As I mentioned earlier this week, I'm struggling with the anxiety beast again this week, and I think it's because of Big April and also the prospect of my first international con later in the year.
I've been doing all I can to just get through this latest bout, which is manifesting very strongly in terms of physical symptoms instead of just emotional and mental ones too. This evening it occurred to me that lots of people have told me privately that when I write about living with anxiety it helps them, so here I am. I also harbour a vain hope that if I sit down and write this out, I'll feel better too.
The trigger and symptoms
I went to a children's birthday party on Saturday and that kicked off this current bout. Sounds silly, but I booked the flights to Chicago last week and felt nothing but excitement and disbelief. Put me in a room with 30 screaming five year olds and I fall apart. Who'd have thought it?
But seriously, I think that stress tipped excitement over into anxiety (they are so close to each other anyway) and I haven't been able to shake it off since. My body is in a typical fight or flight response state, my concentration is impaired and I have to work doubly hard to get things done as a result. I get very tired by the end of the day, and I don't sleep so well – neither does my poor husband who had to wake me last night as I was grinding my teeth so badly! So, that's how it's manifesting.
The underlying causes
The prospect of being on panels and reading in front of people I think are very cool / complete strangers kicks up a lot of insecurities. Over the past few days I've been trying to unpick this a bit, and I've realised that all of the geeky stuff I love, be it RPG, sci-fi, steampunk or the latest silly meme flying around online is mostly enjoyed in private or with close friends, usually in small groups. Con appearances are a new environment for me, in that I participate in my favourite stuff not only in public but with an audience.
Why does that fill me with such terror, seeing as we'll all be geeks together? Well, I think a part of it is a learned response to being in public acquired during a period of my school life in which I was bullied. I withdrew. Totally. I made myself as invisible as I could and to cope with it all I disappeared into fantasy worlds, sometimes of my own making, sometimes made by others. It's an old story.
Now I'm stepping out and being seen. By other people. Real people.
The whole being terrified of being seen thing is huge for me right now. Of course it is; I have a debut novel out, I have to do all I can to get it noticed if I want to have a hope of the sequel being published. Being a full-time author is not only what I feel driven to do, not only the thing that fulfils me, but is my career, my income and what keeps the roof above our heads. So I really can't afford to stay at home and not be present. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's the way it seems to me.
Quite aside from that fact, I have really, really enjoyed the last two events I went to (SFX Weekender and Bristolcon). I met wonderful people, some of whom have already become good friends. I'm really looking forward to seeing them again and meeting new people who have the same interests as me. I love watching panel discussions and the total immersion in geekery. That's all great. It's the being up on the stage thing that's freaking me out.
At Eastercon I will be on a panel about alternative funding models for publishing and dystopian YA. For the former I can bring my experience of getting funding for the Split Worlds project to the table. I can share what I've observed about alternative funding models in my own research. For the latter I've written a dystopian YA trilogy, got the first book of it published and I've read quite a lot of both YA and adult dystopian literature.
In short, I feel I will have something to say.
But then the old demon resurfaces, built many years ago by a thousand awful experiences, shaped into something grotesque by thoughtless kids and left to take root as unfortunate circumstances removed my support network time and time again. It whispers that I'm not good enough to be up there in front of other people, it reminds me of all the times I've been bowled over by how confident, how clever, how cool the other people are and points out all the ways I can never be the same. It's very persuasive and it keeps me small and scared and if I didn't fight it, it would keep me from doing what I love.
The fangirl factor
Let's not forget that there will be people there who I admire, who I respect and some who I want to be when I grow up – namely Gail Carriger. Gail Carriger! Oh be still my fangirlish heart!
That's exciting, but in my current state my body simply cannot tell the difference, so it just makes me feel jittery and breathless. Hey ho.
Here comes the paradox
When I actually step up, when I make myself go and join in, I have a fantastic time. A good example is a workshop I did in Bath a while ago about social media for authors. I was an absolute wreck for about a week before it. Ten minutes before it I thought I was going to throw up with nerves. One minute before it I wanted to run out of the room, sobbing. But once I started, it was fine. Yes, I was still nervous, but as time went on I actually started to enjoy it. So much so, I wonder if that is what I'm really like. I wonder if the me I am now isn't actually me at all, and really I'm sociable and outgoing and confident. It's just buried under a lot of other rubbish.
Back to the anxiety and getting through it
I'm old enough and ugly enough to know that when the anxiety is this bad, the only thing I can really do is wait it out. I try to care for myself, and I'm a lot more gentle with myself than I used to be, but I haven't found a magic wand that can clear it up in a jiffy. Sometimes all I can do is take a deep breath and remind myself that it will pass.
That's the best thing I've learnt over the years in fact. When I first suffered badly with this, no, let me be truthful: when I had a nervous breakdown at university, it was new and raw and utterly terrifying because it felt like it would never end. It was hard to imagine a time before the anxiety, and hard to imagine life free of it. Then it passed. Every time anxiety has been awful, it has passed. It is not a permanent state, and just hanging onto that fact – even if I can't remember how it feels to be without it – can make it less scary and easier to endure.
A friend asked me if I regretted booking the flights to Chicago. I told him no, I don't, and it's true. As I explained to him, I made a conscious decision some time ago to not let this fear – or should that be FEAR? – get in the way of doing things I should do. I need and want to participate in these events. It will be fun too, once I'm there (apart from the scary bits) and if I stopped whenever I felt this scared I'd never leave the house. In fact, I wouldn't have written six books and a collection of short stories and gone out and found the way to lead this life in the first place.
I'll just have to accept that I'll be scared as I am doing it. And, all together now please, it will pass.
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