Square One

Mental Health

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If you are an anxious person you might also find that you are an obsessive person. And probably obsessive about the things that make you anxious. That might mean you obsessively try to find solutions to what’s bothering you or maybe you obsessively try to avoid it.

I’ve blogged for 26 consecutive days on the topic of positive mindset and the power of visualization. Obviously, I’m the type of person who becomes obsessive about finding solutions. If I don’t have a problem that needs solving I will find one and if that doesn’t work I will make one.

It’s the only problem I can’t solve.

And yet, for some reason, every time I find myself slipping back into those anxious thoughts I become irritated, then angry, as if it’s a surprise.

I was able to hold my positivity, hopefulness, and high self-esteem in a death grip for approximately twenty days. That was twenty days of blogging, reflecting, listening to audio books every single time I’m in the car, exercising regularly, avoiding emotional eating, starting several DIY projects, not allowing myself to obsess over the amount of money in my bank account, etc.

I built up a lot of momentum very quickly.

This week I crashed. Now I’m trying to figure out why.

Is it because I’ve been back at work for three weeks and being in that familiar routine has stymied my hope for change? Is it because I need to buy a very expensive power tool to actually finish some of the DIY projects I started and my fear of scarcity and lack is preventing me from bringing closure to these activities? Is it because cedar season is hell on earth and I haven’t been able to breathe comfortably through my nose the past several days? Is it because I allowed myself to backslide into the destructive habit of obsessing over my budget?

The more I think about it the more I realize that it is actually all of these things. But…all of these things I just described aren’t especially devastating or even out of the ordinary. These things I just described are normal life.

What does it mean that the difficulties of normal life are enough to derail me? What does it mean about my progress towards enlightenment that I have to even ask such a question?

I think it means that I’m being ridiculous and overdramatic.

Feeling low energy or uninspired or anxious over these last few days does not mean that I’m starting back at square one. The fact that I can have this perspective at all is proof that I’ve made a lot more progress than I realize. Feeling like my old self doesn’t mean I can’t also be my new self. I have not failed until I stop trying. And I’m still trying, every day, to see the good, to do good, and to believe that as long as I am in pursuit of those things everything will be okay. I will be okay.

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Is Anxiety a Gift?

Mental Health

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I’ve written many times about my struggle with anxiety. One of the reasons I’ve been on this whole positive mindset trip is to try to find a way to live with it. To understand my brain and find some methods of controlling it.

Usually, when I sit down to write a blog post, especially one about my mental health, the first draft ends up being way more pathetic and self-centered than I like to come across. Not because I’m trying to hide those negative qualities–we’ve all got them–but because putting that kind of mess out into the universe is not productive.

My intention with this blog is to be transparent but also to leave my readers with a sense of encouragement. So when I write something personal, my rule is to let it sit for a few days, so that I can return to it and ask myself: is this really what I want to say and is this really how I want to say it?

Usually, the answer is no and I rewrite it. I try to do this from a more analytical perspective and less of an emotional one. That means taking a step back and identifying the lesson in whatever’s ailing me, because there’s always a lesson.

One of those recent lessons has been to forgive myself for having an imperfect, hyperactive brain that is obsessed with worst case scenarios. This is how my anxiety often manifests–as worries about the most horrible things you can possibly imagine. But the part of my brain that is capable of creating such sinister visions is also the part of my brain that is capable of feeling another person’s pain so deeply that it overwhelms me. It’s the part of my brain that obsesses over problems and solutions that could change lives if I could just get out of my own head, out of my own way, for five minutes. It’s the part of my brain that makes stories, stories that try in earnest to make readers feel seen and valued.

In my quest to accept my anxiety and all of the ways it manifests in my life I have yet to let go of my fears about my anxiety. I have yet to stop seeing it as the boogeyman under the bed ready to attack at any moment. But part of why I’ve been so afraid of my anxiety is because I’ve only ever focused on the ways in which it inhibits me, when really, that’s not its true purpose.

My sensitivity, my intense thoughtfulness, my ability to deeply empathize with others, yes it all overwhelms me sometimes but it is also a gift. And once I learn to cope with the stress and the responsibility of just…feeling…of being a facilitator of healing and connection, a translator of the human experience, then it will be a gift that I can give to others. And that is not something worth fearing. That’s something worth celebrating.

 

It is Possible

Mental Health, Self Publishing

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I don’t know where to start. Maybe with the last several posts that are snapshots of those brief moments between anxiety spirals when I was trying to remind myself to hope. Or maybe with the insomnia and the fears that almost stole that from me. I don’t know who to show anymore. Do I show the working creative who has written eight novels and who should now be exempt from failure? Or do I show the doubt-filled procrastinator who hasn’t been able to write in almost a month?

Obviously, the last several months have been rough and the time stamps on those blog posts about learning and growing and the fact that the creative process has its own rewards show just how few and far between the good days actually were. While waiting to come out of this, I have written about learning to give up control and being patient and showing gratitude. I have written about finding strength and trusting in a higher being and in myself. Each has not only been a declaration but a set of detailed instructions on how to survive. Because I know I will find myself in the darkness again, no matter how many constellations I’ve left to guide my way back.

I cannot change the way I am wired. I can only change how I care for myself when those wires begin to short-circuit.

Sometimes that means doing something even scarier than staring at a blank page and trying to force out magic. Sometimes that means not allowing myself to write at all.

There was a time when I was selling almost 200 books a day. Now, I’m lucky if I sell 10 copies. This means that if I don’t write and publish something new that number could drop down to 0. It’s such a tangible manifestation of failure, one I’m faced with and consumed by every time I try to write. There is no room in my brain for story, for my character’s voices, for their dreams and fears. I’m too busy wrestling with my own. And every day that I don’t produce something, is one day closer to another gigantic life change that will only hurl me in the opposite direction of everything I’ve worked so hard for.

But if all of this anxiety was stemming from not producing a single word in weeks, what would happen if I didn’t even allow myself to try? What would happen if I forced myself straight into that fear and chose not to write? Would disaster strike? Would the world end? Would I not be a real writer anymore?

The answer is—nothing—not one of these things would happen and I would sleep. I would sleep for twelve hours every night and wake up late on the weekends and my body would reclaim the rest it so desperately needed. Because worry does not just exist in your mind. It lives in your skin and your bones and every part of you that is working to keep you alive. The more you worry, the harder they work until they just can’t do it anymore. And then you must rest. You MUST.

And then you wake up and you start over.

It’s not ideal and you aren’t any less scared of it than you were before. But it is possible.

This is the latest constellation I have left for myself. It is possible. The starting over, the writing, and all of the other work that comes along with creating. I create things from scratch all the time. I can rebuild my career the same way. I can write this new book. I can finish it too. And if no one buys it…I can write something else. I can always write something else.

Dealing With Anxiety

Mental Health

Millions of people suffer from anxiety and for creative types these chemical and emotional imbalances seem ever-present, so much so that it’s hard to say whether we were born with our artistic abilities or if those abilities were born later as coping mechanisms. We’re just more vulnerable to emotional stress because our emotions are our tools. Whether we paint or write or build, the very bricks, pigment and thoughts that make up our creations are really nothing more than feelings. We have an endless supply of them, all rushing like some wild stream while we tread water and try not to drown. If you’ve ever had a panic attack or just felt overwhelmed you know exactly what I mean. On a good day we can channel all of those emotions into our work but on a bad day we can’t live in the present moment long enough for an idea to even take hold.

I’ve suffered from anxiety all my life and even though the older I got, the easer it seemed to mentally cope with my stress, my body has always betrayed the truth. Over the past 23 years I’ve gotten the shingles, gained an excessive amount of weight, lost an excessive amount of weight, experienced migraines, vertigo, nausea and vomiting, ulcers, insomnia, anxious ticks, and mild panic attacks. As isolated incidents none of this was debilitating enough to hugely effect my daily life. Or maybe I was just really good at hiding it. It’s hard for me to say because at this point in my life I’m so used to my anxious thoughts that I feel like more of an observer of them than an actual participant. The truth is I’m just more mentally numb to it all. But my body isn’t, which is why all of my symptoms came to a head in recent months and I was forced to face the truth–that my anxiety isn’t mild or manageable or something I’ve grown out of, my anxiety is real and evolved and more potent than ever. And it’s scary.

It’s scary because as painful and uncomfortable as all of those feelings are, I need them. Because I’m a writer. Because I’m human. When I was in my teens I tried all kinds of medications to help with my anxiety but synthetic remedies only hid the issue rather than healed it and each one stripped away my ability to empathize bit by bit until I wasn’t afraid of anything while everyone around me was afraid of me. My feelings were muted and one-note, sometimes non-existent, and that’s no way to live, especially when you’re called to be an artist, or more specifically, when you’re called to use art to facilitate connection. Because you can’t connect if you can’t feel and even more painfully, you can’t create. Or at least, not anything good. Not anything real. And that’s the point of all of this–the human experience, connection, destiny, all of these damn feelings. Sometimes just being alive and all of the emotions that come with that can be overwhelming but the point isn’t to drown in them, to suffer, and feel isolated. The point is to channel them.

I’m no expert at it, this confession about my battle with anxiety is evidence of that. But I have come to the conclusion that it’s better to feel everything than to feel nothing at all. Not only that, but my fears and anxieties can be just as purposeful as my hopes and dreams. One day I will find a healthy way to manage the stress in my life but I will never be the kind of person who can maintain a state of bliss. I will never be the kind of person who is bold and totally care free. Why? Because I’m not meant to be. I’m meant to be slightly cautious and incredibly thoughtful. I’m meant to be the kind of person who loves the people around me so deeply and so desperately that I’m afraid to death of losing them. I’m meant to empathize with others on such an intimate level that I absorb everything they’re feeling, including their pain. I truly believe that is my super power–empathy–and that even though I’ve yet to learn how to control it and its power sometimes overwhelms me, I will someday use it to make the world a better place. And one day, in the latter half of this spiritual journey, I will look back on the first part of my life and realize that the anxiety was not a symptom or an illness, it was not a curse or some kind of karmic punishment, but it was a divine call to action.

 

Reunited

Writing Process

…and it feels terrifying. I was supposed to spend the day making my revision notes for the next draft of book 3. The idea of diving back into this project has sort of been…haunting me to say the least. I haven’t looked at it since April 5th and that was seven weeks ago. In that time I finished writing the first draft of book 4 and did another line edit of Orphans of Paradise. The first was a nice distraction. I flew through that manuscript and had so much fun writing it. But then I got back to Orphans of Paradise last week and everything sort of fell apart.

I hadn’t read the story in two months and in the meantime I’d been working on two, totally new projects. I’d been writing every day, more than I ever had, and I just hit this growth spurt as a writer that sort of came out of nowhere. So when I read over book 2 I didn’t just read it with fresh eyes, but new ones. I’m a different writer than I was in February and even though it may not seem like a lot of time has passed since then I’ve changed so much.

On the plus side, that’s the ultimate goal, right? I’m growing, getting better, and I couldn’t be happier about the new direction I’m heading in. But on the flip side, I found so many issues with Orphans of Paradise. Not the story or the plot, but my style. It’s evolved since then. It’s more streamlined, more coherent. And that’s something you can’t just change about a book overnight. So I still have a lot of work to do. More work than I thought I’d have to do so close to the expected publication date.

And while I should be glad that I found these problems now rather than later, I have all of these new trepidations about re-reading book 3. Because what if it’s really terrible? What if I hate it? What if there is not one sentence worth salvaging?

I know I’m being a little over-dramatic. But I am honestly terrified. Hence this blog—just another way of stalling. Anyone out there ever experienced this? How do you keep up your moral when you have a revelation like this over a manuscript you’ve been laboring over for almost a year? And how can you tell when your work is truly ready? Or will you always look back on something you wrote previously and be a little dissatisfied?