It has taken me over twenty five hours to finally write this post. The beginning of 2020 has been quite stressful for my household, especially after we thought this month, this new year, was going to be the start of a better year. We were confident that we were going to start this year feeling good, more secure, like the ground under our feet was going to stop shifting. Turns out, we were wrong. I think everything is going to be okay, but this past week has been particularly hard for us. Lots of surprises we weren’t prepared for and we had to make some difficult adjustments to make things work. Plans had to change. Things aren’t starting off how we wanted.
So yesterday, when I sat down to write this post, things hadn’t yet resolved themselves and I was actually shaking with anxiety. My body felt like I was vibrating. I was sitting through my own personal earthquake and the ground wouldn’t settle.
Monday I’d started the day off feeling pretty secure. Those surprises hadn’t hit yet. So I was feeling pretty good about getting back to the novel I’d started during NaNo. I’d taken the holidays off and given myself time to think about the book and where it was going. I’d written to the end of the outline I’d had done and knew I couldn’t move forward until I finished the outline or, at least, gotten a few more chapters outlined. I finished reading the first 50k words and felt a lot better about how the book was shaping up, realizing it wasn’t as meandering and stretched out as I thought. Tuesdays morning I outlined two chapters.
I know two chapters doesn’t sound like a lot, but I outline in long form, by hand.
See? That takes a toll on my hands nowadays. I don’t know how I used to outline five chapters in a day without my hand killing me. But anyway. I was really happy with my new progress. I thought, hell, if I can outline two chapters a day, in five days I’ll have ten chapters ready to write!
Then new surprises exploded in our email and what we thought was going to be a calm month turned into panic and uncertainty. My stomach knotted up and I couldn’t focus on work anymore. I’d have to be okay with those two chapters while I tried to deal with new issues. My anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t really focus on anything. I couldn’t calm down. I looked calm. Oh, I can look calm like the best of them. But inside? My heart is palpating. My breath isn’t smooth. My arms feel like they’re shaking. It’s like I’m really fucking cold and can’t stop shivering. But you wouldn’t know it to look at me. I can go through the motions like a champ.
I knew things wouldn’t be settled until late morning Wednesday. And, until that happened, my anxiety brain would not calm down. Anxiety is like having nervous cat living inside you. You can try to calm it, give it warmth, sustenance, a place to curl up and relax, but any small movement, any unfamiliar noise, and you set it off and its claws are in the curtains and it is spitting and hissing without warning.
I had work to do though, work I couldn’t ignore. I had a client in the morning and I needed to get this post written. Having someone face-to-face was helpful because I had to deal with them and couldn’t dwell, waiting for news that the ground wasn’t moving anymore. But as soon as they were gone, I was left in the quiet and that cat was shaking and growling low.
Write my post. That’ll help. But no. I sat at my desk and stared, my arms still trembling and feeling like I was sitting in a freezer. Just waiting for a phone call that would tell me if things were gonna be semi okay and not just all out terrible. We were hoping the month was going to be good and now I was praying for semi okay.
I couldn’t write my post. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I actually wanted to post about NaNo and what to do now, but I couldn’t think of what I wanted to say. I looked at my outline and wanted to get the next chapter done. I couldn’t. The characters couldn’t be heard over the growling cat. I was stuck in an anxiety trap. My mind wasn’t racing like it will when I try to go to sleep. I wasn’t thinking of all the disastrous things that could and might happen—though any time something showed up in my email I assumed the worst. I wasn’t crying or balled into a corner. I was just sitting here, right where I am now, and trembling. Waiting.
Anxiety is a monster that can do many things. It can steal your energy. It can steal your happiness. It can make you angry or sad or panicked. Anxiety demands attention like a bank robber with a gun. And even if your rational brain is telling you things are going to be okay and you work things out in your head, anxiety can hold on, claws sunk so deep there’s no pulling them out until the cat is ready to retract.
But now, here I am, nearly 1000 words into this post, and no longer shaking. Things are different than what I hoped and expected in the beginning of the month, but we’re semi okay and I can suddenly move my fingers on the keys and think about this post. And my outline is waiting for me and my characters are still there, ready when I am.
I used to be a write every day kind of person, only taking one or two days off on the weekends. I was terrified of losing momentum once I started writing a book. If I took too much time off, I was scared I’d struggle to start again. And you know what? I was right. It is very, very hard to start back up. And shit like this week happens that totally derails me and I think, if only I’d been working I’d be further along than where I am and wouldn’t feel so shitty about being derailed. But it’s okay. The words will always be there when you’re ready and able to come back. It took me a long, long time to reconcile that in my head. The write like you’re afraid you’ll die before you finish served me really well these last few years, but now, things have changed and so have I. My anxiety is actually a lot worse than it used to be and I’m having to always learn how to listen to it, deal with it, and adjust for it.
If you need the break because you don’t have a choice because that cat’s claws are sunk so deep you’ll just shred yourself trying to remove them, just wait. Let the cat calm down and retract the claws. Your characters, your words, your abilities will still be there when you come back. Not everyone can work in chaos and despair, not everyone’s art flourishes in the dark, and that’s okay. Wait for the sun.
And, if you suffer from anxiety, and reading this post triggered you, let me leave with you a picture of adorable sleeping pups, using the same pillow to try to calm you back down. I highly recommend a cuddly pet if you have anxiety, btw.