Panic Attacks

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Now that I’ve sent my manuscript to my lovely editor, I’ve had more time to myself. While I originally thought I’d spend that extra time working on my new memoir, getting ahead with grading, and getting some much needed rest, I’m sad to say most of the first month was spent agonizing over what happens next. What it my editor hates all my changes and realizes the press made a mistake in offering me a contract? What if the book comes out and people hate it? What if it comes out and I hate it? Worst, what if it does well and gifts I imagined would come with publishing a good book reveal themselves to be childish, unrealistic fantasies? What then?

I spent a good part of the last month, beating myself mercilessly, bashing myself for things I didn’t do. Why hadn’t I finished this book earlier? Why hadn’t I quit my job years ago, secluded myself in a writing room, and dealt with this writing thing as a serious writer, dedicating every waking moment to my craft, so I could already be past this point? Even worse, why wasn’t I as brilliant, as talented, as skillful and as fast as writers like Jesmyn Ward, James McBride, Diane Lefer, Remica Bingham, Cheryl Strayed, Sue William Silverman, Tim Seibles, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Laurie Albert, Elizabeth Gilbert, and the list goes on. By the time I was done beating myself, I was pissed, ready to beat all those amazing writers who’d come before me, those who’d done it right, quickly (in my mind), and who were already past the point of anxiety I was experiencing.

The other night, I woke at three o’clock in the morning. That is  the hour I’m quiet enough to hear the Lord’s voice. Seems He’d seen some thoughts manifest in me and I was in serious need of a talking to, one that couldn’t wait until the morning. I stared through the darkest part of night, nestled under my husband’s warmth, and listened.

I’d grown too big for my britches, He said. I’d lost sight of what was most important. I’d allowed competition, envy, and fear to sully an experience that should have been one of excitement, humility, joy, and love. I had coveted my neighbors’ writings, and assumed what they’d written, in the way they’d written was something I should have been able to do when they did it, even though I knew not from where their writing bloomed. Those wonderful writers I coveted had done me a favor, they had worn the path that I would soon walk and I was not grateful. I wanted to own their journeys, so  I could bypass my own. I was reminded this writing thing is not a competition, no race I could win or lose, just the showing up, everyday, either on the page or in my mind, reliving and releasing the story within. When my time comes, I will be ready, not because the writing work was done, but because the spiritual work will be done.

The next morning I rose with a renewed spirit, thankful for all those amazing writers who wrote and walked before me. From Chaucer (one of my favorites) to Karen Lynch, who just published her first book, I was grateful to know those writers had trudged through the first book anxiety and lived through the fear.

So often, I’ve worked my arse off for a goal, putting everything into realizing a dream, only to sabotage myself, stealing my own joy by letting the fears of the after drown the thrill of the now. I did this during my academic career. From B.A to Ph.D., the process was something to get through, not something to savor. I did it during my MFA at Vermont College as well.  I did this during my pregnancies. (That I don’t apologize for because those things were painful.) I did this in my marriage, trying to race to perfection, rather than tasting the sweet only a first, second, third all the way to the sixteenth year of marriage brings.

I’ve been rushing, to where I do not know, but I’ve been getting there so fast I have continued rushing. That night, I got permission to rest, to be satisfied in the not knowing, to be thrilled by the anxiety, the fear, the “what-might-be.” I will not let this “in-between-time” be a blemish as I have in the past. It is a necessary part of the process. There are things I need to work on before the world meets my baby and I am going to enjoy doing it.

Above is a picture I was pitching as the cover of my book. For many reasons, it probably won’t be, but it was fun playing around with the format, getting an acceptable (for me) font, remembering I will one day have a cover for my first book. I see my beige face in the middle, in tears, looking off to the side as everyone else looks at the camera and I wonder what I see, I wonder why I am crying, I wonder if that little girl had already started the race I have been running against myself. I don’t want to run anymore. My knees hurt and all of the beauty along the way has become a blur. I choose to be like this picture, frozen in this beautiful moment, with the five people I loved first and hardest. There are tears there, but I am certain that little girl knew how she was feeling, and she stood there, surrounded by love, feeling it despite the tears.  I am learning peace feels more like peace after having trugded through a bit of pain and I will slow down long enough to feel every bit of it.

Anybody else experience this joy drowning  anxiety? Would love to hear how you made it through!

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