Firstly, this was not the post I had planned on writing, however, things keep conspiring against me. Soooo… instead I’m going to write about Anxiety.
This has been on my “To Blog About” for a while but it’s not a comfortable topic for me. I have suffered from extreme social anxiety for… ever and while I have learned to manage it better it still makes me uncomfortable to talk about.
In fact, my anxiety is such an uncomfortable thing that when I talk about it in real life, it sometimes comes across like a separate person. As if I need to separate myself from it.
Yes even here on the page of typed words it makes me stressed.
So why are you blogging about it?
I hear you say….(silently because it’s not like you’re sat on my couch…if you were you would be covered in cat fur…)
Writers and Anxiety
I think the main reason to discuss this issue, is that I am not the only writer who suffers from anxiety… in fact, a large number of writers suffer from this disorder.
Writing is (mostly) a solitary practice, it is a place of safety where we withdraw into worlds we create, where we have control. It can be our haven.
However, it also makes us isolated. Those of us who do suffer anxiety can find it hard to reach out to others whether that’s looking for friends who share the same interests, trying to get advice, searching for beta readers or taking a step to contact an agent.
I am not alone in having this issue and I wanted to talk about it – so that those who do have anxiety might see that if nothing else, they can reach out to me….because I understand.
For those who don’t have anxiety, it can seem like we are “just stressing over nothing” or “overreacting”.
Being faced with this kind of dismissing attitude is crippling, all it does it push us further down. We withdraw and protect ourselves.
Since there are people who don’t realise we can have a meltdown doing simple tasks like shopping for groceries or riding on trains, we end up doing what we can which can mean avoiding those things.
So we isolate ourselves, even more, we buy online, we avoid going to places that need us to journey on trains and buses.
Anxiety is physical
Anxiety is not just being “a little worked up or stressed.” It is a body shut down. People experience it differently but for me, I get a creeping feeling in my skin.
This triggers heart palpitations, usually followed by a shortening of breath, nausea then sets in and even pain in my stomach.
If I don’t get to a “safe” place or am grounded it can turn into a huge panic attack.
Noise and crowds affect me the most, the press of people or just the busier a place is can trigger an attack. Stressful situations can also cause meltdowns.
I’ve lived with anxiety issues all my life and I am thankfully in a strong relationship with a wonderful man who not only understands this condition but knows how to ground me and bring me back to a sense of safety.
In fact, I have only had one panic attack in like 6 years. It happened last year when I went to an exam, I had driven there previously so I would know the route, the building, even how the door opens.
When I drove there in the morning the road was being dug up and the diversions didn’t take me back to the location because it was a one-way street.
The whole area was a no parking place and I ended up completely crashing into my panic attack as I realised I might miss my exam (if you are more than 10 mins late they won’t let you take the exam).
Sadly my partner couldn’t be reached and I ended up having my meltdown on the phone to my mother who…. wasn’t really able to cope with it because she never understood my anxiety.
It took 3 days to come down from that attack.
This heading is probably misleading because I haven’t overcome anxiety, I live with it every day. For example, where I work, they have just had an office move.
We are in the same building, they have just changed it by removing office walls, and setting the desks up differently, the whole layout is new.
I had to go in an hour early the first day after this change in order to “take in” this change (because change really affects my anxiety) before everyone else came in. That quiet time allowed me to become settled before I had to deal with the hustle and bustle of everyone else.
Now the reason I named this part “Overcoming Anxiety” is because as writers, if we want to be a success, if we want to be published, if we want people to read our work then we need to bring it to them.
Even in the traditional publishing world authors are expected to put any effort in to building up their fan base, getting their name out there. In this world of social media, we have to be ‘connecting’ and ‘networking’ (god I hate those words, they are so business-speak to me).
For the anxious, this is torture
So how do you overcome it? Technically you don’t but you can get better at handling it.
First, you take things slow, no one is expecting you to be doing talks on writing in front of huge lecture halls or doing public signings.
Instead, put some feelers out online, talk about your book or your writing in a blog, or on your Facebook page, follow some people on Twitter and Goodreads.
Reach out tentatively to people who seem friendly and open. Believe me, you can usually tell these people from the ones who will either shut you down or ignore you (though sometimes they can fool you).
It’s all about building up a network slowly. No one is expecting you to be on Youtube or have your face everywhere.
In fact, you will probably notice a distinct LACK of my face on my blog…and my Facebook…and my twitter. I have a photo in only one location.
I don’t do selfies (for sooo many reasons) and I don’t feel comfortable with having my picture out there.
Remember you’re a writer, use your words! Reach out to people in the writing world, other writers, readers, betas. Those thin threads of connection can help to build your confidence.
I started on DeviantArt, I was an artist so could put up my images in that community. I then wrote a few little scenes which people seemed to like.
I think someone asked me a question about a writing technique and my reply ended up being massive so I made it into a tutorial… in-fact a lot of my tutorials came from questions.
The positive feedback I got from those tutorials led me to create this blog. I then got swept up with other things and it festered without activity for a long time. By then anyone who had been following me probably wasn’t anymore.
But I resurrected it, set a schedule (which yes I often miss) and have been building up a following (which I am still surprised at!).
I have found that having people like and comment on my blog has given me the confidence to reach out to other writers on their blogs. (Hence the Guest Post series I’ve been doing…. seriously people, took so much effort to finally convince myself to contact people to see if they wanted to guest post.)
Now social media on a whole has never interested me, but I was aware that if I really wanted to be a writer I would need to do some pimping on social media and build up a (dramatic music) presence!
Because of this, I came late to social media. Making this one hell of an uphill battle, but it just takes these little steps.
A comment here, a question there, a fave, a like, a follow… then suddenly you find yourself in a community of writers who are making you feel welcome and some of that panic starts to ease.
It’s not easy. Writers are solitary. We mostly live in our own worlds, locked away in some book-filled room, pouring out our souls. But the world now expects us to be more than that…and it really is possible.
So if there are any writers out there who suffer from anxiety but want to reach out to ask questions, or get advice… I’m here. You can leave me a comment here, tweet me @AriMeghlen or send me a message on Facebook
But above all else…do NOT let your anxiety stop you from being the writer you want to be.
~ ☆ ~