I was talking earlier about stories we tell each other and ourselves, and the role narrative and myth play in our lives. Tonight, I had some of my own internal mythology held up to the light, and I’ve decided it’s time for a retelling.
It started as the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth. I fell into a bout of my own bush-league version of impostor syndrome – what success I have had is false, I’m not a very good writer, etc. I will not belabor the point to spare ourselves word count, but I will say that it stung. I got to the lowest point I tend to get to with these thing: the idea of giving up writing, of walking away from it and just not letting it bother me anymore. It’s an idea that tempts sometimes – so many of my friends are so completely happy without this secondary pursuit they’re engaged in, I sometimes wonder if I wouldn’t be happier sharing that ride with them.
Sonya, as always, was there for me when I hit this point. She let me take care of the meds I need to take for my current health issues, and yak a little about the bizarre image on the cover of the newest issue of Avengers, and let me slide from there into discussing my panic again. Naturally, said panic ended with me saying I just don’t think I’m very good. She, playing the role of calm center, let me sputter out to fumes, and asked me without judgment if I had time to read a story. I told her I did; and so I wound up with an iPad in my hands, swiping my way through a piece from an anthology she’s been wanting me to read.
The piece was really good, with perfect, smooth, bitter prose, an interesting idea at its core, and a no-nonsense approach to progressing its storyline within the very confined space of a short story. I finished it, and I told Sonya as much, and she replied “I’m glad you said that, because the whole time it reminded me of you.”
I definitely see her point; but I also definitely see where I fall a bit short of this guy. I don’t want to say exactly what I saw, because I don’t want to make it impossible for my readers to un-see it, but it was pretty stark for me. (And to be clear, I also see where I am different than this guy, and I know that’s OK; this isn’t me thinking I need to mimic someone to be successful.)
I talked with Sonya a bit more, discussing why I might be having trouble hitting the watermark left by this guy. We talked over the differences I saw, and why I don’t do the things he does, and she brought up something I hadn’t heard before. It turns out Joe Hill experienced similar issues to mine early in his career. He got better. Part of that was practice; part of that was giving in and going on psychiatric medication.
In case it weren’t obvious from my tweeting about it all the time, I have an anxiety disorder. I have abnormal, outsized stress reactions to things. I get hung up in loops of anxious thought, worrying about things I can’t control. I just went through months of agony over a very minor, treatable problem, because I convinced myself it was cancer, and then further convinced myself that somehow by not going to the doctor and getting a diagnosis I would manage to remain in some quantum state of “OK.” (One day after the appointment, and I feel much improved already, with nothing changed but some diet stuff and a palliative prescription. It’s that minor.) And as Sonya has pointed out, that level of stress may in fact be paralyzing my writing.
Here’s the part about the story I’m telling myself. I, you see, have long told myself the story that you probably all think I have: that psychiatric medication, and mental health in general, are inimical to creativity. I think of it as the A Beautiful Mind model, where going on meds torpedoed John Nash’s capacity for math genius, and only by bravely living with his schizophrenia did he manage to lead a full and fulfilling life.
In my head, I know this is bullshit. But stories penetrate deeper than logic, and they are denser than reason. Which is probably part of why I just haven’t ponied up the effort necessary to get my head problems treated lately. After tonight’s conversation, though, I have come to recognize, once and for all, that this story is inimical to my own well-being; and moreover, that it might be poisoning the other stories I have rolling around inside me. Given that those are the ones I actually want to share with all of you, I need to rectify the situation.
It won’t be immediate; I’m going to need to make some calls and jump through some hoops. My simply delightful insurance offers limited hours for psychiatric appointments, so it may have to wait until a week when I have a weekday off work already. (I’m burning most of my vacation time for the honeymoon, and that’s sort of locked in.) But I am going to figure it out, and I will bend my schedule around whatever therapy I need to do; and if they think pills are the right thing to do, I am going to try them.
Pills won’t kill my creativity. In fact, there’s a good chance pills might make it easier to tap into the wellspring. That’s the story I am going to tell myself from now on; and it’s the story that’s going to get me through whatever annoying juggling of my schedule I need to do to make treatment possible. The desire for mental health and happiness is a strong motivator – but, again, stories can give a goal an oomph like nothing that exists outside of the imagination. And there’s no more powerful story for me than the story of me writing more powerful stories.
So, here’s to a retelling of my own myth; and a large, galumphing step on the road to a better me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go read that issue of The Avengers. I need to know what’s up with the giant guy with the Iron Man head.