On Anxiety

The last three months have been the hardest of my life.

Last November, I tapered off the anti-anxiety medication I’ve been taking for years for general anxiety disorder. I thought I could manage it. I thought I should, because my husband and I were starting to talk about having a baby (a discussion which has since been tabled for a while). I thought I was managing pretty well. And then, one morning in March, right after I got home from NYC Teen Author Fest, I woke up in a panic. I was home, safe, in bed, but my brain and body started sending signals that something was really wrong. I was terrified. My thoughts started to loop uncontrollably – I’d had a healthy doctor’s checkup a month before, but what if I secretly had cancer? What if I never sold another book? What if my husband couldn’t find a new job after his adjunct contracts are up? What if, what if, what if, my brain chanted, determined to find something terrifying to match up with the way I felt terrified. The irrational feeling of it came first, then the thoughts. It was like a constant anxious static that I could only banish for, at most, a few hours in the evenings.

And the thing is – my brain didn’t have to go too far. Writing and publishing do come with a lot of uncertainty. It’s not a stable career. There’s so much that’s beyond my control: book sales, marketing from my publisher, reviews. Will my new project(s) sell? Will it be enough money for me to keep writing full-time? Do I want to keep writing full-time, or would I be happier and healthier trying something different? Is it okay to suggest that? There are so many shoulds and so many people who aren’t shy about telling you The Right Way to Do It, which I’m perilously susceptible to. I should write first thing in the morning, without checking email or twitter first. I should write every day, 1k/day. I should write a book a year – or two, or three. I should be on Tumblr and Pinterest and– It’s so, so easy to feel not enough, never enough. And the anxiety preyed on both of those things – all those not-enough perfectionist feelings and all the things out of my control.

I started seeing a therapist, and that helped. But I was miserable every day, and I felt scared of doing even the most basic things. I stopped seeing friends. Was hardly eating. Definitely wasn’t writing. I couldn’t sleep, but I laid in bed and stared at the ceiling and worried. Sometimes I didn’t get up until evening. I was determined to figure it out without medication. I did make some progress in challenging all those feelings that I was a failure – which, despite the cheery tone of my blog post from six months ago, have stuck around more perniciously than I’d hoped. But it was hard. Really hard. Two steps forward, one step back progress, in tiny baby steps. I was still crying every day.  After two months, at the end of May, I got to the point where I felt — not actively suicidal, but that I would rather die than keep living like that, with every day being so hard. It scared me enough that I made a doctor’s appointment and asked her to put me back on my anti-anxiety medication.

It took a few weeks – and there was a scary weekend when I had a bad reaction to a rescue med and felt like a zombie – but honestly? I think it’s saved my life. I feel like myself again. It’s not magic – I still feel anxious sometimes, but it’s muted enough that I can use the tools from therapy to challenge those feelings. Why am I feeling this way? What do I want to do about it? Is it rational? It’s strange to realize so many of your feelings are just not true, not connected to actual reality. But some of my feelings also pointed out things that I needed to address, parts of my life I wasn’t happy with. Now I’m sleeping and eating. I’m getting up every morning and commuting across the city and teaching summer writing workshops for teens. I’m researching my short story for the PETTICOATS & PISTOLS anthology and I’m doing more around the house and I’m going out with friends. I’m working on a new-old writing project and I’ve set myself only tiny little goals in the hopes of making writing something that feels like fun again. I’m trying to recognize and celebrate my accomplishments. I’m trying to figure out a better work-life balance – because I love writing, and I’ve been very lucky to make it my job the last few years, but it’s not the only important thing in my life, nor should it be. I’m working really hard to learn that I am too enough, and to be kind to myself, and to learn to do things in baby steps, and not compare my journey or processes with anyone else’s. I’m healing – both from this spring and from the wild ups and downs of my first book deal – and sometimes I’m still easily overwhelmed. But I think I’m going to be okay. I couldn’t have truthfully said that two months – a month – even two weeks ago – so that’s kind of awesome.

I’ve really admired the posts that Stephanie Perkins and Myra McEntire wrote about battling depression, and how open Lauren DeStefano is about her struggles with anxiety, so I wanted to write about this. It’s so easy, when you’re in the midst of it, to feel all alone in it and embarrassed or ashamed. When your brain is already a bully, it’s so easy to feel like somehow it’s your fault – like if you were only stronger or better, you wouldn’t have to go through this. But those thoughts aren’t true, either. You aren’t alone in it, and you are awesome. I promise.

46 Responses

  1. First of all, sending loads of hugs and love! I don't suffer from anxiety but one of my best friends does, and I have seen her have such a hard time and fight it so hard! It's such a silent enemy!! I'm really happy to hear you are back feeling much better and on the mend!
    Thank you for being brave enough to put this out there, a lot more people need to realize anxiety is a real issue, not something people invent or can control but seem to refuse to.
    Big big hugs for you!

  2. Jessica Capelle

    Oh, Jess… I’m so sorry it’s been so bad and that you had to go back on your medication. But I’m glad you’re taking care of yourself and healing. Thank you for being brave enough to speak out- I know many people will benefit from it, even if they are uncomfortable commenting.

    Sending lots of hugs your way!

  3. lisamaxwellbooks

    This is so brave and I'm so glad you decided to post it. My husband deals with the same sort of issue, so while I don't know what it's like, I know kind of. Lots of good wishes your way :O)

    1. I'm so sorry that your husband struggles with this too. It's hard. I bet you are an awesome support to him, though. I know I couldn't have gotten through the last few months without my amazing husband, so major props to you!

  4. I'm so happy that you got help! I think too often we are afraid to get help or we find "excuses" for our feelings. {HUGS}
    If you ever need anything, you have a whole lot of people (Family, Friends and Fans!) rooting for you. Just reach out and grab a hand to get a lift up.

    And thank you for writing this, it was brave and may help someone else.

    1. Thank you, Dani! That means a lot. I do think there's a stigma about mental health and needing meds, but hopefully the more we speak out about it, the less that will be true! There's no shame necessary in any of it.

  5. anniecardi

    Thank you so much for being so honest and open, and I'm sorry things have been rough. I actually started seeing a therapist recently to deal with some anxiety, and I didn't realize how helpful it would be just to talk about it. Like you said, it's so easy to feel alone and ashamed in the middle of things, but sometimes your body and your brain need some extra help, and that's nothing to be ashamed of. Sending you lots of love and strength,

    1. Thank you, Annie! I'm sorry you've been struggling with anxiety lately too. It seems so many writers do. I'm so glad you've found an awesome therapist – I know mine has been really helpful. And there's absolutely no cause for guilt or shame in it!

  6. Oh Jess, thank you so much for writing this heartfelt post! As a writer who deals with anxiety too, I really, really appreciate it. I'm sending you a big hug and applauding you for your honesty and bravery.

  7. Tracy

    This post touched so many buttons for me. I lived through a period in college that was similar – definitely the hardest, most miserable time in my life. I am so unbelievably in awe of your strength in both finding a way to manage your anxiety, and also in talking about it. It's definitely something I've felt embarrassed and ashamed about in the past..and there've been times when I wonder if pursuing a career as a writer might be a mistake because of how unstable and brutal it can be. But, for now, I'm pushing on, and I hope you'll do the same because your books are BEAUTIFUL, and I love your writing and hope to read lots more from you in future. Thank you for sharing your story. It definitely makes me feel less alone. <3 You ROCK!

    1. Thank you so much, Tracy! This comment means a lot. And talking to you in NC was great, just knowing that I wasn't alone in dealing with it. Writing definitely isn't the easiest or most stable career, but it can be so joyful sometimes – and I'm not willing to give that up – I'm determined to get back to that! I'm glad you've decided to keep writing, too!

  8. Jennzah

    Lady, you are AMAZING. And you’re definitely not alone. I’m bipolar and have to take more than a few meds to keep myself going everyday…… And you are so brave for even attempting to stop your meds. Some times it’s just not something that’s possible. 🙁 but I could never do that, so you are my hero for trying. You haven’t failed at anything!

    I’m do glad you’re still here and with us and feeling better! 🙂 I heart you.

    1. Thanks, Jennzah! I heart YOU. And I'm sorry you struggle too. I'm not sorry I tried to stop taking the meds, but I think I need to make peace with the fact that I need them. My anxiety is part brain chemistry & part learned behavior, and I can work on rewriting the latter, but I need the meds to help with the former. And that's okay. No guilt!

  9. Jessica, I wish you all the best . . . I don't have anxiety issues but I understand about the need of getting off a certain med. Up until last year I was taking an drug that is commonly use for those that have transplant and need to take an anti-transplant drug. While I don't have anything transplanted, the drug itself was a health risk for anyone that wanted to have a child. However I haven't dated anyone or found the right guy yet so I didn't have to worry about getting pregnant but I did worry about my future, what if I couldn't be off the drug, what if I get sick again that this drug is the best thing for me, What if I stay off it for 6 months before trying for a kid and this and that. But I've been off that drug for a full year and a couple months and my doctor strongly believes that I don't need it now. But now I'm dealing with some unknown thing right now either it could be related to being off that drug that we're seeing some unusual and concerning numbers that now we're trying to find the answers. Everyone has some sort of struggle and everyone is different.

    1. Thanks for the good wishes, Kat! I'm sending them right back at you. I hope you and your doctor figure out what's causing the current issue. I'm at the point where I'm realizing I need to be on this medication right now, and that's okay. Wishing you the same peace in whatever you & your doctor decide!

  10. Stefanie

    Thanks for being so open and honest and brave to share this. You have a true talent for writing, and putting this into words helps so many people. I hope it helps you, too! Sending lots of love and see you very soon!

  11. First, I send you hugs. Second, I send you understanding. I have panic disorder myself, and B encouraged me last year to go to a therapist and get myself on some medications. I'm so grateful that he did, because the way I feel now is so much better than the way I felt before. I'm glad that you have the Playwright in your corner and that you're starting to be able to take steps to feel the best that you can. It's hard, this brain chemistry stuff, isn't it? Third, I send you more hugs, because. 🙂

    Thank you for writing about this and for being a fierce brave you.

    1. *hugs back* Thanks, Molly. I'm so glad you reached out and are feeling better too! And that you have B in your corner! This stuff is hard. But I'm very grateful to have The Playwright (who has been an amazing support) and such understanding friends!

  12. Bailey Orr

    It’s things like this that help me through the day. I’ve been struggling with anxiety my whole life, but since I started high school and my parents got separated it’s been ou of control. It’s scary, it really is. But having medicine to help and a therapist to talk to helps immensely. Thank you so much for coming out and letting your fans in on what you’ve been going through these last few months. I’m sorry you went through that period of time. I know it was hard to say, but know that by recounting your story you help the people like me and many others who hold you and your books in a high regard. It’s your books and many others that make sit, take a breath, and calm down. Thank you so much, and I can not wait until Sisters Fate comes out and I can see this wonderful story until the end!

    1. Bailey, I'm so happy this helped you – and that you have meds and a therapist that are working for you. It's really important for me to be honest about the ups & downs of life – and especially stuff like anxiety – bc no one's life is perfect, and there are so many of us struggling, and it's so easy to feel alone in it if people don't speak out. *hugs* I can't wait to hear what you think of Sisters' Fate! Thanks for reading!

  13. lovingrob

    *HUGS* <3 You are amazing sweetie. Thank you so much for sharing. I really hope you are doing okay and will continue to do okay as well. <3 Having anxiety sucks. I have a small case of it, but nothing mayor, and that is bad enough. But I can imagine how you feel, and my heart aches for you. I'm sorry. And hugs, again. <3
    Love, Carina

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words and empathy, Carina! *hugs back* It's an ongoing process, but I'm feeling a lot better than I was and really working on being kind to myself.

  14. tawney13

    Can I just tell you that you are so awesome! I have anxiety and I just didn't know what to do, especially with this move to Florida. But you helped me so much by writing this. Thank you. You make me feel I can be better. I will be better. Hugs and lots of love!

    1. Tawney, it makes me so happy this helped you. I'm sorry you struggle with anxiety too. *hugs* It will get better. My anxiety is always triggered by transitions or big changes, and a move is huge! I bet once you settle into a routine, it will get easier!

  15. katyupperman

    I love you for your honesty and openness, and I'm so sorry you've been having a rough summer. Sending hugs and best wishes. <3

  16. ameliadenyvenross

    Jess, this really inspired me. A few years ago Sara Zarr started blogging (occasionally) about depression, which resonated with me. It means so much when other writers share about their struggles, since writing is such a singular, sometimes isolating career. You prompted me to be vulnerable too, and I shared about my struggles with anger on my blog.

  17. Jenn

    I honestly can relate to this post. Especially the part about going of meds. I was put back on anti depressants too after almost 2 years of thinking I could get along without them. I've gone even longer without seeing a therapist but have started a few months ago to see one along with the medicine. I did do pretty good without in the beginning, thinking that all the strategies I've learned from therapy years before would help me. They did for a little bit, but as time went on, it got harder. no matter how much positive thinking or the many other things I've learned, it got too hard. I felt bad about having to go back on meds at first, but realized that is to help me get better. I used to try to stay quiet about feeling this way, but I'm so much more open about it now and that also helps. Thank you for sharing this with us all.

    1. Thanks for reading, Jenn. I'm glad this post resonated with you. It's definitely challenging to have a brain that's predisposed to anxiety and/or depression, but there's no shame in meds and/or therapy. I am SO much happier, healthier, and more productive now than I was six months ago.

  18. Jessica,
    Just reading this post (am late to the party!), but feeling so much empathy for you. I, too, have been through a lot of anxiety and depression in the last year and a half, much of it related to my writing/publishing journey and how I was going about it and beating myself up and pushing myself too hard and making no room for anything else and … and … well, you get the idea. Sending you so much support! You are a brilliant writer and a valuable person regardless of what a brilliant writer you are (did I mention the brilliant thing?). So glad to hear that you are getting back on track and feeling more yourself. Thanks for sharing. I found great peace in knowing I wasn't the only one to have these experiences. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for this comment and the kind words, Anna. I'm glad this post resonated with you – and at the same time I'm sorry that you've been going through your own anxious period this year. It's so hard recognizing how little control we have over some aspects of our publishing careers. I'd be lying if I said I've entirely made my peace with it. But it does help to remember that, as you said, there is more to each of us than our careers, even when they are careers we love. You are FAR from alone in it.

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