Writing With A Broken Brain

I stare at the screen, take in the whiteness, change the colour of the page to see if it’ll help.

Then I change the colour of the font. Not that I can tell, what with the lack of words and all. But it’s the thought that counts, and changing the font colour, or style, is helpful for writer’s block, so maybe, maybe it’ll work.

It doesn’t. This isn’t writer’s block. It’s depression and/or anxiety.

I know the things that work to stop these moments, though those things are often left abandoned on the sidewalk as I speed ahead to try and get it all done. Eight hours sleep. Proper workplace. Three meals, enough water. Fish oil tablets. Quiet, or at least a little bit of quiet time daily. Not feeling like I’m constantly on call to save the day. 

Not feeling like the world is caving in around me would also be good, but the more anxious I get, the more I feel it, and the more I feel it, the more I try to outrun it and only make it worse.

The hard part is learning to stand, frozen in place when you feel like you’re going to die if you don’t run. Not literally- I know the world’s not actually caving in. But the panic is there, and the instinct to try and avoid that uncomfortable sense of futility is overwhelming.

On those days, if I have to write for work, I can generally force something into existence. But writing for me? I stare at the page.

Once upon a time, I used to verbally and emotionally eviscerate myself for that. Took it as a sign of laziness, rather than my mind screaming ‘stop’ and tearing itself apart until I obeyed, until I freeze and let the world crumble around me. This is what happens when I’m pushing myself too hard, too often, for too long.

It happens way, way too often.

Sometimes the only thing to do is stop. And sometimes stopping for even twenty minutes is enough of a reboot to get things started again. Maybe I’ll read for fun. Or take a shower. Or listen to music and sing along without caring about how I sound. I’ll take my tablets, eat and drink if I’ve forgotten it, maybe even go have a nap if I know I’m overtired.

Sometimes, the page stops being white, or whatever ridiculous colour it’s become in my quest to just do something, anything. And sometimes I’ll sip tea from a proper cup, snuggle under a blanket (I get cold when I’m upset, or stressed, like I’ve actually gone into shock. Because clearly, weirdness is my superpower here), and read something suitably trashy (no crime, no horror, nothing filled with angst or characters whose self-loathing too closely resembles my own). When I’m back in the real world, I’ll paint again, filling A5 journals with art that might not be fantastic, but is pretty damned therapeutic.

Sometimes it’s enough to get me back on my feet. Sometimes it takes a few days to set me to rights. But slowly, I’m learning that the kindest thing I can do is not try to write when this is my reality. I’ll hate what I write anyway- it’ll be harried and forced, and nothing will flow the way it needs to- and it’ll only be deleted.

They say you have to write every day, but honestly? The world doesn’t end if you don’t obey that rule.

Advertisements

Reply to an Addendum

Dear Peter M. Ball,

GET OUTTA MY HEAD.

All snark aside, this is actually why I adore Peter as a mental health writer, and value the hell out of him as a friend. Peter has a habit of saying things that I’ve been struggling to figure out how to articulate, or mentioning things in passing that knock me on my ass for a while because they’re so me it’s scary. Also? He was wonderful enough to add a follow on piece to his article here, over at Man Vs Bear. Go, read it. It’s wonderful.

Back? Okay then.

Let me tell you the worst kept secret in the history of secrets: I’m not good at the whole ‘being social’ thing.

Pick your jaw up off the ground, guys. Don’t be mean.

It baffles me most days that I freelance, because it actually hurts to do the job that I love to do. I don’t mean ‘I get a little stressed sometimes’ here. I mean ‘this job dramatically and negatively impacts my mental health on a near daily basis and I force myself to do it anyway for the nuggets of awesome hidden away in the panic and vomiting’.

You see the Insta pics of that latest movie review, right? And it looks like a lot of fun. And in the second that picture is taken, it is fun. And when I say I love my job, I do actually mean that I love that part of my job. But through that photo, what you miss is the lead up- the part where I stress about tickets a dozen times (which reminds me I left the ticket to tonight’s gig at home- fuck), and making sure everyone gets equal spare ticket nabbing privileges, and arranging times to meet up, and getting there early but not too early, and oh gods there’s just so many fucking people. And it’s always worse when it’s a kid’s movie because parents and grandparents are the worst and will push in front of you and teach their loin-leavings to be rude and horrible to other people in general for the sake of getting one spot closer in line. And if you don’t hate kids, parents, and grandparents by the time you’re in your seat, you’re pretty much guaranteed a sainthood.

I hate the lining up bit. And the other people behind me where I can’t see them bit (hyper-vigilance is fun, y’all), and the part where you get knocked into repeatedly or crashed into by kids, or have people reading your phone over your shoulder. And the part where you have to try and make idle chit chat with bored people and you don’t actually know what to say because talking with new people really, really isn’t my strong suit. And god forbid you say something controversial like, ‘Actually, I’m a freelance writer and reviewer’ when they ask what you do or how you managed to get a ticket, because the automatic response is almost always bitchy, and it’s hard to smile and not snark back.

The seeing the movie and talking about it bit? Love it. The interacting with people? Not so much.

Interviews are painful, too, which is why I favour phone interviews to in person ones. On a phone call, no one can see you flailing, and fidgeting, or driving your nails into your palms or your wrists or your legs to stop yourself from panicking because you’re 100% sure you’ve fucked something up even if you’re not sure how you’ve done it.

I have literally drawn blood trying to stop myself having a panic attack during a phone interview. And I still, voluntarily, do interviews.

Even the transcription process hurts, because in listening to the audio I can pinpoint every single stumble I made. Oh, that’s where I screwed up and said the wrong word like a complete moron.

Oh, that’s where I got the name slightly wrong because I’m an asshole.

OMG KYLIE WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?

I can handle in person interviews if I know the person, though even then I’m hyperaware of how awkward I am, and the way I try and cover it over by being, y’know, super happy hyper girl pretending not to be holy shit I think I’m gonna puke girl.

I am not a social butterfly by nature, but I glue those fucking wings on and make do.

 

So when Peter talks about the stress of making a call- I get it. I have started phone interviews with tears running down my face because I’m so panicked. I have had a panic attack down the phone line to my editor when a guy I was meant to interview gleefully screwed me around and I had no idea what to do about i. I have drawn blood trying to focus. I literally have every interview q&a prep page including the following:

Hi [name]! It’s Kylie from [insert publication here]. How are you?

That’s great to hear! Are you still alright for our interview?

Awesome!

Why? Because when I’m anxious- and that’s a certainty with interviews- there’s a high chance I’ll be so focused on not mispronouncing words or stumbling over names that I’ll forget the really basic stuff. Like not coming across like an asshole.

To put it in perspective: my interview with Tim Ferguson is my favourite interview, and the one I was the most confident in. But I still can barely stand to listen to the audio because I know every moment I flailed, and every point I struggled to keep up, and ad-lib questions, and every moment I was flailing stupidly at the phone because oh my gods I really respect this guy and what if I fuck it up? I’m gonna fuck it up, of course I am. That’s what I do.

And that was me on a good day.

‘You Had One Job’ by Peter M. Ball

I am utterly thrilled to say that our first guest poster is Peter M. Ball! Peter is a particularly kick-ass writer based in Brisbane, Australia. He’s got a brilliant turn of phrase, and a wicked mind for storytelling…and a habit of talking about mental health in a way that breaks my heart and reaffirms the entire point of this series: you’re not alone. You can find more of his writing- and links to some rather wonderful books- at his site, Man Vs Bear

1.

I’m about to make breakfast when the realisation hits me: I didn’t put the dishwasher on last night. Because I didn’t put the dishwasher on, there are no clean bowls for porridge this morning. Because there are no clean bowls for porridge, it should be quite obvious I’m a useless piece of shit. Come on Peter, you stupid mother-fucker, you had one goddamn job yesterday.

It takes 65 words to express that moment. Less than a minute of typing to transmute it into the beginning of a journey, a hook I can build around. A moment of anxiety rendered through the filter of a pithy internet meme. The part of my brain that deals with narrative is already looking for what comes next.

Another part of my brain is still dwelling on the dishes. It took three seconds to pull a pasta bowl out of my cupboard and use it instead. That doesn’t matter. I fucked up. One more in a string of fuck-ups that speak to the fact I’m sorry excuse for a human being.

I’m still dwelling on it an hour later, when I come back to this essay. An hour after that, as I’m eating lunch. Rationally, I know I had many jobs yesterday. I spent hours catching up with a close friend I hadn’t seen in months. I wrote a first draft of this essay that will never see the light of day. I obsessed about the flaws that first draft. I ate take-out burritos, which meant there were no dishes to put in the dishwasher, which is how I missed the step where I turned the dishwasher on.

I did not have one job yesterday. I never have one job.

2.

Let’s not fuck around. When Kylie asked me say a few things about mental health and writing, her one request was ‘talk about how you manage your bad days.’

The answer to that is simple: I don’t. The bad days are bad days, and when they hit, nothing gets done.

I plan around them when I can, mitigating their impact on deadlines. I look at the thirty days in the month, and figure I’ll be productive for about twenty-three. The rest will get taken up by other things, some of which will be bad days where my brain sends me into a tailspin and everything’s a struggle.

At worst…well, I sink for a week or two. On the really bad days I do not write, because I do not deserve to write. I do not deserve to eat real food or make sensible choices about how I spend my money. I do not deserve to have ambitions.

To write on a bad day is to acknowledge there’s a future, and the possibility that I will continue to exist. That I will wake up tomorrow and this process of pretending I’m a functional human being will start all over again.

On the bad days, that thought is terrifying.

3.

Today is not a bad day, but it could turn into one.

I didn’t write yesterday, among all the things I was doing. I mean, sure, I wrote a first draft of this essay, but it wasn’t good and it wasn’t finished and besides, it doesn’t really count. Only fiction counts as writing. The same part of my brain that focuses on my failure to turn on a dishwasher comes into play.

It doesn’t matter that I’d planned yesterday as a day off. That I’d specifically set aside the fiction project to write this and hang out with my friend and eat burritos and talk shit. That I cleaned my house before said friend came over, and answered emails that kept my writing career running.

You had one goddamn job, Peter. You had one goddamn job.

The worst part about writing is the speed with which it becomes a stick you can use to flagellate yourself, especially if you’re the kind of person who deals with anxiety or depression or other mental health challenges.

4.

I put a lot of value on being smart. For years it was my defence mechanism against that hollow feeling I wasn’t yet ready to call depression. I tethered my sense of self-worth to the twin docks of I am smart and I can write.

Here’s the real irony in all this – to write regularly and intelligently, particularly now that I’m aware that depression and anxiety will fuck with me, I need to admit that I’m actually pretty dumb. If I want to write consistently and avoid the bad days, I have to embrace all the simple, stupid thing that help manage my mental state.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I get at least seven hours of sleep, which means going to bed at 11 and waking up at 7.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I take my medication, even though my current medication means alcohol is likely to make my liver explode and that completely sucks.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I track my negative thoughts and dismantle them using the toolkit provided by cognitive behavioural therapy, even though it makes me feel like an idiot.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I make use of a CBT app on my phone to track things, and obey its daily reminders.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I start projects early and work on them consistently, instead of trying to burn through them before a rapidly approaching deadline.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I do incredibly twee things, like create gratitude lists. Or when I go out and walk every day and eat healthy meals. Or when I make time to catch up with friends, even if it’s for a half-hour, even when I am reasonably certain that I am too feral to be around people.

Let’s be clear: I hate all of this. I do not want to be this person. I would much rather be a freewheeling, creative genius who shits rainbows and has their brilliance acknowledged by everyone around them.  The fact that I am not that person is frustrating as hell.

It doesn’t fucking matter.

I want to be a writer who makes a living from their work, and I want that even more than I hate being the person who needs to do those other things. It isn’t easy. It isn’t fun. It’s just what needs to be done

5.

I don’t like writing about mental health, particularly my own. I force myself to do it quite often, but in the back of my mind there’s this lingering fear that this time is the time when someone will finalise realise the truth. That I’m not actually depressed or anxious, but I am a lazy fuck-up too scared of my own ambitions to actively pursue them. You’re not unwell, that voice whispers, you just need to be fucking better than you are. Stop pretending that you’re good enough.

That thought is always with me. Stop pretending that you’re good enough. Stop pretending. Stop. Stop. It’s grappled with every time I sit down to write. Is this story good enough? This book? This essay?

It’s when the voice get something to point to – a failure, however small – that I crash into the bad days and get nothing done. Look, the voice says, see how bad you fucked this up? You deserve this. You suck. Now everyone will know.

Because the bad days are bad, it’s easy to villainize that nagging thought without acknowledging that it can be a positive thing. The need to be smarter and better drives me as often as it sinks me into the quagmire. It led me to take a stupid challenge that became my first book, or write a short story to prove someone wrong that ended up getting reprinted over and over and over.

The line between a good day and a bad day is frequently just having enough bandwidth to recognise that voice as part of a polyphony, not the entire conversation.

6.

I fear having my depression invalidated because…well, for starters, that’s the nature of being depressed, and there is something comforting about the possibility that you, at your worst, aren’t necessarily 100% to blame.

But it’s not just that. At all.

The worst part about the bad days was never the depression itself, because depression didn’t give me the space to care about anything. What really fucked with me was the week just after I emerged from a depressive quagmire, when the internal monologue stopped playing “nothing matters, so why bother,” and I started to give shit about writing and work again.

Suddenly I looked back at the time I lost and felt nothing but shame, panic, and anger. I was lazy and out of control, and I didn’t understand what caused it. Why could I write consistently and regularly for weeks a time, only to sink into this shit for no reason?

And so I would come out of a low period and try to make up for it, putting together incredibly ambitious and quite unreasonable plans to try and make those feelings go away. Often this meant throwing myself at big, public projects where people would validate me. Public displays of productivity are easy, when you’re a writer. You don’t even need to finish projects, just show that you’re working a lot.

To be able to look back on a bad week and go, “oh, right, I was just depressed,” circumvents a lot of self-loathing. Freeing up the mental resources that used to go into bolstering my ego means it’s easier to get back to writing, simply because I’m willing to cut myself a break.

7.

It occurs to me that I still haven’t put the dishwasher on. More dishes have accumulated on the sink, and there are still no clean bowls if I need them. Do I stop writing and go deal with the problem, or do I keep working while I’ve got the thread of the narrative? I stick with typing, ‘cause that’s what I’m doing right now. ‘Cause taking care of me frequently rates beneath finishing something I’m writing for someone else.

Even though that’s one of the things that I should monitor better than I do.

I’ve almost talked myself into the dishes when I get a notification on google hangouts. My fortnightly writers catch-up is starting, a meeting I’ve forgotten because I didn’t do my weekly diary seven days back. A gap in my process, which I know better than to ignore because it leads to anxiety when shit like this occurs

Jesus, Peter, you had one job…

8.

The worst part about writing about my mental health isn’t the fear. No, the worst part is knowing that you’re still a writer, that stories and essays have structures and conventions. Characters in stories start off broken, and they are made whole by the climax. The problems of the beginning are resolved by the end, all neat and clean.

If you write long enough, this becomes instinct. The reader has stuck with you until the end, and now you owe them an epiphany.

I have nothing for you.  In terms of dealing with writing and my own mental health, I’m a rough draft, not the final product. Everything is very much a work in progress. What helps some weeks helps less a month later; anxiety triggers that send me into a tailspin get worse, or better, or go away.

And yet again, the thought is there: Jesus, Peter, you had one job.

Today, I just have the energy to put that thought in the box marked anxiety, which sits next to the box marked depression, and them aside long enough to do this job, and the next one, and the one after that.

It’s not much as epiphany’s go, but right now it’s the best I’ve got.

Broken Words

There are certain phrases I’ve been programmed to say, regardless of their validity or fairness.

I’m fine, just tired.

I’m sorry, it’s all my fault.

I can’t draw.

Honesty is for the internet, because the conversations online are often less taxing than ones offline. Also? I’m often a coward. It’s easier to take the blame or shrug off the problem than it is to risk the people I know telling me they don’t believe me. My current counsellor calls me an ‘unwilling people pleaser’.

He kinda has a point.

I found myself, over and over, saying I couldn’t draw today. Silliness happened online, and I wanted, needed, to draw it. Me feeling inspired to art, knowing it would be seen by someone I respect the hell out of? It’s rare.

When I was in highschool, I had a shitty art teacher who made me feel like crap about everything I tried to do. I started out passionate, engaged. Not a shocker: growing up when I was asked what I wanted to be, my answer was almost always ‘writer, singer, artist’. Sometimes ‘palaeontologist’ so I could work with my big sister. By the time I graduated I was half-assing assignments like nobody’s business because, over and over, that art teacher told me I was shit at art, and eventually I gave up and started believing.

Grade nine, she ‘helped’ me with an assignment, taking over and adding glue and white paint to the surface of my artwork while I was out of the room. She’d suggested the addition, and I’d said no, I didn’t think it’d work with what I was trying to do. She failed me for those additions, because they were too much and ruined the overall look of it. It clearly didn’t go with what I was trying to do.  She even managed to break the triptych I’d made for an art showing at the school, cutting the linking chains and gluing Velcro to the back of the timber, and basically making sure it couldn’t be salvaged after the event. She hung the pictures- of ghosts, because I was a morbid little shit even back then- upside down. I remember looking at everyone else’s work, all beautifully presented, with mine arranged upside down and lopsidedly haphazard, hidden in the back like it was an embarrassment. In class, the old cow would stand behind me as I worked, pointing out flaws and asking why I couldn’t be like her favourite student.

Four years of that, and it was ingrained pretty well that I suck at art. It took years to even pick up a coloured pencil again. But the thing is, I enjoy being creative. And I’m even okay at it when I get out of my own way.

For the first time in forever, I decided to make something and show someone. It’s not perfect, granted- I’m not going to be animating anything for Disney. But I like it. It’s cute. And it makes me happy. It also makes the person I’m giving it to happy, which is kinda the point.

But still, even looking at a piece of paper covered in proof to the contrary, in the back of my mind I hear ‘I can’t draw.’ To the point I got spooked. I actually worried whether one of my friends would be angry about it- even though he’s the kindest, most easy going person who would never give someone shit for imperfect art. I was genuinely worried he’ll be mad about a picture because ‘I can’t draw’ and he might be offended that I took the silly and made an ugly picture of it even though I know it’s not ugly and actually like it.

My brain is a complicated place to be.

We all have a running narrative of bullshit forced into our heads from ourselves, but also from those around us. The unhelpful relative who tells us that we could stand to lose some weight if we want to get/keep a partner. The teacher who told us boys only like girls who smile (jokes on you, asshole: I still get hit on when I’m scowling, so there!) The helpful sort who explained that creativity is a hobby, not a career, and starving artist is all you’ll ever be because you’re not talented enough to be in the minority of successful art makers.

I’ve recently started cognitive behavioural therapy, which is fucking phenomenal for someone who likes picking things apart to study them. It’s hard, sometimes, but I kinda love it, because it’s like dissecting a story to see how the author made it work.

I am the writer of my life story, and gods dammit, but I’ve made it a hell of a complicated narrative.

In a way, in CBT sessions we play a game: find a negative thought currently fucking me up, and figure out where it came from. What started that fear, or running monologue? And how do I change that belief now?

I was scared to show a friend a picture of some My Little Ponies because a woman told me when I was younger that I can’t ‘do’ art properly. Given she was in a position of authority on the subject and was bullying the hell out of me, I started to believe her, to the point where that voice in my head telling me I suck is hers, even after all these years.

What I didn’t expect was how that ‘you’re not creative’ fucks me over as a writer. I’ve been writing fiction for years, but rarely sharing it. Certainly never getting it published away from spheres I control, even though I want to be an author. But I hesitate, over and over.  Because ‘you’re not creative’ wormed its way into the part of my creativity that means the most to me.

The bullshit we’re told is sneaky. It gets into the nooks and crannies you don’t expect it to be in, until you’re left wondering what the absolute fuck is wrong with you. You chalk yourself up to lazy asshole levels of uselessness, beat yourself up emotionally for the wasted effort, and never realise that there might be something just below the surface.

We’re all a melting pot of our own baggage, and the baggage other people have dumped onto us, knowingly or not.

The thing about epiphanies is that they’re fucking worthless on their own. I am really, really good at having them- at picking things apart and understanding why they’re happening. What I suck at is figuring out how to fix things.

I’m getting slowly better though. Here, I know that Van Gogh had a good point: if you hear a voice saying you can’t paint, paint and it’ll stfu. Push through, and take some of the pressure off, and suddenly that big scary ‘can’t’ is turning into a ‘kinda can’. Take the Dory approach (just keep swimming), and ‘kinda can’ turns into ‘can’ turns into ‘fuck me, I’m awesome’.

When they said you have to suffer for your art, I had no idea that they actually meant that you’ll probably suffer crippling self-doubt and a society given belief that you’re unworthy to call yourself a creative. But there you go.

Vale, Loki

32 years ago today, my father died in an accidental electrocution while cleaning the cement around the house we were moving into. Come this afternoon, it will be 32 years- to the minute- when my mother became a single parent, and had to navigate life with two small children and no clue how the hell to make it all work.

The truth is, I have no idea why I’m writing this. I was 22 months old when my father died; asleep upstairs while the rest of the family dealt with the crisis below me. The memories I have of him aren’t my own; they’re bits and pieces cobbled together from everyone else’s memories to make a roughly humanoid, shadowy shape. Something always so much more and infinitely less than an actual person.

I don’t know who he was. Oh, sure, I know his name. I can describe him, and know which features we share. I know I look like him. I know I have his temper, and his penchant for talking the way out of trouble and being a snarky little shit. I know his family history- at least a little- I know the jobs he held and how he met my mother, and all that kind of information. But what I don’t know, in the slightest, is the man that he was. Was he a good man? I assume so, given that my mother doesn’t suffer fools lightly. Was he kind? I hear the stories about how he was with my sister, and have to assume that he was. Did he love me?

Isn’t that the million dollar question?

What my father is, and always has been, is my first understanding of storytelling. After all, the stories about him grow and change throughout the years, all utterly dependent upon the storyteller, and what’s happening in their life.

He was a slut cheating on my mother and planning to abandon us. He was a devoted husband and father working to pay off a home for his family. He hated babies and maybe, maybe, if he’d lived, he would have loved me eventually. He wouldn’t let my mother switch the pressure cleaner- the machine literally killing him- off incorrectly because they’d been told it would likely start a fire, and he wouldn’t risk the little girl sleeping upstairs, even to save himself. He adored my sister and she adored him above all else- he never really held me much because she was always in his arms. I screamed whenever anyone but Mum held me, and he never really got to hold me because I refused it every time. He never left home without kissing us all goodbye, even if he and Mum were annoyed with each other. They were the perfect couple. They were your typical couple- they fought, sometimes, but in the end they loved each other enough to work through issues and come away stronger for it.

My father isn’t so much a person, but a mirror that reflects every heartsore pain in the world left behind. He’s an interchangeable character dropped into stories as required because that’s what the storyteller needs. Today he’s the hero, next time, perhaps a villain. Everything and nothing.

I do it, too. There’s a picture that’s probably not me, but I’ve claimed it anyway. The only photo of my father and I, otherwise, is of him dressed as Santa. I know she was his favourite; it doesn’t bother me anymore. But I need to have a photo, some sign that maybe that adoring look happened to me, too, not just to my sister. So I lay claim to a photo I’ve no right to, and rewrite my story to include a moment I don’t even remember.

Writers, after all, are big on that whole rewriting thing.

My father is a game of truth I’m never going to win. A collection of lies, half-truths, romanticised memories, and exaggerations that I spend far too much time trying to form into an honest image of the man who helped give me life, and who has been shaping my life well after he was laid to rest.

My father is a trickster god, and every single time I think I have him figured out, everything changes. Somewhere along the way, he stopped being Geoff, started being Loki in my head. Geoff? He’s a guy everyone knows except me. He’s the man who drew breath and lived, a man I’ve never known and will never know. There are no memories for me to cling to, no stories that aren’t contradicted by someone else’s version of events. None can be proved, not really. How do you prove what was in a heart 3 decades in the ground?

Today, the rest of my family will mourn, and I will stand a little way apart, trying to be supportive. In this, I’m an outsider looking in, unsure what I’m missing except the idea of what I never got to have. I can’t miss him, not really, so I miss the idea that maybe what I lost was a man who held my family together, and a man that, despite claims to the contrary, loved me.

If there’s an afterlife, maybe the questions will finally be laid to rest. But until then, rest in peace, Loki.

Rest in peace, Geoff.

 

Sheepishly Stepping Up To The Mic

It’s been a while, random void into which I try to shout at regular intervals.

Life is weird. Pretty sure we’re all aware of that. But if you weren’t… sorry. Also, surprise. Life when you’re trying to figure out how to make it all work while precariously balancing mental health? That can be a special kind of fun.

There’s maybe twenty drafted posts for WS in a folder, unfinished and unpublished because anxiety brain is a salty bitch sometimes, and every single word seemed wrong or dangerous. Sorry about that, but let’s just acknowledge that this is a thing that may sometimes happen, and unless I start prepping and scheduling all my posts in advance, radio silence might occasionally be a thing.

Which, if you’ve ever heard the ‘create an author platform. This is your brand. Don’t screw it up’ monologues, is number one ‘don’t ever do the thing’ on the list. Create content. Post constantly. Make sure people remember who you are because we are bombarded with stuff at all hours of all days and goddamn it, if you’re not there in their faces all the time they’ll forget you.

Which… yeah. Might not be working well for me lately. Even the idea of that constant interaction- written rather than actually, y’know, interacting with people- is exhausting. Anxiety and depression have been kicking my ass- but then again, if you look around, there are a lot of writers lately in the same boat. Even some of my absolute favourite people struggle with mental health issues, and are learning how to create a life around it. It got me thinking: clearly, I’m not alone in this shit.

After all, the arts have always been seen as a reasonably safe space for the weird, the socially awkward, and the mentally ill. The brilliant thing is that more and more creatives are talking openly about their issues with anxiety and mental illness, and that lets people like me learn how to cope with that additional creative pressure by showing that it’s possible.

So here’s what WS is gonna do for a while. I’m gonna talk about anxiety, mental illness, and creativity. And I’m inviting some of the most talented swots I know to join in, too. There are some amazing ideas and thoughts being shared by some of my absolute favourite people already- I’m really excited that anyone else has agreed to play along here, but the stuff people are adding to the conversation has me freakin’ giddy over here.

The conversation kicks off next Saturday.

The Sunday Circle: The Smurf Haired Girl Vs The Depressive Episode

[For those not in the know, Peter M. Ball hosts the Sunday Circle on his blog every week, which you should know because you should honestly be stalking his blog by now. This is my response to his questions.]

 

This week didn’t go well. I had PLANS- the sort that needed to happen, the sort that have been struggling to happen with a move and a bunch of drama associated with it. Last week was to be the week I got back on track. I wanted to get to today’s post triumphant and maybe just a teensy bit smug about it all.

The problem, of course, was that I was so busy plotting my triumphant return to getting shit done that I missed the rather obvious issue: I was stacking the deck against myself. If you look at my post from last week, you’ll see it’s the queen of the big-ass to do lists. It’s ridiculous.

And it should have been a glaring neon sign that I was about to be in bad brain territory. Whenever I’m about to struggle, my body lets me know in advance with a random flurry of preparation. Like extreme nesting, I try to do as much as possible so that while I’m feeling like shit, I can at least tell myself that I’m not screwing anything up overly much.

The week started off well. I was focused, I was there. And though the problems I was tackling were breaking my brain and taking forever, I was seeing progress. And then… I wasn’t. There were distractions galore stealing my time, and frustrations that honestly need to be dealt with, and then I fought with someone I adore, and spent two days curled under a doona, freezing my ass off and getting increasingly frustrated that my body’s way of dealing with massive amounts of conflict and stress is with shock symptoms for days afterwards.

So my achievements became ‘I did some writing work’ and ‘I kinda just gave up on getting the fucking blog formatting right this week and decided that’ll do, pig’. That’s… that’s pretty much it. I got a few writing jobs done, and it seems they were well received (I got a charming text from someone I reviewed that absolutely fucking made my day), and I stuck my pride to the sticking place and tried to resolve the big horrible fight of bullshittery when, let’s be honest, I’d have rather just pretended nothing ever happened, because resolution runs the risk of more conflict and more days stuck hiding under doonas unable to do a gorram thing beyond listen to my ‘Depression: The Musical’ playlist and wishing coffee made itself.

So because my headspace is still far too close to shitty territory for my liking, this week, I’m approaching it from a much different- much smarter- direction. I’m scaling back. I’m trying a new rule: one thing daily for my business, and one thing daily for me. That way, on the good days, I can throw more into my day, and on the bad days, I can do the absolute minimum and not feel like a total screw up.

What am I working on this week? Mostly the writing adjacent stuff. I need to get the distractions sorted- the problem with living with a chronic procrastinator when I’m pretty damn good at procrastinating myself is how easily it turns into both of us getting to the end of the day, having done not a fucking thing. That can’t keep happening. Boundaries must be set and enforced.

The collaborative review blog I made, Reviewers of Oz, still needs work. But it’s going to be part of a blog tour for an author’s novel release in mid April, and that needs to be a massive priority. If I can do that well, it’s a damn good way to start moving from ‘new, shitty blog’ towards ‘new, but kinda sorta professional and accepted’ blog, and I want that.

I’m reviewing A Rock & Roll Writers Festival next weekend, which should be a hell of a lot of fun, and a good chance to learn more and chat to some writers and artists I haven’t gotten to meet before. And I’ll need a couple of reviews written for it and delivered by close of business Monday. Doable.

Other than that, I want to get back to writing 2k a day (made easier because Camp Nanowrimo starts next month, which is an ass kicking to get it done, at least), and reading for an hour. For the most part, these are my ‘one a day’ goals.

What’s inspiring me? To be honest, the blind panic that happens when I realise I’ve fucked up; that I’ve missed the glaring warning signs that shit isn’t going well when I know damn well I need to be vigilant. This time, I was really lucky. It didn’t last as long as it could have before I was able to drag myself out of the blue mood. But part of my business plan as a freelancer has to be taking care of myself, and minimising these moments. So figuring out how to pay better attention clearly has to be a priority.

What am I avoiding? The world, maybe? I’m avoiding the part where I have to sit people down and say, ‘as much as I love spending time with you, we can’t keep just hanging out all day. Both of us have stuff to do, and I need to make things happen in a way that isn’t possible when we’re doing this.’ I hate the very idea of that, because it means putting my stuff ahead of someone else’s, and the implication that my work is more important than talking to them about the stuff happening in their world makes me feel like twenty shades of asshole. Which, it shouldn’t. I know that if I was giving a friend advice, I’d be telling them to set that boundary. I’d be telling them that if after weeks of talking it out, nothing’s changing, than continuing those conversations isn’t going to be helpful. That it’s never a bad thing to prioritise your life, and your goals.

Now I just need to get my overly anxious, people pleaser brain on board with that.

Ugh.