This morning I woke up exhausted due to a full-blown, soul-consuming anxiety attack last night. There I was writing happily when a fellow writer put out a call for a little financial help. I tried to send some money to his PayPal account, but the payment was declined. Then, almost immediately, I received a text that my phone’s auto-payment had been declined. Time to panic. I checked my account and everything looked fine, but it was too late. I was already hurtling through a full-blown, sweating, stomach-gnawing, “I wish I were dead” anxiety attack. Everything was fine, of course. The problem with PayPal was on my friend’s end, and I sent a test text to Facebook that went through without a hitch (my phone is still working fine today). It’s just that I had been visited by a set of unrelated glitches that sent me an entirely false message. I have to add, however, that had I not had such a difficult emotional week, these things wouldn’t have sent me into such a tailspin, but I was already battling an extraneous Everything is Going to Hell mindset.
From December 2004 to 2012, I was awakened nearly every morning already in the throes of panic attacks that made starting the day feeling good about myself and confident about my writing impossible. I blogged my way through these days, though, and clung to those feelings that weren’t so tenuous. The paradox is that as low as I can sometimes get, I also feel equally up most of the time. These attacks are not unpredictable, or without their causes, I must add. Anytime my confidence takes a direct hit, I’m visited by an attack. But I had not experienced one in over a year and I allowed myself to believe that I had conquered them and they were a thing of the past. Oh, silly me.
As writers we are especially susceptible to anxiety because what we function through, how we move through life, is made up of our feelings and parading our vulnerabilities before the world. In a world that increasingly advises us to Harden Up and Be Tough, and where vulnerability is seen as weakness to be preyed upon and exploited, being a writer is like throwing oneself to the lions. “Here I am! Hurt me! I throw myself at your feet!” I protect myself from online bully pits like the comment sections in YouTube and I’m inordinately selective about who I allow on my Friends Lists in Facebook and Twitter—I suffer from anxiety, not a masochism.
"But for those artists who have the courage to embrace their own fears, to stay conscious and connected in what seems like an ever more dangerous world, to co-exist with potentially crippling anxiety and write anyway, the rewards can be significant.” Dennis Palumbo
When I was writing Night Music: The Memoirs of Wolfgang Amadè Mozart, back in 1994, I had just come out of a year of being the primary caregiver of my father, who died of colon cancer, and a year taking care of my mother, emotionally. Dad and I were very close and I took his dying “on my watch” very hard. Harder than I should have, in fact. When I came to the time in Mozart’s life when he was forced to be the caregiver of his dying mother, alone together in a freezing Paris winter, I had no choice but to pour my experience into the scene. Because it was in first-person, it was especially gut-wrenching to write; I was forced not to face my grief as much as the trauma of watching my father die, knowing there was nothing I could do to save him. I had not been prepared for that, nor the mind fuck that it created. Writing Mozart’s experience helped me to slay more than a few dragons. I cried, I paced, I turned into a fetus ball, but I wrote it. Consequently, those old feelings have never come back to haunt me. I eventually accepted that there was nothing I could have done to save him and that I actually helped him by taking care of him myself at the end rather than hand the painful duty off to a nurse or some other stranger.
My point is, we writers need to find what works for us as individuals when we’re suddenly blitzed by the Panic Luftwaffe. I’d be very interested to find out what you do to get over your own attacks or emotional blocks. We’re all in this together.