It occurs to me that's glaringly obvious to you all that I write my books anonymously. That has its advantages, and some major disadvantages.
One of those disadvantages is that you all don't know anything about me, and I know very little about all of you.
So today, I'm going to change that. I'd like to start writing on the regular about my life on this here blog and see what bounces back. I could say that I'm going to do this every Sunday, but I have learned my lesson when it comes to painting myself into a corner. Just know that I would love to communicate more with you, my wonderful, amazing readers!
Now that that's out of the way, I’m going to get a little real right now and tell you about something a little uncomfortable that happened to me today. Warning, this might make some of you cringe, especially if you have fears of what the village thinks of you.
So ... Sunday is supposed to be the day of rest and being close to family. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like that for me because of two words: anxiety and depression. See, I had a little bit of a panic episode in church this morning.
I play the high G and the A in handbells. This morning, we were scheduled to play two songs. Between the two songs, I have to switch from the A natural bell to the A flat bell. Well, I did that, right on cue. Or so I thought.
But then, right before we started the second song, I second-guessed myself. Had I switched to the right bell? I looked at the bells and I saw the G and the G shar, which is the same as the A flat bell. But for some reason, my brain went, "But IS the G sharp actually the same as A flat? Are you sure you weren’t supposed to switch out the G natural for the G sharp?" Mind you, this is all CLEARLY marked on my sheet music.
Do you ever have that experience where your brain starts arguing with itself? Even though you know the truth? The truth is literally spelled out in front of you but the feeling of doom and panic is SO REAL you know what is in front of you is a lie and you are about to fuck it all up beyond any fuck-uppery in the world?
That’s what it felt like this morning. My brain knows this song. I had rehearsed it dozens of times. I know which bell I’m supposed to switch to. I know the notes. I got this. BUT SOMEHOW I ALSO KNOW I AM ABOUT TO RING THE WRONG NOTES!!!
The deer-in-headlights moment got the better of me. The oxygen just would not travel to my brain and I thought I was going to faint. I pulled myself together just at as our handbell director was about to count us in. I flagged her down and she looked at me with what I interpreted as murder in her eyes. I whispered, “is this right? G and G sharp/A flat?” She assures me it was.
We went on to play the song just fine. On the outside, I was fine. Inside, I was embarrassed, ashamed, deeply troubled that I had questioned myself and caused a delay in church. We simply do not cause delays. It's not in my nature to cause delays. I hate delays.
After we finished ringing our little hearts out, instead of going to sit with my family? I had to go into the hallway to walk it off. The adrenaline was flooding my brain and I had to breathe. Why did I ever agree to join handbells? Why would a 45 year old woman decide to learn a new skill? I am bringing the entire operation down. I am the weak link, with my tinkly, insecure little high-note bells. Knowing I have major anxiety standing in front of people, I had to know this would happen sooner or later. I had no business joining this group.
I drank some water and walked up and down the silent, familiar hallway with its scent of coffee, deodorized carpet and what can only be described as "really old church" smell.
Folks, I maybe got too much religion growing up. When a sweet old white-haired lady asks you to make two pans of baked beans and some brownies for the homeless lunch, you friggin' do it. When someone needs you to help organize a fundraiser for mosquito nets to be sent to a faraway land where they have actual problems, you say yes. But I say yes too much. I have too much responsibilities that don’t directly benefit my family, my home or my work. And that's a problem.
Do I need to quit handbells? Maybe; maybe not. Do I need to start saying “no” and give up some responsibilities that are taking up far too much real estate in my brain? Absolutely.
What I wanted to do in that moment was bolt out to to my car and sit alone and cry. But I also didn’t want to leave my fella alone in church with two wiggly small people. So I ducked back in to church and carried on.
And then, I looked up a the bells table, and saw that my station was a hot mess. Everyone else had placed their gloves into the little pouches and closed their folders. I don't know what was going on with me, but I could see that my folder stand was not where it was supposed to be, the music folder was open and my gloves where just laying there in a messy pile. How many ways could I possibly point out what a mess I am to my entire world.
Well, I told myself, at least that was the last handbell ringing for the summer. I’m done for at least the next three months.
Except I wasn’t. I realized that we had to ring again at the 11 am service.
After the final “amen” I tackled all my fellow ringers and apologizes profusely. And then something amazing happened. They all said they either had not even noticed me causing a scene or it barely registered. They were all caught up in the mistakes of their own mind, mistakes that I hadn’t even noticed.
I mentioned my panic episode to a couple of friends, who had been watching, and they had not noticed any delay. What?? How could this be? I had been flailing my arms like a drowning soul and brought the entire service to a screeching halt! How could these people not notice?
Finally, I approached my director. I almost cried as I apologized. She barely even let me finish. When I said earlier that it looked like she had murder in here eyes? That was wrong. She said, “I looked at you and I saw myself! I know that look! I’ve done it a million times. You think you know but you suddenly don’t know!”
I was so relieved I wanted to hug her. I didn’t, because I’m not a big hugger (is it weird for a romance writer to not be super into hugs? I mean, I’ll hug ya if you need one. But most of the time I’m not going to be the initiator of spontaneous embraces.)
The next service, we played both songs without delay or incident. I was deliberate and clear-headed and hydrated and most importantly, breathing.
Oxygen helps. Good friends also help. Knowing that your not being judged by a village of angry pitchfork carriers also helps.
Folks, the judgmental audience is not real. If you do have an audience, they are most likely cheering for you, wiling to overlook whatever massive flop you think you just performed. They have enough going on in their lives, and enough stressors taking up real estate in their minds, that they can’t be bothered to notice your existential panic and dread.
I know all of this in my head. I have tools to use. It’s just … getting it through to the quivering, Nervous Nelly that is always alert, always scanning the horizon for predators? That’s another thing.
It helps to name it. Speak it out loud and name what is happening. Anxiety. Panic episode. The super annoying committee in my head.
And so it is with writing.
I love to write. And write. And write. I don’t like to market myself. It’s against my upbringing to toot my own horn. Or, ring my own bell, as it were. The committee of church ladies in my head like to tell me not to be such a braggart.
Do you have this kind of committee in your head too? I’d love to chat with you about it.
One piece of armor I choose to combat the committee is this: I don’t read the bad reviews. As a wise fellow author said, it doesn’t serve the mission. Technically, reading the good reviews doesn’t service the mission either. If a negative review can send me into a cloud of depression and self pity and low self image, causing me to lose a whole day in ice cream, a good or great review can make me too high and want to celebrate a bit too much. I’m ever so grateful for good reviews, BELIEVE ME. But what my brain does with them is not always the best.
You know what is the best? You all.
For the first time since I can remember, I don’t feel dread or an overwhelming sense of doom before facing the day. I can handle it because this is not a normal workplace. This is a community.
Thank you for reading and supporting my work. Thank you for the reviews, good or bad! Thanks for all the retweets and re-grams. It means the world to me to know I’m in the right place doing something that I love. Life is hard and this is writing thing can be challenging but it’s still an endlessly rewarding place to be.
Outside of medication, the anxiety will always be rearing it’s ugly head. But at least I know I can share it with all of you and not be worried about your reaction.
You’re not going to come after me with torches and pitckforks anytime soon, as far as I can tell.
Unless that's your thing. We can talk about that, too.