“And you may ask yourself: well, how did I get here?” – Talking Heads
I promised that I’d share a little of my story – at least the part of it that relates to my writing. I feel I must ask your forgiveness if I go on too long, or if I don’t tell my story in a way that answers all the questions that may come up as you read it. It’s my story, which means it’s hard for me to be objective.
I suppose that starting with a cliché is permissible in a blog post – anyway, it’s true: “as long as I can remember, I’ve made up stories…” I remember wanting to read very early, and once I could, I wanted to get better at making the shapes of letters so that I could write down my own stories. Those of you who know me personally know that music was and is a huge part of my life. I remember listening to music and making up stories to accompany the album cover. The inner sleeve that held the record would often have pictures of the other albums on that label, and these were sources of inspiration as well.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love stories, and it always fascinated me that every story was once just a thought in someone’s head – captured in the moment, cultivated and grown in the imagination, and eventually harvested by the hand that brought it to the page.
As I got older, and made my way through school, writing was something that won me praise from time to time. I won competitions and compliments. On (or about) the first day of my senior year in high school, the teacher in my Journalism class urged everyone to listen to their editors. They might think the editor was cramping their style, but for the most part, they had no style to cramp. “Only one of you, at this age, has a style of writing,” he said.
I was stunned when every head turned to look at me. I knew intellectually that I was being complimented – honored, even – but at that moment, I just felt embarrassed. It wasn’t until years later that I grasped what happened at that moment. Not only had this teacher (whom I hadn’t had for a class previously) somehow found out about me and reached this conclusion, the other students agreed.
Despite all this, I had a hard time finding the confidence to seriously pursue writing, because along with whatever talents or skills I had, I’d also grown up with some other things.
I was seven years old when a psychiatrist first diagnosed me with severe depression. I don’t remember what brought on that first appointment, but I do remember thinking that, although I still didn’t feel great, it was a relief to know that these feelings weren’t normal, and that someone thought they could help.
I still give thanks that my family were (and are) supportive through my entire journey, from that time until now. Even so, it has been a very long and rough road.
It turned out that I had a few more things going on that wouldn’t be diagnosed until much later. I also had (and have) General Anxiety Disorder. I’ve also got Attention Deficit Disorder (also called Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, or ADHD), but it wasn’t very well-understood at the time, and it wasn’t really being diagnosed unless you were extremely hyperactive and/or violent. ADD still isn’t understood very well (though it’s gotten much better in forty years!), and there are still a lot of assumptions that go along with that diagnosis.
Ever have that dream where you had to give an important presentation or performance, and you’d lost your notes, or whatever equipment or information you needed to do the job? If you have ADHD, that dream occasionally comes true – and it’s likely to keep coming true, all your life. Remember that, for a long time, I didn’t know I had this, and just assumed that some of the other things I’d heard were accurate: “lazy.” “Scatterbrained.” “Bad.”
At any rate, the combination of these three things (anxiety, depression, ADHD) made for quite a cocktail. ADHD makes school (and most work) a challenge – you want to do well, but you can’t remember what you needed to study, when a project was due, whether you’re supposed to ride the bus home on a given day, or any of a variety of things. Why didn’t I just keep a calendar? Believe me – I tried! It turns out, a calendar works best when you bring it with you everywhere and remember to write things down in it. So a calendar was just another failure – another thing to feel bad about.
And feel bad I did – which is where the anxiety would often get into the act. I would have moments of absolute panic. Sometimes I would panic because I realized I’d forgotten something important. I couldn’t necessarily remember what that important thing was, however. And, of course, occasionally I would panic when I hadn’t forgotten anything – but I was still convinced that I had.
These things certainly contributed to an overall feeling of sadness and despair, but major depression also meant that I would often feel sadness and despair for no cause that I could identify, and have no real ideas about how to help myself feel better. Which made me worry… which, in turn, would make it hard to concentrate…
I used to think that a day would come when I would be cured. I wouldn’t feel sad unless I was in a situation where a normal response would be sadness. I would worry about real, practical concerns, and be able to identify the steps I could take to address those concerns. I would be on time and prepared for everything I’d chosen to undertake on a given day.
And, of course, I’d finally feel good about myself.
That day hasn’t come. I’ve stopped waiting for it, but that’s a good thing – instead of wishing for these issues to go away, I’ve focused my efforts on managing and living with them, and going on with my life in spite of them.
Do I want you to pity me? That depends – are you an agent or publisher? Only kidding. No, I don’t really want to be pitied. I’d rather be understood, if only a little.
What does any of this have to do with writing? (Besides being a long, boring story in its own right, ha-ha.)
For years, I was convinced that I really had no talents of any kind. Anything I tried, I thought, was naturally doomed to fail. The various factors at work in my life (which, I told myself, were entirely my fault) all added up to someone who was so fundamentally flawed that although they might conceive of great things, they would never be able to achieve any of them. I might have a Ferrari engine, capable of generating immense power, but my gears were rusted solid, so I’d never go anywhere. There was something missing in me that had doomed me to failure and frustration.
These days, I’m a little more optimistic – the right combination of medications and a good therapist have been huge helps – but I still sometimes find myself struggling from day to day. I have good ones and bad ones.
And, although I’m attempting to get into the game a little longer in the tooth than most writers are when they “get serious” about writing and submitting, I am determined to write through and around these difficulties, rather than giving them the authority to tell me whether my writing is good and valid.
Finally, I’m going to let other people make up their minds about that.