People ask me this all the time: What do you want from your writing? I always get the feeling that they want me to write them a story on the spot. “I want to be a NY Times bestseller with a nice car and be everybody’s buddy.”
They want me to stay something stupid. They want to roll their eyes and click their tongue at my rockstar delusion. “Now you know…”
It’s easy to do that, isn’t it? It’s easy to assume that people have wild dreams. And I should have wild dreams because I’m supposedly wired to have them.
I know these are things writers should — no, must — do: write every day, read more, edit meticulously, read more, eat rejection and shit out art, read more, attend conferences. Keep your anxiety tucked in. People may notice you’re weird and lumpy but you’re an artist. Eccentricity may be acceptable.
Our local writing conference is two days of workshops and networking. I tend to opt out on the networking part, but I have friends among the crowd. This year I focused mostly on craft workshops dealing with subjects like voice, short nonfiction, dialogue, dystopian sci-fi and grotesque poetry. I also took the Sunday “master class” program with writer Steven Barnes.
I feel as if I’ve tried to write this a thousand times but never had the right framing for it. I keep tripping over it. It’s the roadmap of scars under my clothes that I take care to hide. I keep opting for the literary and artistic equivalent of turtlenecks and strangling quietly instead of admitting that it’s there. It’s toxic behavior. It’s bad for me. It’s bad for anyone who reads my work and thinks they have an idea of who I might be or where I’m writing from.
I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and general anxiety disorder when I was 18 and deal with cyclical periods of very profound depression and high-anxiety high-production hypomania. This is why sometimes I will go through months where I am very responsive to people, where I crank out massive amounts of artistic work and do alright with no sleep. Then I will sink into periods of self-deprecating, defeatist bullshit deepened by a complete loss of drive, the urge to sleep all the time and a tendency to cry over literally anything (or nothing). I detach from people and my work because I hate myself when I’m depressed and I don’t want other people to feel burdened by me or have their mood brought down by something I did.
I cover this up in my professional and social life by coping to anxiety and introversion. It’s feels like a relatively common neurosis and generally unfavorable personality traits are more socially acceptable than a mood disorder.
I also use my quiet, detached behavior to cover up when I’m having problems with my physical disorders which I also don’t talk about because I’m afraid it will be embarrassing or cost me opportunities at work or in my artistic pursuits. I have three invisible medical conditions commonly referred to in acronym, I assume because nobody wants to talk about poop (IBS-C); woman beards, cysts and awful periods (PCOS); or water-triggered acid barfing (GERD). I do admit that sometimes my heartburn keeps me up, but I downplay it. I say have a sore throat or didn’t sleep much. When the reality of it is usually: I was up all night worried I was going to choke on my own stomach acid and die. Today, it feels as if I couldn’t swallow applesauce if I wanted to. I would so much rather be with my kids because I still feel the cold hand of death on my shoulder and they’re all I can be bothered to give a fuck about right now. But I usually just talk softly and go on with my day. I don’t want anyone to think I can’t handle my workload because I don’t know if I can afford to be unemployed right now.
There are so many ways that I’m cutting my own throat in the name of protecting my ability to be employed and, in some respects, my ability to hold my head up in public. Yet keeping huge parts of myself hidden can be a huge burden, sometimes it just feels like lying.
Most of my art is very emotionally focused. I’ve always loved writing horror and dark-tinted speculative fiction because even the settings seem to seethe vivid emotion, which has always been the true language of my experience as a human being. I feel emotion profoundly, I don’t know if this is because of or despite my psychological and physical disorders — but it’s very obviously affected by it.
Art is about offering unique takes on the human experience, but also about the commonalities of our experiences. I’ve been hiding huge pieces of myself for the wrong reasons. Not anymore.