or that somehow our brains short circuit and we are unable to learn the work. Either way, it’s a farce. We may require some special consideration when working. For example, I have a friend with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder who needs to have his desk in the corner of the office. It’s a small thing and helps him to feel safe and happy at work. Mental Health disorders are just a disability. If we were sight or hearing impaired, businesses would think nothing of accommodating us. We’re sanity impaired. We might need to listen to our headphones or a private area away from others. That doesn’t mean we can’t or won’t do the work. Make us feel safe and you’ll get 150% effort from us.
  3. People with mental health issues are unpredictable. Oh let me explain how untrue this one is. I have anxiety and I can give you a list of things likely to cause an anxiety attack. They’re called “triggers” and we want to keep them safely locked up. Anyone with mental health issues has a similar list and is more than willing to show them to you. We know how to avoid our triggers and like to avoid them. However, even if you were to dunk us right in the middle of our triggers, we can tell you exactly how we’ll react. That’s not unpredictable.

The idea that those of use who are crazy make lousy workers is one of those myths that somehow got started when I wasn’t looking. The truth is far different. We work damn hard and most of the time we come up with some very creative ideas. Okay so hiring fairies to paint the office wasn’t one of my better ones but there have been others and some of those have worked out.

Besides, there’s one other reason for hiring crazies; we certainly keep things interesting.

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Broken

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Having anxiety is like having spiders infest your brain.

My regular readers won’t be surprised to hear me say I have anxiety. New readers may be a bit shocked to hear me say it. However, it is a fact of my life and one I deal with daily. Sometimes it’s bad enough to stop me in my tracks and other times it’s like a dull throb in the back of my mind. Either way, I have a life to live and need to keep moving forward.

There are supposed to be aids to help people like me but the rules are so narrow that it’s ineffectual. You can’t merely be broken, you have to be shattered. The rule is that you have to have medical evidence proving that you’re unable to provide for yourself. Great. Except there’s one problem; what’s said on paper and what happens in reality is often two very different things.

Part of the problem is I have Non-Verbal Learning disorder. Because of how it manifests, it can often be mistaken for Asperger’s or Autism. It’s a different disorder and has different problems associated with it. They’re in the same spectrum but have very different outcomes.

Now put the NLD together with the anxiety, stir well and put me in an office.

Let me explain NLD a bit. First, NLD people love words. In my case it means I became a writer. However, in face to face contact my love of words causes some ostracizing. I tend to use large, $5 words and I talk a lot. I’m aware of it, I just can’t do a thing about it. I’m the person that will give you a paragraph answer to the question, “how are you?”

That leads to problem number two. NLD people tend to have problems with spatial recognition which means that we don’t have the same sense of space as “normal” people do. This may seem like a small thing. However, it is this skill which helps children gain a sense of non-verbal communication. NLD people simply don’t see non-verbal body cues. However, we hear everything.

NLD means there is a gap between what we hear and what we see. Therefore, our interaction with the physical world, especially as kids, tends to be minimal. We’re loners and we like being loners. Inside our own heads we can construct entire worlds and, in my case, put it down on paper. We can think through a problem in our heads and come up with a solution that is so far outside the box that it’s on another plane of existence. That’s our strength. It’s also our weakness because no one else lives in our head. When we come up with a solution, we’ve already thought ten steps ahead and left others behind. However, when others see our solutions, what they see is something nearly unrelated to the problem. Since we have problems with communication, we can’t explain the solution. Big gap.

Imagine you’re a manager and you’ve hired me. You ask me to do a task you think is pretty simple. An hour later I come back and the task is done but in a way you never imagined possible. Okay. Once it’s funny. Twice is cute. By the third, fourth and fifth times, you’re getting pretty angry because you want it done a particular way.

A kitten curled up in a ball and frightened

Now let’s add to that problem with the other staff. I am a social platypus. I will happily give you the entire history of an event or tell you the entire psychology behind your favorite show. I don’t know the difference between sarcasm and a simple joke so the two are pretty interchangeable. Socializing for me is on a skill level with constructing a warp engine. At best I’m seen as weird and at worst I’m pushy or even rude. As the manager you start getting complaints from your workers about me.

So, as the manager you have a worker who can’t seem to follow the simplest instructions, needs to take regular time off for therapy (which won’t do a damn bit of good) and has coworkers complaining about them. Add into that the fact that this worker has regular anxiety attacks. Solution: fire that person and hire someone who causes you less grief.

So who wants to hire me?

Yet, to access help, none of that matters. On paper I can get therapy and do little “tricks” to minimize problems. I don’t do tricks. Dogs do tricks. I live my life and try to move forward. My brain works in a certain way and I can either decide that I’m broken and try to fix it or I can decide that this is who I am and learn to live with it. Apparently option two isn’t acceptable to the Government of Alberta.

According to Government of Alberta rules, I’m broken but not all the way broken. More like bent. All the trees in the forest must be straight and grow a certain way. No room for bent. Bent doesn’t get any help at all. Only broken and I’m not broken enough on paper.

It’s frustrating knowing I’ll have to go and try and explain all this to people who don’t care. When they leave the office at 4:30pm I cease to exist. They read paper. They don’t hear my words. Words that are nearly impossible for me to verbalize. They see me as a platypus with no place in their world. Not as the wonderful, beautiful, intelligent raven I am and I can’t explain it to them because they won’t hear me.

The People’s Climate March Fiasco

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People's Climate March, NYC

People’s Climate March, NYC

Back around the spring of 2014 I started hearing media grumblings about how Earth Day was a bust. Since I don’t do the whole Earth Day, be a hippy for a day so you can feel good about yourself thing I didn’t really pay attention. Besides, there was ice cream. Ice cream’s important.

So, when I was on Twitter yesterday and noticed all these pictures making their way on to my feed with people marching down streets carrying signs and stuff, my little ears perked up. Okay, so I’m a bit slow on the uptake. This was The People’s Climate March.

Whenever you start adding “The People’s” to something, my radar begins to beep furiously. The People’s Republic, The People’s Church, The People’s Court…. I figure something entertaining is about to happen. After all, you only add “The People’s” to something when you’re trying to be uber serious.

Have you ever tried to have a really serious talk with a friend who has the giggles? They’re really trying hard to not laugh but that just makes things worse. I had the same reaction to this march. It’s not that I don’t take the destruction of the environment seriously, it’s just really hard to take seriously people who yell and scream about it when five minutes before they were driving their SUVs to the march.

As pictures came flooding in to my Twitter feed (amazingly, my Facebook page was blessedly left out of this nonsense), I began to notice something. The little things. Okay, when you have anxiety, everything becomes the little things but I noticed a few alarming things. Running shoes with rubber soles. Plastic water bottles. Paper signs that will get thrown away after the march is done. Polyester blend clothes and jackets. Let’s not forget the irony of tweeting the whole damn thing using a myriad of cell phones. Am I the only one laughing here?

Here are hundreds of thousands of people demanding changes while refusing to change. Give us alternative fuel but don’t take away our gas-powered fireplace. Give us alternative energy but don’t take away our Internet. Are any of these people aware of what goes into making one single cell phone? You like your Wi-Fi sure and will tweet all damn day but you don’t even bother to think about the cost to the environment. Just the amount of oil that goes into the plastic of one laptop is enough to warrant my laughter at you.

So let’s take a look at the average marcher’s day. They wake up, take a shower (as do the other members of the family), get a cup of coffee, get a bowl of cereal (usually laden with sugar) for the kids and maybe grab something quick to pop in the microwave. A quick check on the cell phone lets them know they did get that email but they’ll respond at work. Everyone up and at em, kids put on their runners with rubber soles and grab their polyester backpacks and dash into the SUV. Mom takes the kids to school and dad drives the Audi or some other luxury car to work. Mom takes the SUV to work. That’s just the morning.

The marchers that marched have no desire to change their lives that would create the kind of environmental change that they’re screaming about. The truth is that the oil companies they’re pointing their fingers to are already doing the bulk of research into reclaiming the environment. If you want real change, start at home.

Give up that SUV for three days a week. Having the kids take a bus to school won’t kill them and may even give them a sense of independence. Ease up on the sugar and palm oils. I’ve yelled about these before. Sugar is responsible for the destruction of rainforests and palm oil is destroying orangutan environments. Besides, they’re bad for you. Give up polyester blends and wear cottons more. Put solar paneling on your house. If you’re going to yell about the environment, stop being part of the problem.

The truth is that if everyone gave up using a car for just three days a week, we could have a lasting environmental impact. If everyone put up solar paneling, we could have a lasting environmental impact. However, all I hear from the neo-hippy types is how they don’t want to be inconvenienced. Give them a greener earth but don’t take away our toys.

I’ve seen pictures of the march after it was done and it looked like a three-day bender at a frat house. Cups, plastic bottles, take out containers, signs all littered the ground in city after city after city. I can’t help but feel that someone somewhere is missing the point.

Fading

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A tree in Edmonton full of fall foliage

A beautiful tree full of fall foliage in Edmonton

The air is murky, heavy with its weight. Still, lying in wait. Summer breathes its last gasp, like an old showgirl with one last turn on the stage. I feel autumn approaching as stealthy as a cat on winter paws. Soon we’ll put away the fans, the air conditioning, the bikinis and the green grass. The world will give one last sparkle of colour before it turns grey and cold. I don’t look forward to that day. I don’t think many of us do.

People have advised me many times what to write in my blog. Write about business! Write about marketing! Keep yourself out of it! Focus on the big picture! MONEY! MONEY! MONEY!

That’s really not me.

Six days out of seven I struggle with anxiety and try desperately to make it from one part of my life to the next. I often lack the tools to deal with many social situations and look to guidance from my heroes. Most of the time they’re silent and I have no choice but to try and forge a path on my own. A lot of times I make glaring social blunders that I learn about later. Still, I stumble about as best as can, dancing a minuet while everyone else bobs along to the latest rap.

I try to be a nice person. I’m generous by nature and enjoy helping people. I genuinely enjoy what I do and I’m very good at it. However, every once in a while, something will happen and my world comes to a screeching halt. How do I deal with someone who does something harmful to me? I don’t know. I don’t have the tools.

Inside me there’s a bitch chained to a chair. I let her loose when I feel lost and have no map on how to deal with the situation. It’s not always the best way to deal with people but there are those who will always take that nice girl and sell her to the highest bidder if they get a

Trees covered in snow

Trees covered in snow

chance. So, out comes the bitch.

Because I’m the nice girl, people are often surprised by the bitch. She’s cold, calculating and out for her own survival. She’s mean as hell and has no problem dialing up the heat. By the time she makes an appearance, I’ve tried everything else. I don’t like doing it but there comes a time when I have to protect myself.

Soon the air will grow cold and the insects will fade away. We’ll trade flip flops for boots and the parkas will come out. Today the air is heavy. Summer fades to black.

The Elephant in the Room

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Elephant

The elephant in the room

Today we’re going to talk about the elephant in the room. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is a rather large elephant causing all sorts of social anxiety that no one ever talks about. Well, today I’m going to point to this large elephant, poke it, prod it and bring some stuff to light. When I’m done, you’ll be shocked and amazed and glad I did. So what is this rather large mammal in our collective living space.

Problem clients.

Yes, you heard me say it. Let’s get the gasps of shock and the titters of discomfort out of the way. I understand. Problem clients is like condoms. We all know what they are and have some experience with them but no one talks about it. Well, time to talk about it.

We all get the problem clients, those clients that make us grit our teeth and pull our hair. Those clients that make us question the wisdom of becoming an entrepreneur some days and have us bitching to our friends over a large glass of wine. But who are these problem clients and what do we do with them?

I’m not sure if these people intend to be difficult or if they’re just trying to save a buck or if they really don’t know the trouble they’re causing. Whatever the case, for an entrepreneur they can be a nightmare. They especially seem to come out of the woodwork in the first few years of a business when the entrepreneur is just learning the ropes. It’s this vulnerability that lures them like hyenas to a baby goat. There are a few things that you can do to protect yourself or lessen the impact. Let’s look at these problem clients.

  1. Get Something for Nothing Client – This client can be one of the sneakiest around. They seem to come out more to the new business, sensing that the entrepreneur is new and hasn’t quite cut their teeth yet. Everything is a “discount” for them. If you give a 10% discount, they want 20%. These people will push and push until you’re nearly paying them. The particularly sneaky ones will make you feel like they’re doing you a favor by letting you work for them. A popular phrase is, “I’m trying to help you out here.”

    Don’t buy it. You have a product or service that you’ve put time, thought, work and your sweat and tears into. It’s worth the price you’ve established. There is something to be said for giving a good client a discount or a client who might be struggling a break but be careful. If you think a 10% or 20% discount is worth establishing the relationship with the client, then do it. However, remember that you set the discount, not the client. If you have a client constantly pushing for a bigger discount or makes you feel guilty for charging your fees, you have the ability to walk away. There are other clients and saying no to a problem one won’t damage your reputation.

  2. The Check is in the Mail Client – There is always that one client that is late in paying or just doesn’t have the money right at that moment. They’re robbing Peter to pay Paul and you’re feeling the beats because of it. When you try to demand the money, there’s always an excuse as to why they don’t have the money along with a promise to pay next week. It’s frustrating because these people love your work but they’re literally taking food out of your mouth.

    Try to start with a deposit. Good clients have no problem paying part of the fee up front. They understand the need to ensure that you’re paid for your product or service. With a problem client it ensures that at least you will have part of your fee. This way you don’t have to chew on the full bill. If this still doesn’t deter your problem clients, consider letting them go. It’s okay to cut the dead weight, even in the first years of business. So many new entrepreneurs feel that make money, any money, is the goal. There is an anxiety about meeting the bills in those first years. However, cutting a client can make a healthier one down the road. Get your roots firmly in the ground to grow a healthy business. Those deadweight clients you cut now will make for a healthier business later.

  3. Know-Everything Client – These people are a hoot at parties. If you’ve done something, they’ve done one better. Your joyful afternoon on a trampoline turns into a harrowing story about the time their bungee cord came close to snapping. Working for these clients is such an adventure. One that I recommend copious amounts of alcohol for.

    No matter what you recommend or how much you explain why doing something a certain way is a bad idea, they insist you do it that way. Or, when you do have a nearly completed product, they come in and hack and slash it so much you have to start from the beginning. They always know better than you do no matter how much training or experience you’ve had in that field. There is a huge desire to take a bat into meetings with them so you can beat them into submission before you deal with them.

    There is actually a cure for this type of client but it takes a particular type of person. This client’s problem is not trying to be better than everyone but a need for control. They’re afraid if they let go of any part of their business, they’ll fail. Understand that this problem stems from fear, not ego and you can address it that way. As the entrepreneur, you need a massive dose of patience. Address their fears and hear them out. It could be that they have a legitimate reason for their fear. If there’s a compromise then try it. This client chose you because they have a certain amount of trust in you. They just need to know that trust is well-founded. If you don’t think you can effectively work with this client, you can pass them off to a colleague. As a writer, I do this all the time and have other writers do the same for me. Remember, not all matches are perfect ones and you want the best for that client. That will build your reputation, not gritting your teeth and bearing it.

Problem clients are a part of any business, especially when that business is being established. Try to find a way to work with the client, if you can. That should always be the first solution. However, if you can’t find a solution or compromise it may be best to drop the client. Sometimes cutting dead weight early on makes for a healthier business in the long run. Don’t be afraid of the word, “no.” Consider passing a problem client to a colleague, if you can. Just because you can’t work with someone, doesn’t mean that someone else is going to have the same problem. In this way you can deal with that problem client and build a good reputation for yourself and your business.

 

 

Another Day, Another Anxiety Attack

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A kitten curled up in a ball and frightened

Anxiety Attack

Here it is another Monday and another anxiety attack. My response to this? Make creamsicles. A reasonable response, don’t you think?

The question I’m asked most often when having an anxiety attack is “what’s wrong?” I understand where this question comes from. For most people, fear serves a purpose; to warn of danger or to enable the person to retreat to a familiar and comfortable position. It’s hard to understand when fear kicks into overdrive. There has to be a reason, however unreasonable, for the fear kicking in.

The truth is, there is no reason for it. The synapses in my brain decided to fire in a particular sequence and my body reacted. That’s it. As human beings, though, our immediate reaction is to find a problem to fix. That’s understandable. It makes the anxiety seem manageable. I do the same thing and will look for a problem to explain the anxiety. My thoughts get twisted into a loop until they become so convoluted they resemble a Gordian knot. All I can do, though, is wait it out and wait for the synapses to stop hitting that particular loop.

Once I made the realization that there was no problem and that my brain was going to do as it wanted, things took a turn for me. Ever mindful towards the success of my business, I wondered how I could turn this liability into an asset. It’s not easy, either. People, the everyday people who don’t ever experience anxiety, get uneasy around it and that makes it difficult to make the connections necessary to a successful business. Still, I’m a stubborn minded fool sometimes and when I get an idea in my head it’s hard to turn me away from it.

For me, anxiety is an overabundance of thoughts and energy. Without an outlet, those thoughts and energies turn dark and feed on themselves. Could I channel that?

Anxiety is a bully. It doesn’t like to be told what to do or how to do it. It prefers to kick your ass for lunch money and laugh while doing it. However, I’d like to believe I’m stronger than any bully, even the one in my brain. I just had to find a way to channel that bully’s energy.

My bully loves writing. It loves to see the words take form and the story grow. Writing both soothes and excites my bully and keeps it happy. Of course, the stuff I write during an anxiety attack tends to be a bit darker but that can be fixed during editing. Yay editors! So when my bully appears I take a few moments to get a rein on it before sitting down at the computer. I make creamsicles.

Having mental health issues often brings a stigma when meeting people. My sister would cringe visibly whenever the “A-word” was brought up in front of company. People often think of the crazies as being stupid or unable to make decisions or incapable of taking care of themselves. Sometimes people are amazed that I’m not drooling in a corner, trying to lick the windowsill.

Mental health issues means that I have to structure my life in a certain way to ensure that I can live comfortably. That structure works to my advantage in business. Anxiety means I’m going to check the product I’m sending out many times to be sure that my client is getting the best work possible. It also means that deadlines are a written in stone timer that I must meet. My anxiety means that my clients will never get sloppy or late work.

Once I tried to hide my anxiety, afraid people would hate me for it. That was the stigma I grew up with. Now, I tell people quite happily that I have anxiety. There is no shame in it. When the anxiety gets bad enough, I make creamsicles and then head for the computer.

Here I Am

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I’m tainted.

Yes, the verdict is in. I am beyond a doubt, tainted. Unsalvageable. Damaged beyond repair. Gone, baby, gone.

See, I’m not normal. Part of that is the anxiety that colours my everyday life. It permeates everything I do and everything I am. I can’t get away from that so I don’t even bother trying any longer. However, when you live with a dragon, you have two ways you can go; you can either cower in fear from it or make it your friend. I chose friendship.

Platypus

Platypus

That’s only part of it, though. I’m weird in lots of other ways, too.

I like things I’m not supposed to. Always have. For example, I am a fan of Bioware. I don’t just mean, “gosh, I really admire that company.” I mean, I am a screaming, tear out my hair, eyes crying for joy fan. I always have been. Why? A number of reasons. Bioware is Edmonton born and raised, just like me. More than that, they tell an awesome story. I know. I played Dragon Age and Dragon Age II so many times I can recite the scripts by heart. When I got to meet Dr. Ray Muzyka, I thought I’d straight out faint. It’s more than the local boy doing good. Bioware has taken storytelling and permeated it through their entire company. Even the walls of their Edmonton offices are like an art gallery of their games and stories. For someone like me, that’s as close to Nirvana as I’m ever going to get.

My oddities go far beyond my love of a gaming company, though. I do all sorts of things I’m told I’m not supposed to do at times I’m not supposed to do them.

When I’m at networking events I feel vaguely like a platypus amongst swans. I could stick a bunch of swan feathers to my back and make honking noises to blend in but I’d still be a platypus. Instead of trying to hide my platypus nature, I just go with it. The result is that I often say or do things that shock or amaze. I have been known to flirt, tell jokes (sometimes naughty ones) and give very blunt opinions. I’m not sure the swans know what to make of me.

However, there are a few people who smile and admire my outspoken passion. I’ve tried to be the swan, they are beautiful after all, but I eventually go back to platypussing. Now I just do what a platypus does among the swans. When I meet potential clients, I introduce myself as a platypus and I get one of two reactions; either they see me as a breath of fresh air or they walk away. A few feel the need to correct my platypus nature “for my benefit” but those assholes are few and far between.

These past few years I’ve learned a valuable lesson about myself. I’m not like everyone else. I have a few challenges such as my anxiety to figure out. However, I’m not going to change or pretend to be something I’m not just because a dissenting few think I should behave in this way or that. I am passionate and I bring that to everything I do. For those of my clients who are looking for something different, a platypus isn’t a swan but it’s still damn cute and I’m good at what I do. Sometimes a platypus is just what you need.

I guess that makes me tainted and I’m okay with that.

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