Tuesday, January 06, 2015

159 Days to 40

January 6th
159 days until 40
This post is the first in a series as I marathon to 40


I've been afraid of my upcoming birthday. It’s a cliché I know, but as I get older, I find that clichés usually have a ton of truth to them.

I don’t like getting older because I haven’t accomplished what I thought I would, and I’m tired…the energy it takes to keep at it, to continue to climb the mountain, is the same as it was ten years ago, but my body feels it a whole lot more.

In a not-too-long ago blog post I described a recent battle with depression and anxiety. It wasn't for very long, nor was it worthy of going off to the mental ward, though I tried…and luckily, I failed. The true sign that you are not insane is asking yourself if you are because if you have that much self-awareness, then you are fine. Good news: if you are actually conscious enough of your own crazy, then you aren't, in fact, crazy!

As I continue to recover from this episode of depression and anxiety, I reflect on why this all happened in the first place.

My family insists that I was doing too much—started school for a CAGS in Mental Health Counseling, published a literary anthology, edited a manuscript for my agent, republished my first two books, work, kids, family….etc… And even the doctors we spoke to all said that burnout seemed to be the cause.

After a period of slowing way, way, way down, I began to get back to my life. I started to feel better over time and that’s when I realized that yes, physically, I was tired and a bit burned out, but what I believe was the fire in the furnace of this slow burnout was a deep, deep sadness about my writing, a sadness that’s been growing, like a tumor, slowly, over the last six years…starting with the moment I graduated from the Solstice Program at Pine Manor College and left the cocoon of love and support that a proper MFA program will provide.



I knew I was meant to be a writer when I was around 9-years-old and complained to my mother about the book constantly being written in my head; I narrated everything in my life, in first-person, and each significant moment was given a chapter title and number: Chapter 14, My First Slow Dance—Where do I put my arms?

That same school year, my fourth grade teacher gave me an award: Ambition Is To Be An Author….it validated my dreams, but over many years, this very same ambition would become my albatross.



Writing, for most of my life, wasn't about performing but about the process of words coming up, stories appearing in my head and then me pouring them out without much self-consciousness. The thought of being published was far away, the stuff of daydreams, not real life.

Then, when my so-called dreams became a reality, and that reality didn't match my day dreams, I started to feel really bad about my writing and then about myself.



A decade ago, I had some success in self-publishing and then got an agent and then  another agent. Those moments weren't planned and plotted, rather wonderful, happy accidents. And when I say success, I mean specifically, I won awards, garnered some media attention, and was desirable to a few agents. For a girl from Middletown, RI, who graduated with a less than desirable GPA and was told don’t bother to go to college, this was a big deal.

Sidebar: Mr. Guidance Counselor who,a little over twenty years ago, told me to look into a two year college, I've got two master’s degrees now and have written a couple of books.  So, you can suck it.



Post MFA, I got an agent and created Sucker Literary and things were looking up…Then, because gravity dictates what comes up must come down, came the failures…many rejections for a manuscript that we had out on submission for almost two years. And my beloved Sucker started to become more work than I could handle alone, and the initial excitement over it among readers and writers seemed wane.

By April of 2014,  that spontaneous overflow of words and the ease with which I had once expressed them had all but melted away. I was left with—what I think was—performance anxiety and stage fright. This is not to be confused with writer’s block. I'd never really stopped writing, but I felt shitty when I dido…at least, initially, and my confidence was much lower. Though I have accomplished much on paper and have experienced many amazing and surprising successes, I actually was feeling worse about myself as a writer than ten years ago when I published my first book.



When I was 17-years-old and a senior in highschool,  I had a similar emotional break down like the one I just experienced in April. And back then, performing my craft (dance and theater, at the time) became terrifying. In fact, I dropped out of being the lead in the school play and I took myself out of most of the dance numbers for my annual dance recital. Where once performing was exhilarating, it now was terrifying.

I got over it. I mean, I was 17 and still didn’t know the depths of my own fears, so once I got myself back on track, I performed on stage again several times over the next few years.

When I was 28, I took my beloved personal craft of writing and put it on stage, and as I had felt with dance and theater, I enjoyed the attention and performance aspect of books signings and readings and seeing it on Amazon and appearing in articles, on radio shows, and even on TV. Then, ten years later, the disappointment and failure of not being where I thought I would be, became crippling.


What I have come to understand is that my way of thinking, the lens through which I view the failures I've had is what’s really sending me into depression. That is, it’s not what’s happening that causes me to feel like shit, it’s my perspective. I can tell you the countless number of fellow author friends who are going through what I am, and they are not depressed. They've been at it for ten plus years, still don't have that book deal, and they don’t feel like failures, nor do I see them as failures. They view each rejection or their lack of selling a ton of books (my self-pub sisters and brothers)  or their not getting a book deal as just these obstacles to walk over or around or—hell—even through.

And, thanks to lots of therapy, I'm starting to feel that way too. Failure is not a four letter word—it's a seven letter word and seven is a magical number. 

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