Anxiety, Depression, and Running on a Bum Knee

The internet is ridiculous. Case in point: what you are about to read is a blog response to a blog response to a blog responding to a Twitter rant. We’re in dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream territory, people.

Quite a while back, Chuck Wendig went on a Twitter rant about how sometimes you just have to put on your big-kid pants and get the fuck to work. This is, obviously, advice that applies to more than just writing–although that is obviously the angle he was taking. He even noted at the time that it takes a certain amount of privilege to make that claim.

Someone named Pipsqueak the Ferocious from Tumblr responded. They made the comparison that being able to take Chuck’s tweets as the appropriate kick in the pants necessary to get out and write is like running with two good knees. If you’ve got good knees, running is no issue. But if you’ve got an injured knee, trying to run on it is awful. In the same vein, if your brain isn’t functioning like it’s supposed to, it can be difficult to write. If you’ve got depression or anxiety or whatever, writing can be like running on a bad knee.

Chuck wrote his own ruminations on that, and there was a moment where he landed so firmly on what life is like for me that I broke out in goosebumps.

“But the feeling of a support group can go the other way, too — you can see other folks who have suffered as you have, or have suffered somehow worse, and yet, they’re managing. Maybe they’re doing better. Maybe they’re doing fucking awesome, which once more only makes you feel like they’re running the race and you can’t even find the starting line.”

I am not one of those people that, when told you won’t make it, burns with the determined fires of “I’ll show you!” Watching people overcome adversity doesn’t inspire me to buckle down and get better. It can often make me feel even shittier. I’ll wallow in my own ridiculous sad-sack feelings. “Well Jesus, they don’t have hands and they’re actually not even a person but just a lamp with a wig on it, and they’re succeeding at writing, I might as well just fucking quit.”

That’s not to say I don’t feel very excited and proud for people who succeed. Only that the pride I feel for people I care about succeeding exists simultaneously with an impish creature that’s muttering, “Well, they’re doing it. What the fuck is wrong with you?

Chuck goes on to say:

“No matter who you are, or what you have to deal with, the truth remains: if you want to be a writer, you have to write. The trick is having realistic expectations. Not ones given over to excuses, no, but also ones that are kind. Expectations that push you enough to do the work, but not so hard that you break. If you don’t write for a couple days, let that be okay. But if you don’t write for a couple years, then it’s worth looking back and asking why. It’s like dieting and exercise — a cheat day here and there is fine. You take Sunday to lounge around in a pile of Doritos bags while watching a marathon of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (*ooooh damnit), fuck yeah. Take that time. Be good. R&R is key. But if you take all of January and February and March to do that — then you have to find a way forward. Not backward. Not a shame-based motivational plan. But you have to take a step as soon as that bum knee lets you.”

This right here has been one of the most difficult things for me to do. It always starts innocently: missing a day because of random life bullshit. It happens to everyone. Then the next day, I’m tired because I worked all day and hell, I’ll just do it tomorrow. And then that becomes, “Well, I’ll just make up for it on the weekends.” And then that becomes, “Well, the weekends were busier than I thought, I’ll just have to buckle down Monday to and get back to it.” And then I start feeling guilty for putting it off for so long, so I put it off even longer. Which makes me feel guiltier. Which makes me put it off more. And then when I do sit down to write, it’s been so long that things feel unnatural, clunky. Any rhythm I developed has dissipated and I can’t recapture it. It’s hard getting words. Like pulling teeth. And they read awkward and shitty. So I say, “I just need to let this story stew a little more. I’ll try again tomorrow.” But tomorrow, it’s the same, and I continue the spiral of shame and avoidance.

Sometimes, what I want is for someone to read my stuff and just say, “Hey, you’re doing a good job. You’re not as bad at this as you think.” And then I feel completely fucking stupid because who the fuck am I to need such a narcissistic thing as positive reinforcement? After all, if I get something published, the world is not going to be a child-proofed playground with all the sharp edges sanded down and cushion-covered. I’ll be rejected, get bad reviews, hate mail. I need to toughen the fuck up. And then I feel guilty about that as well.

This tornado of anxiety, guilt, doubt, and depression can become so loud that I can’t hear anything over the sound of my own negativity. This is often when I disappear from the internet entirely. I sit down, even just to blog, and find I’m so utterly lacking in any interest in anything that I’m in danger of imploding and becoming a person-shaped black hole.

And it’s not just writing. Everything gets sucked into that twister. The house isn’t clean enough. I can’t stay on top of the laundry and/or the dishes. We waste too much money going out to eat. I can’t stick to an exercise regiment. I can’t stick to my diet.

And then, I’ll sit down, and read something, and say, “you know, this isn’t half bad. I might actually be an okay writer.”

Or I’ll put my foot down and insist that we cook something, and I’ll remember how much I enjoy cooking.

Or I’ll realize I’m up early and I might as well load the dishwasher and clean off the kitchen counters while I’m ahead.

Or, or, or.

And it’s like the fever breaks, the storm passes, the earth stops shaking. Suddenly, I can see my bad writing’s flaws and shrug it off. I can accept that not every work will be my best. I can say, “well, we haven’t done that great staying in to eat, but there’s no reason we can’t just pick that back up starting now.” I’ll see the laundry and say, “you know, I can probably divide this into small jobs over the next few days and get it knocked out in no time.”

And it’s so fucking reasonable, so fucking rational that I wonder what the fuck I’ve been thinking all this time. Jesus, how hard is it to load the dishwasher? How hard is it to sit down and just write a few words on something and not think too much about them? And I’ll have a good laugh at how silly I’ve been lately, and I’ll move on with my life.

Unfortunately, the spiral will come back around eventually. It always does.

I’m trying to be less hard on myself. I’m trying to find that balance where if I fall down for a few days, it’s not such a Herculean task to get back up and get back in the race. Maybe when I get like that, I should just pick one thing that’s bumming me out and focus on fixing it. Maybe it means talking my feelings out to someone rather than bottling them up. Maybe it just means getting out of the house and having some fun with my wife and other people I care about.

I’m trying to figure out when my knee hurts because I’ve injured it, and when it hurts because I haven’t used it enough. I haven’t figured that out yet, but I’m trying. And that’s all I can do.

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