It is Possible

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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.

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Dealing With Anxiety

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

…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?