I’m in the worst writing slump of my life/career. I’ve got nothing. NOTHING. Zero. Zilch. Emptiness. A deep, dark void of nothingness. And whereas with previous experiences with severe writer’s block I’ve felt frustrated, I just feel sad right now. And worried. I worry that the well is dry forever. I worry that Forbes is going to fire me. I worry that all the previous pitches I made will come back with just a gif of someone laughing hysterically. I worry that I’ll never write anything good again. Every idea is gone. Words are unreachable. Sentences are a struggle.
Imagine this: A batter walks up to the plate. The pitcher just stands there. The batter just stands there. No one throws. No one swings. Nothing happens forever. That’s what this feels like. Me and my brain playing a game where progression is never made.
Writer’s slump. It’s a thing.
There are so many things I want to tell you, so many pitfalls I want you to avoid, but what would be the point? You wouldn’t listen to me, anyhow. You never were any good at taking advice. You listened, you nodded, you sometimes even agreed to take the advice to heart but you rarely put that into action. Even when you knew the advice was solid and given with your best interest in mind.
I don’t know if it’s my right to go back and tell you not to make the mistakes you made. Maybe those mistakes were supposed to be made. Maybe everything you did then has taken you on a path to where you are now and by helping you avoid some ghastly missteps I’ll screw all that up for you. Lord knows we’ve done enough screwing up already, you and I, so I think I should shut my mouth.
But I do want to tell you this: It turns out ok. It turns out ok except for the part where you agonize almost daily over the mistakes you made. I’m not sure why you do that to yourself, why you insist on reliving the past, on dwelling on what you did wrong. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody goes off on a wrong path here or there. Everybody makes a terrible choice at some point in their life. You are not unique in that manner. You are not alone. I know, that doesn’t make it an easier to deal with the past but it should make you stop acting like you’re the only person in the world with regrets.
I really wish I could go back to those specific years - 1975, 1981, 1983, 1989, 1998, 2002, etc, - and whisper some words in your ear, an unseen entity sending out a warning. But you had your warning signs. You saw them yourself. And you did what you did anyway. So my interference probably wouldn’t matter. Maybe instead I should go back to those other years when you made decent decisions and quietly applaud you? Would that help?
This is what I can tell you, past self: I can tell you that you eventually learn from your mistakes. You change, you evolve, you rectify, you fix. You mature. You make more mistakes, sure. You make bigger and more emotionally expensive mistakes as you get older. That’s just life, girl. But you know what? You come through it all. You’re still standing. It’s 2013 and you’re not just still standing but you’re doing a damn fine job of it.
That’s all I want to tell you. I don’t want to tell you to not do the things you are about to do. I don’t want to tell you how to stop the juggernaut of destruction you set in motion because it would just screw up everything for now. Just know the juggernaut stops at some point. And you stopped it. You did that. You learned. You grew. You fixed. You did the best you could with what you had and you made it work eventually.
Go ahead and make those mistakes. I’m not going to stop you. It wouldn’t be fair. Because you have to learn how to live with your choices. That’s part of your evolvement. That’s part of freeing yourself from the past. If I took all those mistakes and choices away from you, you’d have learned nothing about saving yourself from yourself and the bad choices and mistakes would have just come later on. Whose to say what path you would take in lieu of those other choices? Whose to say my warning you would lead you down a safer, healthier path? Maybe it would just be more of the same.
I’m not going to give you any advice. I’m just going to let you live your life, live with the choices you make and learn to accept those choices later on, when your life is better and your head is clearer and you can clearly see that some of those mistakes, in retrospect, were not mistakes at all, but just life happening. Just, living. Being human.
So, past self, go forth and live. I’ll meet you somewhere in 2013 where I can just whisper in your ear “Good job being human. Keep making mistakes. Keep learning. Keep living. But stop reliving. I mean, you’ve got new mistakes to make. Those old ones are history. Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow.”
I had two panic attacks at work today. I rarely experience panic attacks anymore. Where once they came at the rate of dozens per day, I get them once a month now. If that.
So today was kind of disconcerting.
Even more disconcerting was the way I handled it.
I handled it with shame.
I didn’t want to tell anyone at work what was going on. I didn’t want to say “I’m having a panic attack.” I did not want to have to explain my anxiety disorder, my depression, my bipolar or anything. I did not want get into that discussion with anyone because I did not want to see or hear their reaction.
I didn’t want to hear “It’s all in your head.” I didn’t want to see the disapproving looks. I didn’t want anyone to look down on me because I have mental issues. I didn’t want their view of me to change because they think I’m weak or flawed.
The stigma of mental illness is real. My fears are not imagined. But now I wonder how much of the stigma is self fulfilling. How much of it is mental illness sufferers being caught in a vicious cycle of wanting to open a dialogue about our plight but then worrying about being looked down upon when we finally open up about it?
I made up some excuse and went home at 4:30. I’m mad at myself for letting the panic get the best of me and I’m mad at myself for being angry over something I really couldn’t control. I’m mad at myself for being so weak and mad at myself for thinking I’m weak. I’m everything I perceive the enemies of mental illness to be; I look down on myself, I berate myself, I don’t allow myself breakdowns or panic or low cycles without thinking I should be better than that, I should have learned to rise above all of this by now.
I do these things and feel this way because society has made me believe I am weak and flawed. But I perpetuate it by believing it.
When does the cycle end?
There was a time when I was in serious financial distress. In addition to all the important bills I failed to pay, I failed to pay the cable bill for a few months in a row. When that happens, they cut you off. And when they cut you off, every channel on your cable box will revert to the programming channel, which just scrolls what’s on today and plays some smooth jazz dentist office music. Every channel a blaring reminder that you have no money.
Every time I’m channel surfing and I go past the “what’s on” channel I get a brief surge of panic where I freak out like they turned my cable off because I have no money. I have to push to the next channel super quick to make sure everything is still working, even though I know damn well my cable bill is at zero balance.
This is the same part of my brain that still makes me have a small moment of panic every time I run my debit card through a machine, waiting for it to say “declined” even though that’s not going to happen anymore.
Memories are weird.
[pardon me for repeating something I wrote just about a year ago but it’s needed]
No matter what you do or where you go in life, there will always be someone around who is jealous of you. Jealous of your position, your clothes, your personality, your happiness, your money, your car, your attitude. They will resent the things you have they don’t. Instead of trying to attain those things for themselves they will harbor a grudge against you. Instead of being pleased for you, they will quietly seethe.
Sometimes they will try to have those things taken from you. They will play down your achievements so you don’t feel as accomplished as you once did. They will find a way to cut from you the things that make you – in their eyes – better than them. If they can’t have it, you can’t have it. If they are miserable, you need to be miserable, too. And no matter how hard you work to maintain a civil relationship with these people, no matter how humble you are about what you have that they don’t, it won’t make a difference because your humility, your grace or your empathy with their situation only serves to aggravate them. They don’t want you to be understanding. They don’t want you to be sympathetic. Their jealousy and resentment build up to a point where they can no longer let go of the pettiness that now consumes them. They hate their situation. You are not in their situation. So they hate you, by default.
They might not even realize they’re doing it. But over the course of a few months you notice a change in a friend’s behavior. You notice a strain in your relationship. You notice there are certain things they don’t want you to talk about. They don’t want to hear about your happiness because they are shrouded in misery. It doesn’t matter that you once felt like they do, you can’t possibly know now. It doesn’t matter that you worked hard for what you have now, that you went through hell to get it. They have forgotten all the things you have in common, all the things that made you friends, and they’ll concentrate on the one thing you have that they don’t. And they’ll hate you for it.
We can’t have nice things because the people without nice things would rather level the playing field by making sure we’re all without, than trying to make sure we are all with. It’s easier that way.
Stop trying to placate these people. Stop making yourself think you are somehow to blame for their shift in attitude. Stop thinking it’s up to you to repair friendships that were damaged when one person ran roughshod over them. Stop giving people the benefit of the doubt, stop being the one who rolls over and plays dead just to keep the peace. You owe yourself the fight. You owe yourself more than struggling to maintain civility to the point where you comply, give in and give up.
But you can’t, can you? You’re just not that kind of person. You’d rather be passive than aggressive. You’d rather make sure everyone gets what they want, even if it means downsizing what you want. You just keep on avoiding confrontation, because to confront would mean to cause a stir, and people like us don’t cause a stir. We just smile and say, “Thank you sir, may I have another?”
We’re the people you put the extra tasks on. We’re the people who say yes to everything. We’re the people who will do your menial tasks while you sit back and file your fingernails. We’re the people you go to day after day for the extra things, because we are the least likely to complain about them. We get shuffled, moved, forgotten, taken for granted, taken advantage of and we’re rarely thanked for our extra efforts because these things are expected of us. We have set ourselves up to this way, to be the doormats of society and no one even thanks us for letting them wipe their feet on us. We volunteer our time for projects that no one else wants and all those people who wouldn’t do what we are doing will still find a way to complain about the way we do it. They don’t want to help you fix it, they just want to tell you what you are – in their eyes – doing wrong, and walk away. They have no solutions, only problems.
We are the people who struggle to maintain friendships. We are the ones who make the calls, write the letters, try to wonder what we did wrong to make us drift apart like that. We apologize for the drift as if it were our own making. And when it’s obvious the struggle is one way, we mourn the friendship while you move on to someone else as if all those years of shared lives mean nothing. We need friends, you need someone who is going through the same thing as you at the same time as you because that is the only way your feelings get validated. You just want someone to listen to you, but you don’t want to listen in return. You want do dump and vent; we want to share and help. You need someone to help justify your existence; we need someone who can make each other’s existence a bit better.
There are people who want you complacent and compliant, who want you to just lie still and take it and maybe try to smile as they slowly kill your will. There are people who will try their hardest to make you believe you don’t deserve what you have and you dont’ deserve what you want. There are people who will lie to you and sweet talk you and tell you everything you think you want to hear and when you let down your guard and trust them and trust their words, they’ll pounce like a vicious lion and hold you between their teeth until you’re nothing but a rag doll. Another trophy kill for them.
There comes a point in your life when you have to say, no more. There comes a time when you have to give up the ghosts of those friendships, when you have to find some pride and dignity and stop letting people walk on you. Realize that whatever good has come into your life, you own. You earned that good, you earned that happiness and no one should be allowed to make you feel guilty about it. Realize that you can say NO. You can stand up for yourself. You can fight for what is rightfully yours. Stop apologizing for being you. Stop apologizing for what makes you who you are. Fix what can be fixed and what can’t be fixed, throw out. Stop trying to make everyone happy. Make yourself happy. Look at you. Look at how far you’ve come. How dare you let anyone else make you feel like you don’t deserve that? How dare you let anyone else make you feel like you need to hide what you have because they don’t have it? You owe yourself more than that. And you certainly owe yourself more than, at this point in your life, to be doing something that is making you completely miserable. Change isn’t easy, but it is possible. Dumping old baggage isn’t easy, but it’s possible. Taking back your life from the hands of people who just want to push your head under the water every time you come up for a breath is an enormous task, but it can be done. It will be done. It has to be done. Even if you have to claw your way out of the box you put yourself in, do it. Even if other people tell you it can’t be done, that you’ll never do it, you’ll never change; that’s their jealousy speaking. We owe it to ourselves to not let the envy and pettiness of others keep us from our appointed rounds. You know deep in your heart what you were appointed for. Go achieve that. Stop letting other people’s issues become yours because it’s impeding your way.
I always thought the best advice in the world was “Be excellent to each other.” But you have to never, ever forget to be excellent to yourself. Without that, you’ll never find your way.
You sweep your hand across the table to reach for the pepper. You hit a plastic cup of ice water, send it spinning on its axis. It turns and turns and the ice clinks and the water swishes and as you stare at this turning cup you fast forward to the future, where the cup stops spinning and falls on its side, spilling water and ice all over the table and onto the floor. The waitress runs over with some paper towels and you grab the napkins on the table while stuttering an embarrassed apology as a seemingly impossible amount of water cascades off the table, seeps into the rug and rises into the waitress’s Reeboks. In that instant you’re transported to grade school when you spilled a glass of Hi-C during a classroom Halloween party and your face went hot and red underneath your plastic witch mask. Your teacher ran over with paper towels and a couple of your classmates laughed and pointed and called you a clumsy witch and you took the mask off and ran out of the classroom, red Hi-C soaking through your costume. Then you’re somewhere in the 80s in a night club. New Order’s Temptation is playing when you drop the beer bottle on the floor. You’re drunk and lean down to clean it up with the edge of your shirt and then there’s glass in your hand and you’re bleeding and everyone’s singing “up down turn around” when you run into the bathroom with blood dripping from your hand and beer dripping from your shirt. And then it’s 1995 and you’ve spilled a measuring cup of milk on the floor and the yelling and the name calling is loud and clear and you laugh a little as you cry because you’re not supposed to cry over spilled milk, right?
A second. Maybe two seconds. That’s all it takes for all that to pass through your brain which is telling your hand to react and you reach out, grab the glass before it stops spinning, before it can fall to the floor with a splash and crash.
There’s just a little bit of water on the table. You wipe it up with your napkin, reach again for the pepper and get on with your lunch.
You’ll remember this one not for the mess, but for having the reflex to stop the spill before it happened.
A few years ago I wrote a long post about the fear of doing. I had this idea in my head that I would one day quit my civil service job, get a part time job doing something less stressful and spend the rest of my time making money by writing. Which is the only thing I ever wanted to do my entire life: be a professional writer.
I had too much fear back then. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of what would happen if I left my job. Fear of moving forward.
I went back and read that post last night and was astounded at how much of that fear I’ve lost, how many of the excuses to not move forward I no longer use as reasons to stay where I am.
I’m making my way as a writer. I’ve got good things going on and many more irons in the fire, as they say. And I’m getting ever closer to that point where I may be able to take a leave of absence from my job.
That thought, instead of frightening me or making me anxious, makes me happy. I am not afraid to change things. I am not afraid to take on this challenge. And for the first time in my life, I really believe in myself. I believe I can do this.
It helps to have someone behind me, someone who not only encourages me and supports me and is my emotional safety net, but is willing to be a financial safety net as well. Because we are partners and we have a “what’s mine is ours, what’s yours is ours” way of operating in our relationship, the decision will be a bit easier than if I were going it alone. It’s also a hell of a lot less scary to make a leap like this when someone is holding your hand.
I’m not quite ready yet. But I think before 2013 is out, it will happen. That’s my goal. Before this year is out, I’m going to realize a good portion of the dreams I have for myself. The rest will be written as I go along.
This is going to be a year of moving forward, but also a year of leaving things behind. Mostly, the fear and the stagnation. They are things of the past.
Yes, I’m a little bit scared to do this. Who wouldn’t be? But I’m eager and willing and I have no excuses left as to why I shouldn’t. The last excuse was “What if I’m not a good enough writer to do this?” and I finally have the confidence to realize I am. I am good enough.
I think the key was when I figured out that waiting for something good to happen to me was an easy way of making sure nothing good happened to me (writing wise). Fortune and opportunity were not going to come find me. I had to go find them. So I did.
I am excited. It’s gonna be a good year. My year. Finally.
As much as I know what my meds do for me, there are some days I don’t want to take them. I don’t want to hear that alarm go off, I don’t want to make the practiced walk over to the cabinet, I don’t want to take out the two bottles, shake a pill out of one, a half pill out of the other. I don’t want to wash them down and wait. Wait to feel normal.
I want to burn the prescriptions and empty the bottles down the drain because I don’t want it to have to be like this. What’s it like to not have to take some kind of medication to keep yourself from crying, sleeping, overreacting, becoming manic, being anxious, acting paranoid, feeling like the world is going to close in on you? What’s it like to not have to swallow pills in order to regulate your moods? What is it like?
I find the whole process exhausting. I hate thinking about it because when I think about it, I get overwhelmed at the concept of having to take these pills every single day for the rest of my life to just feel like a well functioning human being.
I’m grateful for what modern medication offers me. I’m grateful that my brain chemistry can be altered to the extent that I feel like a “normal” human being, that I can function and think clearly and be productive and happy. I am thankful there is this much. Every day I am thankful I have found a way to participate fully in the human race.
But some days it frustrates and saddens me that I can’t do it on my own. I feel flawed. I am flawed. I am reminded of that at 7:00 every morning.
Some days I eagerly swallow those pills, grateful for their company on my journey.
But some days I resent them.
The things that give me relief also give me pause.
I wake up at 3 and realize that’s a stupid time to get out of bed so I wait until 4am, which sounds more reasonable. I spend that hour in the dark thinking.
Lately I’ve been thinking about people from my past. People from grade school who tormented me, who went out of their way to let me know they would never be friends with the likes of me. People from middle school who barely tolerated my existence. People from high school who closed themselves off from me. Guys who spurned me. Friends who abandoned me. Adults who said I would never amount to anything. People who used me, boyfriends who treated me badly, relatives who judged me, friends who turned out to not really know the definition of friendship. People who shunned me because I wasn’t good enough or pretty enough or cool enough or enough of anything at all.
I think of all those people and I smile.
I smile because they were wrong. I smile because I know what some of those people are up to now. I smile because I know I’m better than them. I smile because they each taught me some valuable lesson about life that matured me and helped me become a better, wiser person. I smile because after all their predictions about my life becoming a lonely, horrible existence of futility and despair, they were wrong.
I smile because I no longer believe them.
I no longer believe those words spoken to me and about me.
I no longer let about forty years worth of words make me feel small.
I smile because I have realized, finally, that I have not lost anything by not being able to convince all those people to like me or find me worthy.
They have lost. They have lost out on the opportunity to really know me.
Too bad for them.
4am. I smile, get out of bed. I’m ok with getting up this early because I have a lot to offer the world and the more time I spend doing it, the better off I am. I hid inside myself for too many years, shadowed by harsh words, all too ready to fulfill prophecies spoken by people who never bothered to find out what I was really made of.
I have a lot to give. I’m good enough. I’m worthy. I’m none of those things anyone expected me to be or wanted me to be.
I smile because I’ve finally broken free of everyone who tried to hold me back. And because I’ve discovered there are people who think the world of me and they are the people whose opinions I should value.
The journey to self-discovery has been long and hard. I never thought it would take approximately half my life.
Yet it is still happening. Every day.
I am awake. Wide awake at 4am. I am smiling. I am free of the restraint of the past. I am ok, I will always be ok and I have always been ok. The hell with those who think or thought otherwise.
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