Facing my writing anxiety

I'm doing my anxiety homework this morning.

If my breakdown last fall and the mid-life crisis that followed it were a comet, anxiety is the dust tail or maybe the gas tail of that whole experience.

I don't know if this metaphor is most accurate but you'll see soon that's not so much the point.

The breaking, the un-doing, the falling apart has already happened, that's the head of the comet. When that burst into the atmosphere of my life it was obvious to me I needed to chart a course for myself for healing. That's been my personal focus for this year. But anxiety lingers like the comet's tail, following that fiery explosion, but just as significant in terms of "things I must address". Which is how I've come to the point of doing anxiety homework.

I can't tell that whole story here. Oh, I am tempted to talk about how anxiety has been bubbling below the surface for a few years but I haven't really identified it as such. And even if I had, I don't know that I would have known what to do with that knowledge. But with the breakdown, re-build and mid-life crisis, everything has been laid on the table and I've been able to get real honest with myself about all the pieces that are at play here. And anxiety is definitely at play.

The point of this post is to not tell about that discovery, nor even to talk about everything I'm doing (which is quite a bit) now that I've come to this realization. Here's where I'd like to list all the spiritual, cognitive, creative strategies I'm using to deal with my anxiety, to prove to everyone reading my "good-girl ness", how I'm fulfilling my responsibility to myself, my family, the whole fricken' world. It could be a list of five, or seven, or another odd-number of strategies that are "working for me these days."

I set a thirty minute timer this morning for my writing.

For the last few months writing has made my anxious. The belly roil, I thought it was because I was digging deep, and I have been, to figure out what went wrong and how I can fix this. Most of my energies lately have been on the fixing part.

So I've been thinking that my anxiety about writing has been because it's hard to face these truths about myself. Yes, that's part of it.

But the bigger part of it is that my anxiety has skewed a few of my innate tendencies (my drives, motivations, the way I look at the world) and it is that skewing of those tendencies that has actually been causing a lot of my writing anxiety.

Two of those tendencies of mine, those core drives and values, are for "rightness" and "expression". Of course, closely aligned with my "rightness" value, just on the other side of healthy, is perfectionism.

I don't see the pursuit of rightness as a bad thing but its sinister side, perfectionism, is a beast. I would like here to delve into what "rightness" means to me. If you're an ESTJ you might understand that drive to "do the right thing", the joy/burden of loyalty and responsibility. I'm not going there. Again, this is actually part of my homework, to not go there right now.

I can't go there right now, not in the thirty (plus a few more) minutes because my tendency in my writing, for oh, the last year? longer? is to "get it right" on all levels. Honesty is so important to me and so is self-expression and communication. And there is so much going on inside me these days and trying to find the words to express that all is killer. And then I want my grammar to be right. And the photos and the everything. I want it right.

Few things in my life are under my control and what I can control, what publishes here, has had the life-joy squeezed out of it by that same desire to control the outcome.

My anxiety homework is to engage one of my anxieties. Yuck.

I have a couple key anxieties. My biggies. I'm not talking about those here and now and I really don't know how to engage them. They're not fears of snacks or phobias of public speaking or elevators.

But writing and publishing to the blog is an anxiety-causing thing I can face. (Can you even believe it, I'm anxious about blogging?!) I can set a timer and write a post and hit publish. Even though it pains me to do so.

I know that it won't have expressed all I wanted to express. The grammar will have errors. It won't be completely right. It won't be perfect.

It's not that I need to be right in constrast to other people. I used to thrive on that kind of competition in my younger years, and carried a ton of pride in my heart. But I have been humbled so many times on the road to mid-life, the deepest of that happening in the last few years, that most of that "look at how I'm right" has been broken in me. Lest you think I'm a saint (ha!), I still love to be right about silly things like navigation (and a bunch of other things, because, well, I can't help it. I just like to be right.)

So this particular anxiety is not about me in comparison to other people, though I do have that anxiety also, but that's not the one I'm dealing with here. This writing anxiety is that I want to express myself as pure and as close to the truth as I can. I want to be "in the right" about understanding myself and then expressing that here. In the right about understanding my mid-life crisis.

Readers might make all manner of erroneous assumptions when reading this and I hate that I can't thoroughly explain myself to basically make myself look better. Thoroughly explaining myself would take many writing hours, writing hours of anxiety and "did I say this right", and "is this the best expression of what I'm going through and trying to communicate" angst.

So this post is my self-assigned homework: face an anxiety, the fear of not expressing myself fully and being misunderstood and therefore judged and found wanting and let go of the perfectionism of endless editing to produce that perfect or as close to it as possible expression.

Even that last sentence, I had to stop myself from falling down the editing rabbit hole. Yeesh.

Write, in thirty-ish minutes (my timer just went) publish and let go.

(Disclaimer: The post took me longer than 30 minutes. I wrote the first draft in 30(ish), than I did some non-bellying roiling edits two days later. Plus, moving photos from the camera, to my editing software, editing and uploading them here, well, all that takes time too.)

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  • Kathleen

    Kathleen on July 17, 2015, 4:35 p.m.

    I have so much respect for your willingness to put yourself out there and share your vulnerability and struggles. That is a really hard thing to do. I'm always excited to see a post from you even if you're not writing as much these days. I also hope you are settling into your new city and apartment and enjoying the summertime.


  • Nancy

    Nancy on July 17, 2015, 6:13 p.m.

    I understand your writing anxiety. A lot of times, for me, writing is like trying to draw an image in your head and not being able to represent it as visualized. Fortunately, I am better at writing than I am at drawing, though it's still work for me. Of course, after I hit publish, I always see a way I could've written it better! I always enjoy your writing. 


  • Amy

    Amy on July 17, 2015, 6:34 p.m.

    I applaud your openness about anxiety.  I have suffered from anxiety since I was a child, although it was made very apparent the level of issue I had with anxiety when I was 14 years old.  I am now 41 and have had a number of episodes of moderate to severe anxiety, always following a very stressful event or time period in my life.  I can handle my mild anxiety with spiritual and cognitive techniques but when I hit a rough patch, I need medication to get my chemical equilibrium back.  You had a huge stressful time period/event with your hike which was the icing on the stress of an adventurous number of years.  I know I would love the adventure aspect of the types of moves you have done along with the hike but my emotions and body would not be happy with that kind of lifestyle for very long.  I can handle adventure for a while and then my body tells me I better slow down before I mentally and physically derail which has happened since I don't always want to pay attention to the warning signs.  I have been blessed to be able to travel to China twice for three adoptions.  The stress of the first adoption sent my anxiety sky rocketing because I got food poisoning on the trip home.  Fortunately I was on the way home when that happened and was not in China.  I prepared more carefully for the second trip and avoided food poisoning.  Part of that preparation was also having a fast acting anxiety medication on hand that I could take sublingually in case I couldn't keep my regular medication down.  Anyway, I know you like to live as naturally as possible, as I do, so medication may not be something you are open to but I wanted to offer my experience and email if that is something you ever wanted to know more about from someone first hand.  Before I found medication that helped me, recovery from a highly stressful event that trigured moderate to severe anxiety would take months and now it usually only takes a few weeks.  I totally get wanting your blog to be perfect.  I am a perfectionist too and it seems a common trait in people who deal with anxiety. 


  • Pam

    Pam on July 17, 2015, 9:06 p.m.

    I have been reading your blog for years and years and I do not believe I have ever posted a comment.  The reason -- because what I write won't be worthy of reading.  I read through the comments and everyone is so articulate, so thoughtful, so profound.  How can my words measure up.  Historically, I would silently respond to your words that you so bravely shared. But this afternoon I took a deep breath and nervously let my fingers stumble across the keyboard.  Perhaps someday they will dance. Today they took their first steps.  Thank you.


  • Nikki T

    Nikki T on July 18, 2015, 12:30 a.m.

    Hello from an INFJ. Yep, a big ol' fat J for judging. But, I can set that J aside and see how your words are both raw and pure. I thank you for taking away the mask of perfection and allowing us to to see you. It allows us to give you grace and reminds us to be gentle to ourselves. I see so much of myself in your struggles that my head gets tired of nodding. Congrats on facing that anxiety and kicking it's butt!


  • Marianna

    Marianna on July 18, 2015, 4:03 a.m.

    I'm wondering if you have read any Parker Palmer. I think he would be balm for your soul. He writes regularly at On Being. I'm thinking about you and praying for you. 


  • Anna

    Anna on July 18, 2015, 5:26 a.m.

    Just wanted to say, I love your writing, regardless of how well polished or expressed it is!  And I have both a child and a spouse with "worry brain," as we call it, so I am really appreciating hearing about it from you.


  • Shari

    Shari on July 19, 2015, 12:20 a.m.

    Really needed to read this today, at this moment, thank you for facing your fears and hitting the publish button.  


  • Naomi

    Naomi on July 19, 2015, 3:07 a.m.

    Hello Love. I'm so sorry to have not written sooner or more regularly. I really wish we could sit down over tea, share a box of tissues and a hug! This past year has left me feeling lost myself, unsure (as silly as it may sound) where I belong and what my purpose is... Too much to cover in this comment, but what I can say is that My heart aches for you in your sadness and rejoices for you in your personal triumphs. There are no easy answers to life's greatest questions or puzzles, but we have our Father and we have each other. Thank you for your honesty! It is encouraging to me, and I hope it strengthens you as well.


  • Maria Cordner

    Maria Cordner on July 19, 2015, 12:06 p.m.

    You express yourself beautifully! It seems like you are prevailing and I find such honesty so precious! Thanks!


  • Constance

    Constance on July 20, 2015, 1:42 p.m.

    Thank you for sharing your journey! You are inspiring to a lot of people! Although I have a lot of people in my family who are dealing with anxiety issues, I'm afraid that I can't offer much advice except try 4-7-8 breathing (in for 4, hold for 7, out for 8) which helps me pretty much immediately when I'm feeling panicked in a stressful situation. Also, I've been recommended the book "Living Well With Anxiety."

    I am an editor and when a blog (or anything else) is badly written or the grammar is bad I usually can't stand to read it anymore. I have been reading your blog for years and I have never had a moment where your writing bothered me! I always look forward to your blog posts! Your blog is one of my favorites. I notice that you and some of the other commenters talk about writing as if it is in all capital letters - WRITING. No wonder you're so anxious about it! Can I make a suggestion that you think of it as having a conversation with your readers? When you're talking to people you don't worry about their grammar or yours, you just speak! In the same way, your readers are not worrying about whether you've followed the "rules," many of which change with the times anyway. You are a talented writer and that will come through. Maybe try reading your posts out loud after you write them, any obvious problems will jump out at you. If they don't, well don't worry about them! I know, it's probably not that easy but I just wanted to make a suggestion. Good luck!



  • Marianne

    Marianne on July 20, 2015, 3:05 p.m.

    I rarely write to you but always read your posts.   Last summer I suffered extreme anxiety.  To such an extreme that I could barely do anything or think straight.   How far I have come and so will you.   I can say that because you are addressing your anxiety and gently working through it.   Although it may not feel gentle to you right now.   I have no real advice for you except to take your comfort and support from your family, God and friends.  You will heal.


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