Stress, Anxiety, and Depression – Oh my!
Have you seen that meme on the internet? (yeah, I know that really narrows it down). The one about what it’s like being in a woman’s mind – how it’s similar to having a few hundred web browser windows open at the same time. Yeah, that one. We’ve all seen it and if I’m at least a little bit correct, we’ve all felt like that at times. Probably more times than we’d like to admit.
Stop me if you’ve ever felt like this before:
Am I being a good enough mom? Did I remember to pack their lunches? Crap, did I give them the correct lunches? They’re not going to eat. Their teacher is going to think I’m a terrible parent. Holy freaking laundry! How the heck am I going to keep up with this? Didn’t he just wear that shirt yesterday? Oh well, his teacher already thinks I’m terrible. But what if they call me in for a meeting? I haven’t mopped in forever. That dust bunny is as big as my cat. Why won’t these pants zipper? I need to exercise. The diet starts tomorrow. My husband must think I’m the most unattractive woman on earth. I’ll get up early tomorrow – hits snooze repeatedly because 4:45 is just too damn early – Why am I so lazy? Crap, I forgot to grade those tests for first period. I need to come up with something to keep them focused and at least partially entertained at 7:30 in the morning.
And that’s only a portion of what goes through my head on a daily basis regarding what I call my “regular” life: kids, husband, home, and the real job.
Add in my “book” life and the list resembles that of a schizophrenic. What timeline do I need to follow? I haven’t published in however many months and people are going to forget about me. Why is that book in the top 100? Why isn’t mine? Oh great, another 1 star review. The big blogs don’t pay attention to me. Signings, models, agents – oh my!
Having worked myself into such a frenzy in the last few months, I had to take a break. I had been sick since the middle of October and I was so exhausted that I wasn’t allowing my body to heal. My brain was incapable of calming down enough to let my body rest. I completed my eighth book (plus two box sets) in early November, but knew I wouldn’t publish until January, so I decided December would be mine. I wouldn’t write, or market (too much – because that fear of being forgotten is very real and very scary), or worry too much about my “book” life.
Romanticized fantasies about frolicking through open fields, of sleeping late on the weekends, reading hundreds of books, of recuperating in the evenings instead of staying up late to write the next chapter, of socializing with my friends, and going on the more-than-the-occasional date with my husband filled my head. December would be mine. Score one for Melissa.
So here I am, back to work – both my “real” job and my writing job and I’m even more stressed and anxious than I was before I took time off for myself. The mounting stress really forced me to sit back and do some reflecting. I mean, I’d just taken a month off from writing, letting my brain and creative forces rest. I’d just had a two week vacation from teaching, all of which was spent at home with my family. I’m about to publish a book that’s been met with my best reviews and anticipation to date. So with all of those items in play, why was I feeling worse than before?
I’m usually pretty good at compartmentalizing my day – teacher, mommy, wife, writer, but lately it’s all started to blur together and one theme tied everything together: I felt like I was drowning. Sadly, I’ve seen posts from many other authors, both publicly and privately, that they’re struggling with the same feelings.
What I hope to accomplish with this post – in addition to clearing my scattered head – is to make others (moms – working or stay at home – wives, writers) feel less alone.
Here’s what I figured out as I wrote this post:
- My kids and my husband love me to the moon and back. And yours love you the same. Whether the laundry is piled high, the dishes are crusted over, the dust bunnies are planning a mutiny, their love never fades. After the bickering, arguing, yelling, and fighting the kids still want to cuddle up next to Mommy and your husband still wants to spoon you at night.
- You’ll always want to lose five pounds – or more. Don’t validate yourself by the number on the scale or on the tag of your jeans. Exercise to feel great, to get your head on straight, to escape the kids for a bit. Make your happiness more of a priority than your weight.
- Love your real job because you spend a lot of time there, but realize it’s just that: A JOB. Don’t let it define you or your happiness. Minimize the stress in as many ways as possible and when that doesn’t work, refer to number one.
- Okay, now the writing stuff. Stop comparing what you’re doing now to what you’ve done in the past and to what others are doing now. The market changes in the blink of an eye so what you did last year – hell, last month even – might not work today. And who knows what so-and-so did to hit the top 100 or top 10. That’s their journey, not yours. They landed an agent? That’s amazing for them. Lots of luck. They quit their job to write full time? That’s the decision that works out best for them and their family. They’re going to this super huge signing? Awesome! Have a blast. Their sales are better than yours? That’s awesome for them. For you, start re-evaluating what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. They hired a model and top photographer? Well, I’ll bite my tongue on that one. That doesn’t mean your book can’t do well or have sales appeal just because it’s a stock image or a lesser known model.
The bottom line in all of this is that you have a choice to make: you can sit back and let the world of doubt and stress consume you or you can take a deep breath and realize that what you’re doing is fucking awesome.
Your life kicks ass. And not because it’s better than someone else’s, or because your kids are cuter or smarter, or because your relationship with your spouse is stronger, or your house is bigger, or your books sell better.
What makes your life spectacular is that it’s yours.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Envy is ignorance. Imitation is suicide.” So what would you rather do, waste your life desiring someone else’s or, to quote myself from my latest novel, On Solid Ground, “Live the best fucking life you can.”
I’ll leave that decision up to you.
I’ve already made mine.