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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17 thoughts on “I’ve been away.

  1. *hugs* Sorry to hear you’ve not been well! I hope things look up for you!

    As a sufferer from anxiety, I’ve had the same issues with attaching my self-worth to what people think of my writing, as it’s the only thing I’ve really been good at. I tried to find work in publishing after I graduated last year, but it’s near-impossible to get it, and I just didn’t have the money for endless unpaid internships down in London. So I’m freelancing from home, which is fine, but hasn’t been great for the self-esteem! Writing’s the one thing I’ve always wanted to do well at, but after four years of rejections and the constant comparison game, it definitely pushed me to a low point late last year/early this year. But you’re absolutely right – our writing is our own, and unlike anyone else’s. I’m trying to remind myself of that as I prepare to enter the query trenches for the fifth time – hopefully this time I’ll actually have some luck!

    Wow, this is a long comment. I really hope you find your way back to writing – I know it’s hard to shut out those negative voices, but you can do it! Find the story only you can tell. 🙂

    1. *hugs back* Thanks for sharing that, Emma. I’m with you in the unpaid internships thing. I did several throughout uni, which was hard enough as a mature student already, but I was grateful for the experience. Then when I graduated it was like companies expected me to carry on doing work for free. I did get a publishing internship and though only a few weeks, it was a wonderful experience but I considered going down that road since I worked in publishing once upon a time in Nashville. Either way, it was the same thing, though, and working for free is fine if you’ve got family in the centre of London, but otherwise, yeah.. not so much! Thanks for your encouragement and I wish you ALL THE BEST with the trenches this time around!! 🙂

  2. Awww Cheyenne, sorry that you’re going through a rough-patch. And the comparison game never helps. I’ve done the same thing several times–read something so brilliant where I just want to throw my arms up in the air with the internal cry of “I’ll never be able to write like this!” On the other hand, we are so used to our own writing–tired of it even–that we often don’t see the ingenuity of some of our own scenes until someone else points it out. You could appreciate every facet of your most recent read because you were reading it with “new” eyes. Keep in mind that someone like me would read ABOS the same way. I’m sure I would come across settings/scenes in which I would be all, “Damn, I wish I had that kind of creativity!” Sometimes I think our own stuff ALWAYS feels contrived, because we know how much effort we put into it and how many times we’ve revised it.

    Glad your stomach is feeling better! I hope you’re back to 100% soon.

    1. That’s a great point you make, and thank you for making it! Every now and then I read something I wrote, and it just revs up my emotions and then I step back and think, wow… I did the thing I’ve been dreaming of doing, the thing I so admire about others’ writing!! So you’re right, that we do get super sick of reading our stuff over and over. It’s hard to see the flaws and that’s what’s most often talked about in writing circles… but it’s really hard to see the positives sometimes, as well. I really appreciate your words! I needed to hear them 🙂 Thanks so much!

  3. I admire you for sharing so much about your struggles, Cheyenne, and I truly hope things get easier soon (and glad to hear your stomach’s feeling better–I can’t imagine!). I struggle with anxiety too, and I’ve recently accepted that it’s going to be a lifelong struggle for me. I go through periods of intense anxiety that I try my best to get through with the standard natural approaches (meditation, deep breathing, etc.) But you know how difficult that is, especially when anxiety feels like a physical illness, and then you have people saying it’s all in your head, etc. It can be so discouraging.

    One thing I discovered about my own anxiety is that it often stems from the feeling in the back of my mind that I have so many unfinished projects, my book being one of those. I make a lot of lists (like, total crazy person when it comes to making lists), and it brings me a lot of comfort to cross things off. In my mind, “finish this book” is its own item, one I can’t yet cross off, so it’s like it’s always there, floating in my head, unfinished (and probably always will be since I suffer from perfectionism and will probably never truly feel its finished). I’ve had to train myself to focus on the fact that I’m completing small goals toward that larger goal.

    I’ve also noticed a significant amount of anxiety originating from health problems. When I don’t feel healthy, I’m automatically anxious about it, and it probably feeds the “illness” in a vicious cycle. But I won’t go into detail. This comment is already TMI. 🙂 My point is, I hope any anxiety that might’ve stemmed from your health issues goes away!

    I love what you said: “I need to just be me, the me I was made to be, and write the best that me can write.” I have a little poster on my wall that I put together from inspirational Internet pictures. I really want to make one with this quotation on it!

    Love the Monty Python images. My husband would’ve loved that.

    Best of luck with everything!

    1. I thought I replied to this but it doesn’t appear to be showing up! It might show up twice now 😉

      Thanks for your lovely words, Amanda. I’m sorry you struggle with anxiety as well. I’ve got about 10 different apps on my phone and iPad for meditation, deep breathing, mindfulness, etc., and while these can work when I’m only dealing with sort of back-burner anxiety, when panic is pressing in, it seems like that ship has sailed! But I do think that they’re all wonderful methods that I intend to keep practicing.

      I think us perfectionist types have it really hard because we want to create and do things that others appreciate, enjoy, approve of, etc. and of course that ties in with our writing, and I find it so easy to blow things out of proportion in this regard. And lists!! Oh my gosh, totally. I make lists of lists. I have list apps everywhere as well! It gets out of hand sometimes and I have to scale it back. I recently read about making a 1-3-5 list, but in my case, I’m trying 1-2-3. 1 major thing that must be done today, 2 smaller things that I should be able to tackle, and 3 others that “would be nice” but don’t have to be today. We’ll see how it goes. When I’m 80 I know I won’t be saying, “I’m so glad I made all those lists,” but yet it somehow seems to keep me sane sometimes!

      I don’t think your comment is TMI at all! Though we could always continue this discussion via email or something 😉 but yes… health anxiety is a biggie for me, and I wouldn’t wish it on others but it’s nice to know you know what I’m talking about. And I do know in my head that the more time I give those thoughts, the more power I give them, and that’s something I’ve got to break.

      Aww, I love your inspiration poster idea! I’m flattered! 😀 I LOVE Pinterest for that, helping me keep inspiration quotes and ideas in one place (though I need to put them on my wall as well).

      Wow, I just wrote a book! Thank you for your thoughts! 🙂

  4. Wow, there’s a lot of “I’m not meant to be a writer!” bad thoughts going around. I’m so glad you’re pushing through them. I keep getting down myself. But then I consider the alternative, which is giving up, and I know I can’t do that, either.

    I hope you’re feeling better! As someone with anxiety and panic attacks, too (it seems like many creative people have them!), I admire everyone who can push through those feelings. One step at a time.

    1. You’re so right, Amy. One step at a time is the key; I so often think about 50 steps ahead, and since fortune telling isn’t a very reliable pastime, it’s safe to say that my doing so is a complete waste of energy. And thinking negatively about our writing is definitely a misuse as well… I’m beginning to think it’s a matter of pushing against it over and over until the little voices that want to bring me down get sick of it and give up 🙂

  5. >HUGS< It's definitely not "just anxiety." I go through weeks where I literally cannot sleep at all. It really makes you feel crazy. I gave myself an ulcer a couple of years ago. I was pretty much down to potato soup and that's what I ate everyday for a while because it was the only thing that didn't make me nauseous. It seriously lasted so long, I forgot what it felt like not to be sick to my stomach and uncomfortable all the time. It's sad that it happen before people took it seriously, but the positive thing to come out of it is that my family has been really supportive ever since. ^_^

    I've prayed a lot about my writing, too. Not just if I should write, but also the content, and I can tell you this for sure: If writing is your passion, then you're meant to write, and not only are you meant to write, you MUST write, and write what you feel drawn to write.

    I also know for a certainty that there IS room for our stories in the world. A few awesome authors can't supply the entire world with good books to read. Even if you have to remind yourself everyday, we really are the only ones with our voice and no one else can tell a story quite the way we can.

    Last fall when I was depressed and down over having yet another story soundly rejected by everyone I sent it to, I had this breakthrough in my writing. We don't know why we have to be rejected so many times or struggle so much to get words on the page or suffer from any number of "invisible" ailments. Two years ago, if someone had told me that the story I was working on would never see the light of day, despite being the best thing I had ever written, I don't know if I would have made it. It's because I didn't know that I worked that hard to make it good. And it's because of that story that I broke off and started trying some other things with my writing. It really wasn't until last fall that I got so frustrated and so broken, really, over everything, that I was able to finally just screw it and write. Write because I wanted to. Write because it makes me happy. Write like no one is judging me. Because it took those other stories to get me to write freely again. It took some enviously amazing books to get me to keep working hard despite the fact that I didn't have hope in my future anymore. It took all that rejection to get me to stop caring so much what people thought of my writing, to stop being paralyzed by it. Of course, none of these thoughts go away completely. But the next time, trust me, they won't be nearly as strong or last nearly as long. I make jokes sometimes when people ask me how the writing is going that it depends on the time of day, but it's true. The good thing is, when I'm down now, I write anyway because I want to, because that story means that much to me.

    So, I'm so glad you're getting better and that you posted this today, because honestly, we can't do this journey without opening up and facing the fears we have about our writing and our future as writers, you know. It's how breakthroughs are made. Last time I was struggling really hard with my writing, a friend said to me, "You're meant to write. God wouldn't have given you this gift if you weren't meant to write." He would have given us another gift. ^_^

    1. Thanks for this amazing reply, Krystal! Wow… I’m so sorry you had to go through all that anxiety leading to an ulcer! Anxiety is a very serious business, and it’s wonderful you’ve got family that can see that and support you through it. I’m sure it can be both maddening and bewildering to people who don’t experience it to the extent that we do.

      Your words about writing are so encouraging. It is my passion, and has been for a very long time even though I let it slide in the background while I was trying out other things. It’s the one thing I keep coming back to, the one thing that I feel most joy doing… so I think I MUST write 🙂 I get too inside my own head sometimes and begin to question everything, but no matter how many times that sort of thing occurs, I always come out of it writing.

      Thank you so much for your honesty and encouragement, and can I just say how inspired I am by what you shared? I feel lately that while I have been writing the stories I want to read, I’ve also been too focused on what others will think as they’re reading it… and I read somewhere recently that a successful writer (I forget who now) didn’t find her stride or success (or contentment, really) until she started writing as though NO ONE ELSE would ever read it. Not that she was sloppy, but that she was *honest*. Honestly herself, and her uniqueness was what cracked it for her.

      *hugs* Thank you so much for such a heartfelt post!!

  6. I’m glad you’re feeling better! I’ve been dealing with some health struggles of my own lately, but thank God nothing so bad it’s kept me from being able to eat. That’s a whole ‘nother ballgame I hope to never experience.

    On finding your worth… I had a jump-start on that, personally, but one that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Because you shouldn’t figure out your worth (at anything, in any area of life) isn’t dependent on people’s words or opinions because of what your dad says to you.

    *hugs* But I will say that I’m glad you’re a writer. Even if, for some reason, I never read your writing, or your book(s) never get published. Because I wouldn’t have met you if you weren’t a writer, and you’ve enriched my life in so many ways with timely words – even if those words have been as simple as a tweet.

    You are far more valuable to me as a Sister in Christ than you can ever imagine.

    1. I commented on your recent blog post!! But I did it from my darn iPhone and lost the whole thing, and have been meaning to go back to say, yes, I know JUST how frustrating it can be when it feels like doctors are apathetic or misdiagnosing (or both). I’m not a fan of prescriptions either, though I’ll take them when I’m hopeful they’ll help, for awhile. I applaud your research into natural remedies! I hope that hibiscus really helps! I found a few things, before my H. Pylori test came back negative, that were good for that such as manuka honey, ginger, and so forth… but now that that’s not the cause, I’m sort of left unsure what to even search for, since a dozen things can cause gastritis. C’est la vie!

      I’m also trying to learn how to rein in my hypochrondria and propensity for looking up symptoms online because it always seems to lead to worst-case-scenario thinking (which, I’m learning, is my biggest mental struggle in life).

      Thank you so much for your sweet words and encouragement, and I sincerely hope that you get relief and help for what you’re going through as well. As you say, I wouldn’t wish these things on others, but it is wonderful to know we’re not alone and can talk about them! *big hugs* This too shall pass!

  7. This was such a moving post, Cheyenne and I wish you could catch all my hugs. I know you’ve told me most of these before, still I’m sad those issues are not gone. But God’s timing is perfect, and He’ll come through for you.

    And speaking of that, writing is definitely your thing. If it gives you joy, and you don’t harm people with it, it is definitely the will of God in your life. And God is going to bless you through it, mark my words. There’s something I’d read before online..and I’m going to look for it in the vast abyss that’s the interwebs (because I don’t think I pinned it) and send you the link.

    I’m only getting to this post now because I’ve had anxiety problems myself, hunting for both an apartment and roommate in Chicago! I won’t go into details because it’s a long, long story, but the past ten days has been full of ups and downs (mainly downs). Currently, it’s on a up (of which I’m grateful and is the reason I have the peace of mind to go through my emails)…and I’m praying it stays that way. Anyway, enough of me but my point is I can relate with your anxiety problems because it is debilitating to me too. I tune out the world when it comes. I’m there, but I’m not there. It’s really a debilitating disease, even if it is insidious.

    “His strength is made perfect in our weakness”. I try to remember that when I feel incapable, not smart, frustrated with where I am in life, with my first chapter that I’ve rewritten one million times among others, with all the things I am that might count against me. But I believe that God would more than make up for all that.

    So yes, your writing (which is marvellous, by the way) might never be up to your favorite authors’ skills (in your head, because ultimately, it is up to the reader to say), but God can still make it a bestseller.
    He doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. And that is one of my mantras, because I won’t fool myself into saying I write beautifully (English is not *exactly* my mother tongue), or that I’m smart and all that. But I leave it to God to complete the rest after I’ve tried my best. And I know He’ll come through. And He’ll do the same for you.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I hope it helps in some way.

    Much love. And millions of hugs.

    1. We’ll get to catch each other’s hugs in RL someday, I just know it! 🙂 Thank you so, so much from the bottom of my heart for your encouragement and support, and you know I feel the same exact way for you… your writing is fantastic and you are one of the hardest working people I know. Most importantly, you’ve got a great attitude. And as I’m reading your comment here, I can only hope to learn from it!

      WOW, I had no idea that you were looking to move to Chicago, though! That’s fantastic! But I’m really sorry to hear it’s been so stressful… apartment/roommate hunting is difficult at the best of times, but from so far away has got to be super tough. I’ll be praying for you, and I hope it works out. As Dugald always says, “what’s for you won’t go by you.” I think the best way I’ve found so far to combat anxiety when it tries to block out the light of everything else, as we focus on our problems, is to find the positives in the day, no matter how small, and be grateful for them. It’s not always easy but it’s helping me, and making me aware of when I *do* let myself get too bogged down in things I can’t control.

      And yes, I believe God MORE than makes up for any of our weakness, too! Beautifully said 🙂 And I *love* long comments. I miss sitting in coffee shops and having conversations with friends, something I do far too infrequently since I moved here, so these conversations are dear 🙂 Millions of hugs back atcha! (keep me posted on Chicago).

  8. I will keep it simple…I always love your genuine honesty and “hearing” your heart/mind. And reading your blog reminds me of conversations in Putnam’s, or the Pancake Pantry, or anyplace else we used to chat. It is the way I try to stay connected to your life, and the way I will continue to do so. Keep writing. And keep being you! I will pray your health continues to improve and that the words (YOUR words, not the voices of others) will flow freely onto the screen without judgment or berating from your inner voice.

    1. Hey KB, thanks so much for this (and sorry about the delayed reply…just getting back into the swing of things now!). PUTNAM’S…oh my goodness. I forgot about the name of that place (but not the memories, of course 🙂 Thank you so much for your support and encouragement. My health is doing better, slowly. I got on a much better medication from my family doctor in the US, and I’m finally eating a bit more. I’m looking forward to getting back into writing this coming week. Life has been really topsy-turvy for a few months, and going home got me back on track a little, but I’m so homesick right now. Thank you for this, because you’re reminding me of how I felt about my writing before the trip, and before I started to get better. And now I’m kind of excited to get back to it. I’m sorry we didn’t get to meet up while we were there, but with only 6 days to spend on GI, it flew by so fast 🙁 I had big plans, but then, I always do. Hoping to come home again soon, though it’ll be on my own. And I will definitely have more time then!

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