Learning Self-Care as a Writer

I know I’ve talked about this topic before, but it never hurts to get a reminder. I definitely need one right now. Self care can come in many different forms. It can be as “simple” as getting more sleep or eating better to nourish your body. But for writers, there’s even more that we can do to treat our minds and bodies kindly.

So where is this coming from? It’s probably no surprise that I have high-functioning anxiety and depression. My default is to keep doing more and more things to keep myself busy so I don’t have to deal with some of the nasty internal thoughts. I also deal with the feeling that I’m “not good enough” and my accomplishments mean I’m just a little bit more worthy to exist. I really wish I hadn’t tied my self-worth to my writing (or my weight), but unfortunately it’s happened, and I’m trying to learn to let go. I could feel myself trying to do too much again and I realized, begrudgingly, that I needed to step back.

I just finished running the big I.O.W.A. author signing that I’ve written about. In the past week, I’ve been in a lot of physical pain due to the anxiety and tension that had built up over the months leading up to it. I have a book coming out in December that I’m still working on editing, and a few book signings on my plate. To top it off, I was considering making massive edits to my YA fantasy book, Dragon Steal, to participate in #Pitchwars later this month. All last week and part of this weekend, I could feel myself practically choking on the anxiety, and I knew that I had to make some changes.

You see, my health has been pretty awful this year. I’ve gotten cellulitis four times since January, my migraines have gotten worse to a degree, I’ve gained weight I lost, and my sleep has suffered. Most of that I attribute to being too busy and not focusing on taking care of myself. There’s always some other writing project, or work, or volunteer thing to get done. I’m terrible at staying still and resting, (and saying no), but it’s come to the point that if I don’t start making changes, I might not be around to do all the things I want to do.

So, I decided that I would step back from #Pitchwars this year 1. to give myself a break and 2. to give my book the time and care that it needs. I cancelled one of my book signing events that would have equated to a 7 hr drive in one day all while I’m still trying to mend my legs from cellulitis. I’m trying to eat better foods and get more sleep, which means not working myself to the bone until 1 or 2 am to meet self-imposed deadlines.

Living a writer’s life is hard, especially with jobs and volunteer work on top of it. I think it’s easy for us to stop focusing on our bodies and put our full attention to our work. Yes, sometimes when the deadlines require it, it’s necessary, but at other times, we need to remember to breathe and take care of our bodies and minds. Depression and anxiety are both so common among writers because many of us tie our self-worth to our writing. So what can we do to break away from that?

I don’t have the answers, but I implore you to take some time and reflect on your own self care. Here are just a few ideas to try if you’re pushing yourself too hard.

  • Take a break. Your book will still be there when you come back to it.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, if not for your health, then to help your mind stay awake and creative.
  • Don’t create unnecessary deadlines for yourself. Focus on what projects are important, and go from there. You don’t have to participate in every writing contest.
  • Make meals for yourself. Living off of fast food sucks.
  • Give yourself a real vacation. Taking days off just to focus on writing isn’t a vacation, it’s work.
  • Find other hobbies outside of writing that make you happy (I play PokemonGo).
  • Snuggle with a pet. They need love too.
  • Remind yourself that your worth is not dependent on your book.
  • Stop and smell the flowers. Enjoy the little things in life that are so easy to neglect.
  • Meditate.

Have any other self-care tips? Feel free to post them below. And remember, you are not alone in this. We all struggle with self care and self love. I believe in you.

 

Depression and Writing: Don’t End Your Story

People often ask me why I write. I give them plenty of answers like, it’s what I was born to do (cheesy, I know), it’s as vital to me as the air I breathe (also cheesy), I love to create new worlds, I have stories to tell, etc. etc. Writing is also my outlet when I’m stressed or depressed. When I slip into the text and the world falls away, I feel a warmth in my chest that dissipates every awful thing I’m feeling. I’m lost in the story, and everything feels right with the world. In a way, my writing saves me from my negative emotions.

But what about those times when it can’t? What about the times when writer’s block is so strong is drives me into a downward spiral of depression?

I’ve written about anxiety, depression, and writing before, but what happened a week ago is very different.

On February 2nd, my depression almost won. I won’t go into great detail, but I checked myself into a psychiatric ward with the guidance and support of a friend so that I could take care of my mental health.

So I wouldn’t end my story.

You see, I love writing, but I do the same thing many writers do. I attach my self worth to my craft. If I can’t write, I feel like something’s wrong with me and I stress myself out more than necessary. It’s habit. It’s worse when I have a block on a big project I want to complete such as Purple Door District 2. For months I’ve struggled and felt disconnected with my craft. That’s bad enough, but when writing is supposed to be an emotional outlet, and I lose that, I sometimes feel like I lose my purpose too.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of things compounded over the months to make me so depressed, but not being able to write was a huge part of it. Writers tend to forget about their mental health when they’re so busy creating. We get swept up in what we should be getting done or how we’re not doing enough that we forget the warning signs our brain sends us when we’ve pushed ourselves too far.

-Lack of interest in the things we love

-Unable to deal with daily stresses

-Losing sleep over worry

-Beating ourselves down for not writing because we see ourselves as failures

Sound familiar? I was feeling all of this, and yet I didn’t realize just how depressed I was until it was almost too late. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m not shy when it comes to talking about my mental health. Several writers on twitter have been told that they shouldn’t discuss their emotions or mental health because it’s “unprofessional” or “no one wants to hear their drama.”

Bullshit.

Talking about how you feel makes you more real. It makes you more human and relatable. If Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blog posts are your outlets and the only places you feel safe talking about your emotions, then do it. The United States has such a stigma about mental health, like it’s a hush hush topic that no one should talk about.

Again, I call bullshit. If we talked about it, then maybe more people would know when to reach out for help. Maybe more creative minds would realize they’re not alone in their struggles and there are people who care what happens to them.

You are not your craft. Your worth is not measured by your word or page count, or your amazon reviews, or the number of books under your belt.

One of the things that struck me the hardest about going into the psychiatric ward was when the therapist said, “You’re a writer? Oh yeah, I’ve probably seen most of the writers in the city here.” What does that tell you about us creative folk? We push and push and beat ourselves down when we should be lifting ourselves and others up for our/their accomplishments.

So in case no one has said this to you today, you matter. You are amazing. You are loved. And you have a purpose. No matter how lonely you feel, there’s a community out there that understands what you’re going through. If you’re too nervous to call someone for help, then try #writingcommunity on Twitter, or any number of writing hashtags on instagram. Believe me, you’ll find that there are more people like you than you even realize.

And during those really bad moments, when you feel like the world is coming down and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, please consider calling the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

Your story isn’t over yet, and the world wants to hear it. You’re not alone.