In my deepest fears, writing makes us die

This has been a tough week. Mainly, because it followed a tough week. I had an article published.

Bear with me. I know that sounds strange, but this is a story of anxiety.

I published in Bright. A place I’ve wanted to publish since I first heard about it. The topic, Curing the Classroom Jitters: Dealing with Teaching Anxiety falls into one of my favorite wheelhouse topics. Teaching. Writing the piece was a dream. The editing process enjoyable. And then the lovely editor contacted me to ask about doing a photo shoot to accompany my article.

I was flattered, really I was, but my entire being wanted to say no.  That anxiety that afflicts me in the classroom? It’s ten times worse in front of a camera. Ask Jeannie, my compatriot over at Creative Revolution, what it was like to get me to film a welcome video for our writer’s retreat.  That cat at the top of the page (courtesy of travel oriented’s Flickrstream)? Yeah. Totally me.

Over the last weeks writing the article, interviewing other teachers, talking to friends and readers about anxiety, I’ve come to realize anxiety affects my life in more ways than I care to admit.

I find it hard to: Call parents in Lila’s class. Send messages to the parent Whatsapp group. Invite someone new for coffee. Go to school gatherings and shows. Join the local cactus and succulent cooperative. (Yes, I went to a cactus and succulent co-op. And now I have a lovely bed of succulents.)

And writing? Writing breeds so many forms of anxious misery, I need a thesaurus to outline them all. Each new pitch leaves my stomach in knots. Asking for more money and following up on payments make me ill. Even after a piece is accepted, published and sent out into the world. What if no one reads it. Or what if everyone reads it and they hate me? Even gently negative comments on social media — where I make contacts, meet editors, find new places to pitch — send me reeling.

I live with the pervasive and underlying fear that I will be rejected. Rejection, oh, sweet rejection, arrives in so many colors and flavors. Creative in apparel, it appears in places I never expect.

I felt like vomiting when the e-mail arrived to say Curing the Classroom was up. It was worst than when the same editor full out rejected a previous pitch. Why? Because of those damn photos. I look horrible. I haven’t lost all the baby weight. I’m a monster. And what if everyone hates what I wrote?

I feel like I’m going crazy, but I know I’m not alone.

Since publishing my truth about classroom anxiety, I’ve heard from many friends and readers sharing their own day-t0-day struggles with the same. Most of those people? You’d never in a million years believe it of them.

Me? I imagine it’s written plainly on my face. Surely everyone sees through me, knows how small I really feel.

Google searches for “rejection” and “failure” bring more people to my website than any other term.

Fear of rejection and fear of failure sneak into our brains, making impossible the process of pitching, writing, pitching more, editing and doing all the things we need to do in order to live our lives as writers.

Worst, it is impossible to write openly when there’s that voice, sometimes so well practiced I barely know she’s there, reminding me of every possible awful, painful, ugly, wrong detail. My words wilt to a twig of what they should be.

Recently, I lead an online course all about Rejection and the Writer’s Life

What an amazing experience pulling apart the methodology of rejection in order to write the slides for this webinar.

For example: Did you know rejection registers as pain in the body? To the extent that even taking ibuprofen or aspirin can lessen the effects. Rejection digs deeply into our animal brain, back to the days when rejection means ostracism from the pack which in turn meant death.

Of course, fear of death invokes anxiety, even when no real death is imminent.

I am an expert in living my life in spite of anxiety and rejection. I have mastered the art of gathering up my fears and writing anyway. I’ve cultivated techniques and habits and mantras that I pull out of my mental box of scripts to run at the appropriate times.

I’m starting something new. Shit. What if i have nothing to say? What if I’m the worst writer ever? 

Run script: Freewrite.
There is no better way to circumvent the thinking mind than to just write. With abandon. With no specific purpose. To just get started.

What if I write something and no one wants to read it?

Run script: Calm the fuck down. Let’s be sensible here. No one can read what you haven’t written. Write now. Worry about what you do with that writing later.

Does that even make sense? It’s hard to tell when you can’t think straight. No editor will want this pitch. It’s total shit.

Run script: Focus on writing the pitches. What happens to them isn’t your concern.

I figure if I keep saying it often enough, I’ll eventually forget to panic in the first place. This week, though, was not my week.

To end, a quote from a recent blog post of Chuck Wendig’s:

Every story is one soaked with our blood and our tears and every story is our weirdo book-baby stumbling into the world. We all want the best for it. We all fear the worst for it. But we keep on keeping on.

He didn’t mean it the way I do, but I figure, sometimes a message arrives as it should.

Yeah, anxiety sucks. That’s the bottom line. Anxiety jangles across my skin, leaving me jumpy, unable to concentrate. At the worst of it, it wakes me multiple times during the night to whisper horrible things into my ear. What? Impossible. You can’t pull that off in a million years! Watch out! We’re all gonna die!!

I do my best to hide it, because my anxiety makes me look weak, crazy, whiney and a host of other things I don’t want to be. I hide it, ignore it, manage it, get angry at it, and sink so deeply into it, I’m not sure I’ll ever get out.

Then every once in a while, nowhere near as often as I’d like, I disappear in a scene, a character, a dialogue.

Perhaps it’s morning in Riomaggiore, and a woman, not entirely unlike myself, sips tepid coffee from a blue tin coffee mug as she looks at the darkness on the other side of the balcony where she sits.  Her fingers quietly tap in the blue glow of her computer keyboard. She writes of plants, medicinal ones, the same she saw the previous day by the water. The man she describes, he visited this apartment once, slept in the same bed. He is a drunk. She kind of wishes she could be.

It’s in those lovely moments I forget my anxiety altogether when I forget all that other crap that impedes the act of creation.

Wil Wheaten also fights this awful thing. I’m not sure why I felt the need to share that, but it feels significant. Maybe because he’s another one of those who seems beyond anxiety’s grasp? Or maybe because Wil says “the best way to affect change in this whole thing is to make it ok to talk about it.” Because I’m tired of hiding. It’s exhausting. I’m tired of pretending to be someone I’m not, even though the thought of being so vulnerable absolutely terrifies me.

Now, I’m going to close my eyes, hit publish and think of just about anything else for the next few days.

Of course, should you wish to share your own experiences with anxiety, I’m all ears, well, eyes, and maybe fingers to respond, too. I mean, unless you call me names. Then you’ll find me under my bed weeping.