I went to my first meeting with a writers’ group last weekend. I’ve been writing off and on since I was twelve years old, so this was long overdue. The guest speaker is a friend of mine from an online writers’ group. She gave me some advice when I told her how afraid I was to take the next steps with my work.
Do it scared!
I told my husband and my re:generation group what she said, and everyone agreed. It’s time for me to go for it. I wanted to change the message and say I would do it brave. That sounds better to me. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized they’re the same thing. I put my characters through all manner of difficulty, forcing them into their storms. But I’ve got hundreds–yes HUNDREDS– of episodes ready to go, and I’m sitting on them. Not even putting a toe into the wind.
I went to Kindle Vella to set up an account, just to get ready for when I worked up the nerve to publish. And before I knew it, my story was live. Brave, scared, or just plain stupid, I’m not sure yet. But it’s there. I don’t know if I’m more afraid I’ll be seen or that I won’t be. It’s not exactly negative feedback that I fear. It’s my reaction to it. I’m a sort-of anti-Sword of Gryffidor. I only take on that which makes me weaker. I definitely need to turn that around.
To keep moving forward, I have to remind myself daily that I’m not alone. I wrote out a list of the people God has placed around me, and it’s overwhelming. My re:gen girls, my CG, my WBS girls, my WANA peeps, my family. It goes on and on. How did I feel so alone only a few months ago? Maybe by hiding in the closet in my closet?
No more hiding! Nicole and I are stepping out together. Into the storm.
I’m nailing this whole blogging thing, right? I’ve finished groundwork and am already in a re:generation closed group, starting week two of step one, and I haven’t shared anything since … well, whenever. I considered giving up on this whole thing and admitting that I’m not a blogger. I’m not, after all. I prefer to write what I want, when I want. So basically, I’m spoiled. But that’s not even what I’m working on in re:gen.
I spent a lot of time figuring out why I was there, aside from being pestered into it. Kidding, but not kidding. Now, I’ve narrowed down my list to the bare bones of what’s putting the hitch in my get-along. I’m told it will change as I continue the steps, but right now, I feel like I know what I need to work on.
My intro goes like this:
“I’m Rachel, and I have a new life in Christ. I struggle with perfectionism, low self-esteem and fear of success.”
Yeah, you read that right. Fear of success. But I’m not going to dive into that one yet. I don’t even understand it. What I do understand is that I spent entirely too much time deliberating whether or not to use the Oxford Comma in my list of struggles.
Some of you love that comma, and some of you hate it. You may think one way is correct, and the other is incorrect. Some of you are googling Oxford Comma. And now I’m stressed out, because I can’t please everyone.
I can lose hours on a single comma. And I’m a fiction writer! We use commas like rests in a sheet of music, and that’s totally okay. Fragments are super cool. Like this! But my persuasive paper writing brain wants to get involved and tell me that I’ll alienate readers if I don’t follow the rules.
I think I just accidentally figured out why I fear success. At least part of it. It’s so much easier not to worry about what people think when no one knows I exist.
All week long, I’ve circled the pool, eyeing the water and coming close to dipping a toe in. But not quite. A dip will break the surface. There are things under there that can grab me. The water is still, so I can see what’s below. Some of the things I tied down with bricks are working their way up. Doubts. I consider confronting them, but I’m not sure if they’ll sink or if I will.
There are things left unsaid. They’ll find their way onto the pages of someone else’s story. Nicole’s, most likely. But what about my story? I’m trying so hard not to hear the doubts. They’re clever and convincing. They play chess with emotions. Say it or don’t say it. Chew on it. Hide. Don’t lie, but don’t ever come completely out of the cave. There’s that little secret thing that makes it where you can exit quietly and then be angry when no one notices. Hold that like an ace up your sleeve so you can use it again when things get iffy. Hold onto it like your therapist can’t see it. But maybe she does. Maybe she has all along. If you hide it today, it has to stay hidden.
Loneliness waves from the shadows and crooks his finger. He’s so predictable that it’s almost comforting to think about curling up with him. He doesn’t ask questions or criticize. He wants company badly enough to accept anyone. It’s so easy.
I don’t want to go to him, so I dip my toes in the water. “Let’s do this.”
Missing the Murky
I wrote the piece above months ago when I was about to stop going to therapy. It was the only thing I wrote during that time that I never shared with my therapist. The lure of loneliness is strong. If it becomes your crutch, you can actually miss it when you start doing better.
I’ve been studying the gift of desperation this week, both in re:generation and in my women’s Bible study. And I see a pattern in my past. When I think I’ve beaten my demons, I stop seeking help. And then I wander back into my cave, at first out of habit, and then out of fear. I don’t have to tell anyone how I’m feeling when I’m there. I don’t have to deal with how I’m feeling.
Trust the Process
They say it all the time and even comment on how often they say it. Trust the process. After six weeks, I feel so strong, not tempted by my cave. I feel connected to my group leaders and fellow group members. My habits are better, my quiet time is solid. I’m even praying again. It would be so easy now to throw out my chest and declare myself well. We have a few bottles of antibiotics in our medicine cabinet with one or two pills left in them for this exact reason. When the symptoms settle, we think we’re healed.
But I’m staying the course, trusting the process. There really are things still tied down that I’m not excited to see coming to the surface. But I’m going to face them, and I’m not alone.
Today I’m trapped in an angry brain space. Triggered, frustrated, not in a good mood. I have tools but don’t want to use them. Don’t want to make memes or be cute. I’ve been trying to figure out what got me here, but I just don’t know. I could blame things that annoyed me, but I sail through those things on better days. This is internal. Deep.
Maybe it’s because I only got three hours of sleep last night. Or maybe I only got three hours of sleep because I was already trapped. I get nighttime anxiety, like my sanity goes down with the sun. And if I have to get up the next day, it’s worse. Tired, hangry, loaded with coffee, I went to church today and immediately got a burr under my skin. Then I talked about it, claimed it, dwelled on it. People helped me out of it, and then I went back in.
Whatever this is, I want it gone.
If I hadn’t promised to be raw and real, I would wait a few days and delete this, never share it on my blog. It doesn’t feel like I’m helping anyone, just dumping the grumpies. But I promised dark corners, and here they are. Sometimes I’m just mad. And now that I’ve written it, here come the tears.
At re:generation, I’m supposed to keep it about me. How I handle a situation, not about what’s been done to me. Normally, I excel at this, because being hard on myself is my superpower.
But during the first week of groundwork, I had an assignment. Pick a struggle and conquer it for a whole day. Paraphrased, of course.
Groundwork is work
I chose staying chill when people drive stupidly. And I discovered that I’m perfectly capable of making things NOT about my reaction. Purely about what’s being done-not always to me-but in front of me. It might be strange for a fantasy writer to say this, but I like to stay in the lines. If we all follow the rules, we can avoid the false-start-tango at four-way stops. Just take your turn and assume I’m going to take mine. And off we go.
Not so simple, sadly. I get equally annoyed with the jerk who breezes through when they know VERY WELL that I stopped first, and the person who hesitates, hitting brakes, gas, brakes … wasting my time. My husband resolutely stops during such events, not bothered, listening to songs inside his head. But me? There’s no room for music when adrenaline is making your heart push steam out your ears!
“Just go!” I shout, my stomach concocting something sour out of whatever I nibbled before I left. Now I’m in a bad mood. The people who parked in the driving lane make me angrier. And don’t get me started on people who merge onto the highway slowly or dare to drive under the speed limit in the fast lane. My car could run itself on the heat rolling off my skin. Tired of gas prices? Fill your tank with my fury.
I said groundwork was work, right?
So, of course, I chose that. I had to drive my son to work without losing my temper. I needed my therapist in the seat beside me, demonstrating how to relax tension. Heck, just her voice.
But my son was there, and I had told him what I was going to attempt. So much as an eye twitch, he was going to see it.
I prayed about it, left early enough to drive as slowly as necessary, and skipped the angry songs I use to help me imagine how I’m going to write my gladiator battle scenes. And I made it. One day of not getting mad at other people for not driving the way I think they should. But don’t get too happy for me. One day. I still have a long way to go.
I’d love to hear from you! Does anything make you crazy on the road? Better yet, do you have any tips for conquering this demon?
I went through therapy a while back, thinking I was there to overcome depression brought on by the loss of my daughter. Of course, there were other issues, but I felt like it all came down to losing Izzy. Even now, my heart clenches when I type her name. It’s racing a bit. Full stop. I’ll have to take a break before I can finish this.
The reason I needed therapy came down to the loss of one specific individual, but it wasn’t my daughter. It was me. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted. My days were filled with regret and fear. What I thought was depression was really anxiety, and it had complete control of my thoughts. I didn’t believe good things could happen. I was convinced that the best thing I could do was get out of the way so I didn’t infect others with my hopelessness. So I hid. I’ve always been good at hiding.
Hide and Don’t Seek
March of 2020. I was killing it, coordinating Journey Groups (support groups) at my church, sharing my pain, loving my ministry. And along came the virus, and everyone scattered. I had just made it through the first two months without my daughter, and suddenly all my support was gone. Hate has never been in short supply online, but it really ramped up then. I made an effort to be heard, but my opinion wasn’t popular. So off I went, into my cave. And when the rest of the world started venturing out, I stayed in the shadows.
Ten straight months of begging God to kill me. I needed help. That help came in the form of a neighbor who saw me and not only suggested therapy, but made it happen for me. I nearly canceled my first appointment. A therapist couldn’t get my daughter back. She couldn’t take Autism from my sons. She couldn’t un-waste my life.
But I couldn’t throw away what had been given to me. So I went, ears perked for anything that triggered my alarms, anything that told me therapy was just another way for someone to take my money and not help me. Somehow, she navigated her way safely through my minefield of distrust. She found little Rachel and helped her out of the fetal position.
Sometimes when I need a good cry, I imagine myself in that room, sitting across from the woman who helped me unpack forty-five years of self-doubts and cumulative trauma. I learned in that space how to find and conquer the lies that were deeply embedded in my brain. Lies that spawned my fiction, yes, but that also trapped me there. Because I couldn’t even create magical problems I didn’t prefer over my real life.
I’ve been out of therapy for several months now, and I’m realizing that mental health is like any other discipline. It takes practice. My joy-seeking muscles have atrophied. Anxiety has crept back into my routine, and my tools are largely forgotten. I write my pain into my fiction, but all too often, I find that my attitude is starting to align with that of my flawed characters. I’m starting to not want to be here. Wallowing in ugly thoughts instead of taking them captive. I’ve said the actual words, my face aimed skyward, heart closed off to the god I’m not always convinced is listening.
I don’t want to be here.
I’ve been asking myself for weeks what I should blog about. Photography, special needs, writing. My word cloud suggests I should write about hidden spaces and mysteries. I considered that, but on closer inspection, I noticed something else in my cloud. Between the mentions of secret passages and enchanted forests—things that excite me—the darkest part of me calls out that she still needs help. She’s drowning. So I’m going to dive in. Get raw and real.
I know I’m under here somewhere
First confession: I still don’t like myself. I’m not even going to try to fix that today. It’s a big mess with too many components to fit into one blog entry, and I seriously want to open my manuscript and write about my character’s struggles right now. She’s much more interesting than I am. So I’m leaving it here, at the start of a journey that will hopefully help me to find joy again. I have a long way to go. In this blog, I’ll travel down the dark corridors of my broken mind. I’ll tell the ugly truth. And maybe someone will be touched by it.
What are your thoughts? Have you tried therapy? Did it work for you, and if so, are you still thriving?
I Don’t Want To Be Here