This is going to be one of those godawful, horribly self-fellating posts that everyone always sees on an author’s website and goes, “Oh, geez. It’s one of those. Come on, sack up, Nancy.” Freely admitting this does absolutely nothing. You will still read it—unless you don’t—and I am still writing it. Because nyah. And since you can’t stop me, so shall it be.
There, that felt all kinds of freeing, didn’t it?
Duty ethically discharged, I’m going to talk about anxiety.
It’s not my fault, I’m genetically built this way.
As I’ve mentioned, both as explanation and excuse, I’m a Virgo born under a stronger Libra influence. This means that I’m supposed to lean towards tidiness (I don’t), can debate every angle of a problem (and always the one that isn’t around to debate itself), tend to be indecisive (and how), and generally prefer to walk away from an issue I consider not worth my time than to fight for it. I’m as likely to calmly and rationally explain how, although you are the wronged party, the asshole boss you’ve just been ranting to me about for the past three hours is probably asphyxiating from his boss’ foot on his neck and that with his mortgage and raging alcoholic wife, doesn’t like his situation any more than you do as I am to sympathize because you wore the wrong cologne to work that day. I’m also one of those people who deals perfectly well in clutter until your clutter becomes my clutter; or my clutter eats the cats. And then I freak the hell out.
I’m a flirt by nature—nothing is safe, I’ll flirt with the cats if they look at me funny—and a hermit by random design. I like people, I hate people, and I generally want to be left alone (but everyone should look at meeeee!).
I’m also prone towards a fierce inability to delegate.
Also, I’m awesome. No, really. It’s written in my jeans.
But back to that inability to delegate thing…
Pot, it’s Kettle. You’re black.
As an author who (she modestly claims) is at least marginally successful, there are things that require my attention more than others. First, but not always capable of being put first, are the pages. I write 20 pages a day, give or take, and not because I have to push myself to do so. This pace is comfortable to me. Given the math, it translates to roughly 5,000 words a day (which, looking at this number from afar, doesn’t seem like that much…).
Did I mention that I believe I am Supergirl? I’d say without the rack, but come on. I’m awesome, remember? (Also, I <3 T&A comics. Unabashedly.)
Around the pages, there are all the things that any author, marginally successful or otherwise—as far as I know, given I’ve not yet reached Nora Fucking Roberts level of fame—must do. Among them, marketing: blog posts, giveaways, write-ups for copy and websites and bios and whatnot.
I’d add in social media here, but frankly, I’m a creature of Twitter. This is no hardship for me, and doesn’t take up as much time as others might find. Part of it is undoubtedly the ADD talking. I thrive in areas where a stream of constant information is always running, primarily when that stream of comprised of a thousand different ideas, thoughts and topics all at once. I can pick and choose what I’m interested in and go from there—which might explain why I despise Facebook, which seems hellbent on picking those topics for me.
Recently, I’ve surpassed my usual Supergirl boundaries (leaping over limitations in a single bound!) and included a giant fuck-off event to my to-do list. Because I’m drug-addled from birth or perhaps punch-drunk from too many days slamming my head against plot boards, I think it’s a great idea to helm, guide, and pull together a crazy book release event around the same time as a deadline.
Because it is. Seriously, the event is going to be one-hundred percent amazing and you should definitely come to it. Note that I’m talking in present tense? That’s right, because no matter how I feel around it, I know it’s going to be utterly fantastic. Worth every bleeding braincell.
Problem is, what I know and what my brain insists on are two completely separate things.
Here’s the fact: of all the things I have to do, I have a simple rule. If it can be done right away, then do it. There’s no reason to procrastinate on something when other people are waiting on me to get data out to them. Whether it’s an email answering some questions or a lookover on a press release, if you’re there, and your options are, say, play Diablo III and leave one’s editor hanging or just answer the goddamned question, I’ll choose the latter every time. Within limits, of course. If it costs me virtually nothing in brain power or time, I’ll do it after hours. If it’ll take more effort and it comes in after usual working hours, then I’ll do it the next day.
To me, there’s no reason to make anyone wait longer than that, assuming I have the tools to do what needs to be done. Sometimes, you don’t. Sometimes you have to wait for someone else to get back to you, and that’s different.
But that takes me to that delegation thing. If I know that it takes virtually no effort to return an email, a call, a smoke signal, and I am left hanging for weeks without either, then the gamma radiation I was exposed to as a kid begins to froth and bubble underneath my skin. This goes especially double if the things I am left waiting on directly affect my livelihood or well-being.
That’s my Virgo and I’m sticking to it.
So I choose not to delegate.
By and large, whenever I have delegated, I end up not only late anyway, but having to do the job when the person I entrust backs out on me. Life happens. I know it! Life happens to me all the time. And like an overly fragrant hobo who happens to choose the seat behind yours as his throne du jour, all the while whispering sweet, malodorous nothings about the temerity of the British government—those conspiracist assholes—in your ear (mostly true story), life does not go away because you huddle up into your jacket and try to look as unassuming and uninteresting as possible. It will, in fact, take this as direct feedback that you are the most interesting person since the guy that shot John Lennon and attempt to keep your hand for its very own collection.
I understand this.
Yet there can be only so many hobos and so many seats, so many conspiracies, that draw one’s attention from the things that one commits to. By and large, I eventually learn that such conspiracies often form in the shape of, say, World of Warcraft, or parties at the co-ed naked volley ball tournaments, or insert random thing one might rather be doing here. Washing one’s hair over and over like a lunatic trapped in the sentient bathroom of a sorority house. Cutting the ragged and gnarled old witch claws one’s nails have suddenly and mysteriously grown into. You know.
It has, in my infinite Virgo sensibility, become easier to simply not ask for help. Which then turns into a to-do list about a thousand miles long, each item requiring about a thousand emails, calls and small Polynesian children trained in the arts of smoke-signals. Each reply spawns two different emails. Each day that passes sheds one more off my timeline, until I realize that I’m trapped in a little silver box of my own design, all prettily engraved, yet with lovely slanted script that reads, “Failure is the by-product of the shit you attempt today.”
Because delegation or not, anything that involves some one else means there will be waiting. Short of flying out to Insert City Here and physically seeing to things myself, I will always have to wait.
I have never developed a coping mechanism for this.
When Logic Fails
As a Virgo, logic is very important to me. As a Libra, it fuels all of my arguments and debates.
As this creature who is suddenly dealing with the mounting pressure of life, logic is about as useful as a precision toothbrush on a baleen whale.
Logically, I understand that some things are too big to worry over, and that shit happens and life marches on. Logically, I’m fully aware that I should breathe, and that just because someone flakes doesn’t mean that it’s the end of life as I know it. (Although, too much more flaking and it might be… for them. … Dear law enforcement agencies: this is not a serious threat. Ignore the Google search history in my browser. I’m a writer.)
Unfortunately, the anxiety now living under my skin and puppeting me around like some kind of macabre Jim Henson doll does not respond to logic. The more I’m told to relax, the more I want to rip off my skin and fling it like confetti into a ceiling fan. I don’t own a ceiling fan. I would have to go out, buy a ceiling fan, go through the trouble of installing it, just so I can then rip off my skin and fling it into the blades. That was thoughtless.
I’m told to breathe—the first thing I always tell others who are starting to panic—and I’m told that everything’s going to be fine. Thanks. Where’s your crystal ball so I can smash the lying piece of junk into a cement floor. I don’t have a cement floor. I’d have to go out and find a cement floor, and—do you see my problem here?
The last time I suffered anxiety this badly, I lapsed into full blown panic attacks. They looped me up on diazepam, and what a fuck-all box that was! Not that eager to repeat the experience of not giving a damn for god, country or marginal things like hygiene, I put off going to the doctor, even as I stayed up late into the night riding manic waves of “must do this”. I’d talk and talk and talk until the poor mancandy was ready to drag himself into the yard to end his own misery. (I jest only a little; he was lovely and supportive and generally helpless to do anything else but nod appropriately.)
Every time I sat down to look at my email, my heart would start racing. I’d get this manic glint and forget how to breathe and there it goes again.
I’d avoid work, thereby only creating this horrible vicious cycle. People were waiting on me and I couldn’t deliver, because of the other things I was waiting on for other, non-related reasons. I’d fail at coping, I’d walk away, I’d ignore it. And nothing, times two!, would get done. Propagating the cycle became another concern, one more worry, one more way in which I’d failed, and anxiety would feed anxiety until little anxiety babies tumbled like mentally ill kittens with no sense of smell.
So, finally, I went to the doctor.
Like most doctors, the first thing the very nice man tried to give me was a daily regimen for long-term care for the rest of my life. Thanks, but no. I don’t suffer anxiety around the stupid things I choose to do, which I generally tend to choose very rarely. Instead, he prescribed me some stuff I take only when I start feeling that edge coming on. It’s supposed to work like an antihistamine, only take the edge off. Before I could try it, I got sick with a nasty summer cold and ended up medicated to high heaven anyway, so no anxiety (go figure).
Today, as I sat down to work on event stuff and try to catch up with the emails I’d been avoiding for a week due to all of—handwave—this stuff, one of my hard-won delegations flaked on me. Again.
So I avoided swallowing my tongue, like a good girl, and took a pill.
And promptly failed to give a damn about god, country or hygiene.
So, what’s the point?
Look, I’m not asking for pity. I may be talking out of my ass here—a feat that deserves respect, even by itself—but I’m willing to bet that a majority of us (often self-chosen) overworked authors suffer from anxiety. We have a lot of fears. Fears of failure, fears of the unknown. Will our next book be liked, will our last book sell? Will we ever sell again? Are our ideas worth publishing? Are they worth reading, are they worth talking about?
There is a voice that tells me that, in the same way that I’m a juvenile delinquent only pretending to be an adult around the adults that make up my peers, I’m a pretender who’s only waiting for someone to look through the glamour net I’ve woven and realize that—holy shit—I’m just a fake, after all. I know I’m not alone in this. You all are right here with me. I once Tweeted that I wasn’t a writer. I was a flinger of mud against the wall, hoping that something would stick. That tweet was retweeted so much, by friends and strangers, and responded to by famous and unknown authors and doers and thinkers. People like me, people not like me at all.
The amount of attention that tweet got told me I’m in very good company, fakers and dreamers and really good pretenders, and that this anxiety isn’t something made up to vindicate a mildly narcissistic personality. Although I have that, too. Don’t be fooled.
If life were a morality story, this is where I’d levy out some kind of cheerful line that suggests I’m going to work harder to trust people and am likely to find myself surprised. That delegation is important for sanity. That this, too, shall pass.
Okay, so the last one is true.
But it’s going to have to pass like all other days pass: one at a time.
The Moral of This Story Is
I once told the mancandy that I hated feeling this way because I am Supergirl. I’m unstoppable. A veritable battering ram of personality and hurricane-force will. Having crippling attacks of WTFery punched a hole in this theory as surely as if Supergirl herself walked up to me on the street, all glitter hooker boots and multi-finger rings that look suspiciously like brass knuckles, and was all, “Hey, what up, bitch, that’s my jam,” and shoved her superfist through my chest.
If this has to have a moral? It’s probably that even Supergirl deserves a chance to take a break. And maybe, just maybe, I ought to be kinder to myself when I’m scheduling harebrained ideas like overlapping deadlines with major, life-changing events.
But this, too, will pass.
All of you suffering from the same nameless demons in the dark, a few words: don’tbe afraid to look for help. Know your limits, but don’t make up limits for yourself because you’re afraid. Anxiety is like balancing a diet. You have to try new things, even though you’re watching the calories, because if you don’t? Then where’s your inspiration coming from?
Don’t be afraid to try a pill to take the edge off, but don’t lose too much of that edge. You’ll need it to infuse the words you put on paper.
Most of all? You aren’t alone. Breathe—forego ripping your skin off, and avoid ceiling fans when at all possible—and know that almost every writer out there has experienced this at one time or another. We can’t help it. Whether it’s a direct correlation with control issues, with the kind of ignorance that comes with never knowing one’s numbers, with the often too-much knowledge that comes with knowing all of one’s numbers, with the colors on your latest book cover or the plate that’s too full of too much good (or bad), it’s okay. We’re all in this together, even though it may not seem like it.
I’m Karina Cooper. I’m Supergirl in disguise. I cannot be stopped for long.
And I have anxiety.