Monday, April 2, 2012

Anxiety & The Writer/Creator

Originally, I wanted to write a lengthy post about how you can use beats to put your readers/players on an emotional train, but that was before last night.

Last night, as I was laying in bed after this delicious roast chicken and creamed spinach and this cheesy rice and a Reese's Pieces Sundae (because decadence is awesome), anxiety buzzed me like a tower flyby in Top Gun.

On came the sweats. On came the palpitations. On came the crushing weight and the negative cackling voice that suggests "You've been doing this for more than half your life, you still suck at it, you'll be forever working unhappily".

To put it bluntly, I'd like to take a chainsaw to the voice and hack it to ribbons.

I have been doing this for more than half my life, and it has brought me some really great successes and friendships, and it has taught me a lot of hard lessons. And that can suck.

Taking stock of what I'm doing now:

*  I'm on pace already to have more work this year than in the last three years COMBINED
*  I'm happier now (emotionally, mentally, etc-ally) than I have been since....about the mid-90s, when I was IN HIGH SCHOOL.
* I spend about three-fifths of my day thinking about, working with and playing games. The other two-fifths are divided into writing (my own personal writing, not being-someone-else's-writing-pet) and developing projects with my friends that we're all passionate about.
* That cloying, fuzzy, sticky sense that I'm not doing X or Y "right" is gone. Gone too is that sense that I have be this or that way for the sake of other people. I think that's my most liberated feeling of late.

So with all these good things, where the hell does the anxiety get any purchase in my head?

I'm not sure. I think it's because I look at the work, at what it is (fun things, things that I enjoy) and have the hardest time reconciling the idea that I'm at work....but I'm not working.

My father worked for more than thirty years at a job that broke him. Gave him a heart condition, broke his spirit and then was kind enough to treat him like he never existed once he left. That job, while it supported my childhood and made it possible for me to live as I did, and do what I did, wore him down.

I watched him come home tired, stressed and exhausted every day. And in my head I built the connection that work is supposed to be difficult, stressful and draining.

When I started writing and editing and consulting, it didn't feel difficult or stressful or draining. I felt energized by it. So that built the connection that what I do must not be work.

But, I get paid to do these things. People come seek me out to help them do these things. I make a good living (paying bills, traveling, enjoying myself) doing these things.

It's in that is-this-work-versus-is-it-not that this voice of "You're not good enough" creeps in. (For the record, that voice sounds like the Wicked Witch of the West plus the Judge from Roger Rabbit)

That's where anxiety comes in. I used to be able to ward it off with huge cocktails and irresponsibility and lots of excuses...but that time has all passed, because well, I'm not taking jobs out of guilt or shame or to-prove-the-haters-wrong. I'm doing what I want (note the absence of "pretty much" in that sentence), and while that is incredibly empowering, it's also terrifying.

I'm sure that I could have faced this down in my twenties, if I had a more normal experience in my 20s...but by that way of thinking I'd probably be married with a kid and a mortgage and be far less fun than I am now. Or I would have spiraled into a depression so deep that I'd either be dead or institutionalized. So, I didn't get a chance to face down the "life success" anxiety in the last decade (Also, I spent most of that decade screwing up, either intentionally because I'm a giant child or unintentionally because I got myself into some really crap situations). I'm better now. I'm older. I'm wiser. I'm battle-tested.

My anxiety ebbs and flows. Right now, I'm looking downhill at it. I have my little notebook with my list of things to do today, I've got my Google Calendar organized and I know that all I have to do is get through today and tomorrow and WHOOOSH life accelerates to awesome speed warp-nine until like....Labor Day (for realsies, this is totally going to be a great spring and summer).

When I look uphill at it, I'm a failure who is still trying to be "perfect" and write "the perfect book" and make other people happy. I'm also the 900 pound (because 215 is totally the same as 900, right?), love child of Jabba the Hutt and Swamp Thing who barely deserves your notice when you're not too busy staring at how hideous or stupid he is. Not always in that order. Sometimes I dumber than I am ugly and fat. But they all get into the mix when things go uphill.

If you're as smacked around by anxiety as I am, I don't have the magic wand solution. It's not a pill, a potion, or take-a-seat-and-tell-me-about-your-feelings solution. I've got no magic wand, but I can tell you that for me what works is a combination of sleep, laughter and really small bits of work.

Because in my head, work isn't me. (Despite the arguments of many people in my life at various points). My ability to write (although not perfect, see above) and edit (also not perfect, see above) is just something I do well, and I do my best not to be a huge jerk about it. So doing work, so that I have proof of accomplishment in front of me, is a huge help. Because no one can take that away. Throw in some laughs and some sleep, and things clear up nicely.

I rambled through this. I went on and on, because I'm anxious. I have to go deal with people for what is the last time (their absence will leave a jerk-shaped hole in my schedule), and then that will trigger the acceleration toward awesome. So on one hand, I can't wait. On the other, I wish I didn't light that fuse by having to do something I dislike.

Okay, take second, I can't end on that note.

So instead, I want you to do me favor today. I want you to at some point today say something really nice and sincere to a friend or a family member. Brighten up their day.

I'll be back later in the week with way less stress and far more fun things. Rock on Monday.

Happy writing.