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.