Learning to relax - and how it helped my work!

Hey Guys,

    Creative people are notorious hard workers. Their goals are a little harder to achieve than other peoples', so they find it hard to shut off in case their 'lucky break' passes them by.

    It's only recently, in my 'post-25' years, that I've learnt to take time off. So I thought I'd share my experiences with you guys, in case any of it is as helpful to you as it has been to me (and sorry in advance for the long blog post, but it's all important stuff!)...

   2011 remains one of my busiest years to date. Prior to then, I'd had a long, post-uni slump, during which I found very little film work. When that changed in 2011, and I met people that wanted me on set with them, I signed up to any and every project I could (almost all of which were unpaid) out of fear that the offers would go away again.

   The peak of this busy spell was Autumn 2011. I worked in the art department on two epic shorts (one of which I also produced, the other of which I later went on to produce), both of which required an extraordinary amount of organisation and location make-overs. At the same time, I was single-handedly sourcing, buying and making props and costumes for a post-apocalyptic feature film, and I was in pre-production for my own short film 'Ashes', finalising the script and beginning the search for cast and crew.

   During this time, with all four projects on the go at once (as well as small jobs on music videos on the side), I would literally fall asleep surrounded by storyboards and art supplies. I would wake up next to them the following day, and start the dance all over again.

My bed, taken over by storyboard supplies in 2011!
      I was loving my work, and I thought that enjoyment was enough to power me through. For a while that was the case - I could pull all-nighters and still keep going the next day through adrenaline and the buzz of being on set.

  But then I started to get small throbbing pains in my stomach. They were just little flutters of pain at first, so I ignored them. It wasn't until the Christmas/New Year period of 2011-2012, when all the projects I was working on came to a temporary halt, that I had the time to realise the pains were getting worse, and realise that they had in fact been going on for weeks. They came to a painful conclusion overnight on the 1st January 2012, when I passed out, was rushed to the emergency doctors, and diagnosed with Gastritis - which was most likely triggered by stress and a poor diet. An obvious sign that I wasn't looking after myself.

  When I returned to 'regular work' in 2012, it forced me to finally say no to projects, but I kept working on the ones I was already attached to. I didn't heed the warning of the Gastritus and carried on, juggling film work with my new job, falling asleep on set (often with a sewing needle or a paint brush in hand), and - at one extreme point-  I even worked on films when I injured my back and was prescribed a week's bed rest.

Shooting Ashes in 2012, in spite of a back injury. Photo credit: Jenna Cataldo
   My workload didn't ease up, but my attitude suffered. Apart from a couple of notable exceptions, I wasn't enjoying the work anymore. I was working on autopilot, attending film shoots whenever my day job allowed, and staying up late on my computer after my shifts ended. I was on set out of obligation, or out of fear of being swallowed up by my day job. But I should've read the signs, and I should've known when to stop. Because the one thing worse than not turning up on a film set? Turning up on a film set and not wanting to be there.

  Moving in with my boy, Edward, in 2013 forced me to relax a little. No more working late in the evenings; we'd eat tea together and watch DVDs or Netflix. But a filmmaker can never relax when watching a film; they're always tearing it apart with their eyes, comparing it to their own work and wondering if they'll ever be good enough for a cinema release.

   Hobbies can be a great way to relax, although my hobbies - sewing, painting and writing - stopped being as relaxing when I realised I could make money out of all of them within the multi-faceted world of film. 

   It's the little things in life which make you switch off more; cleaning, taking time out to prepare proper food, going for long walks, caring for a pet or - the thing which has, surprisingly, helped me the most - gardening. Because there's nothing more relaxing after a long day of staring at computer screens, than sticking your hands in a pot of dirt. It reminds me of being a kid and exploring the countryside. Plus gardening forces you to let go of things you can't control; no matter how much effort you put into your plants, sometimes, through no fault of your own, things just don't grow. And you have to accept that, and move on. It's been a great lesson for a control freak like me.

My garden may have caused some 'InstaSpam' - but trust me, it's good for my mind!
   So, what have I learnt from taking time to relax? Well, that is the main point of my blog post. When I finally stopped putting every waking breath into any film that came my way, when I would find time in the day to just sit with my loved ones or stare out of the window, all the noise in my brain drifted away... leaving only good ideas, and a renewed desire for creativity.

   Have you ever noticed that your best ideas (for films, stories, artwork etc.) come to you when you're sleeping? That's because you're resting, you're not consciously worrying or stressing about pointless things, allowing for the really important thoughts to shine through.

  I've learnt to schedule my time better. I have three scheduled days at my new (creative) day job, sometimes more. The other four days I dedicate to Triskelle Pictures or freelance work - sometimes with a day off to see my family or friends - and I don't work evenings unless I have deadlines coming up. But even with a relaxed routine, it's still when I've taken a moment to myself (to make a cup of tea or whatever) that I'll suddenly come back into the office and say "I've figured out how to solve that problem" or "I've just had a great idea for a scene!"

   Ok, so I still wouldn't class myself as a fully healthy person. I'd still rather sit here and write this blog post than do some exercise, and I still make a lot of reckless decisions (just ask my long-suffering Night Owls producers!). But my time is managed, I have set sleeping patterns, I eat a bit better (I've even cut down on coffee, and noticed how much anxiety/paranoia slipped away when I did). Above all, I may not be working on as many projects as I used to, but I'm able to give my all to the few that I do work on. I care about my work again, and I actually think I'm doing the best work I've ever done. 

   For the first time in my life, I feel like I'm only making good decisions. And I hope that sharing the mistakes I've made in the past will help you to avoid them.




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