self care

Pre-Writing Conference Anxiety and Me

Airport

I’m going to my first writer’s conference since I had to quit the day job due to my chronic health issues. It will be my first time traveling alone since that auspicious event as well. And I’m somewhat nervous.

I used to travel a lot for work. And I used to attend conferences all the time. I’m no stranger to airports and sleeping in strange hotels. I am an introverted extrovert. Or is that extraverted introvert? Either way, I enjoy being around people and can handle the buzz of the masses for a few days with grace and aplomb. Or at least, I used to.

Why am I nervous? I’m nervous because I will be navigating the airports by myself . I move slower than I used to. I can’t managing being on my feet for long periods of time anymore. And if my February vacation taught me anything, it’s that the lines are longer and slower than the last time I travelled alone. I’m going to need to give myself more time to make it through the security check and then wind my way to whichever terminal my gate happens to be at. I’ll need to stop and rest along the way.

My stress level is going to be elevated, which is something that triggers the pain and fatigue in my body. I’ve already started making checklists of checklists I’ll need to have with me. Already plan to have them in Evernote and printed out. Cuz it will be just my luck that my phone dies at any point along this journey in July. And I’m not planning on my bringing my laptop. Maybe my iPad and a keyboard. But my laptop is too damn heavy for me to lug around by myself.

It’s going to be hot and humid in Orlando. No, it’s going to be OHMYFUCKINGGODWHYDOESANYONEGOTOFLORIDAINTHESUMMERIAMGOINGTODIE hot and humid in Orlando. This means using my down time to remain cool and comfortable in my hotel room. Maybe at the hotel bar. Definitely not anywhere outside. I love Disney World from the one brief trip I had there during a work trip about ten years ago. I’m so very sad I will through necessity need to skip all the park stuff and will be held hostage by the conditioned air. Heat aggravates my health condition. Humidity nearly kills me. My friends will be having great fun with Mickey while I…won’t be.

I may need to skip sessions or events like the RITA and Golden Heart awards ceremony. Not because I can’t afford a new outfit (which I can’t), but because if I’m going to make the most out of the conference, I need to save my spoons for workshops and fangirling people like Farrah Rochon, Erica Monroe, Kristine Wyllys, Kimberly Fisk (who is also going to be my awesome roommate), and everyone else I read and stalk follow on Twitter. If a morning is difficult, I’ll have to make the difficult decision to skip workshops or meet ups. If a migraine is coming on, I’ll need to hide in my room for a while. If the fibromyalgia is being a PITA, I’ll need make sure I don’t flare so badly I am in my room for the rest of the conference.

Which means I’ll need to pace myself. And not commit to too much ahead of time. And give myself permission to find a dark corner to sit and cry in when my energy flags and I become very upset with my health. My body and I have this epic love hate thing going on and I’m not too proud to say my body mostly wins. Living with chronic health issues can almost break me, especially when it means I can’t do what I want to do. It’s like I’m the unpopular kid at school crying into her ice-cream because all the other kids got invited to Susie’s birthday party except for me. Okay, it’s not quite that junior high. But it is frustrating.

So, I’m nervous. Sometimes at night I’ll whisper into my pillow just how terrified I am about this trip in July. I’m excited, don’t get me wrong. I love my fellow romance writers and spending time with them in person is just about the best thing in the world. But I’m also terrified that my body is going to fall apart and I’ll have the most expensive health flare ever. Expensive in that I paid good money to go to HELLA HOT ORLANDO in order to have it.

I’ll be okay. No, I’ll be better than okay. There are going to be people at this conference who get it. They understand living with chronic pain and fatigue and the choices that must be made every hour of every day. If I need to breakdown, I know there will be people there who understand and will help me to my room, or lend me a shoulder. It’s a sisterhood within a sisterhood. And that’s what we do, we’re there for each other.

And no, this won’t be like the last time or five I have been to this writing conference. I’m trying to look at this as though I’m a newbie writer attending for the first time. My experience may just be that different. And I need that to be okay.

 

Photo by Hernán Piñera via Flickr, cc Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0

When Health Fights the Story

What it's like to walk around in a fibro fog. Barely able to see ahead of me.

Original image via Flickr WANA Commons courtesy of Celine Jeanjean

The writing, she is not going well.

I know why. The weather is changing and my fibromyalgia is fighting me every step of the way. How do I cope? Honestly, there are days I don’t cope. On those days I can be found curled up in ball either reading books or watching movies in an effort to forget the pain. Or my mind is so fogged that I can’t remember what I did a minute ago let alone where the story is currently going.

I’m pulled so far out of the story that it takes me rereading my notes and what I’ve previously written in order to jump-start my writing momentum. And this happens more often than I wish.

This last week has been full of bad fibro days. My hands hurt so badly I can’t type. My body aches worse than the flu, with sharp knife like pains stabbing at the base of my neck. My vision is our of focus and my brain; forget any help from that corner. My brain is so wrapped in cotton balls that it’s amazing I can tease out enough brain power to get Velcro Dog to the dog park for his daily jaunt.

It’s days and weeks like this that can plunge me into a grey funk where I question whether I’m ever going to be able to do any productive ever again.

In the past, when I worked a day job as a project manager, I would fight the fibromyalgia. I had deadlines and people depending on me. The projects I was assigned to were important for the company. I couldn’t be the squeaky wheel. Or worse, the locked wheel that could turn no longer. So I pushed and I did half-assed work (that, incidentally, others thought was great. I wonder what the learning here is?). I would come home so exhausted and in such pain that I would collapse on the couch or on the bed and not move again for hours. Weekends were about allowing myself to sink into fatigue. I was no use, no help. At work, I was productive, but just barely. At home, I was a paralyzed zombie.

This is why I quit the day job a year ago. And why the writing has only been barely productive. I’ve also been in creative recovery. I had to find the joy in the story once again. And I found it. It’s a good story, if a basic one. But there is beauty in simplicity, and this story, she is beautiful.

If only I could write it. Every day. Stay connected to the rhythm and the prose. I do so much better when I’m able to remain rooted to my story. So much better.

What’s a girl to do when she really can’t sit, or lay, down to write? She beats herself up. Which is the opposite of productive. It’s so destructive, it can destroy that fragile bud of confidence that’s growing out of repaired and replenished soil. Negativity is the salt that destroys the earth. I refuse to be my own salt.

Last night I had insomnia, another symptom of fibromyalgia. I wrote for a bit, because I was up and the computer was on. The words were a hot mess, but they were on the page. And this is the shitty first draft so get over it already, girl. Just get over it.

After I wrote my hot mess, I started sorting through a box of old papers from college. I’m attempting to declutter the house so it’s less of a giant to clean and organize. This box has been sitting in the office for years, just gathering dust. I was almost manic in glancing through the notes and tossing. Glance and toss. Glance and toss. Glance and, whoa, now this is interesting. I found some notes from a psych course I had taken to earn my M.A. in Psychology. The notes were around self-care. I had written in big bold letters, “BE KIND TO YOURSELF!” Even then I knew I was my own worst enemy.

What does it mean to be kind to myself AND still be a productive writer, keeper of the house, and slave to the dog? Especially on the not so great days.

I don’t know. Not 100%. I know attitude is key. And that there must be tools out there that will help me write when my arms and hands just won’t cooperate. I know that I can research on those days, or read and edit. I can email or message friends and let them know what’s going on. I can look for something joyous to bring me laughter. I can fill the well instead of depleting it.

I don’t have a solid plan other than to make a list of things to try, and evaluate what works and what doesn’t. Experimentation, life at it’s best.

And I know that I need to incorporate mindfulness now more than ever. Acknowledge what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling without judgement. And just let the thoughts go. Or counter the negative thoughts with the truth. Which means knowing what is true. Living in the moment. Just. This. Moment. The past is done. The future, it’s not written and definitely not guaranteed. Now is what I have. So take things one moment at a time.

Today may not be a great day to contribute to the story. That doesn’t mean I’m a failure. Or that this story will never be written. It means I accept today for what it is and fill it with things that I can accomplish. That I enjoy. That will make tomorrow’s return to the story all the better.

The story, she may not be going so well. But I am.

Anxiety, Writing, And Me

My last post was about my inner demon bitch and how she tries, and often succeeds, to derail my writing progress. And life progress, if I’m honest. Today’s post is a follow up to that. I apologize for the length of this post. It started longer. See, I’m attempting to learn brevity. 😄

I know I’m not alone in feeling almost paralyzed by doubt. The therapist in me wants to send myself to therapy for some DBT or for some talk therapy. I have done both in the past and found the DBT route to be more helpful. Why? Because life is full of dialectics and because I believe the key to overcoming almost anything is rooted in mindfulness.

I love this definition of dialectics:

Dialectics, in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, refers to the process of investigating and synthesizing apparently opposing or contradictory ideas. (online source)

Opposing or contradictory ideas. How novel.  How true. A current dialectic that I’m processing is this: Writing makes me anxious, and I love to write.

I had to put this into words to really understand what has been blocking me. To understand this dialectic between anxiety and a propelling need to move forward with writing, I need to understand where the anxiety is coming from. Which means I need to make friends with this anxious energy. Friends, you say? Are you mad?

Don’t drag out the straight jacket just yet. Let me explain. Anxiety has a purpose.

However, even though anxiety and fear may feel unpleasant or uncomfortable, they are in no way negative. They actually serve a very important purpose, and it would be very hard to get by in life without these emotions.

Anxiety and fear are natural human emotions. They are our body’s alarm system. They occur in response to situations where we may be in danger or at-risk for some kind of harm. Fear is an emotion that is experienced when we are actually in a dangerous situation, whereas anxiety is an emotion that occurs when we expect or anticipate that something unpleasant may happen. (online source/ emphasis mine)

Did you read that? Anxiety is an emotion. Anxiety occurs when there is an expectation or anticipation of something unpleasant. I used to get anxious before oral presentations in college. I had to stand at a podium in front of 100 of my closest friends and string words together in a coherent manner. My hands would shake, my neck would become drenched with sweat. My voice would wobble. It was torture. Until I looked up from my notes one day and realized no one was laughing at me. No one was having side conversations and ignoring me. They laughed at my attempts at jokes, and looked almost captive when I provided a story to drive a point home.

Slowly, I stopped being anxious when in front of a crowd. I could verbally communicate and communicate well. I started to enjoy these presentations, which eventually gave me the motivation and courage to try my hand at training. To this day I get a rush with public speaking of any kind. And the impact of the stories I would weave into my presentations to make information more accessible ignited a passion for storytelling.  But, not only did I have to have enough successes, I also had to understand what was feeding the anxiety.

For public speaking, it was a fear of being judged unworthy or not good enough, which was a judgement I lived under throughout my childhood. I was not a popular child in K-12. I was shy and awkward. I was the poor white girl going to school in a district of higher middle class white kids. And kids can be cruel to anyone who is different. I was very different. I lived in my head. I kept to the outside. I didn’t have the right clothes or the right anything to be considered worthy. And when I did make friends, I lived in fear that someone would tell them about my unworthiness and I would be left alone.

That same childhood gave me a love for stories. I read to escape. I read to experience. I read because I could relate to the characters. And when I immersed myself in these worlds, I wasn’t awkward or weird or unworthy.

I also learned the gift of inner strength. And self-advocation. If no one else was going to be there for me, I was damn well going to learn how to be there for myself. I also learned empathy. There are many gifts I was able to carve out of those experiences.

When I realized that my fear of public speaking was rooted in the same fear I had of humiliation and failure to fit in, I was able to do something with that anxiety. I was able to determine if there really was a threat that was amping up the anxiety, or if it was old fear responses that were no longer adaptive. It took time and some therapy, but I was able to make friends with my anxiety, and when it was a response to a non-threat, I was able to thank the anxiety for looking out for me and reassure it that I was okay. I was really, truly okay.

This is what I’m currently doing with my inner demon bitch. She’s there, amping up the anxiety around my writing skills. I’ve taken courses. I’ve read books. I’ve listened to advice. I’ve some written book length stories. I’ve started and stopped even more. Everytime I try to incorporate advice, I end up treating my writing like my master’s thesis and I freeze. What if I can’t write a compelling character arc? What if my issues with the sagging middle are because I don’t have enough plot? Why can’t I seem to plot out a book anyway? Is something wrong with me? Do I have a passion but no talent? Am I wasting my time? Dear fluffy lord, is my desire for something I cannot have?

What do my fears have in common? They all seem derived from the question, am I good enough. I wasn’t a natural public speaker. This took time and practice and learning from others. I may be a natural storyteller but crafting an actual publishable story, for me that may take a learning curve over time. And I won’t know until I get the words on the page and get the feedback from trusted people who know their shit. And can communicate their critiques in a compassionate and affirming way.

I know I can learn. I know I can work hard to master something when I’m invested in the process. I know these truths about myself. I also know that to become proficient, even excellent at something, I have to practice. And analyze. And fail. And figure out where I went wrong. And get up and start again with that new knowledge.

This is what I mean by making friends with my anxiety. It has a purpose. It wants to protect me. In the case of writing, it can’t protect me, because to protect me means never actually writing. Never putting my work out there. Never striving toward my passion and my dream. At the same time, that anxiety about not being good enough, it can also be reframed to push me to do my best and to continue to learn and hone my skills. It doesn’t need to be debilitating.

Mindfulness comes in when i allow myself to feel anxious, allow my body to have it’s response, and I don’t judge it or push it away. This allows me to feel my Feels and to begin to understand my thoughts. And to let these thoughts go. More on mindfulness in my next post.

I can be anxious about my writing and I can have a deep passion for writing. These two things can exist at the same time. They can even work together, if I can give them the time and space to learn to play nice together.

#ROW80 – Failure and Being Kind to Yourself

It’s been three days since I started ROW80 and already I see my goals my need changing. I’ve written two out of three days, which is good. But I’ve only managed about 500 words per day which is 1000 words shy of my goal of 1000 words per day.

I tend to beat myself up over goals which is one reason that during my hiatus from fiction writing I didn’t make any writing goals. I wrote as I felt lead. I have little vignettes and scenes that run the gamut of emotions: humour, angst, passion, anger, lust, tenderness. Some of these are the best scenes I’ve ever written. Why? Because I just let them happen. I didn’t have an agenda. I didn’t have any finish-by-this-date goals and I had no intention of publishing anything during that time. It was all for me. For fun. I’m a writer. Whether anyone else sees my words or not doesn’t change that one fact. Writers write.

ROW80 is part of my personal therapy. As someone who has been a therapist, I know the importance of attainable goals, especially when one is attempting to change behavior patterns or ways of thinking that are no longer useful, or perhaps even harmful. We need to feel a level of success in order to continue moving forward on our quest for self-improvement and healing. What I like about ROW80 is that no one is there to stand in judgement if the goals I set for myself were too lofty or perhaps not even the right goals for right now. I can attempt to meet the mark I set for myself and if I fail, I get to determine the cause for that failure and adjust my goals as needed. Or not. Maybe that goal is a stretch goal and maybe I need it there to push me. Sometimes stretch goals are very, very good. Sometimes they can be detrimental.

Right now, because I’m a recovering perfectionist and because I just got the joy of writing fiction back in my life, I am going to drop my word count per writing session goal to 500 words per day. If I do better than that, excellent! If I only make 500 words, still excellent.

Every writer is on his or her own journey. The support we get from each other along the way is invaluable. The support and self-care we give ourselves is even more important. But we need to be honest with ourselves. If we aren’t honest about why we are doing, or not doing, then it’s too easy to fall into the trap of never doing. Or the trap of burning out. I know. I had to quit my job due to burnout because I forgot just how very important self-care is to my well-being. Sure, I was the best process engineer I could be (yes, that is correct. I was a process engineer and systems trainer after I left the world of psychotherapy). But at what cost?

It wasn’t until my health became bad enough that I couldn’t work that I paused and started to consider what I need to be healthy and happy. And what my family needs. I’m still in recovery. It took years for me to get to this place, it may take a while for me to swim out. I’m okay with that. Now. Just as I’m okay with the fact that I may have to exercise my writing brain some more before I can swing 1000+ words per day. And that this draft will likely be that shitty first draft writers talk about. I may have to learn to plot in different ways. I may need to relearn some of the craft I knew inside out and backwards before. And that’s okay. What’s not okay is not trying.

So that’s my update. My goals are changing and I feel good about the progress I’ve made thus far. I hope you feel just as good about your progress, as well.