How Not to Deal With Anxiety

I may have mentioned this before, but I’m crazy. I don’t like talking about it because, well, it makes me sound crazy. I haven’t written about it much, or at least I haven’t written about it much on such a public space as this because for one, I don’t like to admit I’m struggling with anxiety. I’d much rather ignore it and hope it goes away, okay? And for two, maybe I feel like I’m admitting weakness. I know this not to be true. Still, I feel like I should just be able to get over it already. I think, What’s my problem? I have two healthy kids, a husband who’d do anything for me, a home in a good school district. I don’t live in Syria. What could my problems really be?

Still, for the past few weeks the anxiety has creeped in, wrapped it’s tendril-like fingers around my throat and pulled tight. I wake up with it, the nauseating gnawing in the pit of my stomach. I try to press on with my day, ignoring it, hoping by doing so I can shake it, but I’m never able. I’d always thought my anxiety was confined to my OCD so that if I wasn’t ritualizing or obsessing about germs, I was fine, disorder-free or as close to it as one can get. And while over these past few years I’ve been able to suppress the OCD much of the time or at least to the point where it’s manageable, the thing about anxiety is it’s always with you. It lies dormant, waiting, and there’s no telling when it might walk through the door again.

Anxiety can always be counted on to make an appearance during stressful periods so it makes perfect sense that the anxiety would rear up now at a time when I can least afford to yield to it. I’ve just started querying agents with my book proposal. Which should be a joyous occasion except that for me all good news is tempered by doom. The whole process has sent me into a paralysis of inadequacy and doubt. I feel rather like a joke. I think, how long can I fool them before they figure out I don’t know what the hell I’m doing? How long can I pretend to be a capable person before they learn the truth? In a word (or six) I feel out of my league.

How Not to Deal with Anxiety
That’s me.

It’s a little ironic at the point I must present my most confident self, I am the least capable of doing so. Have you any idea how hard it is to be an eager and enthusiastic self-promoter when you’re depressed? I just want to shriek, “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know!” as I shake my head and fall to the floor. But I don’t think that’s a good thing to write in a query letter.

Fortunately, I’m not in a deep depression. I know what a blessing that is. If I were, I wouldn’t be writing this at all. Still, with the haze sifting around in my head, I’ve become a muted, dulled version of myself. I can’t find my footing. I am unsure of everything – myself, my work, my voice, my ability to pull this off – and fear my writing will turn out as flat and dull and grey as the thoughts in my head. The anxiety obscures my ability to see clearly, to focus with objectivity, to think. Without that how am I supposed to do anything? I try to work through it while wondering where the end is. Will I reach it?

But you can’t say any of this. Not if you want to be seen as reliable, confident, intelligent author. Funny thing, though, is that while in life you’re supposed to present a polished, assured facade, in writing you’re supposed to present the truth. I’m having a hard time bridging that gap. Maybe I’ll just publish this now so that it gets buried at the bottom of my blog and by the time an agent takes a fleeting interest in me and checks out my site, they won’t find it.

To keep myself going, I tell myself all I have to do is write one query letter a day, but of course it’s not quite that simple. Nothing ever is with OCD. First I must conduct exhaustive research. So I spend my days Googling and reading up about agents instead of actually writing the letters because that’s easier. Plus, I can never be sure I’ve gathered enough information. There’s always another link, more to read. When will I know everything?

I keep reading and wasting more time. But all the advice tells you to study up on the agents and the industry. The agents want to know why you’ve selected them, why your project is right for them. After hours of research, I still don’t know. I become paralyzed with indecision. So I do nothing.

And here we are. And I’ve wasted so much time already, and I should have landed an agent months ago, and I still don’t have a decent query letter. And there’s no one to ask. I’m the boss, and I’m not qualified for the job. I have no one else, no one to say good job or send it out or you need to rework paragraph two because that shit is stupid. Who the hell would say something like that? You’re suppose to be a writer for Christ sakes, and you can’t even write a simple letter. You sound like a goddamn idiot.

There’s just me, and if I mess up the third sentence in the last paragraph, I’ll blow my chances, and you only get one shot, and that could have been the perfect agent, and now I’ve ruined it all, and I’ll never find another agent again.

How Not to Deal with Anxiety by @OneFunnyMotha

That’s pretty much the perpetual beat inside my head, which tends to wrench the joy out of just about any situation. On a logical level I know the answer. It’s to relax and just be myself because at the end of the day, if you don’t find an agent who really gets you, if you don’t have that connection, it’s never gonna work. But that’s a shitty answer. Be myself? Who wants that? I need to be better than who I am. But how?

So you see my dilemma now, don’t you?

Photo credit: Flickr/Chris Devers

Divine Messages

I’m not a religious person. But I believe in signs. Sent from God, a higher power, Allah, call it what you will. It’s all the same to me. Sometimes when I’m feeling lost I find messages meant, I believe, to keep me headed on the right path. They come when I’m desperate, unsure of what I’m doing, questioning my decisions, contemplating failure. Which is often. I received one such sign just the other day.

I was at the gym, which might seem like an unlikely place to receive messages from God, but actually it was rather well timed. I had set about following my New Years Resolution, which is to make a positive change for myself both mentally and physically in an attempt to achieve some sort of balance. Or at least counterbalance what I’m currently doing because that’s not working. Which is what I was doing at the gym.

I'm not a religious person. But I do believe in signs. Sent from God, a higher power, Allah, call it what you want. It's all the same to me. They come just when I need them.

I was on the elliptical watching the morning news and since my gym only gets about 5 normal channels in addition to their own Retro Gym channel, which is a complete waste of very limited options because who the hell watches a channel of the gym when you could just look up because you’re in the gym, I was stuck watching CBS. Not that I have anything against the CBS morning news per se. I’ve just never watched it before. Does anybody? That day, though, when CBS spread over the screen, the segment airing was about an Olympic athlete. I found the choice of topic somewhat odd given we were no where near Olympic fever yet, but either way CBS had Lolo Jones on the show. And Lolo spoke to me.

While I knew nothing of this woman and much of the discussion was about training, I continued to watch, mildly interested, because so often these things are inane PR pieces devoid of any substance. Still, any strong, confident women excelling in their fields or pursuing their goals with tremendous grit and determination, making names for themselves with their badassery, has my attention and respect. Lolo is one of them. She’s a track and field and bobsled athlete (because apparently one Olympic sport is not enough for this woman) who won US and World championships and went on to compete at three Olympics. Although she was a favorite to win, she failed to medal in her first Olympics, and in both subsequent Olympics. I didn’t know any of this, of course, until I watched the piece, and while I found it interesting, I wasn’t completely enamored with Lolo until the end of the interview when she was questioned about her motivation, what keeps her going and how she deals with vocal critics after making it to the Olympics three times and walking away without a medal. It was strange and unexpected, but her answer applied directly to me and my current situation. Apparently, training for an Olympic track event and writing are entirely similar.

I suppose this is true in the passionate pursuit of just about any difficult or lofty goal, but that day as I huffed breathlessly on the elliptical, contemplating my future, questioning myself, and looking for a reason to continue, I got my answer. This is what Lolo said:

When you’re pursuing a goal, you will fail. It’s part of the process. No one hits a home run the first time out. But carrying that negativity, that disappointment in yourself, that frustration with you will only taint your next attempt. The way forward is in adjusting your attitude. Look back at where you started. That first step you took when you had nothing, and remind yourself of everything you’ve achieved since. Everything you’ve built started with that initial step, from nothing. Rather than focusing on the failures, remind yourself of all you’ve accomplished and take pride in the obstacles you’ve overcome. And, perhaps most importantly, believe in yourself. Remind yourself, “I can do this.”

All this came from a woman with astounding achievements. She is a two time world champion, she’s the fastest indoor female runner in the world and she’s gone to the Olympics three times. How many people can say that? The fact that she didn’t medal does not detract from those achievements. With or without Olympic medals she’s incredibly accomplished. Of course having a medal would be the icing, but that’s all it is, a little bit of extra sweetness.

I need to remind myself of this daily. When I perpetually question and doubt myself, when feel overwhelmed and hopeless, when I’m dispirited, sometimes I sit at my desk and call up my blog. I gaze over the list of my writing. It’s physical evidence of my accomplishments. And it started with a blank page. I remind myself of that. I still hesitate to call myself a writer, and while I’ve been published in a book, I don’t feel like a real author. I’ve begun to doubt I ever will, but I have done something, some of it not too bad.

I'm not a religious person, but I believe in signs from above. They come just when I need them. @OneFunnyMotha
This is what it feels like.

That’s what I have to remember. Not what I haven’t done, but what I have. It’s still hard for me, but I’m trying.

If you like this (and even if you don’t because my essay in the book is nothing like this. It’s actually pretty funny) you will love my book, I STILL JUST WANT TO PEE ALONE, the third installment in The New York Times best-selling series from some of the funniest women on the web. For a good time get it on AmazonKindleiTunes and Barnes and Noble. I will love you forever. 

On Writing

On Writing

I wrote this on Sunday.

I know I’ve been ignoring you lately, but I needed a little time away. I’ve been working my fingers to the bone over here on a longer work, one I hope will be worthy of publication. I really haven’t talked to anyone in days. Well, my husband calls me every now and then (he took the kids skiing), but I mean a real conversation. Not that we have real conversations when he’s home or anything, but at least there’s the possibility.

I stayed behind, left alone to work. Which has made me think a lot about the writing process. How it works or, in my case, how it doesn’t, how to get it to work, and how great writers do what they do. How to go back and forth in time, how the story should be sequenced, what goes where and when, what to put in and what to take out.

How am I supposed to do all that? Huh? It’s near impossible.

Then the other day I was listening to the radio, and an interview with Anne Lamott came on. It was quite unexpected, and I got so excited. I know people revere her, but I’m not one who really gets start struck by anyone except for Stephen Colbert and maybe POTUS, which is a bad acronym if you ask me. It makes me think of potato. And that’s not very presidential. Couldn’t they have come up with something better? I mean the guy’s the president of the United States for Christ sake. You’d think he could have a good acronym. Why not #Pres? Even #USP would’ve been better. Anyway, I wasn’t really star struck by Lamott. I mean I do like her work, and I like her as a person, and I’d love to see her speak somewhere, but with all this writing on my mind, the interview was just perfect timing, and I was eager to hear what she had to say. So I listened to the whole thing, and I think I’m becoming a little reverey.

Continue reading “On Writing”