I’ve been away.

It’s been awhile since I posted, and I’m thinking I’m too late for the June #WIPMarathon check-in (sorry, gang!). I haven’t actually been away from home anywhere, as the title might suggest (apart from last weekend in London to see the 5 remaining Monty Python members do their thing *loves*).

Time has been crawling because I’ve been unwell. Probably more unwell than I’ve ever been, and it’s kept me pretty preoccupied. Off and on since March, I’ve been struggling with anxiety and some of its more unpleasant physical symptoms, which I believed was stress and tension-related. After escalating, a doctor told me two weeks in a row that it was “just anxiety.” (Aside: if you struggle with anxiety at any level, never let someone tell you it’s “just” anxiety. Anxiety is a Thing. It’s a Big Thing. And just because you can’t quantify it with a urine sample or X-ray, it’s there just as much as a virus or a broken limb).

Doctors told me to get therapy, take anti-depressants. I felt like food was frequently getting stuck in my esophagus, and believed it WAS just anxiety, and I was overly stressed about my chosen direction in life, and how I feel I’m failing and flailing.

Finally, after several weeks and untold hours spent in panic attacks and attempts at deep breathing and everything else you can think of, when another doctor heard that I wasn’t eating solid foods, he referred me a hospital. Three weeks later, I had an endoscopy (which I thought I didn’t need, since there was nothing wrong with my stomach).

Yes, there was! I have mild gastritis. I was biopsied for further issues, but that came back negative. Apparently (and I will be getting a second opinion, just because of the length of this and how much it’s affected me), gastritis can cause acid reflux, and reflux can cause swallowing difficulties. I’m on medication to calm the acid, and slowly starting to eat softer solids and gain some weight back.

It’s not quite as simple as popping some Tums and getting on with my day. But it’s slowly getting better. I can’t wait to be able to sit down to a plate of chicken wings or a steak and salad without flinching, but that might be awhile. The feeling of having food stuck in your esophagus and chest — especially when you don’t know what’s causing it — is the scariest thing I’ve ever been through. I’m so grateful it doesn’t appear to be anything more serious than reflux. But I’m on the heavy-duty stuff, so here’s hoping it clears up soon. Thank you, God, for getting me back on my feet.

* * *

As for the “just anxiety”, that’s a separate issue I’m getting under control through a fantastic book by Dr. David Burns, and the support and love of dear friends who’ve shown me how much they care. Ultimately, one of the biggest stressors of my life in recent years is something I need to come to grips with in my own head and heart.

I graduated 2010 with the belief that my hard work, my 1st class degree, and all the extracurricular work I put in around the degree, would FINALLY enable me to feel good about myself, at last. To get a place on a career ladder, work my tail off, and have self-respect, and feel that other people saw me as a contributing human being. That I could do something that *mattered* to me.

It’s 2014 now, and I never did get that film job. If you read my blog back in the day, you’ll know I chronicled the difficulty of getting an industry job as a mature American grad in the UK (despite having graduated over here with work experience to boot). I didn’t have the contacts that kids who grew up here had, and I seemed to have the *worst* timing. Whatever it was, every interview ended with, “You were this close.”

Follow that with rededicating myself to writing, and two completed manuscripts. The type-A perfectionist in me, who struggles with distorted thoughts I’m just now learning about, such as “fortune-telling”, “all-or-nothing thinking”, “mental filters”, “mind-reading”, “magnification”, and “emotional reasoning”, felt that her worth was dependent on what others thought of her writing, because in the end, that’s all I’ve got left. I’ve tried so many paths in my life, and I honestly, truly believe that writing is the thing I love most, that I think about every day, that I itch to do.

But lately, I’ve been away, because of fear, and comparison to every published author out there. Recently I finished reading a series that blew me away — it has flaws, some sort of big, actually, but the writing is dreamlike and gorgeous and the plot lassoed my heart and danced across the sky with it. It shook me, and did everything I love about a good book.

And it made me feel awful. Like, I-will-never-amount-to-anything awful. Reading a great book should inspire a writer, surely, not make her want to throw her hands up.

I think a lot of my anxiety (that wasn’t related to physical symptoms) has been related to this. I was praying about it earlier today, as I have been for weeks and months and even years. If this isn’t the path God wants for me, I want to know. I want that desire taken away. This afternoon I tried to sit down to revise something for a second shot at it, and it felt contrived. I went to bed.

I woke up with a song in my head, and I felt lighter, because I think I finally realised that my writing is my writing. I can love someone else’s writing so much that it hurts, but it can never be mine. Nor should it. My favourite authors inspire me. And I’ve always said that my goal is to inspire others in the same way that my favourites have inspired me.

I’ve never said my goal was to write just like them, be compared to them, try to puzzle out their secret mega-mystery tactics like a combination lock.

A quiet voice reminded me, I need to just be me, the me I was made to be, and write the best that me can write. A great story should inspire me to find my own great stories, and polish the ones I have — never write their great stories. Because they can’t write mine, either. I have to shut out the voice that says, “But you’re not (enter awesome author here) and you NEVER WILL BE so quit trying!”. It’s true I need to quit trying to be anyone but me, but that voice isn’t rooting for me to keep honing my own voice, either.

So I’ve been away, but I’m finding my way back, soon.

“Remember what the Monty Python boys say…”

“What, ‘always look on the bright side of life’?”

“No. ‘Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition’!”

– Sliding Doors


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