Writing, Publishing, and Anxiety

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It’s no great secret that I’ve lived with depression and anxiety pretty much since I hit adolescence. I’ve spent an awful lot of time and money looking for the “fix,” but of course there really isn’t one. Especially not for someone who is so sensitive to drugs that almost anything that might help is more likely to make everything worse.

(“Hey, you’re no longer depressed, but now you’ve got a third eyeball! And don’t worry, that rash is hardly visible,” is not the conversation you want to have with your doctor. I long ago learned that my battles must be chosen and it’s far better to live with the anxiety/depression dragon that I know than the drug-fueled beast that might kill me.)

Since pharmaceuticals are out, one of the ways I’ve learned to deal with my anxiety and depression is through writing. It’s no coincidence that I started writing in high school when the other problems first showed up. Writing has always served as an outlet. It’s a place where I can unpack the issues of the day, vent/rant, create happy endings for others, or subject characters to all the awfulness I can’t process or express any other way.

Writing is also very calming, especially since I do much of it in long hand. The whole process gets me out of my ruminating thoughts for a while and forces me to think about other things. It’s a safe space for me and the place I retreat to when everything else is too overwhelming.

Writing is that way for many people. Whether it’s journaling, fiction, or poetry, many people find some relief and peace on the page. It’s awesome.


…You publish. See, what nobody told me (but what I really should have seen coming), is that publishing is possibly one of the worst things you can do for anxiety/depression. So bad, in fact, that at times that third eyeball looks pretty damn appealing.

It starts with the querying process and the piles of rejections. It’s not so much the form rejections. Those are so impersonal that they don’t bug me. It’s the jerks who feel compelled to reject you and also mention that your ideas are stale, your talent lacking, and your work will never see the light of day. Yes, it happens. And, no, it does not encourage sound mental health.

And let’s say you survive that and, miracle of miracles, you find an agent and/or publisher. Things are great, right? For about five minutes. There’s a moment of happy dancing before reality sets in. Suddenly you have contracts and deadlines. You have to get on social media and flog yourself and your work. There will be reviews. Bad ones, and even some designed by trolls to be hurtful. There is fear of giving away too much, of being exposed in uncomfortable ways. (Get your mind out of the gutter. I don’t mean sex.) The internet can be a scary place and it’s all the worse for people with anxiety/depression.

And then there’s the constant worry about the future. Your book isn’t selling as well as X, Y, and Z. Someone else has a similar idea… What does this mean for you? If sales don’t pick up, will you ever have another book published? Are you failing at life? And on and on. It would be a bit much for a normal person, I imagine, but for someone with anxiety it can be crippling at times.

This isn’t to say that publishing is bad or that I don’t, on some level, enjoy it. I do enjoy it and, really, it’s not like any job wouldn’t be difficult for someone with the mental baggage I carry. Every job has anxiety-inducing properties and I had some whopper anxiety attacks back when I was working for “the man.”

But whereas it wasn’t surprising that Mr. Sexually Harassing Boss Man and Miss Bullying Manager could induce an anxiety attack, it was a bit surprising that something I loved so much could, at times, bring me to my knees.

Writing is no longer the safe space it once was. Sure, some days it is. When I’m journaling or deep in the throes of a first draft, it’s great. But then comes the editing, the selling, the promotion, the reviews, and all of that and it gets hard. The anxieteers come running to the forefront of my mind and mess everything up.

There was something pure about my pre-publishing days. Writing was the one place where I could go and simply be myself (or anyone else I wanted to be). That is no longer the case. Or at least not as often as it used to be. And I have to work harder to get there. It takes effort, now, to tune out the voices in my head that tell me this is no good, or no one will want this, or this is stupid. It takes effort to shut down the fear and get to the fun.

Since writing is no longer the escape from anxiety and depression that it used to be, I’ve had to lean on my other coping mechanisms (and learn a few more). Board games, Lego, coloring books (bless the soul who popularized adult coloring), and movies have all become my escapes. And of course exercise. These are the things and places I turn to now when I need to give my mind a rest, when I need something I can do with no judgment and no expected outcomes.

Publishing has been a dream in many respects. However, it, like almost everything, has had some unintended consequences. Would I do it again? Yes. Yes, I would. There are many, many things to love. I’ve met some great people (both readers and “publishing people”), had a lot of fun, and had the thrill of holding my published “book babies” in my hands. The good really does outweigh the bad.

But damn if I don’t wish drugs worked for me on some days.

(Photo courtesy of Wokandapix)

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