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            Before I begin this blog, I would like to first say that this was a planned blog. Several days ago, someone told me that my previous anxiety blog helped a lot of people and that I should consider writing another with the same honesty. After a lot of thought and hesitation, I decided that person was right (as that person always is). I would also like to say that this blog is in no way endorsed by anyone other than myself, and that I am, for the most part, drawing from my own experiences and also things I have observed since 2010, when I was doe-eyed and new to the world that is children’s publishing.
            The expectation of an author’s career does not line up with the reality. On the outside, any author with a handful of twitter followers and a publisher and some amazon ratings is presumed to have a glamorous life. And for some others this may or may not be true. But it doesn’t change the fact that authors are still expected to pick up after their dogs in the park, and clean the litter boxes, and take out the trash (unless they have a robot to do these things, which, if anyone knows of a good robot company….)
We write out stories and we engage on social media if that’s our thing, and we have opinions about the president and so on. Sometimes we share this non-author side of ourselves. I for one love to do this. But my point is that while we are writing our books, like anyone else we have a personal life to contend with, and even the greatest of oversharers like myself (and I have openly admitted to wanting to hire a butler to take the blame for my farts) have things about our lives that we do not say, or can not say.
On any given day, while I am tweeting about wanting to be a cat or the next way to torture my readers, I am also living with a degree of social anxiety that is so crippling I often can’t leave my house. Two weeks ago, over a span of days that included my birthday, I lost a family member, and one of my biggest concerns was whether I’d be able to drive myself through the funeral procession without having a panic attack. At their worst, they can impair my ability to comprehend what I’m seeing, which is why there are days when I don’t leave the house.
Thankfully the anxiety gods were merciful that day and I was able to be with my family.
This is not always the case. As I posted back in May, I attended a particularly large event in Rochester, NY. In the days leading up to it, I was feverish, unable to sleep, nauseous, and having a chain of panic attacks I hadn’t experienced in years. I would say that on a scale of 1-10, I was waffling between a 9 and 10 for the entire six hour drive to the event, and I maintained this level as I tried to sleep in my hotel room. It was so bad that I couldn’t close the curtain when I took a shower because I felt like I was trapped in an elevator. It didn’t help that during this trip I actually DID get trapped in an elevator. (Thank Gennifer Albin for getting us all out of that one).
But maintaining this scale of 1-10, on the day of the event, I hit an 11, or perhaps even a 12. One of the event coordinators had to take me outside. I wouldn’t have been able to find a door in that sea of people if it was made out of 90s windbreakers. But I won’t go into that here, since I’ve already written about it.
The year before this event, I was asked to go to a teen book event in Austin. I sincerely wanted to do this, because come on, Texas. But I didn’t even get the chance to have the panic attack experience, because the anticipatory stress of that trip gave me a case of shingles. In hindsight this really should have been my warning sign that I was pushing myself too hard socially. Anyone who tells you that social anxiety can be overcome is wrong, by the way. You can overcome your fear of the dark, and you can overcome your fear of heights and bugs and politicians with willpower and a good therapist. But if you suffer from anxiety, depression, and anything along this vein, you cannot will it away. And if you try, the result is the same as if you’d poked a beehive to overcome your fear of bees. It can multiply, and it is smarter than you, and it is faster.
Following one of my failed appearances, I received an angry letter from a parent. He had taken his daughter to see me, and because I left before he arrived, he deemed me selfish, arrogant, and uncaring.
I know how an empty chair with my nametag comes across. Believe me. I can appreciate the anger and the disappointment.
Even without wanting or meaning to, authors seem to disappoint fans by the dozen. And I’m not saying it isn’t justifiable to be upset or disappointed. As an author, I long ago came to peace with the fact that I create things, and I put them out there, and whatever comes from that is part of the journey. I also try to live my non-author life this way. I get up in the morning (or okay, post noon), and I clean the litter boxes (sometimes) and I feed the cats and I do what I can to be a person that I like, and that maybe other people would like to be around.
I think most authors, anxiety or not, are managing a similar balance.
When you see an author at an event, what you are seeing is someone who created something you love. Or maybe something you loved at first but now you don’t love. Or maybe you just saw a line and jumped in because you thought someone was giving away free brownies.
What you don’t see is a person who probably traveled far from home and slept in a hotel last night, and will sleep in more hotels in the coming nights. What you don’t see is a person who has been up for several hours, and signed a lot of stock, and socialized with a lot of publicity and bookseller types.
What you see is 15 minutes of that author reading something, and then answering a few questions. What you see is that author smiling at you and talking to you for a few moments as he or she signs your book.
But before you got there, and long after you leave, that author will be doing more with his or her day than many people would be able to handle without 14 cups of coffee and maybe a good cry in a bathroom stall. What you are perhaps not seeing is a person who is very much like you, with struggles very much like yours.
I’m not asking for sympathy. I’m not asking for anyone to feel guilty. I only mean to remove the microphone, and the nametag, and the stack of books, and the sharpie, and the line out the door, so that you may see what’s left.


 

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
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(Anonymous)
Oct. 25th, 2013 01:19 pm (UTC)
Great post but I disagree with this part and think it's a bad message to give to others: "Anyone who tells you that social anxiety can be overcome is wrong, by the way."

A few years ago I was suffering extremely crippling social anxiety - much like yours. I couldn't even go to the supermarket or order takeout over the phone. I was a mess and it was ruining my life. I had no job, no money, no friends, and I was afraid of everything.

I saw a few crappy counsellors who were useless and offered no help. I tried reading self-help books. None of it worked, but I refused to give up. I was so sick of my anxiety ruining everything, destroying my life and confidence. I kept trying different counsellors who offered different types of therapy. In the end I found an absolutely amazing counsellor who helped me work through my social anxiety issues. It was TOUGH, I had to talk about a lot of things I wasn't comfortable with from my past. BUT by the end of my counselling it was like something clicked in my head... the reason I was anxious became clear, and I felt like I was finally equipped to deal with it.

I am now at university. I'm out and about in the world.. and I'm doing great. I cannot believe how far I've come - I have literally amazed myself. I thought I would never learn to control my anxiety. I thought I'd be stuck at home with no life and no job forever.

All I'm saying is.. it IS possible to overcome social anxiety. It doesn't go away completely (the first few weeks of university were hard for me, the physical symptoms of anxiety were terrible). BUT you can control it, you CAN overcome it. You may have to overcome it time and time again... but you can. I've had anxiety my entire life and I'm only now at a point where I feel I control it when it arises, not the other way around. I still struggle, believe me, but it's not destroying my life.

Lauren, you can overcome this. Don't give in and don't give up. Talk to a professional - several, if needed. Try everything.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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