To Stop and Smell the Roses – Writing & Anxiety

I am guilty.

I am guilty of not basking in a moment of pure joy and pride.

I have anxiety. I’ve had it as long as I can remember, but only put a name to it in my teenage years. Generalised Anxiety Disorder. GAD.

Why is this important?

Well, sometimes when you have anxiety, you are so focused on what could go wrong that you forget what could go right. It’s a tripwire that I’m often falling over.

For me, it’s even to the point that I could have something great happen, and then wonder why something greater didn’t happen instead, how could it be better? How could it be wrong or taken away? Did I do enough? Worries about worries about worries.

It’s this element of my own mind that I fight against, this tripwire, that can haunt yet nurture my writing. It’s a delicate balance.

I love that my tripwire keeps me questioning my motives and trying for bigger and better things, editing, rewrites, would that character really say that? Check and double-check before I leap. It’s the authoritative figure I can flaunt my wares to, show off and jump over.

…but I hate that I struggle to ‘smell the roses’ when I do achieve something great, when I’ve jumped and the work is recognised as good. That authoritative figure raises their eyebrow to cross-examine me once more.

Recently, this happened with my University results. I achieved a First Class degree in Creative & Professional Writing! I genuinely am thrilled with my achievement, but no less than ten minutes after having this displayed to me on screen did I then go through my transcript and work out if I just skimmed through for a First or did I really ‘earn’ it? I got 73%, Hmm how could I have got 74% or more… I then pushed back and thought, Wait, I got a First. That’s the best you can actually get here! Not today tripwire... Hooray! Then I preceded not to accept it fully and tell anyone until my official transcript in the post came. Proof. It was real now, not a computer error or oversight, I’d done it. Next!

Writing and anxiety is a weird combination. Part of me knows that all of us have our own tripwires in our minds, those thoughts that leave you feeling sick in the stomach for a second or two, knocking you out of your happy moment. It’s just that my tripwire sometimes makes me sweat, space out, hyper-focus on something or have palpitations until I can wrestle it back in its place and leap over it. I know I’m not alone in this by any means, but I feel it is important to acknowledge anxieties and their nature. My nature.

I have three big obstacles, three escalating tripwires that I have to climb over each time I sit down to write:

  1. “What’re you even writing that for?”
  2. “You’re not writing it very well.”
  3. “Just delete it. Save yourself the embarrassment.”

These three, in various tones, come to me every single time I start writing.
It’s taken me a very long time, years of practice to actually put my writing out there to be read. At one point I had a collection of 35 poems I’d written in my early twenties. I’d say 15 of them looking back I’d like to have published (or tried to).

I deleted them.

It’s one of the biggest tragedies with my writing that I’d suffered because of anxiety at a time in my life where I’d let my anxieties, my tripwires go rampant in my mind and I just lay down beneath it all.

What helped me get out of that situation was, metaphorically speaking, trying a new route. I stopped writing for a while. I gave myself 6 months to not write, not hit those familiar tripwires I’d been falling over and find something else to do. I didn’t make it. I lasted 3 months.

You see when I stopped putting so much emphasis and pressure on myself to write and be the ‘perfect writer’ I realised that it’s something I can never be. You never stop learning and you’ll never be perfect. I couldn’t stop writing, looking up what other authors and writers did. The truth was that it was all so random, there was no logical route. Writers just were – they wrote. The good, the bad, the sometimes cringingly ugly and the technically correct, the not-so-technically correct. The list goes on.

Those tripwires I’d been allowing myself to stumble into were actually hurdles. They were barriers I’d need to overcome to achieve my goals. I started giving myself time to think of answers to the tripwires I knew were coming, I prepped for the race ahead.

More importantly, through all of my difficulties with anxiety and the journey it’s taken me on, I’ve managed to find a balance where I can still write.

Yes, I can now graciously accept that not every single thing I jot down is a gold nugget, but it’s a process and accepting that, even with its difficulties, writing for me is part of my life and it always will be in some form.

I hope anyone reading this who’s struggling realises that the great secret of life is that none of us know truly what we’re doing, we’re not perfect, you are not alone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.