Being open about my struggle with anxiety.

I’m not much of a blogger (actually I’m not at all) but I felt the necessity to write a post. While sitting around in a get together with creative friends and expressing our difficulties this last year and our goals for this upcoming year, I was encouraged to put my experience and feelings into words (mostly for myself) to begin a process of letting go of perfectionism and as a way to hopefully start dealing with my anxiety. I'll warn you beforehand; this is a long post.

Just to put it out there, I’m a very anxious and nervous person by nature. I’m a pusher and a perfectionist and put myself through the ringer every chance I get, often times unnecessarily. I struggle meeting my own expectations, mostly because I keep changing them on the fly. If something is good, I want it to be better and when it’s better I’m disappointed it’s not great. It’s a vicious cycle really, I keep sabotaging myself.  

My anxiety started when I came to Canada when I was 12 from Mexico. Probably the worst timing to leave behind your friends, family and country. Everything changed so quickly and I wasn't prepared for the list of things I had to quickly adapt to. People were nice to me, but the kind of nice where you felt like they felt sorry for you. Sorry for being new and sorry for not quite grasping the language (mind you, I already spoke English I was just too shy to hold a conversation). I just always felt like an outsider and I immediately started not wanting to go out or talk to people. I had counselling which helped lots. Fast forward to now, I've gotten a lot better at meeting people and making friends, but I always have reservations about being my true self. 

In 2016 I made the conscious decision to quit my job. It happened right after I organized my first show, which was successful. It was the moment I had always waited for. We all know that when you’re running your own business and are also working full time, your dream is to be able to quit someday and pursue your passion. When it finally became my time to do so it was AMAZING. I was doing it, I was living the dream! It was everything I had hope for and more. All of a sudden I had more clarity, I had TIME to do things, to think. I had the chance to spend more time with my kids, go out for lunch dates just like my friends who owned the fancy studios could do, I was in charge of my own time. 

Before I quit I had a somewhat ironed out plan. I had (have) two businesses to carry me through. If the success of the show was a fluke and it no longer seemed like something that would be profitable, I had my own business to grow and expand. I could be a vendor myself and just do the small and big shows to earn my income just like everyone else. Remember, I was used to a steady income and while I knew that was going to be hard to establish that again, I chose to make it work - I HAD to (working for myself is something I've always wanted to do). All of the expenses that were (are) part of my daily life were not going to disappear. But regardless of the personal pressure to make my life style work with the path I willingly decided to take, I made the conscious decision to keep going. I was determined to take my passion and make it work for me as my full time job.

As a vendor myself, I know the things other shows aren't doing well and know that I could probably improve the experience for vendors. Huge (HUGE!) bonus, I’m a graphic designer with background in marketing: the best way to combine my degree with my passion (best of both worlds right?). As a vendor, I know what I need to get from a show to consider it "successful" and though my expectations slightly changed when I became a full-time artisan, it has never really crossed my mind to hold the person in charge accountable for my own experience. There's a whole lot of factors that can contribute to how we come to the conclusion of something being successful or unsuccessful. I also never really knew what it took to organize one, from the surface it seemed fairly straightforward, hard work but straightforward. 

To be quite honest I never expected Makeology to be what it was the very first time around. I feel like it set the expectations so high right off the bat (mostly for myself). It was almost like I had reached a high point; it was the new and only standard of what "successful" meant. Subsequent shows would and will always be compared to that and anything (seemingly) lacking in comparison works to my disadvantage. I’m competing with myself really, the worst kind of competition because you don’t ever give yourself a break. Most people know that there’s no guarantees, factors change and the experience varies but there’s a certain expectation that’s followed me in this journey and I haven’t been able to deal with the stress as well as I thought I could.  

I would consider this past year a good year but really a stressful one. It was the first complete year running my two businesses and I had a lot to prove to myself professionally and personally. I decided to take a chance on Milo&Ben (M&B) and do the One of a Kind Show (OOAK). I put all my eggs in that basket so-to-speak. I was trying to decide what to spend my time on and what would give me the best return on my time. M&B has always been part-time, when I was working it was my part-time and when I quit it was still my part-time. I worked so hard year round to make both things work for me, it had always been my goal to do OOAK Christmas and I hoped it would live up to the hype. Those who have done OOAK in the past know that it brings a special kind of stress. It feels like the world revolves around it, especially the weeks leading up to it. It was ridiculously stressful to me AND my husband. It became a family ordeal since he helped me build my booth. I treated it as a make it or break it for M&B, so my hope and expectations were already high. Whether the show is good or bad, we know the outcome: we are exhausted emotionally and physically. Needless to say I was disappointed (not to say the show is not good or that people shouldn’t do it) but just like any other show out there it doesn’t work for everyone. Because I’m trying to run two things at once, it just didn’t give me the return I needed to warrant spending more time on M&B and leave Makeology to be the part-time venture. I’m torn you see, I thrive in event planning, content-strategy, graphics/branding, bringing together the best people out there, and promoting them, the whole thing—it really does bring my profession and passion together BUT I’m also a maker. I can’t not make, it’s just something I’ve always done and have needed to do. I had seriously considered giving up M&B at one point but something in me never let me (also tons of pep talks from friends). It’s a secondary creative outlet that is very needed.

True to the artisan lifestyle, I came straight out of OOAK to a series of back to back markets (by back to back I mean one after the other with no break in between). I also threw in a pop up market just for fun! It was completely organized in two days, put together in two weeks and then executed. It WAS fun though, more on that later. Christmas is the most profitable time so you have to take advantage! (right?) It really seemed like the best way to maximize time and profit and I also had a lot of stock left over so it wasn’t like I had to stay up late making things (for once!). Two markets I organized and two I just vended at. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Sounds like the best weekend right? (lol) Lucky I have a very supportive husband and family that can help me with the kids, otherwise there is no way this would have been possible. 

Two things I discovered during this fun-filled weekend:

  1. I care too much (side note, Erin Klassen has a booked titled “You care too much” that you should read). 
  2. I was losing the passion and dedication that I needed to continue. I could not deal with my feelings and emotions. 

I was nervous about moving the holiday show from Hamilton to Toronto and the response I would get. I couldn’t do Hamilton because of OOAK, time wise it just didn’t work and the venue and logistics were just too much. The partnership with Artscape presented itself and I had to do it, it was just one of those things you have to do once to find out. If I didn't I would have been left second guessing and wondering. Sure enough, Hamilton chimed in with the disappointment that Makeology was not going to be there (even though we had 2 shows there earlier in the year) and that immediately started to make me feel that I had made a huge mistake. I knew there was a possibility that the show (just like any other really) wouldn’t be as well attended as the previous ones because we had to build an audience all over again but I also knew that I had done all I could to make it as best it could be. It's worth noting that Hamilton still came to Toronto to shop which still blows my mind and I’m thankful for the support we’ve received from there. Having said all that, I also knew that if it fell short of amazing that it would break me. 

This is me on a typical show day.

6:00 am—I wake up nervous but excited. I message my fellow organizers (Jen is always the only one who responds that early) and I get myself pumped up for the day. I say a little prayer (I’m not really religious but what the hell) and then I jump into the shower. I close my eyes trying to wake up from a sleepless night and pray that people (someone!) will show up. From day one, and Jen can confirm this, my biggest fear has always been “what if no one comes?”. I think that’s my worst nightmare. Some people fear being burned alive or drowning, I fear death by rejection. I mean, I’ve taken people’s money and they’re expecting to sell (and every vendor has different expectations ranging from 2x to 10x their booth fee) and I’m directly impacting their yearly income. I’ve promised (directly or indirectly by word of mouth) a good show. If I don’t deliver, who gets the blame? Most people are really good about it and understand there’s no guarantees, in my head though everyone always blames me.

8:00am—I’m at the venue, often second to people that have lined up for swag bags already and after having turned around at least once because I’ve forgotten something (thought last time it didn’t happen for the very first time!). I’m anxiously setting up and getting everything ready, there never seems to be enough time. 

11:00 am—The show opens and my heart sinks. There’s people! Is there enough people though? Will vendors think there’s enough people? Will the people keep coming? Will the people buy? Did I do enough? Did I pay enough in advertising? Did people see the posters? Could I have emailed more publications? Did I do my best? Will people know I did my best? Does it even matter to people that I did my best if it's still not good enough? Does everyone have everything they need?

11:01 am—to close. I’m constantly looking at the door. I try to say hi to everyone and try to be enthusiastic but I find myself looking for disappointment instead. My heart is constantly racing and all I want to do is go hide and often wish I never did the show to begin with. 

To elaborate more on the last bit, the more shows I do the more I dread them. It really went from something I really enjoyed doing to something that gives me anxiety and often panic attacks—I think it’s because the outcome is out of my control. I can’t control who comes and I can’t control how much they buy and who they buy from. I am very aware that at the last show I was not myself (sorry if you thought I didn't like you, I can assure you that's not the case). I want to put it out there that I tried my best to relax and enjoy the day but I just couldn’t. You have to know that during the show I’m biggest fear is having people be disappointed in me and my efforts. It honestly has become a burden of stress and pressure. Admittedly a lot of this is in my head, no one has ever told me (to my face anyway) that’s the worst show imaginable or that it was failure. Instead of asking vendors normal questions I ask “how’s the show going for you?” and subconsciously I want people to tell me how they're not happy and I've failed. Why? I’m not sure, I don’t even know it’s something I could fix, or even want to. Maybe it's because secretly I want a reason to stop doing the shows. Self-sabotage.

The day ended and it was not all what I had hoped. It is a very hard thing to gauge. I could draw in a lot of people, and at the surface level, it may appear to be successful, but what if those people don't buy? Alternatively, attracting less people, but people who buy, could be more successful. Both realities play out in my mind. It was still successful/satisfactory for most (according to survey results) but my own expectations were not met even though they weren’t the highest to begin with. I’m sure by now this all sounds like I’m either a huge baby or trying to get people to feel sorry for me. Believe me, that is not the point of this post. I’m well aware this is the job I willingly signed up to do. This was my choice, it’s just not always what I thought it would be.

The next day I made the decision that I wasn’t going to do more shows. I was not willing to put myself through that again. I mean, who was going to miss my still-young show? There have been seemingly at least 800 new shows that have popped up that people could do instead. I wasn’t happy with how I let myself feel and how I had presented myself to others that day. A week went by and I was still feeling the same way. Christmas came and went and I was still not up for it. Then the emails started coming in about why the application for the Spring show had not been posted on January 1st as the previous years. I ignored all of them (sorry), my anxiety got the best of me. I must admit I tried to get my deposit back from the venue, that’s how serious I was. I spent the better portion of a week trying to put myself back together. When did this become so hard? The pressure of being responsible for other people’s success was too much, is too much. I really thought I could deal with it, but I was wrong. 

Going back to the Milton pop up show, the reason why it was felt like my best show ever was going into it with zero expectations. How do I know there were no expectations? I told vendors to expect nothing, literally. Worse case scenario they would spend an evening with friends, beer and pizza. To our surprise, everyone said YES. That warmed my heart so much—you have no idea. Of course the night of the show there was a snow storm, people were late setting up at opening time and I DIDN’T CARE. I didn’t watch the door, I wasn't looking for the crowds to come and I had a great time. It felt like a party and in the end people came and vendors sold things. Sure, the masses didn’t come, people didn’t have their best show to date but it didn’t end up in my own personal bad books. Not by a long shot. 

Fast forward to today, the spring show is still on. I could tell from sharing my ordeal that people would be disappointed if there was no spring show. Truth be told I’m pushing myself through it. I don’t want to be a quitter for a number of reasons, one being that I’ve worked so hard to just stop and another being I have mouths to feed and bills to pay. Side note, some people have trouble seeing this show organizing thing as a profitable business. They feel that $x times x# of tables is plenty and that organizers must make a killing. Others feel that admission should be free. I have a whole other portion of anxiety/stress that comes from this. Without getting into disclosing my long list of expenses when running a show, I just want to put it out there in the following light: we encourage artisans to value and price their work appropriately, to account for the time, effort and expertise that goes into creating something. Why can’t the same rationale apply to event planning? Because that’s what it is (and it’s a profession in itself). Anyway, another topic for another day. Judge as you may. 

As suggested to me I have to work seriously hard on a plan to avoid bringing myself down on the day of the show and protect myself better. I want to enjoy being there! I do, I really do, because I feel like it’s something I’m meant to do. I just need to figure out how to make it work with my own personality and mental struggles. I’m also aware the show is very new and still very much in the trial and error stages. I haven’t quite figured out the perfect way to do it and I’m sure that just when I think I have it figured out, something will change. I’m aware that I can’t make everyone happy. I’m aware that I can’t control everything. I’m aware that I have to learn to deal with it. Maybe I need to reach out to a professional, maybe I just need to talk about it more with friends. 

If you’ve made this far my long winded post (or maybe you skipped to this part) my whole point is that we should be talking more honestly about our struggles. They may resonate with someone else or you might get some much needed clarity from others who are looking at it from the outside. It’s important, because no one is perfect. I’d like to think that if anything Makeology will always be a group of people who can support one another. Regardless of how little or big the group has become (and how many people feel uncomfortable about that) that it will be a community where you can find at least one other person who understands you. I’ll be the first one to put up my hand and say I struggle, and I’m willing to work on that.

Being anxious all the time is horrible. You see all sorts of things that aren't there, you hear things that aren't said. It's a constant reminder that you're not enough. If you feel this way please know that you're not alone and please reach out to someone who will listen. I'm touched about the number of messages I received when I posted that this blog post was coming. It gave me that much more courage to write it. It's out there now and I already feel so much better. Onwards and upwards. 

(Thank you for reading this if you made it this far).

Melissa Lowry