Anxiety. Where do I start talking about anxiety? I suppose, in this case, I should start by talking about the anxiety that started all this. Or, rather, I should start by mentioning the reason my anxiety started all this, which sounds terribly dramatic and really, really isn’t. It’s just that a little while ago Rhian, a good friend and fellow writer, wrote a post about the rules of writing and what makes people a writer. Rhian’s post uses a set of rules that a lot more sensible, flexible and inclusive than the ones I normally see touted about. (Which, honestly, are often ablist.) Anyway, one of Rhian’s points is that taking care of yourself and safeguarding yourself is important. I wanted to elaborate on how that point manifests itself in my own life. It’s nothing that Rhian hasn’t already said, I think, except longer and more me-personal.
And that brings me back to anxiety, because anxiety is a pretty effective way of shutting down the words you want to write. Well, the ones I want to write, anyway. Sometimes that anxiety can be managed. I’m deathly afraid of dentists, for example. Dentist visits cause me stress and anxiety. They’re also, sadly, very necessary for my overall health. Possibly one of the worst kinds of anxiety for me is the one where I don’t notice that it’s there until my body registers I’m trying to eat. Or, as was the case before my most recent visit, trying to brush my teeth. You know that moment when you’re sick and you try to eat something and your body rejects it and you throw it up? It’s that kind of anxiety and you don’t notice it until that very moment when your body goes “Oh, hell no, you don’t. Don’t even think about it.” Ugh. It’s awful. It’s a sneaksy anxiety.
I’ve been spending my dentist visits trying to figure out the window in which I can go to the dentist and get the most out of my day. When I was a child, my mum would always plan dentist visits in the late afternoon, when school was over. This makes sense, but is actually a really bad idea if you’re me. Going late in the afternoon means that, at best, I won’t eat for the rest of the day. At worst, I stay in bed feeling sick and sorry for myself. I get nothing done. Also, not eating properly, which is bad in general. So that’s not an option. But, likewise, going too early has its own share of problems. If I go to the dentist too early, I get physically sick because I don’t have enough time to relax and I’ll spend the rest of the day feeling miserable because that morning carries over. I can get stuff done, but it’s a chore because the anxiety lingers. (I don’t know if that makes sense, sorry.)
It’s looking like the optimal window I have for dentist visits is very tiny, about an hour an a half somewhere before noon. If I go at those times, I will be anxious, yes, but I won’t throw up trying to get ready and I won’t spend all day too anxious to get anything done. It’s not ideal, and I’d like to try out ways to make that window bigger, but it optimises my ability to function that day. And that, if we draw it back to writing, is important because if I don’t pay attention to these time stamps, I very definitely will not write. Taking care of myself means I’m better equipped to write, whether that’s a blog post or a story.
One of the other ways in which I have to be careful is that writing can do harm. This is a notion central to Rhian’s point, that sometimes, in order to write, you have to known when not to write. There’s value in telling people to slog through whatever is blocking them and in the concept that things will get better if you just push through (because writing is hard), but that’s not true for everyone. Oftentimes, this is advice that helps me. I struggle a lot when I start a writing session because I find it hard to focus nowadays, even when it’s a story or an idea I’m excited about. My guess is that it takes about 2,000 words per session before I get past that struggle. I know this about me, so these are things that I can try to play into and act on to maximise what I’m capable of.
For example, one of the things that helps me (and I’ve mentioned this before) is that distractions tend to aid my writing. At least it does if they’re small distractions. It doesn’t work if I’m, say, trying to be there for a friend who needs someone to listen to them because they’re very upset. That’s a big distraction and, if I’m honest, one I prefer to be distracted by when I can be. But it does work if we’re mostly chitchatting about our day or the books we read, etc. I once had a link that talked about why writers enjoy working in coffee shops so much. The article posited that it’s because the noise level is just low enough to distract a person without, well, distracting them. I’m not so great at distractions-through-noise, so Twitter and, often, IM clients have become my distractions-of-choice. They don’t always work. I don’t always use them. But when they help they help. There’s nothing inherently good or bad about that approach. It just is.
I try to use what I know about myself to pace myself and to try out theories to further refine what works for me, both as a writer and as a person. I’m a bit lazy and disorderly, alas, but I’m fine with that. I don’t do these things because I want to schedule and order every bit of my day to squeeze the most out of it. Even though I’ll use phrases like ‘maximise what I’m capable of’ to make my point. It’s not about doing all the (productive) things all the days. It’s about taking care of myself and at the same time trying to push myself a little towards where I want to be. It’s about creating a richer, more fulfilling life for myself, whether or not I do something ‘productive’ with the time. It’s about being the best me that I can be. The better I take care of myself, the more spoons I have to throw against my day if and when I need them. Simple.
One of the things I’m trying to do (and, I admit, I’m mostly failing at it) is trying to determined how many spoons that initial struggle to write costs me, so I can plan accordingly. It also helps to know what kind of spoons I’m using up when I do certain activities. My current theory (and this is still very broad and largely untested) is that writing uses up social spoons. Your mileage will almost certainly vary. I base this on the way social interaction affects my writing. The more I spend my day being social, the more likely I’ll be staring at a blank screen when I’m writing. The deeper I get into a writing session, the less desire I have to be social. And not in the “I’m busy. Don’t disturb me” way. It’s in the “I am too tired to social right now”. (No, there’s no word missing there.) Small doses of social can help, as I said earlier, so the picture is a lot more nuanced and complex than “I cannot social and write in the same day”. I can. It just has a specific kind of balance that I haven’t yet figured out.
And that is how taking care of myself in general can influence my writing (and presumably other things as well). Taking care of myself means giving myself permission to stop staring at a blank screen if the words aren’t coming and doing something else. Taking care of myself means letting my life be about more than the words. Taking care of myself means getting to know myself and playing into my habits. Taking care of myself means knowing what’s likely to upset me enough to derail my tentative plans. Taking care of myself means a lot of things, big and small.
The best (and simultaneously the worst) part of taking care of myself? Everything tends to strengthen one another. For my writing that looks like this: better self-care and a better mood lead to more writing, which leads to a better mood and better self-care which leads to more writing which — En fin, you probably get the idea. That’s a kind of spiral that goes up as well as down. Downside is that, currently, I have a tendency to crash hard when I stop writing because of my life being more of a mess than I’m comfortable with. (Blame my previous dentist. Suffice to say that if he weren’t dead, my family would probably be looking into whether we could sue him for malpractice.)
Anyway! That’s also something I’m trying to work on because it isn’t particularly useful to me as either a writer or a person. ^_^ I’m slowly making progress on all fronts at least. If nothing else, I’m learning about myself and those are valuable lessons to learn, surely. I shall get things sorted eventually. Somehow. For now this will have to do.