On good days the Muse brings me "presents" for my writer's mind to play with. But those days are rare.
There’s a piece of paper rolled into my typewriter that has (page number) -12- typed at the top, but nothing else. It’s been stuck like that on page 12 for two weeks now. The first 11 pages are the beginnings of a first draft of a short story. I’m too terrified to sit down and finish the story. Not because of the story itself or the subject matter; not because I haven’t finished short story drafts before, but because of a huge abyss inside my own self. I can’t seem to muster the self-confidence. I don’t trust myself to go on.
Like many people, I suffer from anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and a constellation of related issues. The conflict for me is that no matter what’s going on in my life, I still have to write, or I can hardly call myself a writer.
It’s my understanding that, for whatever reason, creative people are even more susceptible to this debilitating problem than the general population. I wrote “problem,” when I think I mean “mental illness,” although I’m not a psychologist so I’m not good with labels. I tried to take pharmaceutical drugs (SSRIs), but I hated the effects and wasn’t willing to stick it out to see a change. The challenge for me is, how do I organize and quiet my mind enough to sit down and write?
I’m seeing a cognitive behavior therapist, who advised me yesterday to make myself write for 15 minutes every day. When I’ve written for 15 minutes I can get up and reward myself with something. Then I can ask myself if I want to continue. So far I haven’t done this yet today.
My other homework is to list my reactive thoughts and recognize them as specific types of reactive thoughts, then substitute positive thoughts for each and list them next to the reactive thoughts. This form of cognitive behavior modification is hard work, but it pays off, she assured me.
My other strategy is to practice mindfulness (Vipassana) meditation. Last night I woke up at 3 a.m. with a raging panic attack. Instead of reaching for medication, I went to my meditation spot and worked with my thoughts and emotions for an hour. When I got up from the cushion, my panic was gone and I was able to return to bed and sleep.
SIDE NOTE: My doc told me that a study was done with three groups of patients with depression/anxiety. The first group took medication only, the second group did meditation only, and the third group took medication and did meditation. After a given amount of time, they all improved, but those who took medication stopped improving after that while those who did meditation only continued to improve.
Sometimes I think I can’t deal with this, like it’s beyond my capabilities, like a huge wave that’s crashing over my head, swirling around my head with dark confusion, drowning in my own undisciplined mind. But at least I have a few tools now. Courage is the thing. I’m writing this post today not to give advice, but to share my experience with other writers and creative people who may have similar struggles.