Lisa Simpson curled up in a ball with a deranged smile and bloodshot eyes.

Working through personal and creative burnout

I’m burned out. You might be too. Here’s how burnout is affecting me personally and creatively, and what I hope to change.

(CW: Anxiety) I’m burned out.

I have generalized anxiety and major depressive disorder, so I try to pay close attention when I feel like my moods are dipping. Despite that, my brain will still throw curve balls every so often.

I’m well-acquainted with the depression side. Depression symptoms initially led to my diagnosis 13 years ago.

17 months into a worldwide pandemic, I’m learning more about the anxiety side of my brain.

It’s not like that side never existed. In my former life as a journalist, I learned how to stuff those feelings. I never learned how to cope and manage those feelings. My idea of “managing” was working through it. Once I got the major work done, I’d call in sick.

When anxiety hits me hard, I feel it in my chest the most. It’s something my father and I have in common. (It’s almost like anxiety is a hereditary thing or something.)

Logically, I know I’m not dying, but my brain and body feel otherwise. I can’t concentrate. I feel as though if I don’t move fast enough, something will go terribly wrong. Sometimes it feels like I’m not getting enough oxygen. I give myself headaches just thinking about all my worries.

The metrics tell me this is taking a toll on my body, despite telling myself I can push through. Here’s a snapshot from my Garmin watch and the mental health app Sanvello:

I talk about mental illness and therapy from my own personal experiences. I am not a medical professional nor a therapist. If you are seeking either, check out these mental health resources and speak to a licensed medical professional. See all Disclaimers.

Right now, I’m worried about work. I have pressures in my home life. I’m doubling as a mental health caregiver and my own mental health is taking backseat. There’s a worldwide pandemic, which has affected every aspect of life and will have unknown impacts for generations to come.

There are only a few people I can really talk to about these things who truly understand: my therapist, my husband, God, friends from work.

My family tries. They mean well, but saying things like “don’t think about it so much” or “you can’t change it so why worry about it?” are the worst things to say to a clinically anxious person.

(When I tried to show my mother what my Garmin watch was telling me, she told me it was broken. The watch isn’t broken, it’s me.)

I can’t turn it off, no matter how hard I try. It’s like the news headlines that flash at the bottom of the TV screen: it’s a constant stream that doesn’t stop.

Creative anxieties

When my anxiety is at its peak, I can’t be creative—and it’s the worst. I know it’s a weird thing to say. Who cares if I’m not creative during periods of high anxiety?

Outside of this blog, writing is how I make my money. So if everything I write is shit because my anxiety can’t string words together, my work is just a steaming pile of shit.

I hate it, because my job is to help people solve work problems through my writing. It brings me joy. But when I’m running on empty, I can’t help anyone.

I push through at work because capitalism, but when I sign off for the day, I can’t write for my side passion—another thing that brings me joy.

Lisa Simpson with tired eyes, looking away from the computer screen at Marge Simpson.
Me, after I sign off work for the day.

No one’s expecting me to write a blog. This is something I enjoy doing. I started a blog to connect with other sewing friends because I don’t have any IRL. But I also know how the content creation game works. I know what works, what doesn’t, what you’re supposed to do to get eyeballs on what you’re making. I’m purposefully not doing some of those things because it doesn’t give me joy.

(I actually really dislike Instagram. But how did you find this blog?)

Still, even if I’m opting out of what you’re supposed to do to game the algorithms, build funnels, or whatever, the key to the content creation game is consistency.

If I can barely pull myself together to create anything for work, how can I write stuff about my hobby?

Sewing Instagram™ doesn’t care about burnout

Every niche in the creator economy has its “thing”—the stuff that drives the most views. When we talk about the content that works for sewing blogs, finished objects—clothes or projects you finish—get the most traffic.

I get it. I Google pattern reviews before I purchase them, even though the top Google search results will mostly serve you positive reviews, not the most critical ones. (That’s a sewing community thing, though. Most folks want to catch the attention of their faves and I don’t begrudge them.)

Okay, so writing pattern reviews give me traffic. Fine. I’ve seen it play out in the numbers, and I like being honest about what I like and don’t like. I also see the folks churning out garment after garment, keeping their feeds updated with ~content~, even if it’s old photos from a year ago.

Here’s the rub: I sew slow because I want my handmade clothes to survive multiple washes. I enjoy trying new techniques and perfecting existing ones. Could I feed the content treadmill that Sewing Instagram™ comes to expect? Sure. I physically can’t. I’m not going to cut corners to get that Instagram shot if it means I’m slapping stuff together. I’m not going to skip a step like pattern adjustments if I end up making something I’ll wear once.

I’ve also had a series of projects that just didn’t turn out the way I wanted to: The Turia dungarees that I discovered were badly drafted. There was the Pietra pants that I realized needed a sway front adjustment, after I made a few muslins and moved on to the fashion fabric.

By the time I made a successful pair of Pietra shorts, I didn’t want to share anything because I was exhausted and I hate taking photos. I was over it all. I didn’t want to sew anything. Some might refer to it as a “sewing slump” or “low sew-jo” (a portmanteau of the words “sewing” and “mojo”) but I’m not trying to be cute—I fucking burned out. None of my other hobbies brought me joy anymore.

As the days passed and I begrudgingly finished a pair of Yanta overalls, I felt more guilt for not writing anything about what I was making. Months pass, and I think, “what the hell was I thinking, creating content on the side? Maybe I should’ve stayed in my lane.”

Lisa Simpson in bed, staring at the ceiling in sleeplessness.
Just thinking about all the things I didn’t write.

It’s a creative catch-22, right? I like writing and creating, whether it’s blog posts, clothes, repainting furniture, or something else. I like creating things enough to have a full-time gig writing. But staring at a screen after work, when I’ve already been in front of the computer for eight hours, is rough. It hurts my eyes. I’m spent.

Yes, you can try something new

When I don’t know what to do, there’s a few things I do: I lay down in bed and cry. (13/10 highly recommend it.) I write my worries in a journal. I pray. And then I turn to books and podcasts.

I recently discovered a podcast by ConvertKit called The Future Belongs to Creators. ConvertKit is a drip email and landing page platform built for creators—from folks dipping in to people monetizing their work. (You’ve probably seen a ConvertKit URL from your favorite bloggers.)

The podcast occasionally talks about ConvertKit in their mid-rolls (aka ads), but what they really focus on is problems content creators often face. When do I monetize? Should I monetize? I’m creating content for this platform, but what if I don’t like it? Do I have to be on all the things?

Platform algorithms reward being always online™️. Who cares if you’re burned out!

One episode in particular really struck me and I encourage everyone to listen, whether or not you make content. One of the guests talks about why he stopped doing a podcast that, by all measures, was successful. He quit for a few reasons, some of which include not having a long-term goal and he wasn’t passionate about podcasting as much as YouTube. He was also aware enough to know that he was burned out and couldn’t do both.

This got me thinking about why I started this blog, Thread & Therapy. I love to write. I love sewing. And I like to talk to other people about my hobby.

I’m also a messed-up individual. My mental illnesses will always be a part of my life, so I want to talk more honestly about it. I’m bad at vulnerability because I hate how it makes me feel. (It’s a frequent topic with my therapist.) As Brene Brown puts in her book, Daring Greatly, the biggest enemy of vulnerability is shame. She defines shame as “an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

I felt shame for feeling burned out and tried to justify all the reasons why I shouldn’t be. My life isn’t necessarily awful, but I’m definitely going through some stressful shit. Add a worldwide pandemic on top of that, a good dash of existing mental illness, and yeah, it’s okay that I’m having a meltdown. And it’s okay if you’re having a meltdown too.

I’ve had some conversations with some sewing friends on Discord about burnout, and even though the feeling doesn’t go away, it’s helpful to know I’m not alone.

The changes I’m making

Once I listened to that podcast episode about creative burnout, it got me thinking about what I want to do with Thread & Therapy.

Burnout, among other things, is a sign that something you’re doing isn’t working and you need to make a change.

Like I said, I love reading blogs. I have a list of ideas that I can’t wait to write about. None of them have anything to do with finished objects or pattern reviews. I might still do them, because if a pattern is bad I need the world to know so my fellow sewists don’t make the same mistakes I did. But I don’t think I’ll make it a main thing I write about. It’s just too much pressure for a slow sewist, and I don’t like feeling like I’m on a hamster wheel of garment production and writing. This is a hobby, for crying out loud.

I scroll through Instagram occasionally, but I don’t really like taking photos of myself in the outfits I make. I’ve met some great people and had some fun convos through DMs, but again, I don’t like taking photos of myself posing and my husband’s not good at it either. 😜

I don’t know what I’ll do about Instagram. If you have any ideas, let me know. And you have iPhone photography tips, also feel free to share them. Breaking out my DSLR is overkill, it ain’t that serious.

I love chatting and making new friends, so that’s why I’m usually on Discord. (I moderate a crafting server if you want to join.)

I’ve also started watching Twitch streams because some of my friends have started streaming so I try to support them. I barely know how it works, but I get by. I don’t know if I’ll get into that, but it’s an idea I’m toying with. A friend from college told me he’d watch a stream of me roasting things, so while it may not be that, at least someone thinks I’ll be good at it!

Back to the sewing

I’m still sewing. I’ve finished a few projects I may share in the future. I have a large list of sewing topics I want to write about that I can’t wait to tackle.

I still feel spent, but recognizing the changes that I can make gives me hope that I won’t feel like this forever. I don’t have all the answers. In the last 24 hours, I cried on my porch, in my bedroom, on the phone with two coworkers, and in my office. I obviously don’t have it figured out. But if you’re feeling burned out too, I hope you take comfort that you’re not alone.

—Krystina

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