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Allie Nimmons is a freelance web designer with an unique perspective to my own. She made the transition to freelancing after losing her job, but still needing to make money. We talk about what that’s like, as well as how she’s be able to hone her offerings based on what her target customers need. We also talk about mental health, and what it’s like to be black, and female, in a white male-dominated space.
Allie Nimmons: Oh well. I’m going through this mentally, so I’m probably being over-dramatic, or I’m probably overthinking it. Or, “It’s probably just my anxiety, and things aren’t that bad.” Until it became apparent to me that it was that bad.
Joe Casabona: That was Allie Nimmons. Allie Nimmons is a freelance web designer with a unique perspective to my own. She made the transition into freelancing after losing her job but still needed to make money. We talk about what that’s like, as well as how she’s been able to hone her offerings based on what her target customers need. We also talk about mental health and what it’s like to be black and female in a white male-dominated space. Candidly this isn’t something I normally talk about on the show or otherwise, but I think we cover some important topics. I don’t want to delay that anymore, and we’ll get right into the interview. But first, a word from our sponsors.
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Joe: Hey everybody, welcome to another episode of How I Built It. The podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Allie Nimmons, founder, owner, and designer over at Pixel Glow Web Design. Allie, how are you today?
Allie: I’m great, Joe. How are you?
Joe: I am doing very well. Thank you. Allie and I met at WordCamp Miami, 2019. We were both talking in the freelance track, helping budding freelancers how to hit the ground running. Allie and I spoke a little bit, and today we’re going to talk about how you built your freelance career, is that right?
Allie: Yeah, absolutely.
Joe: Awesome. Why don’t we start off a little bit with who you are and what you do?
Allie: Yes. At the moment, I have a– I try to think about it less like freelancing and more like business-owning. I feel like there’s a point where you make that transition into a more formal agreement with yourself if that makes sense. My roots are definitely in freelancing, that’s how I started. I have Pixel Glow, which is web design for beginner businesses. Businesses who are either just starting out, or maybe they’ve existed for a while, but they’ve never had a website, or they have a terrible website. People who are needing help with that first step into having a really strong online presence. Then I have a daughter business to that one, called Beam, which is specifically for nonprofits. I’ve changed up the pricing structure and the package of what you get. It’s a little bit more attainable for a nonprofit to reach out and get something that they need and can afford. I’m focusing on those two things a lot right now.
Joe: Fantastic. I love what you said there. That you are trying to make a more formal agreement with yourself when you say that it’s business-owning. I think that freelancing, the term freelance, has a little bit of a negative connotation. I used to tell people, “I’m a freelancer.” They say, “When are you going to get a real job?” I’m like, “This is a super-duper real job.” On the other side, too, freelancing sounds a little bit informal. When you say, “I own a business.” Now there’s the weight of “I own a business.” I like this, and you target beginner businesses and nonprofits. If I can ask, do you have any processes in place to streamline things a little bit? I know people who like to target specifically bigger businesses because the budget is there. With beginner businesses and nonprofits, nonprofits it’s not always the case that the budgets not there, but they’re usually budget-conscious. Are there things that you can do quickly and efficiently for them to keep costs down?
Allie: With Beam specifically, the reason that I made it an entirely separate entity is because I felt like when a nonprofit would approach me in the Pixel Glow relationship and they wanted a site, there was a lot that had to be decided upon. A lot of times, you have people who are either volunteers, or they started a nonprofit because they had a great idea, but they don’t have an eye for business or marketing. They aren’t the most, and I would say “educated consumer” about what it is that they need. I did a ton of research. I talked to a ton of nonprofits. I surveyed a bunch of people. I basically have a singular package within Beam, so you don’t have to decide “How many pages do I need? Which pages do I need? What sort of functionalities am I going to need?” and risk spending the board’s money on things that you don’t end up using. The package is a specific number of pages, a specific number of functionalities, which you can always build upon if you want to. One thing, one price. The real customization power comes in at “You have a services page, but what goes on that services page? You have a volunteering page, but what specifically as pertains to your nonprofit needs to be on that page?” I tried to trim a lot of the fat, as far as decision-making, honestly. Make it answer a lot of the questions before I even have to ask them, so they can feel a little bit less intimidated. There are a lot fewer decisions that have to get made, and they end up with a more targeted site than they might have had previously.
Joe: That’s great. I absolutely love that, because you’re right, a lot of nonprofits start because they’re very passionate about this cause, but they necessarily don’t have the business or marketing background. The fact that you offer a singular package here is very cool. Because you’re right, the fewer decisions they have to make, the more smoothly the project will go. You said you did a ton of research here and I’m curious. You said you spoke to a lot of nonprofits. What was that like? Did you have a survey that you sent? Did you have a more casual conversation? Was it online, or in person, or over the phone?
Allie: I just scoured a bunch of Facebook groups, honestly, for nonprofits. I hated it. I was that annoying person who was in these Facebook groups who didn’t own a nonprofit, but I was trying to reach out to people. I would try to answer questions as best as I could within the actual group, make connections with people and then reach out and say “I’m glad I could answer this question for you, or clarify the question you offered to the group.” I’m doing some research, would you mind? I had a Google Forms survey that was completely anonymous. They could fill that out and answer questions about what it is they prioritized. As far as their marketing, their websites, if they already had a website, or if they imagined getting one. What would be their most important goals, and factors and things like that. I tried to spend at least 20 minutes a day in the handful of Facebook groups that I joined. Trying to send as many messages to people that I could. I got somewhere between 100 and 150 responses, which they’re definitely more thorough surveys out there. For just being me and just reaching out individually, one on one to people, I was pleased with that data set of its 130 something responses that I got.
Joe: That’s great. At least to me, that’s plenty of information to go off of. There was something important that you said there, you joined these Facebook groups. Then you answered questions, so it’s not like you were just there going, “Hey, do you need a website?” You were adding value to the group, right?
Allie: Exactly. I hate that I find it to be incredibly disingenuous. That is my primary networking space, is Facebook groups because I am very much an introvert. I don’t love going out to talk to people. There’s always that person who’s in there to hawk their services, or in there to further their own goals, without actually having a community type of give-and-take focus on it. Even though I knew I was in that Facebook group to further my goal. I feel like you have to do that. You have to provide something in return. You can’t just ask people, even if it’s just for an anonymous survey, you can’t ask people to give you value without offering anything up in return. I didn’t want to be that person that people looked at and was like “She’s just here messaging people all the time, and she’s not participating.” A couple of people did get annoyed with me. They didn’t like that I was asking people to fill out a survey. I was able to point to that and say, “I have been participating, and if you don’t want to help me, that’s totally fine.” I think because of that, I’ve managed not to get kicked out of any of those groups because the mods and admins saw that I wasn’t just there to be obnoxious.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. At the end of the day, those Facebook groups are there because people are seeking help with their business. It’s not like another nonprofit would be like “This guy, all he does is ask questions, he doesn’t answer them.”
Joe: That’s what the group is there for. The fact that you’re not just there marketing yourself, the fact that you’re there helping people and then saying “Maybe you could help me out,” I think that’s totally reasonable. It sounds like you found a couple of pretty good niches or niches, depending on who wants to pronounce it. I’m curious as to– Did you know, moving into your freelance career, that you wanted to target these groups specifically? Or at first, were you more of a generalist?
Allie: Not at all. I was definitely a “Anyone who will hire me” type of person. I started freelancing not even necessarily by choice, I was working at an agency locally and– I’ll say I left. There was a debate about firing vs. quitting, but I had to leave without giving any notice basically. I was 22, and I suddenly didn’t have a job, I didn’t have anything saved, I didn’t have a car. Because I lived about a mile from where I worked, so I would walk every day. I had sold my car for money. I was in a town that was– I was living in Boca Raton, so if you know anything about Boca, it’s very affluent. There’s is a fairly large university, FAU is there. It was really hard for me to find something locally. The closest thing within walking distance that I could potentially apply to was a Wendy’s. I was like, “I don’t want to work at Wendy’s.” I was like “I have this knowledge and these skills that I’ve gained at this agency. I could start selling that.” I started building websites for my friends and family for like $200 and building up a portfolio until I could get clients who had never met me before. That’s really how I started. Definitely, at the beginning, it was out of desperation. I was like, “I just need clients.” I didn’t have a niche until I had enough work that I could look at my work and say, “Who is hiring me?” I think it’s one thing to decide you want to work with a certain sort of person vs. the people that want to work with you. I realized that the majority of my clients, the majority of my clients who our projects ended very successfully and who I did a really good job with, who would rehire me for extra services were women between the ages of, I would say, 40+ who were either their own boss– Like had their own businesses, or worked at nonprofits. That seemed like a no-brainer, to start targeting those specific kinds of people. When I joined the board of a nonprofit for whom I did a site for, I was like, “I seem to like this nonprofit thing.” I decided to branch out and specifically target nonprofits with the individual business. I’m sure if you’ve run a business and are marketing to a specific type of person, and then you decide to market to an entirely different mindset, it’s virtually impossible to do that effectively. I figured having two businesses would allow me to market to one cleanly and directly and then do the same on the other side with the other one.
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Joe: I think a lot of freelancers do try to be the generalists. When you’re talking to everybody, you’re talking to nobody. When you set up a site, you want to make sure that you’re using the language that your potential customers also use. You want to say, “I know you. I know your problems, and I can solve your problem.”
Allie: Exactly. If you visit my two different websites, I think that’s apparent– At least I hope it’s very apparent, that I’m talking to two very different types of people. The products that I offer are very different. That’s extremely intentional because I want to be able to be specific. Not even with just the marketing, but with the actual services and the processes themselves. To give the experience that’s necessary for each type of person.
Joe: Absolutely, and to that point, it sounds like your successful projects, you said, were women over 40 who were running a business themselves and non-profits. Would you say that you also were able to be in their mindset? It’s one thing to say, “I’m going to make a website for anybody.” If somebody comes to me, and they’re like, “I have a construction company, and I need you to make a website.” I don’t know anything about construction companies, so I’m going to have to lean on my client for that. If somebody comes to me like “I need a website for a podcast.” I’m like “I podcast, I could totally– I know exactly what you need.” Do you think that the successful projects were the projects you had domain knowledge in? I guess that’s the question I’m asking.
Allie: Yeah, that’s such a good point. I never really thought about it too much like that, but I think that there is definitely truth in that. Where the projects that float to the top of my mind, we did have similar experiences, as far as starting up whatever it was we were doing. I’m trying to think if there’s a specific example. Most of them are online service providers, not a ton of shops or product-based businesses, but a lot of people online, providing a service to somebody else. I would definitely say that similarity in priorities, as far as when we’re thinking of our business, what’s the most important things? I think that similarity definitely made a difference and made a connection where there might not have otherwise been one. I’m turning 27 in a couple of months, and it is really funny that my best clients, the ones I’m closest with, the ones who I’ve even started a personal friendship with, they’re all women who are older than me. Some of them are as old as my mom. I think that definitely is a connecting factor, ladies who’ve struck out on their own and started their own thing.
Joe: Awesome. That makes a lot of sense to me as somebody who’s been trying to straddle the services business and the product business. I was like, “This will be– I’ll just make a website, and I’ll sell my courses, and it’ll be great.” There are two totally different worlds. Now looking back, I’m almost 34, but looking back in my mid-20s I got hired for an e-commerce site, and I focused mainly on the tech stack. Not on helping them sell their products. I wouldn’t say they were unsuccessful, because the client was happy with the website they got. But they weren’t as successful as they could have been had I known what I was doing in their space.
Allie: Yeah, for sure. That makes a lot of sense.
Joe: Your story is really interesting, and I think it’s probably one that resonates with a lot of freelancers. You had a job, and then you were suddenly without that job. You still had this skill set, and even if people are still trying to find a full-time job, in-between that in-between phase, you can still use your skills to generate income while you’re unemployed. In your case, you made it a full-on business, and it sounds like you’re doing very well for yourself. What steps did you take to build that business? Take me from, let’s say, the day after you were suddenly without a job until the day you landed your first non-friends and family website. What did you do to build that business?
Allie: I will definitely preface by saying that I didn’t do a lot of the things that I know that I should have done. I think I would be a lot further along if I had done a lot of things that I should have done, but I didn’t know. It was a lot of looking at other sites. Sometimes I would find a site, even a site that I was looking at for personal reasons. I’d be like, “Wow, I like that.” I would build it, and I would try to replicate everything that they did. If I ran into a problem, I would research it, trying to figure out how they accomplished what they accomplished. Tried to build my knowledge and my know-how that way. Because I knew that continuously building things was going to make me a better designer. I remember somebody once said to me, “It doesn’t matter if you’re published. If you write, you’re a writer. If you paint, you’re a painter.” I knew that if I designed a lot, I would become a designer. I tried to design as much as I could, watch as many online YouTube tutorials as I could, design things for my friends and my family. I designed a bunch of actor websites because I majored in high school in theater. A lot of my friends were actors who needed a simple resumé website. I built an e-commerce site for my mom, which was a huge challenge. Building your first e-commerce website by yourself, with no know-how of how that works is– It was stressful. It was diving straight in. A lot of the things, like I said, that I know that I should have done. I didn’t have very strong contracts, and I figured out things like invoicing and bookkeeping as I went. I realized, after a year, that “Oh, I was supposed to be putting money away for taxes.” I didn’t do that. It was making a lot of mistakes. I will say is that first year, it was probably about a good year before I got a decent client who had never met me before but who hired me for a site. I was doing a lot of side work, in terms of– I would write SEO optimized blog posts on Fiverr because that was something that I learned how to do at my agency job and it was somewhat web-design related, so I was doing that. My focus was building my portfolio, and it was building a body of work. I knew that nobody would hire me unless they could see something that I’d done and that they liked it. There were things that I built that are completely gone, and the business has closed because whatever friend I had, stopped doing whatever they were doing. There were things I built that were terrible that have never seen the light of day. But I was able to cultivate a small little body of work. It was 4 or 5 sites that I was proud of, that I was able to start showing off. It’s interesting and something that I’m weirdly proud of, that even though I’ve only been in business for three years, none of my first original sites are still in my portfolio.
Allie: one is, one is still in my portfolio, but it was super crazy simple, and so it looks nice. I feel like I’ve been able to grow enough that I could say “That was my old stuff, that nobody needs to see.” I can show off a lot of the better stuff. The building of it was building a portfolio. At the same time building my own skill as a designer, as somebody who works with WordPress, to learn WordPress. A lot of that did come from the inspiration that I got from the first WordCamp that I went to because the agency I worked at sent me to WordCamp 2016. Was it–? Yeah, pretty sure it was WordCamp 2016. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m very bad with dates. I remember going to that WordCamp and seeing so many amazing people, some of whom were at WordCamp 2019 and thinking “I have to keep designing and keep building things until I can get to that point. Until I can get to where these people are.” Which, I feel like I’m rambling now, but as far as building things, when you’re at the beginning– You decide on things that you want to build that don’t mean anything. Me comparing myself to all of these speakers was great, in terms of the inspiration that I got, but didn’t mean anything. I had no idea where all of these people were in their careers or where they were personally. The fact that I’ve now spoken at two WordCamps, I’m still not where a lot of people are. It doesn’t matter so much because I’ve built something sustainable for myself that I can be proud of. A lot of it was also building that self-awareness and not comparing my own experiences to what other people are choosing to show if that makes sense?
Joe: Yeah. I think that’s such a great point. You see somebody up on stage, and they’re talking about their successes, and you’re like “Man, this person is just really successful. I’m never going to get there.” Part of the reason that I started this podcast is because I wanted to hear the stuff that you just talked about. Like, the “I didn’t do things the way I should have.” I started in high school, and I definitely didn’t– I was 15, and now I’m 33, I know how dumb 15 year-olds can be. I was like, “Yeah. I’ll make a website, and it’ll be great.” I didn’t know I need to save for taxes. I used Excel for invoicing and keeping track of numbers that I knew because I was a nerd. I think you made a lot of really good points here. The next couple of points, I want to make sure I approach tactfully. One is, I did start freelancing in high school, and I did it through college. I ran into a few where I was like, “You’re just a kid, why should I pay you?” I knew I was good, but I have these preconceived notions because I wasn’t an adult. A lot of the people in this field today look a lot like me. I’m a 33-year-old white male. What was it like? What was it like in that sense, moving into your own freelance career and starting your own business?
Allie: That’s a great topic that I think about a lot. The funny thing is that– The agency that I started off at, I was by far the youngest person there. First, more than anything else, I did encounter a similar thing to you. I was the youngest person there, so my opinion didn’t matter as much. I was allowed to make suggestions or contributions, but people would smile and nod their head and be like “Oh yeah. That’s a cute idea.” Then it would never be implemented. I think that was something that was more apparent to me, that was more obvious to me. That I wasn’t being taken very seriously. I was always being treated like the kid sister. I had a supervisor that would refer to me as like her work daughter. From the beginning, I felt like that was inappropriate and condescending. A large portion of why I left there, was just the emotional, I will say abuse, that took place as far as not respecting my boundaries, not respecting my feelings and being made to think that “This is the real world. This is a professional environment, so we don’t have to think about your feelings. That’s for children.” That was what was most apparent and in my face. What I think has been a lot more under the surface is the male vs. female thing. Obviously, we’ve met, but people listening may not know, I am African-American. I have the privilege of being light-skinned. I speak very, what kids would say, “White.” When I was in school, everyone told me that I spoke “White.” I have been lucky enough to be able to surpass a lot of the challenges that darker-skinned women or women from particular parts of the country who don’t sound like me would have experienced. I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve never encountered all-in-out racism or all-in-out sexism within this sphere. But it exists in all of the small ways that add up, over time. When I was starting off, even before that agency job I got and I started teaching myself to code, I couldn’t find, I didn’t know of any resources, or any mentors, or any people that I could look up to who looked like me. It was a very– I think everyone can agree, when you think of the tech space, when you think of Silicon Valley, it’s a specific person that you think of, a specific type of person. Knowing that I was stepping in to– I was stepping out of theater, which typically is a very inclusive space. Your differences are what might make you attractive to somebody who’s looking to hire you. I knew that there was going to be struggle, as far as what I looked like. Point blank. The challenge has come in, as far as the mindset, as far as there are people who I’ve met who look like you who didn’t take me seriously. I’m ready, and I want to have a conversation about WordPress, or coding, or whatever the case may be. Even things like video games. I’m really into video games, and people hear that, and they look at me sideways. They’re like “Yeah, sure. OK, fine. You’ve played Mario Kart.” It’s this very subtle but constant thing of trying to reach out to other spaces or other resources and just the “OK. It’s a bunch of white guys,” which is fine. White guys have a lot to contribute to the world, but over time it gets disheartening. Especially when you’re freelancing, and it gets very lonely. It’s extremely tough to feel like you can’t find your “Tribe,” for lack of a better word. You can’t find your peeps. Which is why I fell in love with WordCamp Miami so completely. For those who are listening and may not know, this past WordCamp, we surpassed more than 50% of female speakers for that conference. That was so huge to me. I don’t know if you went to the talk that Josefa Hayden came to talk to us. I didn’t even know she existed. To see an Asian woman as the head of WordPress, as the head and the leader of the technology that we work with, I was practically in tears. It was so inspiring, but it sucks that inspiration is so few and far between. You know what I mean?
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. I’m glad you brought this up because I wanted you to make these points. I’ve been trying to be cognizant of the ratio of the guests I have on this show. At first, it was very– I’ll put it this way, it was my tribe and my inner circle. A lot of my inner circle looked like me because those are the people that I relate to. Now that I have a daughter, I’m more cognizant of “Are there people that she can look up to that she might be able to relate to better than me?” I’m glad that you talked about this a little bit because it’s something that is– I know it’s out there in the WordPress space. I think the WordPress base tries very hard to make sure that there’s good representation. I’m the lead organizer of WordCamp Philly, and something that we tried to do is make sure that all groups are represented in speaking, in attending and things like that.
Allie: That’s so important. Not to cut you off, but just the fact that you are doing that and that you are cognizant of it is extremely important. I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration last year in August. Basically, it’s a giant women’s tech conference. The point is for it to be a space for women. There were thousands of people there, and it was enormous. It was the biggest single gathering of people of human beings that I’ve ever attended. It was pretty much 100% women. I saw a scattering of male individuals there, who I believe, were sponsors or something like that. While it was fantastic, I’m glad that it exists, I hope that it continues and I have nothing bad to say about it. I prefer something like WordCamp, and I prefer interactions like the one we’re having now because it bugs me when people of color are like “We need to have our entirely separate own thing. We can only talk to each other, or we can only interact with each other about things.” That is the exact opposite of equality, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. The idea of WordCamp having been, at first, we thought it was 50/50, male to female. I think we found out it was 54 to 40 something.
Joe: I’ll link that in the show notes.
Allie: The fact that we had an even, relatively even, mix seemed so much healthier to me than saying “This is only a space for this sort of person,” because then only one sort of person is experiencing any growth. For me to go to a conference and feel empowered and happy and all those things for being around all these women, it just affects me, whereas for us to go to something like WordCamp and for you to make an effort with your WordCamp to be more inclusive, everyone is affected by that. Long story short, I like hearing about people who look like you also being part of the conversation. Because it’s something that affects all of us.
Joe: Maybe I’m different than other people who look like me, but I feel it’s probably– There’s a lot of subconscious. Unless we’re told, or unless we see a good mix and everybody being included explicitly. You can’t break a bad habit if you don’t approach that habit and if you don’t confront that habit.
Allie: It’s learned behaviors. We can’t always put ourselves at fault for learned behaviors, but we also have to be open to growth, open to change, open to realizing that certain learned behaviors need to be unlearned. We are capable of doing that, as human beings. We should be open to it.
Joe: Absolutely. I have experienced the opposite, as well. I’m a cigar smoker. I go to cigar shops. Cigar shops are basically where old guys hang out. I brought my wife to one time, because she thankfully, at least, tolerates his bad habit of mine. We got the side-eye a little bit, one guy made a joke, “We don’t really like girls around these parts.” He’s like “I’m kidding.” It was very obvious he wasn’t kidding. We were engaged or just newly married at the time. He was talking about how he had two failed marriages and “Don’t get married.” I was like, “Maybe you have failed marriages because you talk the way you do. Maybe it’s not marriage, and maybe it’s you.”
Allie: Yeah. I would agree with that.
Joe: I always feel uncomfortable if I bring my wife to a cigar shop, where the clientele shift and they’re like “There’s a woman here now. We can’t act the way we want to act.” vs. this one great cigar shop in Scranton, where we met. Where she loved it, I loved it. It was a fun place to hang out, and there happened to be cigars. Anyway, that was a little bit long and ramble-y, I like to tell that story.
Allie: That’s a good story.
Joe: We are going over time, but there is another thing I wanted to talk to you about. You mentioned seeing WordCamp speakers. Them talking about their successes and to not know what’s going on personally and professionally. Corey Miller, formerly of iThemes and the founder of iThemes, gives a fantastic talk about mental health where he talks about the iceberg. The iceberg is what you see above the water. There’s this whole mess of stuff underneath the water that nobody sees. At the freelance workshop, at WordCamp Miami, where we met, that came up a bunch of times. How did you being 22, suddenly without a job, starting a business–? Starting a business is so stressful. How did you maintain your mental health? Getting only as personal as you want to get. How did you realize that it was something that we, as freelancers, need to be mindful of?
Allie: That’s a really good question. I’m going to try to keep it brief because I could talk about this for a long time. I had been struggling with mental health issues for a long time. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in college, and it was something that I struggled with when I was at my job. It was interesting because so much of that job– I should have left a long time ago, but I attributed a lot of it to “I’m going through this mentally, so I’m probably being over-dramatic. I’m probably overthinking it. Or, “It’s probably just my anxiety, and things aren’t that bad.” Until it became apparent to me that it was that bad. After I quit, that didn’t go away. The depression and the anxiety didn’t disappear. To be perfectly frank, I wasn’t dealing with it. I was trying to get through every single day of just trying to stay alive and trying to stay afloat. It was probably one of the worst times in my life because I was incredibly alone. I didn’t live near any of my friends, and it was very scary. Most of the work that I’ve done on myself mentally has come a lot more recently. It’s the habits of being nice to yourself, which is such a difficult thing to do. I think about it like, I don’t know how into Harry Potter you are–
Allie: The Dementors were always something that got me. I mean, she wrote them based off of her own depression. For anybody who may not know what clinical depression feels like, I feel like everyone gets depressed sometimes, everyone gets sad, and everyone goes through crappy things. Clinical depression, when your brain is physically not making the chemicals, you need to feel OK with yourself, that is what a Dementor is like. It’s this inexplicable, unexplainable darkness and despair. It’s not even sadness, and it’s just absolutely just wanting to give up. When that comes, you feel the need to lean into it. You have to not. It sounds so simple, but it’s so hard. You have to lean the other way and focus on the things that are good. Even if that means not working that day, even if it means putting aside something that you should be doing, but you know that it’s not going to help. I’m not, in any way, qualified to coach anybody on dealing with mental illness. If you’re dealing with any of this type of stuff, you should get as much professional help as you possibly can, but you don’t always have access to that. That was one of my big problems. I was medicated in college, and so I was able to have more of a balance. When I left college because I realized I hated it, I lost access to that, and I haven’t been able to regain access to that. In the interim, when you cannot get the professional help that you need, it’s all about building positive habits. It’s about knowing yourself, being familiar with your own patterns, being familiar with your own triggers. Something like bipolar disorder, you don’t necessarily have triggers all the time, it can be incredibly random. I’ve noticed that there are things that will trigger me. A perfect example is something like WordCamp. When I partake in something that’s very high emotion, and I’m moving around talking to people a lot, when I achieves any emotional high, I will immediately have a low. Like clockwork. I will crash. I remember the last WordCamp I went to in 2017. I didn’t go in 2018, because I was afraid of the crash that would happen afterward. This year, I felt like I had to go. I was already in a dark place, and I knew that it would make me feel better to go. I went, and I was like “OK, the Monday afterword is not going to be a good day.” So I didn’t work, I didn’t check my email, I sat on the couch. I watched the entirety of the new season of Queer Eye on Netflix. I cried for, however, many hours that season is. I got ahead of that emotion, and I got that out of me. I was able to go full steam ahead and to work again on Tuesday, and I had a fantastic week. It takes a lot of time and patience and talking about it with people. Journaling is great. It’s not something I’m super good at, but journaling so that you can keep track of your own patterns and habits and get all of that stuff out of you to make room for putting good things in is extremely important. That’s a very long way of saying that I feel like, but it takes time. I’m still not in a place that I’d like to be. I’m still not in the best place in the world, but it’s definitely a one day at a time thing.
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Joe: Two follow up questions as we close out the show. One is silly, and one is more serious, so I’ll do the more serious one first. What do you recommend for people who might want to help with people who are struggling for mental health? I personally can’t empathize with some of the feelings that you described, because I’m lucky enough to have never experienced them. I’m certain that, put in a situation like this, I would react poorly. Not poorly, but I would do things that might seem intuitive to me, but are counter-intuitive. What do you recommend for people who are on the outside who want to help?
Allie: That’s a really good question. Ask questions, ask the person who is not doing so well “What can I do? What do you need? What would you like?” One of the things that I would hate is people asking me the wrong question. Asking like “What’s wrong?” When I don’t know what’s wrong, that’s why I’m upset. Things like that. What’s great is that my boyfriend, we’ve been together now two and a half years, and I’ve for lack of a better word “Trained” him on the sort of things to say and not to say when I’m feeling this way. If he can say, “What do you need?” I can either say “I want to be left alone. I want company. I want to go out. I want to stay in. I want to go get ice cream. I want to watch–” It forces me to think for myself about what I do need that would help. Sometimes it’s literally just sitting there and being quiet. What I would say is try to avoid, unless the person says that that’s what they want, try to avoid things like “Why are you so sad, you’re so great. You have this, and you’re like that. You have no reason to–” That, to me personally, is the worst thing ever. Because that then makes that person feel guilty, which they are probably already feeling.
Joe: It’s almost like having kids gloves on. If your child is having a bad day, you’re like “Don’t worry buddy, you’re great.” That’s not the same thing as what you’re describing right now.
Allie: Yeah. Just listening. My mom is one of my absolute best friends, and it’s taken her a little while to understand what’s been going on with me. She was raised in a time where this sort of thing is not even necessarily talked about, but just even thought about. She did something amazing for me recently, where a family member who I didn’t know very well passed away. When my dad called her to tell her about it, she knew that I was at WordCamp at the time. She told him to wait until well after before telling me in case I was in a low period. She was able to, from the things I’ve told her, has been able to anticipate what was best for me and my mental state, which was incredibly moving to me. It’s listening when they are in whatever mood that the person is in, whether they’re depressed or anxious or whatever the case may be, but also talking about it when they’re feeling more balanced. Right now, I’m having a great day. I feel fine, and I can talk about it a lot easier. If you know somebody who is going through anything like this, don’t just talk to them about it when it’s happening, but try to talk to them about it when they’re feeling better so that you can have a better understanding once they come out of it, what it was like.
Joe: That’s fantastic advice. That’s advice that I will be able to apply to my own everyday life. I’m a problem solver, and so when my wife is bothered by something, I’m like, “Here’s how we fix it.” She’s like “Can you just say ‘That sucks’?”
Allie: That’s exactly right. Sometimes the problem doesn’t need to be fixed. We know what the problem is. We need to live in the problem for a minute, and we’ll get through it. We need that support.
Joe: Yes, absolutely. Thank you, Allie, so much for your time today. I do need to ask my silly question, “Silly.” What video games do you like to play? I forgot to ask this earlier.
Allie: That’s OK. I just finished– What’s the game I just finished? I just recently finished the new God of War.
Joe: Is it good?
Allie: Dude, it’s amazing. Oh my gosh.
Joe: I always used to bum off my brother’s PlayStation, but now he lives in Florida, and I live in Pennsylvania. So I’m like “Should I buy a PlayStation just for God of War?”
Allie: Buy a PlayStation just for God of War. It’s amazing. I mean, my favorite games– I’ll list some of my favorite because I haven’t been playing for that long. My boyfriend got me into them. God of War was fantastic. Horizon Zero Dawn was amazing. I have a lot of feelings about Final Fantasy 15. I think it’s a terrible game, but I love it. I don’t even know how to explain that, it’s a terrible game, but I absolutely love it. There’s this really weird Japanese RPG called Nier Automata. If you want something cerebral and philosophical with ridiculously awesome gameplay and fighting mechanics, play that. We just bought Sekiro, which is from the makers of Bloodborne and Dark Souls.
Joe: OK. Nice.
Allie: It’s not as hard. It’s not as Dark Souls-y, but it is pretty challenging, I will say. I’ve raged quit a couple of times already, but I’m going to give it another go.
Joe: Rage Quit is my middle name. I get to a point where I am on this level. I’m like maybe 80% of the way through the game, and I can’t get it. I’m like, “I guess I’m never going to finish this.” Then I start something else.
Allie: I did that with Spider-Man. I think I did get about like 75% and I’m stuck in a battle with two of the villains, I forget now which ones. I can’t get through that battle, so I put that game down and haven’t picked it up in like two months.
Joe: Been there. Awesome. I will link those in the show notes and also check some out, because I am reading Armada right now, by Ernest Cline, and it makes me want to play video games.
Allie: We should have a separate conversation about Ready Player One. I have a lot of feelings about that book/movie.
Joe: Yes. Look for the b-sides for that one later, for everybody who’s listening. As we wrap up, do you have any trade secrets for us? You gave us so much great information, but do you have any trade secrets for us?
Allie: Honestly, go online and see if there’s a WordCamp near you if this is the industry that you’re in. Any coding, web design, anything like that. Even if you’re a freelancer and would like to attend a freelancer workshop if the one near you has one. It’s a fantastic community. It’s a fantastic event. It’s extremely affordable, and you get a lot of value out of it. That’s the first thing that comes to my mind, but I think my Twitter and stuff is going to be linked as well. I try to tweet– More recently, I hadn’t been tweeting very much before WordCamp. I’m going to try to tweet more. I will be tweeting out a lot of resources and cool stuff that I find.
Joe: Excellent. On that note, where can people find you?
Allie: Awesome. Yeah. People can find me at PixelGlowWebDesign.com, all one word. My Twitter is @allie_nimmons like Simmons, but with an N instead of an S.
Joe: Thanks so much to Allie for joining me today. I appreciate not only her coming on the show but her opening up and getting personal in a way that I think is going to be beneficial for the audience. It certainly helped with my perspective and the way I look at things. I love her trade secret to see if there’s a WordCamp near you. There likely is, and that helps you get into the community. For a lot of people who work remotely or freelancers, it could be a little bit lonely. WordCamps certainly help that. Thanks so much to Allie, again, for her time. My question of the week for you is “What makes you feel to be a part of the community, for whatever community you’re in, maybe you’re not in the WordPress space?” Maybe you’re in a different community, “What helps you feel a part of that community?” If you’d like to answer that question, feel free to e-mail me Joe@HowIBuilt.it or on Twitter @jcasabona. I want to thank our sponsors for this week Ahoy! Pantheon and Creator Courses. Definitely check them out. Their support helps this show tremendously. If you liked this episode, go ahead and share it with somebody. Maybe somebody needs to hear the things that Allie talked about? Maybe they’ll find this very helpful? You can find all of the show notes that we talked about over HowIBuilt.it/128. Once again, thanks so much for listening. Welcome to Season 7. Until next time, get out there and build something.