The Creatives’ Guide to Living With Bipolar Disorder: On Trying to Be Productive

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Last year I discovered this piece on being accountable to the Muse. It’s great advice and totally worth following … unless you have bipolar.

My problem is that I tend to hyper-focus on specific stories or novels for a period of time. In the past this has been tied directly to my manic periods (which usually last around two weeks). This can also be awesome when it comes to producing short stories but sucks for novels, as I usually burn out half way through.

I was going to plan my year out, block off time for a couple of specific projects (mostly novels). Except that doesn’t really work for me, aside from putting more pressure on my otherwise short attention span and stress levels. Now keeping my stress levels to a minimum is my most important focus: stress triggers my mania, Quetiapine be damned. I’ve recently up my dose to 600 mg and feel back on something of an even keel (I’ve learned I get six months before I need to up my dose and, as far as I’m aware, the maximum for Quetiapine is 750mg).

© Angelia Trinidad/Passion Planner
© Angelia Trinidad/Passion Planner

One thing I have found invaluable is my Passion Planner (it’s a Limited Edition Twilight Compact, making it A5 sized and the perfect size). Except rather than using it to plan out what I’m going to do, I instead use it to mark what I’ve done. With lots and lots of stickers. I find recording what I do is particularly cathartic, be it bus journeys, rejections, submissions or meeting friends. I even stuck a photo of me with my new nephew in there to remind me of how cute he is.

I mark out my day, who I met, what I did, using the main page layout. I note submissions/rejections in the Space of Infinite Possibility (blanked out to preserve a couple of details I can’t make public at this time). I try to have one or two things I need add into the To-Do Lists (personal in this case is my life and on-spec story projects, work is used for Kickstarter-related projects, sold stories and notes). I try to have a focus each week, in the above case it’s getting the final edits done for A Star Filled Sea finished and sorting out the cover changes with Scarlett. I also spent an entire week changing website hosts, wiping my WordPress installation due to a bug in Jetpack and reinstalling my lovely new blog.

Le Sigh.

I’ve also found myself getting addicted to stickers; I like making my Passion Planner truly mine and have quite a selection of Japanese washi paper stickers/Sailor Moon ones and random planets I bought from Paperchase. I like the personalisation aspect as the more I like something, the more I’m going to use it. The washi ones (made by a Japanese company called Mindwave) are almost like watercolours and look beautiful, I’ve also found somewhere that’s not Etsy to get them stupidly cheap which helps. I treat these friparies as a way to spend a little money but boost my mental state significantly.

I find the time used meditative, as well as reminding me of how productive I actually am (which is helped by turning Facebook off), especially from a writing/life perspective. I get out most days and that also helps as, if I’m writing, I find my local Starbucks to be an ideal place do it. I get warmth and coffee, power and WiFi, people to pet my hound and I don’t suffer the almost claustrophobic anxiety I get while at home.

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The one thing I am trying to do, as it helps my productivity no end, is go to the gym and Zumba twice a week. The gym allows me to warm up/do a mission of Zombies, Run! and Zumba, which forces me to stop thinking about everything and focus on not dying of a heart attack mid-session. I’ve done a class long enough that I know the song and movements off by heart which really allows me to push that extra mile and sweat. Plus there’s the social aspect of catching up with friends and actually getting out, even if it’s bloody freezing to walk to and from in Winter.

But there are some days, like today, when I just can’t write creatively. So I blog, I Netflix and YouTube and I try not to beat myself up about having a bad/non-productive day. Sometimes a down day makes for more productivity and following day.

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Writing on the Move

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I’m somewhat infamous for working out of my local Starbucks. It has warmth, WiFi, coffee on tap and baristas who adore my canine companion (aka entertaining her while I try to write). Plus my anxiety means I find home … well, while it’s my sanctuary, I feel trapped while there so would rather surround myself with people who exist but whom I don’t need to talk to. Plus Uni gets so much fuss that I am all but ignored. I’m a self-confessed introvert, spending too much time in my own company, it’s not great for my mental health. I need to be out in the world and Starbucks is the perfect place as I can work but also be surrounded by people.

The big problem for me is the combination of my eyesight and hunching.

Seriously, there was a point when my local Starbucks had these couch like sofas and they were low so I could get them to move a normal-height table. I looked off  but it was comfortable. Now they have one long bunkette which is great for my back but raised me so I’m back looking down on my computer screen. Oh and I have reading glasses which I sorta need to use.

So I backed Roost on Kickstarter and I was overjoyed with the result. I still have to wear my reading glasses but the screen is now on a comparative level with my eyeline and much more comfortable as a result. My MacBook Air is now positioned in a way which means, with pages zoomed in, I can work comfortably enough. People have actually come up to me an enquired about my awesome bit of kit (my Starbucks attracts a lot of patrons and their laptops).

Oh and I can appreciate the awesome Sailor Moon stickers decorating the inside 😀

I bought myself a new backpack this week as well. The only downside to the Roost was the case for my keyboard, mouse etc (which is awesome as it contains everything from a lightening cable to the Roost itself) was almost too big for my previous, well used, backpack (an Incase model I got when I first bought my MacBook Pro). This one has pockets galore, a mesh on either side so I finally have somewhere to stash my mug/Klean Kanteen (this was a stupidly important thing in a new backpack) and so much room. Oh and I can fit Uni’s crap (her ragger, bowl, vet book) in there as well.

Aspie Me likes having everything I need, from medication through to my electronics. It’s also been raining a lot recently (to the point where the prevous backpack just got sodden, dripping water right down my back). I accept no backpack is waterproof but this one seems to have a better shot and being able to carry my stuff is a bonus; I feel … naked without my computer, my diary … (I’m a Passion Planner Ambassador and bought a smaller compact version last year because my bag was too small for the A4 version).

Basically this means I can now tackle the world and the bag/contents feels heavy but I’m used to carrying weight on my back (it’s the easiest way when you have a guide dog/cane). This set up feels natural and has already saved my MBA from coffee spillage so the Roost is earning it’s keep already.

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