Book birthday

birthday book

On Tuesday (Or Sunday, if you ask Amazon……..) my first book came out.

A year or so ago, I listened to an interview with Tom Lennon (from The Odd Couple). The interviewer asked how it felt to have “made it” in his career. Lennon said something about having worked so long and hard that he’d built up sort of an armor. Not that it’s No Big Deal to have finally achieved success, but that it had been so long in coming it’s just a bit anticlimactic.

I feel this way, too. Muddy Waters is my third completed novel. It took about 18 months between initally querying agents to getting published. Before that, I queried the first two books for three years or so with varying degrees of success but no contract.

Writing your first book isn’t like winning the lottery. You’re not poor at 8:00 p.m. and filthy rich at 8:01. You don’t go from not-published to published overnight.

Is it like a marathon? Maybe. If you have tiny victories at random intervals and then by the time you cross the finish line, you’ve been running so long it’s all you’ve ever known and it’s just another day in your life, and then there’s still a 10K to run when you’re done with the 26.2 miles.

There were so many little milestones I celebrated but at no point did it feel like NOW THIS PART IS DONE.  There was the email from the acquisitions editor asking for the whole manuscript. There was another email asking for revisions. There was a call extending a contract. There was the cover design, the Amazon listing, the news that Audible would offer it as an audio book. There were a couple of meh reviews.

So when the book was actually alive and in the wild, it didn’t FEEL different, except that I have been anxious to the nth degree for about a week.* I don’t know what I expected but I don’t think this is it.

I’ve just been stressing over whether I’m doing the right thing with promotion? Is there something else I should do? Did I invite enough people to the launch party? Did I invite TOO MANY people to the launch party?

This is not to say that I’m not thrilled this has finally happened. But I get something now that I didn’t get before. I get the pressure we feel after putting something out there. I get why some authors write a book or two in the promised trilogy and then vanish. I’ve made a promise to the readers, to the publisher, to myself. And what if I can’t fulfill those promises? What if I do The Wrong Thing and the book tanks and everything sucks and my grand plan for the series is sucked into the hole?

I wish I was happier about it. I wish I was more at ease. I wish I felt less stress that my book is finally a reality. I wish I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night wondering when I will sit down to finish the second book, or terrified that I’ve missed some awesome opportunity.

 

*It does not help that I also lost my job last month, and as I haven’t had a single interview, my shoulders creep ever-closer to my ears.

What it’s taken away from me

Anxiety_detail_2

More about my anxiety bullshit.

This is how it was before I understood that I have an anxiety disorder. Before I understood that my brain is very bad at producing chemicals that help me feel ok. That medication was really a key in feeling ok – better living through chemistry, indeed.

I can’t believe I felt this way for so long before I got help. And I sometimes mourn the person I could’ve been, the things I would’ve done if I’d gotten help sooner.

Because right now, I feel angry and sad that I can’t pursue the life I want because of this anxiety. I get it now, why people talk about what illnesses have “stolen” from them, because I feel that way about my anxiety disorder. I’ve lost all my confidence. I can’t see myself doing the things I want to do: Get a book published. Travel with my family. Just…feel okay. I can’t really think past the next ten minutes and how am I going to get through them?

I can’t enjoy my life right now. And that sucks.

I can’t enjoy my sons. I can take care of them, to be sure. But I cannot fully engage in enjoying watching them. I’m being eaten alive by worry for them, and for myself as a parent. Because my mind is saying, YOU’RE GOING TO FUCK THEM UP SO JUST FORGET ABOUT IT. THEY’RE GOING TO GROW UP AND HATE YOU.

I can’t enjoy my husband. He’s a full-fledged RN now, we have a nice house, we have a nice life. But my mind is saying, WHY WOULD ANYBODY WANT TO BE WITH YOU, YOU ARE A FAT, WEEPY, ANXIOUS MESS??

My creative work is suffering because I’m being eaten from the inside by doubt – Because my mind is saying, WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO WRITE A BOOK? NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR STUPID WORDS. Or, NOBODY EVEN CARES WHAT GRAPHIC RECORDING IS SO JUST PACK IT IN. Or, IMPROV COMEDY? MORE LIKE, IMPROV LAME. YOU’RE NOT FUNNY. SIT DOWN.

I can’t enjoy my friends, because my mind is saying, YOU TALK TOO MUCH ABOUT STUPID CRAP, YOU’RE NOT FUNNY OR CHARMING, AND YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE MONEY TO MAKE UP FOR THE NOT CHARMING PART. ALSO, SEE PREVIOUS NOTE ABOUT NOBODY WANTS TO BE AROUND A WEEPY, ANXIOUS MESS.

What might be the worst part is knowing that it’s not even real. It’s like a bunch of fun house mirrors, distorting reality so much that it seems impossibly true. I know it’s an illusion but that doesn’t make it one single bit better, except maybe helping fuel my patience. Because I also know that this won’t be forever. This is just a blip on the radar screen of my life, and when I”m through it, I’ll be back on the path to feeling better.

Pedi-anxiety

I love spa activities, and bath goos, and scrubs. I love doing my nails and getting facials and all that jazz. But I just realized this weekend that I have some weird anxiety about these processes. I get pedicures maybe twice a year, manicures even less. I used to go get massages pretty often, when the local massage school charged $30 for an hour. I’ve had a couple of facials which I love but just can’t afford on a regular basis. In terms of consistency, I get a regular professional hair cut maybe every other month, and a ladyparts wax maybe once a month.

I got a pedicure this weekend. I went to an inexpensive little nail place pretty close to my  house, a place recommended by my friend C who gets manis and pedis quite often. This place has the ridiculous huge massage chairs and the TV was tuned to the Food Network. The young lady gets to work on my hooves and I shyly tell her that the flowers on my big toenails are stickers. (Sidenote: I did my last pedicure and painted my nails patent leather black, with a top coat of purple sparkles, topped with a flower sticker with a purple rhinestone. Kuh-lassy. But it’s Halloweeny!) She laughs and begins to scrape off the sticker with a nail tool.

She asked me a few questions, I made a few comments. She liked my crazy beaded flip flops that look like something a Golden Girl would wear. I liked her ruffled sweater. But mostly I read about how Katie Holmes ended up with Tom Cruise, in between my pedicure stress.

Cue the anxiety. I got really uncomfortable! She was just doing her job and I was spazzing out. I don’t like to chat while I’m getting stuff like this done because I want to try to enjoy the experience. My old hairdresser, with whom I was close enough that she came to my wedding, used to give these awesome head massages when she washed my hair and I would always  ask her a really in-depth question just before she started so that I could just relax into that head massage. So there’s this pedicure gal and they do a whole slew of sloughing on your legs and feet – scrubs, pumice, the works. And the leg massage! It was really nice.

I’m sitting there with my Vanity Fair just staring at it and I’m totally ambivalent: one half of me is going, “Oh that feels really nice! I ran two miles and did 70 minutes of yoga this morning so that’s great!” and the other half of me is going, “Does she think I’m a snotty East End bitch who gets pedicures all the time and I’m looking down on her for doing this and maybe she wants to chat but I really just want to sit here and is it okay for me to totally bliss out while she’s rubbing my legs because I don’t want to be a pampered brat here…” etc ad naseum.

I felt the same way a few years ago when I went to this fast facial place. It was amazing – you sit in a zero-gravity chair, get a facial, and then she gave me hands down the best massage I’ve ever had on my arms, shoulders, and head. But the whole time I was afraid of how women like me are perceived – like if you get facials and pampering and stuff then you’re spoiled or something. Another time, I was writing a column about skincare and I asked the facialist a zillion questions because I felt like I was technically “working” so I shouldn’t enjoy it too much?

I’m having a hard time putting this into words. Put simply, I really enjoy those pampering treatments, emphasis on the ‘treat’ because I don’t do them often. I don’t feel this way with my current hairdresser – maybe because she doesn’t knead my head like a bowl of raw bread dough – and I certainly don’t feel this way with the girl I go to for waxing – maybe because it FUCKING HURTS? But at the same time that I enjoy them it’s like I don’t want to enjoy them too much because I don’t want the technician or whomever to see me as a spoiled fancy lady. Which I am not.

As I was waiting for my polish to dry, a woman came in with two youngish daughters. Mani-pedi for mom, and manis for both girls. When I was that age, my mom and I were painting each others nails. I don’t remember the first time I had a professional manicure. Probably in college? And suddenly my judgy pants were on and I’m judging this lady for bringing her two little girls in for manicures. And maybe that’s the problem – I am judging ladies who come into these places, by making assumptions on their income, parenting skills, and personalities and I don’t want to be tarred with the same brush.

To sum up: pampering activities make me anxious. I don’t know why. I wish it would stop. I feel judgy.

Is this just me?

100 Words: Travel and anxiety

In the seventh grade, I went to spend the night at my friend Robin’s house. I’d been to Robin’s lots of times. I liked her kooky down-to-earth family, her mom’s crazy red hair. It was the first house I was in that had that little embroidered adage on the wall “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without.”

Just before dinner we were in the family room and the feeling began to well up in me. I can only explain at the time there was something wrong with the light in the den. It made me uneasy. I have to go home. I have to go home right now. Now. NOW. I’d never been homesick before but it didn’t make sense – seventh grade, you’re kind of over that right? Or at least you’d know you’re the homesick type. I told Robin’s mom I felt sick and my dad came to pick me up. My parents chalked it up to homesickness but that just didn’t feel right.

I’ve always been an anxious person. A worrier. Intense. But wasn’t until years later that I figured it out after reading and putting the pieces together. Panic attacks. Anxiety. The completely illogical and overwhelming onslaught of fear with no discernable source. For me, panic attacks look like homesickness or even just whininess in the morning. I cry. I can’t tell you what’s wrong but something is defnitely WRONG. I can tell you all the times it’s happened. Junior year on vacation with my best friend’s family when I hid in the basement every morning and bawled. The first two weeks of college. The first week of my trip to England.

If you don’t have panic attacks you cannot possibly imagine what it’s like. It looks different for everyone. I know a guy who will plan trips, need to travel for work, get to the airport and turn around at the gate. I know a woman who says time speeds up for her during her anxiety. I can’t tell you why it happens to me, but I can tell you what helps me get through it.

It’s always connected to travel.  If you know me, you might be surprised because I travel like someone who doesn’t have this problem.  Or you might remember that time I was so upset and you thought I was homesick, or crazy, or tired. Or all three.

In grad school, I went to see a counselor about it. “I have panic attacks when I travel. I’m going to India in four months and I don’t want this to happen.”

“Well, there are some really good medications available right now, ” she said.

That was the last time I saw her. Don’t misunderstand – I believe in better living through chemicals. But I wanted to do this myself.

So I flew to the other side of the world by myself to my friend’s wedding.  

Nothing happened. Except that I got to go to India and see my friend get married.

I read up on it. Without getting too technicaly, you can actually short circuit your body’s panic response. I was on the plane on the way to Amsterdam, waiting for it. “Where is the panic? Where is the crying?” I thought. It never came. Zap. No panic.

I still get anxious. Husband understands when I say, “I feel out of sorts.” But I have not had one of the ferocious exhausting attacks like those first ones in a long while. During one of the worst panic attacks, I was in a hostel in Scotland. Unable to sleep, anxiety wrapped around me, I sat in the lobby and read the books other travelers had left behind. “Feel the fear and do it anyway,” one title said. That’s what I do. I know this happens. I know how to deal with it. And it’s not going to stop me from going to British Columbia next week, or to Italy some day when I can afford it.