Madeleine Dore is a writer, interviewer and a something of a celebrity here in Melbourne, Australia. She is the mind behind the online interview project Extraordinary Routines, where she has conversations with artists, writers, and entrepreneurs to better understand their everyday life.
Madeleine also runs a regular event series called Side Project Sessions that has fast become a darling with Melbourne’s creative community. A hideout for creative folks to tend to the pet projects they have been ignoring, I personally love that Side Project Sessions doubles up as a great way to network at your own pace and comfort, vibe off of other folks working on cool projects and shoot procrastination in its evil eye.
I was first introduced to Madeleine when she appeared on my favourite blog Cup of Jo. I’ve kept up with her work since then, and know that mental well-being is something she prioritises dearly. In my chat with her this week, she talks about exercise, the stresses that freelancers may face and the importance of keeping good mental hygiene.
How important is it for you to consciously look after your mental health and well-being? Consciously, I know it’s very important to look after my mental wellbeing – our energy, emotions, feelings, attitudes and internal habits have a huge impact on our work, creativity and relationships. That said, what it means to look after my own personal wellbeing is still a work in progress – it’s an ongoing experiment to find what works for me, and forms the basis of many of the conversations I have with other creatives.
As Miranda July once wrote, “All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life—where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it.”
I’m trying to learn how others cope, and filter and apply those learning’s to my own life.
As someone in the creative industry and as someone who works for yourself, what are the challenges you face with regards to mental health and well-being?
As a freelancer, there are a variety of stresses – the precarious nature of writing work and pitching, often working alone, the difficulty in judging when you are doing enough or not enough, the difficulty of accountability.
This is why for me it’s been so important to build a community through Side Project Sessions – it gives you a chance to learn from others as well as connect and find that accountability.
For those who experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges, these stresses can be compounded. It’s important to seek the support that works for you.
What are some of the ways you look after you mind?
There are two things that have been a big focus for my mind.
One is a habit I dip in and out of, even though I know how important it is, and that’s stream of consciousness journaling, similar to the morning pages Julia Cameron writes about in The Artist’s Way. It not only helps me tap into what’s actually on my mind, but it also builds focus and clarity to my day.
The second is exercise. Last year, I developed an almost-daily exercise habit after reading so many Ask Polly advice columns that I could not ignore her calls to exercise for your brain, not your body, any longer. She describes herself as being naturally low energy, and I can relate – this creates a tension between my internal motivation, and my external laziness! As she writes in response to a letter, “You sound like someone with very little energy and a tiny bit of anxiety baked into your being. You’re the kind of person who needs to commit to exercising every day, or close to every day. You have to make the time, even if it’s just a half-hour. You need to understand that when you don’t bother, you’re basically choosing to feel like shit.”
After years of avoiding the gym, hearing how exercise impacts your mood, energy levels and mind really helped me shift gears – instead of being about my physical body and changing its appearance (which made exercise feel like a punishment), I now see it as a reward for my brain and productivity.
If I feel myself feeling rundown or overwhelmed, I often return to this article and remind myself I’m not alone – a lot of people experience stress and it’s possible to develop your individual ways of dealing with it.
What are some of the things you stay away from to ensure mental health hygiene?
Falling into a comparison trap is one of my most destructive internal habits – it can become a horrible spiral and impact my attitudes towards my own projects.
I’m still learning how to avoid or overcome such spirals when they strike, but I find deleting social media from my phone or blocking can be helpful.
As hard as it can be, I also try to focus on my own work and projects to get back into the swing. As Alain de Botton once said, ‘The more you know what you really want and where you are really going, the more what everybody else is doing starts to diminish.’
As a creative person, and as someone with the emotional sensitivity that comes along with that territory, what are some recommendations you would make to other folks like yourself?
When it comes to taking care of your mind and your wellbeing, it really is as individual as you are.
There can be a lot of prescriptive advice in this space, but all I know to ring true is that nobody is perfect and nobody has it all figured out.
Keep learning, and try to be a little kind.
Thank you, Madeleine!
(Top Photo: Marie Luise)