A Return to a Bad Reading Habit: Anxiety and Comfort in the Known

I have struggled long and hard to come up with a post topic for today. It’s too late the night before and I’m just beginning to type. This is why I don’t last minute things. I finally thought of a topic, and as I mulled it over in my mind it seemed familiar. I flipped through my old posts and what do you know, I’ve tackled it before.

That’s never a good sign.

Specifically, I wanted to talk about getting stuck in books you know. While rereading my post, A Bad Reading Habit: Anxiety and Comfort in the Known, I had to cringe. Why? One, I’ve fallen off the wagon yet again and keep picking up books I know off the shelf instead of getting new ones finished. Two, months ago I started doing the same thing with my regular TV shows. This particular habit I hadn’t realized until last week when my mom tried to turn on a season premiere and I tensed from head to toe and nearly starting yelling at her. Can you say over-reaction? I was floored.

The good news, if there is any, is that compared to when I wrote the first post, my social life has improved. Actually, my social life has exploded. The day job life has semi-imploded. I’m not sleeping well. My exercise routines are constantly interrupted. And I am struggling to balance coursework with writing and the day job.

I’ve been making a lot of big changes in my personal life recently and making big plans. Obviously, these things are major sources of anxiety for me. I’m not dealing with them properly because they’re bleeding over into other facets of my life in strange ways. Who has a panic attack over TV?

Granted, the world around us is not helping me feel better. Yesterday (as I type this) over 50 people were killed at a concert. Two young women were stabbed to death. And a cop was struck by a car and stabbed by a perpetrator who then ran a truck into pedestrians on a sidewalk. That last one was very close to home. I won’t even get into climate change and starving animals being destroyed or anything else.

It’s difficult to feel hopeful in these times. It’s difficult to motivate myself to look forward and work towards the future. I find I’m very emotional lately and dealing with even fictional surprises seems to be more than I can handle on a regular basis.

That’s the end of my whining. I guess I’m sad today. I’m going to give myself a break and allow myself to revel in the safe and familiar when things get bad. But I’m not allowed to hide there.

Learning from Meditation: The Power of Not Doing

Last week I posted my first goals check-in on Anxiety Ink. While I was writing my update I was happily surprised by how positive my first quarter turned out. I tackled the new goals well and finally paid attention to ones I’d neglected for a long time. One of those neglected goals was to learn how to meditate. For years I’ve heard about the positive health benefits of mindfulness. Even in my yoga classes, which I started in January, the meditation portion is one of my favourite parts.

Despite all the great information at my fingertips, I never took that step to learn how. Mid-March I was playing around on Pinterest and was led to a blog where the author mentioned a meditation app, Calm. I figured that was the easiest way to try it out because my phone is always on and it’s always near me.

I took their 7 day meditation challenge and I’m hooked. I want to try out a few more apps before I commit to this one –there are only a few meditations to sample without paying– but I love the concept of a meditation app. It’s just too convenient.

The biggest lesson I have taken away from my foray into meditation is the power of not doing. I know that goes against everything we learn as productive members of society, but it’s true. Our minds and bodies are not designed to be occupied 24/7. Doing so, regardless of your natural energy level, leads to burnout.

I’ve suffered burnout, and it’s awful. And I am very close on the heels on of my second bout, which is likely what spurred me to get my butt on the meditation train.

The ten minutes I take a each day to sit at my desk and simply be are the best, most refreshing moments of my day. Hands down.

If you’re like me, an anxious, overachieving, type A perfectionist, you likely suffer from some kind of guilt if you’re not doing something. There’s always something that needs to be done, and sitting on one’s butt doing nothing isn’t getting it done. But that’s the thing, no matter what you do, there will always be another thing that needs to be done. It never ends. So why not take those moments of peace for yourself?

I leave the house and go to work five days a week. Depending on the day, I have household or pet chores to tackle when I get home, a workout to accomplish, blogging that needs to be handled, and now coursework on top of all of my regular stuff. Not to mention the people who need my attention in my life.

When I step back and take in all of the things I do in a single month, from the big items to the minutiae, it’s a wonder I haven’t snapped. We live in a society that believes if we’re not stressed and doing a hundred things at once we’re not working hard enough. That’s crap. All of us deserve to take a moment and recharge every day.

For me, those ten minutes of not doing have helped with my sleep, helped me cope with my anxiety, they helped me bounce back 90% faster from an extremely emotional day, and they have helped me focus better on tasks.

I’m taking my 10 minutes and I’m not feeling guilty about them.

A Bad Reading Habit: Anxiety and Comfort in the Known

mirror by Paul Keller via Flickr

It’s no secret that I suffer from anxiety. It’s not something I talk about a lot, but those who know me, and any readers from Anxiety Ink, are well aware of the fact. It’s something I’ve struggled with most of my life though I don’t take any medication for it. I’ve learned to handle it myself for the most part.

This year, 2016, has been particularly stressful. I’m noticing that I’m falling into some bad habits in an effort to comfort myself. While comforting oneself is not a bad thing, my coping mechanisms are leading to some not-so-great outcomes.

One, I’m closing myself off. That’s never good. I’ve been using my job as an excuse; it’s extremely social and while I do get peopled-out fast, I’m using that as a fall back. It’s ok to be tired, it’s ok to not want to do stuff all of the time, but lately I haven’t wanted to do anything with anyone at all. My friend wanted me to have coffee with her last week and I almost had a panic attack because it was too close.

Now that I’ve acknowledged the pattern I can take steps to fix it. This isn’t the first time and is likely not the last.

Two, and this is the one that’s bothering me the most (which says a great deal about me), is that I’ve developed a terrible reading habit. Every once in a while, when I can’t decide what I want to read next, I pick a favourite book off my shelf. The book I select is always one I’ve read before, and what I like to do is flip through and do a cursory re-read. I also do this when I’m tired and don’t want to read a single chapter of my current book-in-progress (I’m a binger).

My intention is always to simply read a favourite scene of my already-read book before I go to sleep. However, I always end up reading basically the whole thing and stay up later than I would have just picking up my current read.

Months ago I decided I had to stop doing this because it was really cutting into my reading time. My goal was to read 68 books this year –I can’t get that done if I’m not reading new books. I did better with that reason in mind, then fell off the wagon after reading two particularly sad books. I just wanted to be in a safe book that wouldn’t tug on those threads.

Lately, I haven’t been diligent about picking up my current-reads, and not because I’m not enjoying them. I finally had to stare the problem right in the face after perusing my to-read list and seeing all the awesome books I want to read.

This habit of picking up “safe books” is yet another coping mechanism I’ve developed because my life is not without stress right now.

While this coping mechanism is not nearly as worrisome as the other, it stems from and leads to the same thing. I’m putting up walls and falling back into the known because I can’t seem to control things lately. With the books, it’s about me being afraid to pick up a new read because I don’t know what’s going to happen. Picking up ones I’ve read gives me complete and utter control of the experience because I can take away exactly what I want.

Same goes for me not wanting to go out and socialize. It’s two sides of the same problem.

I wish it was as easy as realizing what the issue is and telling myself to stop. I really do. Baby steps are required, but I’ll get there. I’ve already started a new book with a set completion date and I have coffee plans for Friday. As well as a couple of other social events for the month.

The big stressors are the things I actually need to deal with. I’m working on those, though much more slowly.

I have to ask, does anyone else suffer from this bad reading habit? I don’t actually reread the entire book, which would be one thing, I read the parts that will make me happy. It’s an odd and controlling experience I hadn’t really thought of until I stopped to write this blog post.

 

*featured image: mirror by Paul Keller via Flickr.

Perfection and Paralysis

Very recently, I came across this quote from Anne Lamott, here, along with a few other gems:

“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen … Shoot the moon.”

It is unbelievable how much this quote speaks to my life experience. Whether it comes to my writing or to my body, I have let my perceived inadequacies hold me back from a lot of experiences.

When it comes to my work, failure is my greatest fear; I’m not sure when success became equated with perfection. It’s incredibly difficult to find the energy and stamina to start and then carry on when you live beneath a cloud of fear like that. I know that perfection is unrealistic. I don’t expect it of anyone. Yet I constantly think about it, obsess, worry, when it comes to myself.

Old Light Switches by Paul Cross via Flickr

Old Light Switches by Paul Cross via Flickr

My perfectionism is not a switch I can just turn off. It’s been on a long time.

When I was in French immersion, I was constantly criticized by the teaching staff for not talking. I was at the school to learn a second language and the only way to learn a second language is to speak it. Pipe up, make mistakes, move on. They were baffled by me. Frankly, I was baffled by them. Why did they revel in my discomfort? At some point my mom finally told my teachers outright that I wouldn’t speak until I knew it all. Not an elucidating rationale, but on the nose.

It comes back to anxieties and insecurities. My overall self-esteem has definitely increased since my middle school days. I’ve matured enough and hardened my skin enough to put myself out there to make mistakes, to learn, and grow. It’s tough, but worth it in the end. So worth it.

I’m far surer in intellectual pursuits than in those other experiences where my body is on the line. I’ve had a contentious relationship with my physical self for so long that that shell is proving exceedingly difficult to break out of. I’ve denied myself a lot due to my fears and the feeling that I don’t measure up. I’m tired of it. And I’m encouraged by the fact that popular media is too.

However, that’s a conversation for another place. I’m about the writing pursuits here!

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to completely walk away from my hang-ups over perfection. I’m a perfectionist at my core. Every mistake I miss, every task I fail at, jolts me. I hate failure. Yet when you grow so obsessed with being perfect that you find yourself paralyzed, you have to step back.

It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve learned to step back, assess, breathe, and dive in. Honestly, you have to mess up –be brave enough to chance the possibility of messing up– or you’ll never know what you’re capable of. Casting off my need to people please was easy. Probably easier than it should have been. Now I need to continue the trend no matter how long it takes.

Yes, one of my biggest fears is failure. An ever greater fear is highlighted in this quote –what if I wake up 50 years from now and realize I let that fear steal my life? Hell, that would be so much worse than a bit of bruised ego.

Put the pen to paper. Start typing. Keep typing. Spit that story out and be glad you did it. That’s what I’m walking away with.

Wall quotes

A Look at Writing Workshops

On May 16th I quit my hemming and hawing and purchased a spot in a writing workshop Kate talked me into attending. It’s called Bait and Hook and is one of the pre-festival workshops in conjunction with When Words Collide, a local readercon. The workshop, run by Faith Hunter, will last one day. The first five pages of participant’s manuscripts are due July 15.

As of today, I have spent 51 days obsessing over my five pages. I have only one (unfinished) manuscript I would even consider sharing with the outside world. Luckily for me, the first chapter of my manuscript works out to five pages. It’s also the same genre that Faith Hunter writes. Her feedback may be truly significant -I’m still not sure right now if that’s a good thing.

Hunter is going to give me feedback on whether those five pages contain enough to bait and hook her into reading the rest of the book. I am terrified.

Although I’ve been working on it for nearly two years, my novel is incomplete because I’ve had to walk away from it for a variety of reasons. I hadn’t read that first chapter in months and was understandably anxious about doing so. After some editing, I’m proud of what I have written. I plan to have another comb-through session with the pages before I submit them but I’m not embarrassed to do so. Nervous, yes. Because sharing any piece of work for the first time is nerve-wracking.

Excitement and trepidation are warring within me the closer July 15 comes. Once the pages are emailed away I’ll be resigned until August 13, where I will be a mess on the inside.

At this point you might be wondering why I’d submit the pages of an unfinished story at all. Why I’d share my work with someone intent on telling me what works and what doesn’t. Are the rewards really worth the stress?

Heck yes!

It’s extremely painful to share creative work with others. I have always compared it to stripping naked in public –something I have never done and will never do. You reveal so much about yourself when you open your shell, especially when you open it up to be analyzed. However, the opportunity for growth is undeniable.

Reading and taking to heart the basic tenants of writing is well and good –don’t use clichés, limit your use of adverbs and adjectives, show don’t tell, etc. But when you get into the zone of writing your brain doesn’t follow the rules. It can’t if it wants to stay creative, especially when it hasn’t had a long time to practice doing so.

Reading another person’s rough draft allows you to actively engage with a piece that hasn’t had the broken elements removed. A lot of writers make the same mistakes in their work so more often than not you can see first-hand why lots of things you do don’t actually work. I.e.: clichés are boring, adjectives remove power from sentences, obscure metaphors are irritating, and so on. Seeing why they don’t work versus simply hearing it over and over lets a writer grow much faster in my opinion.

I survived Patty Briggs reading chapter one of my werewolf novel.

I survived Patty Briggs reading chapter one of my werewolf novel.

Outside of workshops, it’s not very often that writers can get exposure to –and for– their unperfected prose and enter a safe environment to discuss them. There are heavily enforced rules in a workshop because they are designed to be a safe, creative space. Thankfully, nearly all writers are fragile and encouraging creatures. We like to nurture each other.

I’ve had a lot of experience with workshops. I have three and a half years of critique classes from university under my belt and I’ve attended a workshop with WWC before. My skin is thick. Not unpierceable, but thick.

So, I might be biting my nails about submitting my work and reading the feedback afterwards, yet I relish the chance to see what someone else thinks of the trajectory of my story. Besides, having a deadline has never been a bad thing for any writer.