Stages of Grief, or Stages of Writing?

This morning I read this post by Chuck Wendig. Of course it made me laugh, but it also made me realize something about my own writing process: I think I may be stuck in the “Depression” phase. And that makes sense, sort of, in the grand scheme of the things that are my life and personality.

I’m prone to depression. Notice I didn’t say I “have” depression. I think that may be because a large part of my family still harbors some of society’s stigmas toward depression. I’m not sure why that is, but I know it’s affected me and the way I talk about myself and my emotional and mental struggles.

I get depressed over the strangest things. You may have noticed, for example, that my posts fell completely off with no warning and no reasoning. I made a very brief attempt at weekly review posts rather than biweekly ones, and it proved more stressful than I thought. I like reading at a slow pace and giving myself time to process what I’m reading; otherwise I find myself reading just to be reading, and I don’t retain anything at all. Months later I may even entirely forget I’ve read a book if I read it that way.

When I realized that weekly posts were probably going to be too strenuous, it hit me hard. Harder than it probably should have. Instead of telling myself, “that’s fine, just adjust the schedule again. People will understand,” I told myself I was a failure, a horrible writer, and no one followed my blog anyway so what difference did it make. Of course, these are horrible things to tell yourself, and I know that, logically. But that doesn’t stop Scumbag Brain from being a scumbag.

So of course the conclusion Scumbag Brain reached was to just. Stop. Blogging. And somehow, I was mostly okay with this. I would get a twinge of guilt here or there, or really miss writing, or have a great idea, and yet somehow I’d dismiss it all with some lame excuse or self-deprecation.

But then I read Chuck’s post. And I get that it wasn’t specifically talking about my situation, but it seemed so relevant. It really struck me that this is what I’ve been doing with my writing for years; I get started, somehow get discouraged, and I get out. I put it down and never go back to it.

I’ve decided in recent days that I want to change all that and let myself be the person I want to be. I need to get out of my own way, basically. So I signed up for Habitica — which is already making a difference in the way I think about my free time and my priorities. I did some research on online graduate schools and got some input from some of my career mentors. And most terrifying of all: I signed up for NaNoWriMo. I’ve signed up for it before, but this time, I mean it. I work at my alma mater, so I enlisted the English department chair to help keep me accountable, and I added daily writing to my Habitica tasks. Plus, last fall I was able to attend an excellent character-writing workshop with Mary Robinette Kowal, and I’ll be drawing heavily from what I learned there, not to mention using the completed excerpt I ended up with as a basis for my concept.

I’m really excited about what’s in store. I’m just hoping that I can hold on to this momentum, because life isn’t always a stroll down a sunny lane. Recently, husband and I moved into a brand new home and, while of course it’s exciting and wonderful, it’s also very stressful and a little scary. Part of me wants to stay home all day in my pajamas and enjoy it to the fullest, and part of me wants to be ten years old again so I can stay at the home I grew up in in my pajamas and not have anything to worry about, apart from which flavor of Ramen I’ll eat for lunch and whether I can sneak a second soda.

Chibird's penguin encouragement :)

Chibird’s penguin encouragement 🙂

But that won’t do either. It’s time for the Acceptance phase.

I can do this.

So now I’m going to go do it.

Finding my way back … to myself

People always talk about finding themselves and to be honest, it was something I thought I’d never experience. But you know how a few months ago, I just disappeared, and I told you I’d explain it later? Well, here we are.

I have never really been someone who stood out. I’ve just been myself, mostly quiet when surrounded by strangers yet annoyingly extroverted and shameless when I’m with friends. In high school I had my punk rock phase, my goth phase, my preppy phase, and then my “who really gives a crap about any of this” phase. (I fluctuated between all of these, but the last one was basically my default setting. It was always running in the background.) My best friends were mostly older than me, I hated everything (now I guess you’d have called my high school self a hipster), and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

I still don’t.

And the honest reason for that is I just generally do what people expect me to. I made good grades because my teachers expected me to based on (most of) my older siblings. I went to a local university because I thought I was supposed to. (I do freaking love my alma mater though. I am super proud of that school.) I took all the classes I was told to take, pursued a degree everyone told me I’d like (I did enjoy it, and in some alternate reality I probably did stick with that path). I look back sometimes and wonder what I’d have done differently if I had done all the things I’d really wanted to do. Some of those things were incredibly stupid ideas, and sometimes I think I’m glad I didn’t do them. But what if I had? What stories would I be able to tell my eventual kids?

Did I ever tell you about that time in high school, when I …

Did I ever tell you about when I was in college …

But I don’t have any crazy stories to tell my kids. I never really did anything bad or unexpected or scary. That’s not an exaggeration, not me pretending to be the perfect kid. I wasn’t. But probably the worst things I ever did were miss curfew by an hour or slam my door during a one-sided screaming match with my grandparents. Nothing extraordinary. Nothing awe-inspiring.

And now I realize I’ve carried that into adulthood, and it’s sadder now even than it was then. I don’t take risks, I don’t really do anything that scares me or excites me or inspires someone. I think too much about: well, what will people think? What will people say about me? What if they think I’m a failure or a fraud or just stupid?

So in January I decided that this year, as my New Year’s Resolution, I was going to do something a little different. Instead of resolving to lose weight, hit the gym more often, cut back on sweets and soda, I was going to start living for myself. (And Kris of course. We’re a team, obviously.) I was going to stop bending to what I thought everyone wanted and expected for me, living the life and being the person that I perceived I should be. Because the reality is, no one was putting these weird pressures on me but myself. My family wouldn’t love me less and my friends might give me side-eye but they’d support me no matter what, and anyone who wouldn’t doesn’t deserve front-row seats to my life, anyway.

It was a good goal, I thought. One that would require real changes and serious effort on my part. Step 1: Do something scary that I’ve always wanted to do.

Ink by Matt Skin

Ink by Matt Skin

So I got a tattoo. I love tattoos. I only had one, and it’s relatively small and no one really notices it, even though it’s not hidden at all. But I’d wanted this design for a long time, I knew I would be happy with it, but I kept getting held back. It’s too big. I’ll get bored with it. Everyone will hate it. What if I don’t find the right artist, and it turns out poorly? I ran through every excuse in the book, even while I researched local artists and shops, settled on the perfect guy, and doodled hot air balloons on every page of every notebook I wrote in for over a year. Finally, just before Christmas of last year, I printed out the painting I liked, took it to Matt Skin and asked if he could do it. Obviously, he could.

It took awhile to do (of course) and after the first sitting I went into panic mode. I completely shut down and freaked out like I haven’t in a long time. After a few weeks I realized my freakout was normal, and reminded myself how long I’d wanted the tattoo. I got some predictable responses, but by the time they arrived I had discovered a part of myself that I thought was lost: the part that cared more about what I wanted and what I liked than about what other people wanted for me. So when I heard the first “but your legs were so beautiful” comment from a family member, I told her I hadn’t gotten in a car wreck, I’d just gotten one of them painted, and if she wanted to see a plain leg she could look at my left one instead. Not even a month before that happened, I’d have broken down crying and left.

In the months since I got the tattoo complete, I’ve been making strides toward my goal that are visible even to myself. I’m not there yet, but I think I’m doing well. So it was time for Step 2: Make big decisions based on what’s best for myself, not on what I tell myself is expected of me.

So I put in my two weeks at my job. I know some of my coworkers might read this, but that’s okay. I don’t really have much to say on this front, just that it became startlingly clear that it was time to move on, and work-related stress was wearing me thin and disrupting my relationships and my personal life. I do think that my anxiety disorder has worsened in recent months, but it’s a chicken-or-egg question at this point. It’s scary for me, because I don’t have any prospects. But I know that I’ve made the best decision for myself, and if it upsets someone’s apple cart, then that’s their responsibility, not mine.

I know for a lot of people, these things all sound like common sense. And for high-school-me and even college-me, it would have been common sense, too. But somewhere along the way I really lost myself in the sea of projected and perceived expectations, I stopped pursuing things that made me happy, and I became someone I wasn’t really proud to be.

But the old me—the one who didn’t care about being called a bitch as long as she was with people she liked, who wore clothes she thought were cool even if no one else agreed, and read manga tucked into her history book as if her teacher didn’t notice—the old me I think would be proud of this new me, this me that I always really wanted to be anyway.

Aside

Patience

I know it’s been an abnormally long time since I’ve posted, and I’m sorry about that. But I’m sure you’ve seen the hints and maybe outright omissions here and there that I struggle with anxiety disorder and probably depression. I’m not on anything for it, though that isn’t a mark of pride for me or an attempt to demonize people who are. I’ve been really struggling lately and have not felt at all like myself for at least a week, perhaps longer. The mere thought of writing left me drained and when I tried to anyway, nothing came together how I wanted and it all seemed pointless.

I am blessed with an amazing support system of family and friends, and while I’m sure some of both groups will see this and think, “But I had no idea,” or “Well, she didn’t tell me,” I hope they don’t also think that’s because I don’t trust or love them. I confide in as few people as possible during the difficult times because spreading a wide net does not help me. Maybe one day soon I’ll be able to write a longer post about my struggles recently, and I’m sure by then they’ll seem silly and we’ll all have a laugh over how overblown I made the whole thing. But right now I am healing and I am doing much better. Taking one day at a time. I hope you’ll understand and perhaps look forward to a blog post soon that I’ve been very excited to write … you might want to go rewatch the series finale of Breaking Bad. No more hints though.