I know fear.
Like many creative types, I have anxiety. I have lived with everything from constant, low-level anxiety all the way up to Code Red Panic Attacks. For me, the same overactive imagination that lends itself to worldbuilding also lends itself to imagining every possible way something could go wrong.
For the most part, I manage the anxiety by playing along with the what-if game until I can show myself how ridiculous I’m being. I win when I can laugh at myself.
But sometimes, the anxiety wins. And when it does, my life is ruled by fear – and certainty. Certainty that people hate me. Certainty that I’m terrible. Certainty that every single terrifying thought I’ve had is real and true and only, maybe, if I can prepare for that horrible truth can I begin to do anything about it. The Catch-22 is that of course, I can never prepare for the things my anxiety comes up with, because those things aren’t real.
It doesn’t matter that I know my anxiety doesn’t make sense. I can throw logic and reason at it until the cows come home and go back out again, and all I end up doing is feeding my fear – and my shame. Shame that I, a logical and reasonable human being, can be ensnared by fears clearly beyond both. That I can’t just will them away and be better. That this same fear that’s only a shadow of reality can affect my body and my life in very real ways.
Now, add in the rollercoaster of emotions that is the debut year, the myriad of uncertainties, and the pressure to be So Excited and So Happy because Your Dreams Are Coming True and you have the perfect recipe for rampant anxiety. Even as I write this I want to caveat that I am happy and I am excited – but that doesn’t lessen the fear.
This summer proved that to me when I let deadlines slip through my fingers, when I kept pushing back my writing schedule to give myself more and more time, when the shame became paralyzing, and when I landed in urgent care with a stress-induced migraine and an IV.
This summer also proved that telling myself you should be happy! over and over and over again does not actually work. In fact, it backfires! How rude! But therapy, time, and acceptance does.
So: writing fears.
I could list them for days and weeks and months and still never be done. But, paradoxically, because there are so many, and quite a few of them barely even flirt with reality, it’s easier to manage them. After all, I have a lot of experience managing fear.
I simply put my more “realistic” fears – that the book won’t do well, that readers will hate it, that there’s a typo on page thirty-six – into the same box as my other, less “realistic” fears – that I’ll never be able to write another book, that my publisher will cut their loses after book one, that someone will be so personally affronted that they’ll drag me across Twitter and back again. Then I shove that box with all my fears into the back of my mind where I can safely ignore them.
Or at least try to. The fears still slip out, but I’m getting faster at shoving them back in, tangling appendages and all.
Beyond that, I manage by knowing that many, if not all, writers share these fears. That they’re so common, so pervasive, and yet we continue on despite them, continue writing, continue failing, and continue succeeding.
And I manage by knowing that when the fear becomes Too Much, when it paralyzes, you’re not broken and there is help. You can talk to your writing community (do you have one? you should start or find one). You can talk to your spouse. You can talk to your cat. You can get help – through therapy, through medication, through family and friends. But there is help. Fear is not the end.
I know fear.
And I know I’m not alone.
2 Replies to “Let’s Talk About Fear”
Does it help to know you are not alone? I don’t get debilitating anxiety, and my heart goes out to you. But I periodically have bleak moments when I “know” that people who say nice things about my books are just being nice, that somehow I’ll never be able to write a good line again, that my publisher will drop me or go out of business, or that….you name it. I wish I had a magic way of talking you down, but I don’t. It’s one foot in front of the other until you write a sentence you like or until you go for a walk and the world seems brighter. BTW, congratulations on your forthcoming book.
It helps me battle that bone-deep Knowledge of fear with the certainty that the fear isn’t real & I’ll get past it, eventually. I can’t ever skip the anxiety or the panic attack, but knowing I’m not alone means knowing I’m not broken, and it means knowing I’ll be believed and supported if I ask for help. And that lessens the shame of it, which tends to lessen the length. Knowing I’m not alone also gives me the barest sliver of hope to hang onto when it’s roughest – which is enough (for me, at least) to get me through.
It’s still hard, for sure. I still get caught up believing my editor loathes me or my publisher will drop me, but knowing those are common fears… idk, it’s like holding somebody’s hand while you get a tattoo. It doesn’t take the pain away, but it keeps you from giving up and running away.
Thank you <3
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