I get panic attacks over my writing. An ordinary evening for me, after I have taken a long nap after exposure therapy and therefore wasted the better half of the day (argh), is to sit at my desk and panic.
This is not news. At times, I do wonder if my blog is far too self-centered and narcissistic at times, but the trouble with being alone most of the time is that you have little material to work with when it comes to creating content. I could, of course, use my imagination to write fascinating stories regarding my life. I could, for instance, tell you of the time I went to the grocery store, and all the lumps of marbled flesh and fat in the meat section started jostling about in their film wrap, keening and squawking and screaming like slaughtered animals, or the incident with the man whose flying carpet got stuck in some wire mesh bordering an abandoned carpark, or that one time I went on an underground journey in the sewers and befriended various vermin who taught me how to make mold-art, then promptly stole all my belongings, including my shoes.
But that would be lying, and, besides, I doubt any of you would believe it. Those things have happened to me, though—in my mind, that is.
The truth, however, is not as strange as fiction, and the truth is, I spend a lot of my time worrying and fretting and groaning and moaning alone in my room, with my hands at the keyboard, and often my face, too. In fact, my life is just one enormous ball of simmering anxiety. I am anxious when I am outside. I am anxious when I am inside. I am anxious when I am writing. I am anxious when I am around my family. I am anxious when time is passing, which is always. Heck, I’m even anxious in my dreams. Off an tangent here, but, last night, I had a very good dream, which for me tends to happen once in a blue moon. In this dream, I was beloved and had many friends, and we all laughed and joked together while standing in the grocery, and when I woke up I yearned so deeply for the sense of camaraderie to return I hurried to the computer to find solace in my characters, even though they pale in comparison to the real thing. You know you are lonely and depressed if the only times you feel happy and content are when you are lost in dreams, subconscious or otherwise. It means your own life is quite the nightmare.
But, yes, back to the panic attacks. I think everyone panics, and everyone is scared, to some degree. It’s part of being human, especially in this day and age, where everyone is a little more isolated, without their own tight-knit communities. Death looms like a guillotine above our necks everyday, the world is turning topsy-turvy, and love and friendships are being kicked to the curb, replaced by work, loneliness and human substitutes like the Internet or films. Everyone is broken in some way. No-one knows where the species is headed or what life and consciousness even is. Really, no-one knows anything and we’re just blundering our way through this, each and everyone of us, and if anyone tells you otherwise, they’re either lying, deluded or unaware.
And everyone is afraid of failure. Well, almost everyone. Anyone who has the tiniest smidgen of ambition is afraid of not succeeding in their endeavours. I don’t care if the ambition is to become the next NBA basketball star, or just get a minimum-wage job to keep your family afloat—everyone is scared of things not turning out properly, everyone is unhappy with some aspect of their life, and everyone is looking towards the horizon in the hope of spying that castle in the sky, a home where they can rest and nothing can hurt them for eternity. Some castles are extraordinarily extravagant, a mass of turrets and pearly stones and flying dragons, others are a little more homely, and a few (well, mine) are constructed out of paper, and scrawled with words.
Panic is an everyday part of life. What isn’t normal, or ideal, shall we put it, is if it starts to interfere with your day-to-day activities. That’s the definition of pathology, is it not, when some emotion, fear, anxiety, anger, disgust, spirals out of control and stops you from doing things? Overblown self-disgust leads to self-loathing leads to an inability to form relationship leads to suicide. Too many angry, violent outbursts, and you’ll find yourself homeless or locked up. It’s almost as if the world doesn’t want you to feel anything, so they dose you with drugs to numb your nerves and tell you you have “issues”.
My panic attacks, as stated earlier, stem predominantly from the fear of failure. Sure, the top of my head will blow off if I am in open spaces or around people for too long, but it is writing, or the fear of never being any good at it, which niggles and wriggles away inside of me like tapeworm for hours on end, no matter where I am or who I am around. Writing is hard. Very hard. And I am just not very good at it yet, not enough to get published, and to send my work out into the world. The problem is, I know I could do better, if only somehow my skills were better. I have a wealth of wonderful ideas without the skills and expertise to turn them into realities. As a result, every word I put down is a small reminder of my inadequacy. It’s like staring into a room filled with glistening plates of delicious food while you are starving, yet unable to pick up any of the food and eat it because you have no mouth. In fact, you have no head. You are a headless woman, somehow able to see (I didn’t think this through) the food, but without the wherewithal to consume it. I have no head. I have no head.
It’s agony. It really is. In my mind, I can visualise a scene so clearly, smell it, hear the sounds, see the faces (well, I have trouble with faces when it comes to writing, I only tend to “feel” their personalities), but I can’t translate it onto paper in a way that allows it to come to life in the reader’s mind the same way it does in mine. I just can’t do it. It just doesn’t work. I don’t have good sentence structure, or the details aren’t vivid enough, the characters blank archetypes, the entire story loose and empty as a cardboard greeting-card.
And so I panic. And it does stop me from writing, the panic, because I get panic attacks, which generally involve extensive gasping and an overwhelming feeling of doom. It’s like the world is ending, but inside you. Those are the moments when the depression hits, when I understand, with hideous clarity, why some people take drugs, drink themselves sick, or even resort to taking their own lives. The world inside your own mind becomes a living nightmare, and anything that can help you escape from it—anything—suddenly seems a blessing.
Relax, you might say. Relax, relax. The craft of writing takes time to perfect, and as long as you keep at it, you’ll get there. Yes. Very good, sound, logical advice. And also, in my case, utterly useless. Why? Because I am neurotic, self-loathing, and have the firm belief I will die unpublished, unloved and alone. Because writing is all I have, all I can do, and should I find myself unsuccessful at it, not only will I be severely disappointed, but also homeless, because I have no other marketable skills (Dear Future Employer, I Will Often Be Mentally Unable To Work For Long Periods, Cannot Leave The House and Am Scared Of People, Please Hire Me?) and my mother isn’t the most generous of women. Because anxiety and depression don’t always make sense. Because stories are hard to execute. Because I am very sad, and very lonely, and when you are sad and lonely, it is very hard to believe in and love anything. Because I am too discerning to buy into the old illusions I used to weave for myself. And, finally, because all is emptiness, dust returns to dust, and the universe and the world is a frighteningly cold and unforgiving place, and if I can’t churn out at least six or so good books in my lifetime, then I have nothing to hold onto and clutch to my chest like an existential teddy bear.
I am not sure where I am going with this anymore. I was just panicking, and it was time to write a blog post, so I wrote, and I am not sure what came out, except a gobbledygook mess. Let us dream of fireplaces, cats and loved ones, let us dream of other worlds and wonders, let us dream of human beauty and goodness and kindness, of places where laughter and song burst through the air instead of guns and storms, of many wonderful things to fill the emptiness. Let us dream, because it is in dreams where they will stay.