Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

This is kind of how I imagine fighting my anxiety. Only, you know, I’m actually wearing something when I do.

It was around this time last year that I started recognizing the symptoms of what would be diagnosed later as a generalized anxiety disorder. I was feeling dread when I was by myself or in a crowd, sure that anything I said or did might come back to haunt me. I was paying extra attention to what i posted online or what stories I wrote because I was sure it would lead to me becoming a pariah. If I was around people, I was afraid something I’d say or do would be misinterpreted and would lead to consequences.

There was also a touch of pessimism in the state of the world, and the possibility of a soulless universe that would cease to exist in a couple billion-billion years started rolling around in my skull a bit more. That happened.

I saw my psychiatrist, who gave me a prescription which has helped me with the majority of my symptoms. I’ve started recognizing triggers for my anxiety and situations where it was more likely to manifest. And I developed coping mechanisms to stave off or dull the anxiety, even enlisting the help of a counselor at work for further advice. All this came together to make sure 2018 didn’t get riddled with anxiety for me.

Still, it hasn’t been all wine and roses for me. There were times when I still felt really anxious, especially when it came to what I was writing or trying to make a name for myself as a writer. And sometimes, especially in the evenings, I still feel a bit of dread, and it makes me reluctant to write or do anything productive. Just the other night, I had to listen to a whole lot of my favorite music and some hypnosis just so I could put some words on paper. I ended up getting a little over a thousand words in a new short story down, but for a while it looked doubtful I could get a sentence or two down.

Yeah, having anxiety is far from easy.* No matter the coping mechanisms and the medications, my brain’s overproduction of one neurochemical or another is a constant problem, and I have to fight it everyday. That’s how I see it, as fighting. I imagine myself dressing up in armor and going to fight with a sword shield a many-headed monster which spawns rats that it directs to bite me (the rats, if it’s not obvious, represent my out-of-control thoughts). It’s the one-time I’m not thrilled to fight a demonic creature!

Thankfully, this is a battle that I’ve won almost every time. Sure, there are days where the beast gets the upper hand for a little while, but with the weapons I’ve been developing and adding to my arsenal over the past year, those moments don’t last very long. I know I’m stronger than the beast created by my brain chemicals, and I know how to fight it when I need to. And I know I have so many of you supporting me today, giving me the strength to fight even on my worse days.

And know that if you have an anxiety disorder, I’m supporting you. You’re not alone: approximately forty million people in the United States deal with anxiety every year. We’re all connected by this disorder, and we’re all in this fight together. By recognizing what we have and not giving into the stigma of mental illness, we can fight off the many-headed beast and regain control of our lives. Together, we can be happy.

Thanks for the all the support, everyone. It means a lot to me. And if you’re struggling with anxiety and need some strategies, I list some in this article from when I first came out about my anxiety. Who knows? You might find some of the tips helpful.

Well, I’ve got dinner to make and a scary story to write. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

*Along with autism, ADHD, allergies, partial albinism, and back pain. Yeah, I’m a hot mess. But at least I’m humorous about it and try not to let it get me down.

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Some days it’s harder to know where you stand than others.

Last month, a white supremacist went on a shooting rampage in Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All of the victims were senior citizens and a few were Holocaust survivors. That they should live so long and survive so much, just for one hateful man to snuff out their lives, hurts and horrifies me and several other members of the Jewish community on so many levels. In my own response to the shooting, I mentioned I felt connected to the attack in a very personal way. I almost ended up living in Pittsburgh when I was a kid instead of Columbus. Imagine what mght’ve happened if I’d stayed there, and if my synagogue had been Tree of Life?

Since that horrific day, there have been more anti-Semitic incidents. None on the scale as the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, but still horrific. In Baltimore, a man interrupted a performance of Fiddler on the Roof, a play revolving around Jewish characters dealing with change and anti-Semitism, by shouting “Heil Hitler! Heil Trump!”; in Wisconsin, nearly an entire class of graduating high school boys threw up the Hitler salute for a prom photo; in Cleveland, flyers with links to a neo-Nazi website around Case Western University; and in Argentina, soccer fans rioted and shouted “Kill the Jews to make soap!” after a team composed of mainly Jewish players defeated the team whose stadium they were visiting.*

And that’s just the ones I know about. There are probably other incidents that have yet to reach my ears.

I know that what I and the Jewish people is nothing new or out of nowhere. Many minorities are facing discrimination and harassment right now, and it seems to only be growing. Regardless, all these incidents happening within such a short span of time, and after the Pittsburgh shooting to boot, have me on edge. It makes me wonder if this wont become a much bigger trend, where anti-Semitism becomes an everyday occurrence.

It makes me wonder whether or not it’ll be safe to stay in this country much longer. And if it should become too dangerous, where would I go? Canada? Europe? Israel? Would it only be a matter of time before more violence broke out? Before I had to flee from those who would see me dead just for being born a certain faith and heritage?

Still, I have reason to hope and to stave off the fear.

We’ve all heard the poem by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller, but it bears repeating.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and i did not speak out–
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

While there are still plenty of people who aren’t willing to speak out,** I’ve had the pleasure of knowing plenty of people in and outside the Jewish community and the United States who will speak out against injustice. Many of them I’ve met through blogging and online interaction as well as face-to-face communication. They’ve reached out to me when I needed it and have stood up for me too. I know that well before things get too harsh to live safely in this country, they will come to my side and stand by me.

So if you’re reading this, I urge you to speak out when you see hatred and injustice. Right now it may seem like a struggle not worth going through with insurmountable barriers to face, but it can be done. By showing up to events, by giving to causes, by voting in every election (especially voting in every election!), by sending your voice out through the world to be heard, you can make a difference. And I urge you to do so. If not for us, for you. So you can say you fought to keep the world a little less hateful and a little more kind.

Thanks for letting me talk about this, my Followers of Fear. I know it’s shocking that some things scare me, but it’s true. I’m trying to channel that fear into the story I’m working on now, make it an even better story. Until then, keep safe and pleasant nightmares.

*This incident feels eerily like deja vu to me, because something similar happened to my school’s soccer team in high school. As some of you know, my high school was a Jewish day school, so all the students and half the staff were Jews. One day in my junior year, the soccer team won against another school, and the latter started shouting anti-Semitic names and rants at my school’s team. I don’t remember much beyond that it nearly came to blows, but it goes to show this isn’t a new thing or coming out of nowhere.

**The superintendent of the school district where those students gave the Nazi salute, for example, said she couldn’t punish them for their acts because of First Amendment rights and she “couldn’t be sure” of the intentions of the students. Seems pretty obvious to me, and people get fired or punished for things they say all the time!

I was hoping I’d be under better health when I talked about this, but unfortunately I’m dealing with a summer cold right now. Forgive me if this post isn’t as eloquent as I wanted it to be, but it had to be written today. Otherwise, I’m not sure I’d write it at all.

So since about December last year, I’ve been dealing with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). What this means is that I get anxious about a lot of things in my life, or sometimes I get anxious about nothing at all. I just feel this awful feeling of dread, like something under my skin is itching my nerves and making me afraid of everything. I have my ideas about what stressors, the event or events in my life that set it off, but these days I’m less concerned about stressors and more about triggers, what makes me anxious now that I have this condition. These days, that’s mainly the writing career: how will Rose be received; can I make it successful; will it be laughed and hated to the point that I can’t write ever again, etc. Those may seem like issues every author worries about, but in this case, it’s less of a small worry and more like an overriding wave, taking up all my thoughts and making it difficult to think or breathe because you’re just considering the many things that could go wrong.

That’s my GAD.*

The good news is, I started treating this almost as soon as I realized what I was dealing with. I moved up my appointment with my psychiatrist, and she prescribed me medication. I’ve come up with strategies to take the bite out of my triggers, and I’ve been talking with a counselor to further help me with that.

And I’m not alone. I recently came out to a bunch of people that I have GAD. Not only did I get an amazing amount of support and love, but I heard from all sorts of people who have the same sort of issues or know someone who does. We commiserated on the struggles, and were glad that we weren’t so alone. This is such a common disease,** much more common than even I thought, and it affects people in a variety of different ways. Knowing that there are so many other people out there dealing with the same thing made me feel better. It seems like that the opposite would be true, but it’s not. We may have anxiety, but we find peace in our shared struggle.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share some strategies I’ve been using to fight my anxiety. If you have this issue, you might find these strategies just as helpful as I do. Maybe even more:

  • Recognize your anxiety for what it is. For whatever reason, people often deny that they have an anxiety issue. I think this might be because of the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. However, the sooner you acknowledge you’re having anxiety, the sooner you can start fighting back. I recognized this for what it was early on, and I’m so much better for recognizing it in the first place.
  • Don’t be afraid of medication. I know a lot of us don’t like putting anything more than Tylenol into our systems, but taking medication can help. My first day taking medication for my anxiety, I felt freer and lighter than I had in weeks. My anxiety could not touch me that day! And if one medication doesn’t work for you, there are many others available. You just have to be open and honest with your doctor, and they’ll help you find the prescription that’s right for you.
  • Talk to a counselor. Sometimes it’s just good to have someone to talk to about what you’re worried about. I saw a counselor, and they’ve been helping me find more ways to deal with my anxiety. And honestly, just spending forty minutes in that office and talking to someone really helped me out with my fears and made them harmless again. I’m really glad I decided to talk to someone.
  • Logic your anxieties to death. This is something I started doing the moment I realized I had anxiety. Every time I had a fear come up, I would use logic to render it harmless. I would look at all the ways this anxiety made no sense, and argue these points to myself until I felt better. It really works, and I’ve managed to kill most of my anxieties with this.
  • Keep an anxiety notebook. This is something my counselor recommended to me. He said that by keeping a journal and writing down your anxieties, your brain is somehow able to process them and render them mute. I’ve done something similar when it comes to writer’s block, so I know this variation on the theme can work. I even recently bought a notebook to write in the next time I’m feeling anxious. And although I hate being anxious, I’m looking forward to seeing the results.
  • “Follow your happiness.” This is something I came up with. I have no idea why it works, but telling myself over and over, “Find your happiness,” and playing upbeat music either in my head or on my iPod really blocks out the negative thoughts. I’m really partial to “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie (my theory is that we’re all fans of his, whether we know it or not).
  • Hypnosis, meditation, and ASMR. I know what you’re thinking, but these really do help. I’ve done hypnosis, meditation, and ASMR (see this video for a fuller explanation of what that is) for years, and they’ve always helped to relax me. If you open yourself to them, they may just help you deal with these issues.

While I may never be totally rid of my GAD (for some people, these things come and go), the important thing is that I recognize what it is, and that I’m dealing with it in a healthy manner. And if this post helps others recognize their anxiety and deal with it, I feel like I’ve accomplished something good. Because while this disorder is common and can be debilitating, it can also be treated. And if it can be treated, we can make our days a little brighter.

What strategies do you have for dealing with anxiety or GAD?

*So for those of you keeping score at home, I have autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, acid reflux, partial albinism, allergies, and anxiety. One more with an “A” prominent in the name, and I should receive a set of steak knives or a gift card or something!

I’m also farsighted and have back issues. And I have a cold right now. I’m a hot mess!

**And this is a disease, no different than diabetes or a number of other disorders. It’s just a disease affecting our mental state. Anyone who says we just need to learn to chill out or says we’re just imagining it doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Might as well tell someone with crippling arthritis to just move more and ignore the inflammation.

Last week I had a dream that started pleasantly and ended up being kind of nightmarish: it involved me and a friend of mine from high school navigating an area with lots of rivers and creeks on surfboards. We were looking for a mythical golden treasure trove that many had searched for and failed. We’d heard the treasure we were looking for was cursed, but we went searching for it anyway, because nothing bad has ever come from seeking and finding cursed objects. Somehow we found the treasure where so many others had failed, split it up between us, and go home. However, soon after that, weird stuff starts happening: things move on their own, the faces on the coins change shape, and that’s just the start of our problems. Well before it gets really bad though, my friend and I realize that we have to return the treasure to where we found it.

At some point, someone in the dream says I could write a story about what’s happened to us. To which I replied, “Someone already did. It’s called Pirates of the Caribbean.”

After we agree to take the treasure back, I woke up. It didn’t take me long to figure out the main message of the dream (besides the fact that I can point out when my situation resembles a famous film in my dreams). You see, the night before I’d taken a swipe at starting the fifth draft of Rose, based on my publisher Castrum’s comments and suggestions. I got about a page in, and I hit a metaphorical roadblock. I couldn’t figure out how to advance. So I ended up going to bed not sure how to move further in editing this novel while at the same time integrating my publisher’s suggestions (many of which I agree with and think could elevate the quality of the novel).

That dream was my subconscious giving me a rather creative presentation of my doubts and anxieties regarding the editing and publishing process for Rose: that signing with a publisher was a really bad idea, that there’s nothing I’ll be able to do to make this novel publishable, that even if I somehow get it released, it’ll suck and anybody who reads it will leave bad reviews. A dark side to achieving my dream and finding a publisher, represented expertly by cursed gold.*

And then on Saturday, I tried again. And it went extremely well. I got thirteen out of sixteen pages in that chapter done. Yesterday, I got the last three pages done, plus all eleven of the next chapter (and while taking in a double feature on the Blu-Ray Player in the afternoon). And then today, I got another chapter done within a couple of hours. That’s an average of a chapter a day! Take that, conscious and subconscious fears involving working with a publishing process.

Obviously, these are still early stages of the fifth draft, and I’m going to encounter moments where I’m not sure what to write or how to integrate a suggestion from the publisher. Luckily though, my publisher has been great about answering any questions I have (thank God they don’t see me as a pushy American) and offering feedback to my ideas on how to integrate their suggestions. And with these last three chapters, I’ve been able to move forward mostly on my own. And with time, I’m sure I can get through the rest without trouble, and well before May 16th. I just have to keep being creative and persevere.

Obviously, doubts about what I’m doing and where I’m going will plague me throughout my writing career from here on out. I’ve passed a new turning point in my career, and it’s a whole new playing field from here on out. But the next time I feel those worries start to get to me, I’ll remember the dream about the cursed gold, and the productive weekend that followed. And I’ll just keep editing through my doubts.

And while I still have your attention, I’d like to give a shout out to my good friend and fellow novelist at Castrum, Matt Williams. He just finished writing his novel The Jovian Incident, Book Two of the Formist series, and will hopefully have it out later this year. I can’t wait to read it, as I really enjoyed the first book, The Cronian Incident, which currently holds a 4.7 out of 5 on Amazon based on 12 reviews. If you would like to read some hard-boiled detective fiction in a futuristic universe, this series may be the one you’re looking for. Check it out and leave Matt a review while you’re at it.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares (hopefully none that resemble popular contemporary movies, though).

*Still not sure why I was using a surfboard to navigate rivers and creeks (obviously a reference to the various paths we authors take to finding a publisher), as well as why that particular friend was with me (I love the guy and it always seems like no time has passed at all when we see each other, but he’s not a fiction writer, so I can’t think of why he would be in the dream).

I’m far from perfect. And there are lots of areas I can be better (especially my impulse control when it comes to sweets). However, this post will be focused on the writing aspects I can improve upon.

There are a couple of reasons why I want to talk about that here. One is that for personal things I want to improve upon (damn you, sweet tooth! Damn you to hell!), I only talk about those sort of things here when it’s really important. Like if I’m really struggling with my choices in life, or if I want to talk about being on the spectrum. And at the moment, there’s nothing in my life I feel like talking about here at the moment. Second, this is a blog for a writer, so it makes sense that if I’m going to talk about improving stuff, it’ll be about improving my writing. And finally, while a lot of people I know in real life and even a few people online treat me as THE writing expert, especially when it comes to fiction writing, I’m far from an expert. If I were an expert, I’m pretty sure I’d have several bestsellers out by now, a few of them would have been made into movies already, and I’d be writing full-time in a nice three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath house (I have goals that I aim for).

Point is, as a writer there are areas I’d like to improve in, so I thought I’d list some of those and ask for your feedback. Many of you who follow this blog are writers, and have much more experience than I do. Perhaps you’ve dealt with some of the issues I’ve dealt with, and have some tips on how to deal with them. Anything’s possible, right?

1. I’m addicted to adverbs and gerunds. Now if you don’t remember most of the fancy terms from grammar class, adverbs are words that end in “ly” (wildly, musically, horribly) and gerunds are words ending in “ing” (ending, writing, killing). And I overuse them in my writing (see? Did it right there). One of the biggest criticisms I got from Rose, truth be told, is that I overuse them. In fact, I almost used “actually” instead of “truth be told” in that last sentence. And in the one before this, I started writing “nearly” before I switched to “almost.” And in that last one, “I switched” started as “switching.” And before that–oh, you get the idea!

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about how I had a similar problem with semicolons. I overused them, especially when they weren’t needed. Once I recognized the problem, I was able to correct it. But I have a feeling correcting these issues won’t come so naturally (see?). For one thing, while the semicolon issue was about fixing incorrect uses of punctuation, what I’m doing here isn’t technically wrong. These are speech patterns used everyday, you just don’t see them in a lot of fiction to the extent I use them. At least, not really good fiction. So one thing I’d like to do is know when to use adverbs and gerunds, and when not to use them.

2. Passive vs. active voice. I have a lot of trouble telling those two apart. Which is bad, because editors and publishers tend to prefer active voices in fiction, and I somehow always end up writing in passive voice. What’s the difference? Is there a video I need to watch or something that explains this? Help!

3. Writing snappier action. This is something I’ve taken steps to improve, but it’s still a work in progress. I tend to write these long sentences that illustrate a character taking a certain action. Example: “She stood, walked to the kitchen, and placed the glass in the dishwasher.” It’s a good sentence, but for fiction, this is better: “She put the glass in the dishwasher.” Boom! And if I’ve already established that the character is on the couch, it works even better. It shows the same amount of action with less words.

I’m trying to implement this sort of snappy action into my stories. Editors and publishers seem to like it, and when there are limits to how many words a submitted story can have, it’s helpful in reducing the word count. Still, it’s going to take some work. This, like the adverbs and gerunds and possibly the passive voice thing, are deeply ingrained habits.

No reason to add this photo. I just want to show you my new author profile pic.

4. Short story writing. I’ve written novels or works meant to be novels for most of my life. That’s what I mostly read, so that’s what I mostly wrote. I’ve learned how to write short stories and read plenty of them since high school and college, but I’m still not as good at them as I am at novels. Which is sad, because I’ve had many, many ideas for short stories and novelettes over the years. And since I’ve spent most of my time on novels, I’ve written only a few short stories, and not many of those have been published.

What I want to do is write more short stories and novelettes, get better at writing them, and get a few of those published. Is it necessary, especially since I prefer novels? No, but a lot of authors I like do great short fiction, so I’d like to do great short fiction too. Good news is, I’ve been reading a lot of anthologies lately, and I should have a bit of time after I finish the fourth draft of Rose. That should give me time to practice.

5. Not listening to my anxieties. All writers deal with anxieties, especially with how their work will be received. Sometimes I let them have too much control of my mind, and I start freaking out Just yesterday, I got panicky over whether certain characters in Rose might be called tacky stereotypes. After a lot of discussion online with friends and colleagues, I don’t believe they are, but the worry ate at me for a while.

The important thing for me is just to be a bit more confident in myself, and the stories I write. And I should work on techniques to combat those anxieties when they try to tear at me. Because at the end of the day, I’ve still written some decent fiction. And I won’t let doubt or fear keep me from improving it and making it into possibly publishable fiction.

 

Well, those are the things I want to improve on with my writing. What are your suggestions on fixing those issues? Let me know in the comments below.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve only six chapters of Rose left to edit, so I’ll hopefully get started on the next one tonight. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!