The Great Give Up Conundrum (or Cath’s Anxiety Post)

Boy. Wouldn’t life be easier if you gave up the whole getting published thing? Wouldn’t that just be one less thing for you to worry about? Well, what do you think, Professor Girl? One less thing on your plate?

I went in to talk to the doc, yet again, about the heartache of ringworm, which, for the uninitiated is really fungus, not worms. More cream, more aggression. More laundry! As part of that, you always drop some random health stuff. Yeah, I’m dieting now. Clean eating. Note the pounds I’ve lost. Yeah, my blood pressure is always high at urgent care. Nothing to worry about here? Good. Oh…sometimes I’ve been having incredible moments of stress when I feel overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do. My chest gets tight, I get angry.

Cue the screeching halt. The word xanax is mentioned.

Xanax? Hey, that’s more medicating than I want, right? ‘Cause that’s not Wellbutrin, which is my personal Jiminy Cricket. That’s like a name brand with a big ad campaign medicine for people who have…issues. That means that the Furies have their claws more in me than I thought, that I can’t just will it away. I am not that person! I mean, I’m okay with other people being that person, but I’m the person who supports people, not the person who needs help. (Cath finds out where her biases about depression and anxiety, and where her insecurities about not being perfect and in control, really begin.)

No, says the doc, moving me away from my biases and prejudices. It’s not addictive, you don’t have to take it all the time, only when you need it. Here’s a super low dose. You can choose when you take it. You seem like a person who is very concerned with what you put in your body. I know you won’t abuse it. But see how you do with it

And just like that, I have the modern mother’s little helper in my medicine cabinet. Just in case my life gets too rough and I can’t get my worry and anger under control. And I have to say it makes me think about the amount of stuff I’m doing and the pressure I’m putting on myself.

I am a world class time manager. It’s just that I am also the person who walks into a buffet who wants to try a little of everything. In recent times I have learned that I can’t have everything on the buffet, so I’ve been sticking to a few specific things. Even so, my standards are a little high. Okay. Everest high.

Like a good workaholic, I work hard. Sometimes these days, I just get tired and I can’t press on, and things have to wait. Things still get done. Most people still look at me as some sort of machine. I do nothing to disavow people of this notion. I’m kind of proud of it. Many professors at good ole Kirkwood can’t imagine writing even a little novel on the kind of lifestyle we have. So, okay. Go, me.

But sometimes, is it worth it in your life to put your feet up and just watch the fluffy, fluffy clouds? Hey, I find time to watch clouds! What I have trouble with, though, are those moments when I am watching clouds and something in my brain tells me I have (fill in the blank) to do. There’s that escalation of emotion, that expectation of my super abilities, that disappointment in not meeting the unrealistically high goals I’ve set for myself, the overwhelming feeling that I am in too deep, and then the anxiety and anger because I have poor coping strategies.

Guys, I’ve made tons of progress. I usually sit myself down and say, well, that’s just silly. And I take some deep breaths. I make the effort then to move forward a little on something. That makes me feel better. Or just remind myself that I should relax. And scheduling. That’s what scheduling helps with. Designating time to move forward a bit.

Except that my chest has been tightening and I’ve been a bit more angry at my situation than I’d like on occasion. Or a bit more worried about it. I’m not sure where these high stakes are except in my head. I’m pretty sure that the world isn’t going to end if I don’t get student papers back in a week, or if I don’t have Abby Rath draft 3 done by next Wednesday.

I guess no one is more surprised than me that I’m NOT okay, deep down, psychologically. It’s always that way when you find out more about yourself. Yeah, I know YOU know. You see me from the outside. But I try so hard to look like a pond that doesn’t ripple, and apparently the Loch Ness monster lives in the depths. What disturbs me the most about this is that a lot of this anger is directed at me, because I’m not measuring up to the standards that I have decided are important, because of an artifact of my crappy childhood trying to prove my family was legit. Shoot.

If I let this insecurity keep me from creating, just because I’m not cranking things out by a deadline, I lose. If I choose to let go of writing and creativity just because they are the most expendable in a busy life, I lose. I lose touch with that creative side of me that I have suppressed for a long time trying to impress the hell out of everyone and myself. I mean, I downplay the importance of publication so much, because I need something that is just mine, for me, that is an expression of myself. I can make anything into a job, and I think if writing becomes just a job, I lose in so many ways.

So…I’m not planning to give up my writing. What I really, really need to do is continually remind myself that I write for myself and if I miss a self-imposed deadline, who cares? The measure of success isn’t the deadline. It’s the enjoyment of the process. Things will take longer than I think. They always have. The point is steady progress. If I can’t get the drama under control, then I may look at giving it up. I do believe that I can get the drama under control.

You know what seems to be helping me de-escalate in moments like this right now? That if I don’t chill, I might have to take a xanax. Which, I guess, means that the xanax might be working. Just not in the way intended.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

4 thoughts on “The Great Give Up Conundrum (or Cath’s Anxiety Post)”

  1. I’ve been wrestling with anger myself. I’ve been developing the habit of recognizing the physical sensation of stress hormones spiking — you know, that lift in the chest — and when I notice it, I prioritize the stress over whatever induced it. It takes about ninety seconds for the flight-or-fight response to settle down, but it usually takes less than that for me to calm myself.

    I also have found a lot of use in asking myself why I get angry. Sometimes, it’s because I’m actually after the emotional numbness that follows a heavy rage binge. But I’ve found that sometimes I have to lose my temper in order to have a situation addressed or recognized, and sometimes it actually is because my brain is weird — so not only am I losing my temper less often, I feel forgiving or even accepting when I do. Rather than hating or fearing my anger, I’m trying to find its legitimate functions.

    And hey, don’t sweat the Xanax. It’s just another tool.

  2. So sorry, Cath. But like Sean says, Xanax is another tool. The right tool for the right job.

    I’ve also been going through the “should I quite” merry-go-round. Last night, in my dreams I was at some mix of convention and VP. One of our instructors at VP (whom I respect their opinion greatly), told me I was embarrassing myself by continuing to try and be an author. That was a totally no so fun half hour before I could go back to sleep.

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