Writing While Anxious

I’ve reached a point in my anxiety where I’m afraid of my art and my writing and I talk myself out of it. I don’t want to write because I’m afraid, not just of how other people will receive my writing, but how I’ll receive it myself. I’m afraid that what I create will be ugly, that it will be the same regurgitated crap I see all around me, that I won’t be able to adequately put down on paper (or on screen) what’s in my head.

I was in the habit for a while of writing every morning, essentially using the Morning Pages method of writing at least three pages every morning. It was an easy habit to make, and an easy habit to break when I was tired, or achy, or running late, or busy. Three pages of anything, every morning. I’ve managed to claim some lines of poetry from them, even some full poems, and a few lists of solid short-story ideas. But I’ve also dragged out memories and feelings from the darkest parts of my mind, and made myself uncomfortable, more anxious, less secure.

As a result, writing has started bringing me more anxiety, which causes writer’s block as soon as I set pen to paper, or sit in front of a blank screen. I can have words and ideas swirling in my mind all day and determine that I want to write them all down. And as soon as I sit in front of a screen with a blinking cursor and type a few words, I feel a familiar tingle across my face signaling the beginnings of an anxiety attack. A blank page will send me staring into the distance, my mind racing.

I want to sit down and set intentions, to let my mind wander in words, to put my ideas down on paper. I still get a feeling of excitement when I think about the idea of writing, when I imagine what writing was like when I was an undergrad and a grad student. But actually writing makes me feel like I shouldn’t – not just that I’m an impostor, that I gave up my creative side when I sold my soul to become a CPA, but that I’m stealing creativity from people who are legitimate writers. That I’m tapping into something that’s no longer mine.

Before you tell me that’s ridiculous and no one thinks that, I’m going to tell you that I’ve had people tell me to my face that I turned my back on creativity, on art and literature, the second I signed up for my first courses in my MSA program. That I had sold my soul, I was joining the legion of faceless, soulless office drones, and I would never be the same afterwards (also that I should be ashamed of myself, because. Further, that I had no business thereafter calling myself a writer, much less actually writing. I think about those conversations often, every time I think I want to write something. And I think that maybe I was an impostor all along and perhaps I was just really, really good at mimicking what “real” writers do. Or maybe the people who told me those things were insecure bastards who had no business policing the arts for people they felt were inferior.

Regardless, my writing is suffering, and I suppose a part of me is suffering as well (a different part of me, that is, other than the parts that are already suffering from chronic illness, anxiety, depression, and other various malaise). The pen is fire, and as badly as I want to be burned, I can’t even enjoy its warmth.

What the hell even is this?

I haven’t written here in a while. A long while – five months to be exact – because blah blah busy season something something dark side politics whatever. The main reason I haven’t been writing here is that I’ve been vacillating between struggling in a dark place and barely mustering the ability to give fucks about anything, and . I have a good job, a loving family, a stable home life, and the thing about high-functioning anxiety and (recently diagnosed) Bipolar II-Depression is that none of that shit matters. When your brain chemistry is fucked up, things like logic and reason protect you about as well as those little paper cocktail umbrellas in a rain storm. If you’ve read any of The Bloggess’ posts, or Hyperbole and a Half, then you probably have an idea of what it’s like to wander around life while your brain tries to convince you that you’re a deadbeat and the world is better off without you.

Writing about mental health challenges is difficult. I’m going to just leave it at that. It’s difficult to describe the complex set of bizarre rules and rationalizations that your brain invents to get through everyday life, and it’s difficult because there’s a huge stigma around mental health – still. Where people wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg that they should just be positive and their leg would be fine, that they don’t actually need a cast or crutches, people have no problem sharing shit memes like this one:

I’m hardly the first person to comment on this, but I see a stupid ass meme like this almost every day. Who wants to be told that the treatment they’re getting that finally helped them live life semi-normally is bad and that they’re a bad person for accepting that treatment? Not me, and probably not many people. I won’t even get into the bullshit Happy At All Costs culture (mostly because Barbara Ehrenreich already covered it extensively in her book, Bright-Sided). GTFOH with that crap. But it perpetuates because who wants to be miserable? There’s a kind of peer pressure to be happy all the time, and that gets perpetuated on social media (which is where I see all these stupid ass memes) where everyone is looking for Instagram-perfect bodies and kids and yoga and whatever else.

Even without the stigma and the Happiness Cults all over the place (I’m looking at you, Instagram…), dealing with what’s going on in my head is difficult. I have the kind of anxiety where I am extremely sensitive to social rules and norms. Is my hair the right style? Did I put on mascara today? Am I dressed professionally enough? Will anyone notice that I’m putting on a facade and don’t actually care about this stuff, but okay maybe I care a little bit but I’m also antisocial and I’m just trying to get by…. Even a small slip-up can cause low-level anxiety and panic that lasts for days. The other day I was so focused on getting a report finished at work that I walked into the Men’s room by mistake – I had only just barely opened the door, noticed my mistake, and turned around, but a coworker was washing his hands and laughed. Now it’s all I can think about – OH MY GOD I WALKED INTO THE MEN’S ROOM! I HAVE MADE A GRAVE ERROR! Now I must concentrate heavily on how I can avoid making the same mistake in the future, even though all I can think about is making this mistake over and over and over again and mentally punishing myself for it.

Keep in mind, this is probably the first time I’ve done this in years – probably since I was a kid – and a) it’s not like I wandered in there and actually used the Men’s room blissfully unaware; b) no one’s privacy was violated; c) no one else saw me do it, other than the coworker washing his hands. I’m told that people do this shit all the time and it’s not a huge deal. But having anxiety means never forgetting a mistake, no matter how small it was.

So, unsurprisingly, it’s been difficult to muster the energy to write. When I feel good, I’m trying to catch up on all the mundane crap I’ve been neglecting while my anxiety was too bad to get laundry done or go to the post office. When I feel bad, I’m just trying to get out of bed and get to work so I can make enough money to pay for my psychiatrist who prescribes the drugs that keep me upright and functional. Recently, though, I’ve been forcing myself to do things that I enjoy – we have a local writers’ group, so I’ve started going to that; I went to see Roxanne Gay’s reading at Bayou Place; I saw Welcome to Night Vale when it came to town. It reminds me that I do actually enjoy things, and it helps keep me connected to those things so that when I do feel good I can do those things more often. I tasked myself with a writing project, and I’ve vowed to actually blog more (for real this time; seriously) or at least read more blogs and write some drivel here. Finding a reason to stay connected to this world is harder sometimes than others, but it’s usually worth the trouble.