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Crippled by Doubt and Paralyzed by Fear: How to Overcome Writing Anxiety

Posted in anxiety, creativity, discipline, fear, finding time to write, finishing your novel, Freelance writing, living the dream, making a living as a writer, mindfulness, motivation for writers, overcoming fear, self publishing, self-doubt, transcendence, Truth, writing books, and writing life

'The Desperate Man,' by Gustave Courbet

 

Doubt and Fear Are Not Only for Novice Writers

Right now I’m scared. I’m finding it hard to sleep at night and there’s a background of anxiety against which I play out every day. I’ll tell you why. But first things first as they say.

I’ve written thousands of words on this blog recommending a disciplined, persistent and productivity-centered approach to the writing life. But I’ve never written about writing anxiety. And that’s pretty much what this is about.

The blog is just over a year old – I started it when I first ventured into independent fiction publishing – and in that time I’ve written and published four books. There’s another one coming out soon. I continued with my other work as a copywriter while pushing on to realize the dream of making a living from, as Neil Gaiman rather flippantly puts it, “making things up and writing them down.”

A year in and I am nowhere near achieving that ambition.

But I didn’t expect to be. I had a five-year plan, and I’m at the end of year one. While I haven’t hit all the targets I’d aimed at – I should have completed the Dark Sea Trilogy by now, published six episodes of the Dragon-born Guardians Series, and put together an anthology of ghost stories – I’m still pleased with my progress. The first two books in The Dark Sea Trilogy are out and there’ll be three books in the Dragon-born Guardians Series by the end of this month. I also published two short stories in the ‘zines.

I always intended the first year to be experimental. So I’ve experimented and from my experiments I’ve learned a great deal, both positive and negative…

This is what writing anxiety feels like

On the negative side, (just to get these out the way first) I now understand:

  • writing and publishing books takes longer in practice than calculated theory suggests.
  • other people involved can be unreliable, so you need a backup plan.
  • gaining traction and visibility in the marketplace will take a lot longer than I’d thought.
  • getting reviews and making consistent sales without spending so much time marketing and promoting you haven’t any time left to write, is tough as old boot leather.
  • your projected budget at start-up can dry up before you’ve received enough returns on your efforts to reinvest.
  • writing anxiety can be an obstacle even to an experienced writer with a well-developed process

On the positive side:

  • I have more realistic expectations now in the light of the above.
  • before I started this, publishing a novel was a pipe-dream, but by the end of this month I’ll have published two novels and three novellas. They may not be perfect, but I’m proud of them.
  • my second year will be much more successful as I develop better informed, more focused and effective strategies for overcoming the problems I’ve encountered this year, and pushing on to achieve my aims.
  • I’ve developed complete self-belief in my ability to conceive, write, and complete novel length fiction.
  • I have a much better idea of what might and might not work and how to go about optimizing my process for success.
  • I’m learning how to overcome writing anxiety and crack on regardless

It doesn’t sound too bad, does it? So why am I talking about being crippled by doubt and paralyzed by fear? And how am I going to overcome those things and continue to write?

Sitting up all night worrying won't help

 

What Causes Writing Anxiety?

The one thing I couldn’t have a contingency for in my original plan was the dramatic and unnerving change that would take place in my personal life during last year.

While I want to be honest in this blog, it’s a public forum, and so I don’t wish to share all the gruesome details of what’s been going on behind the scenes. It’s complicated. All kinds of factors from the sometimes painful realities of human relationships to the impact of political events play their part. In broad summary the results are these:

  • unanticipated changes in the structure of my already complicated and unconventional family have demanded time, emotional energy, and financial resources which I might otherwise have channeled into my writing business.
  • the bottom has fallen out of several freelance markets which were the pillars of my livelihood and I’ve been struggling (failing!) to make up the losses. If I can’t make improvements soon, I may have to look for alternative employment. But at my age, and with my eccentric CV, my prospects are far from certain.
  • the political uncertainties and knock-on effects of the Brexit process continue to jeopardize my long-time established life and home in Italy. The sword of Damocles hangs above me by a frayed and slender thread.

These are three continuing and unresolved influences which impact on me physically, emotionally, and financially. They result in a mesh of interrelated problems over which I cannot exercise very much control. The best I can do is mitigating the worst of what may come. Having my security threatened and undermined on multiple levels, combined with feeling it’s beyond my control, is a certain recipe for heightened anxiety.

Self-doubt and fear are the twin demons which haunt almost every writer’s life. It’s frightening when they manifest with such power and in such solid form…

Self-doubt and fear are the twin demons which haunt almost every writer's life

 

Keep Calm and Reason Things Through

On the whole, I keep a calm, problem-solving, and rational approach to everything. I’m aware of my strengths, weaknesses, psychological foibles, and the limits of my emotional resilience. I eat well, spend time in nature, live an active life, and practice mindfulness.

But despite all that, I’m experiencing a mounting sense of dread. My focus and concentration are suffering. I’m sticking to my routine fairly well, but I’m producing a lot less. I have to overcome anxiety just to move forward with the simplest things and to believe they’re still worth doing.

So being me trying to do what I’m trying to do is difficult.

I’m almost 50 years old and it looks as if everything is slipping away beneath my feet: my family, my work, my home. It’s scary.

I’ve figured out many possibilities, contingencies, potential ways forward, damage limitation strategies, and so on. But I have little idea to what extent any of them are actionable or realistic. I face the real possibility of deep and abject failure.

But you know what?

Icarus may have fallen from the sky, but that doesn't mean you will

Anxiety is A Normal Part of Life

I face that every time I sit down to write (I write standing up, but never mind). The next page is always blank. The detailed outline of the plot is always flawed. One of the great joys of writing fiction is filling the blank page, resolving narrative flaws, deepening understanding of the protagonist, and pushing the plot forward to its logical but surprising conclusion. Writing is a series of problems you need to solve. If you want to write a book, you just have to get on with it. It’s the only way.

I believe it’s the same with life. Hard as it proves to be, crippled as I am by self-doubt, paralyzed by fear and uncertainty about my future, I’m compelled to keep trying. There are many things I could do. There is only one thing I cannot do; and that is stop writing.

Look at this:

Austin Hackney: writer

That’s me. I was about eight years old. And that was my first typewriter. Back then I had a free pass to the land of stories and a fearless belief that anything I imagined could be realized. When I wrote my first stories I experienced nothing but joy. I didn’t experience writing anxiety.

I had a dream.

And somewhere that little boy still lives in me, still believes, and still dreams. I know him well now. I know the pain, the suffering, the disillusionment, and the struggles that lie before him.

But I still believe in him.

And I’m not going to let him down.

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800px-Kulikov_Writer_E.N.Chirikov_1904

If you’ve enjoyed this post or if you haven’t, I would love to read your insights, experiences, thoughts, critiques, or reflections in the comments below. Please share this post on your social media. That would be a lovely thing to do.

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20 Comments

  1. Danielle K Girl
    Danielle K Girl

    Hey Austin, though my words feel paltry I wanted to say hang in there, don’t give up and don’t you dare let that little boy down! This is a great blog, and one I think way too many people can relate to.
    I’ve just added Lia Stone to my ‘to read’ list – it looks and sounds fantastic.
    Here’s to more peaceful nights sleep for you, and hanging on to those dreams.

    February 15, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Danielle, thank you. Your words are not paltry at all – I need all the encouragement I can get right now. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, I really do appreciate it.

      It’s tough. Very tough. But I can’t see the point in quitting. This blog post isn’t a lament, it’s just another way to square up to reality and start figuring but how to move forward with at least enough intact to keep building on.

      It’s sweet of you to add Lia to your TBR list. If you get round to reading it (I know it can take a while!) I hope you find it fun.

      Thanks again for your solidarity and all the best to you.

      A.

      February 15, 2017
      |Reply
  2. This was an excellent, in-depth blog. I like how you take the time to remind your followers that you’re every bit as human as they are, and that even with your current successes, you still contend with doubts and other obstacles. Not that I take glee in the latter, but I do take comfort in knowing that even someone more seasoned in the writing field and in life in general can openly express those obstacles, where other writers might pretend that “Everything is perfect, now that the publishing dream has been realized”.

    I really hope the issues you’ve been facing–family, health, finances, etc.–will be resolved in a positive and satisfying manner, and that all of your hard work will pay off in the way you need most. I’ll certainly continue to buy your works, and promote them whenever I can. You and your works deserve it. 🙂

    February 15, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Shannon, what a lovely comment.

      It’s probably my rather delicate emotional state at the moment, but that’s brought tears welling up in my eyes.

      Well, yes, I have no intention of making my blog a sham. If I’m not honest, there’s no point. There are far too many blogs out there already that are entirely fictitious vehicles of self-aggrandizement for fake writing gurus! The idea here is just to share my journey and my thoughts. There was definitely something personally cathartic in this post, but if it helps someone else, too, I couldn’t be happier.

      I’ll just keep making the best decisions I’m capable of and things will work out or they won’t. But I haven’t the slightest intention of giving up now. After all, in many respects – until everything else went to poo – it was going rather well!

      Thank you again for you generosity.

      A.

      February 15, 2017
      |Reply
      • Agreed. I’m glad that you’re honest, in an oftentimes far-too-dishonest world. It’s refreshing, and through your authenticity, you are both a role model and someone whom can be related to. I’m also glad that writing the post eased some of the burden, as well.

        It’s no trouble at all. And good, keep fighting the good fight. “This too shall pass”, as they say. If you ever need an ear, don’t hesitate to drop me a line. 🙂

        All the absolute best,

        Shannon

        February 15, 2017
        |Reply
        • Austin Hackney
          Austin Hackney

          Thank you, Shannon.

          Oh yes, this *will* pass, that’s very true. You are very kind, and I appreciate it more than you can know. 🙂

          February 15, 2017
          |Reply
  3. Sue
    Sue

    Ahh. This was a pleasure and comfort to read on a day like today, when my precarious health is flaring, and when another essay rejection has digitally landed in my guts. The futility is really high today, so much so that I’m wondering if I should just walk away from it all, this idea of trying to be published. Even the idea of copywriting feels too far-fetched. I feel wedged into a space I’m increasingly coming to resent.

    But I know I’m not going to stop writing. This is where fiction should come in, right? The retreat from the nonfiction frustrations to a new world that I started writing down yesterday. Fiction refills the well that the world has frustrated.

    Reading this post helped to dislodge me from feeling frozen in place to relenting and considering getting that fragment of paper from my office and letting it accompany me on the couch this afternoon. Thank you for sharing your vulnerabilities, Austin. They have encouraged me. Oh, and I love the illustrations you’ve used to accompany your words.

    February 16, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Sue,

      Thank you for your generous comment. I’m glad this post has helped you. Especially that it has helped you get back to writing.

      I certainly know that feeling of being overwhelmed by the seeming impossibility of it all. In such bleak moments, I try to remind myself that it’s up to each of us to make our own rules, to determine the meaning of satisfactory progress. I can tell myself, “Austin, all you have to do right now is write one more word. Just one. It doesn’t even have to be a good one. Write it now.”

      Things are very bad if I can’t even manage one poor word! That process repeated becomes a sentence, and the sentence a paragraph, and on I go.

      If there are occasionally days when even that is impossible, I try to remain mindful of the transience of things, all things. I’d say 99% of the time what’s required is backbone, discipline, determination, and some mind-trickery. For the other one percent, the only thing to do is wait.

      In another comment on this thread, Shannon alluded to the Sufi legend of the king who asks his wise men to furnish him with a magic ring with the power to make him happy when he is sad. They gave him a plain gold band with the words, “This, too, shall pass,” inscribed upon it. Wise men indeed!

      As to your comments about the power of writing, of story, to provide a place of solace and retreat, that is so very true. The professional writer’s life is full of rejection (I’ve written here about my experience of this and how to use it to improve your writing). I think sometimes we can become so embroiled in trying to sell our words, to have them condoned by some external authority, that we forget why we started telling stories in the first place. We forget our love of words and their magic. Times of darkness are good times to rekindle that. How about writing a story, any story that wells up from deep within, and then setting light to the paper and offering it directly back to its source?

      “Fiction refills the well.” Julia Cameron, the author of “The Artist’s Way,” uses the same image. She writes,

      “Art is an image-using system. In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond…As artists we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them – to restock the trout pond, so to speak. I call this process filling the well.”

      Thanks again for taking the time and trouble to comment. It’s much appreciated. May your writing go well, one word at a time.

      A.

      February 16, 2017
      |Reply
  4. Sorry to read that you’re going through all that stress and anxiety, Austin. Hope you get your writing mojo back (not that you’re doing too badly with the phenomenal amount of output you’ve produced. You should be proud of yourself!) and feel happier.

    I’m experiencing a few personal problems myself in my life currently so you are definitely not alone.

    However, like you I’ve set myself goals in the form of resolutions and I’m pleased with my progress so far. I’ve been writing regularly this late December of last year and I’m coming to an end of a project. All thanks to staying off social media.

    Wishing you well, dude. Thanks for producing helpful content for your fellow writers. It’s been a pleasure to read and comment on your posts.

    Happy 2017.

    February 16, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Farrah,

      Thank you for commenting, it’s always great to hear from you. Your kind encouragement is very helpful.

      This current period is probably the biggest challenge to my progress I’ve ever experienced. But I’m just trying to “keep calm and carry on.” It’s a real test of how far I can follow my own advice!

      Sorry you’re experiencing difficulties, too. I suppose we all are some of the time. It’s odd how we’re all encouraged to fake success online – I think that’s one of the downsides of social media, which you wisely have avoided; especially Facebook which I won’t touch with the proverbial barge pole; that we can all create our own images of ourselves. I much prefer honesty. I wish to be a better writer, not a more delusional one!

      It looks to me as if you’re doing well, making lots of healthy progress, and I’m delighted to see it. You’ve really bitten the bullet, haven’t you? You’re an inspiration.

      I hope this year you’re freed from the slave-driving machinations of the “devilspawn” lecturer!

      Thanks again for your kind words. Onward!

      A.

      February 16, 2017
      |Reply
  5. The Security Fool (@SecurityFool)
    The Security Fool (@SecurityFool)

    Hi Austin,

    It is interesting to come across your work this evening. I am an engineer, and a part time hobbyist writer. I am at my computer right now in order to relieve myself of anxiety when I came across your 5000 words a day and link to this blog. In my day job, I have a lot to learn, as I started a new role in January. The work is entirely within my abilities from my perspective, but I feel a pressure to reach a level of competence quickly. That said, when ever I am doing anything OTHER than working on my skills, or adding to my knowledge, I feel this general anxiety. And why am I not doing that very work even as I type here?

    Along with that, I am not close to my children, and this is an ever grinding drill in the pit of my stomach. I am always wishing I could be with them, to see them, to hear their voices. They are grown, 27 and 21, but I need them in my heart like my heart needs blood. Every beat is a minute when my heart beats without them, and ever heartbeat is the ticking of the clock, showing me how little time in life I have spent with them, my most cherished boys.

    Then like Brexit, there are these “interesting times” in the global picture. A new president, a new economy going up but with the threat of a bubble to plummet at any time. Then there is an interesting analog to your own observation. Months away from turning 50 and feeling a general sense of dread over many things both emotional and family based, as well as financial, and the yearnings already mentioned a few sentences back.

    The irony is that when I step back and look at the situation, it is in fact generally good, but to quote a passage from Pink Floyd “Gotta stay awake, gotta try and shake off this creeping malaise. If I don’t stand my own ground, how can I find my way out of this maze?” Standing my own ground is the essence of my dilemma. What is my own ground? The where I live ground, versus the things I do ground, or the family I am from ground, or the care and love I give ground, all bits and pieces that make up my ground. Standing it at times is to be standing barefoot on a mirror suspended on a rope bridge swinging in the wind. If the wind doesn’t knock me off, or I lose my balance and fall, or the glass breaks, cutting my feet, then slipping, bleeding, falling into the endless abyss.

    Terror at times, abject horror at the reality of the situation. Anxiety over this thing, that thing, everything!

    And why do I sit here? Because despite laying down to sleep, I couldn’t. Up, determined to write, to find something, anything to write about. Then knowing that there is no profit in it for me as I have left the discipline of writing in the closet for a long time, knowing that when I look at the paper, I too often draw a blank and feel that I have nothing to say. Knowing that in my heart while I may want to be a writer, I am really not. Feeling the words of Harry Chapin (which was the excuse I used when I put down my guitar after playing for about 30 years that “music is my life, but not my livelihood”)

    I sit here because for a few minutes, I was able to share some of my anxiety with another. To reflect on what I fear, and to expose it so that it is less dreadful. To take the moist oozing infection of anxiety out of its wrappings to let it air out and perhaps heal.

    I want to say thank you for having done this yourself in your post. It was a delicious prompt for me to do the same, and I feel akin to thee in this hour of need. I have listened to 5 minutes of your commentary on YouTube, and have only read a single post here of yours, yet in the space of about 45 minutes, I feel that I have been able to exorcise a minor demon that took up residence in me. I hope my own sharing is a comfort in its way, or that it pokes something in you or your readers as well, pushing your inertia through your followers and readers, and cascading out to others. I think now, I am ready for sleep, the demon is either expelled, or sated, not sure which, but the stomach no longer churns. (Or was it just a bad idea to have pastrami for dinner?)

    February 23, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Security Fool,

      Thanks for your long and honest message. It runs to about 800 words. Not bad for a single sprint! I wonder how long it took to write. Do that once a day for a year and you’ll have close to 300,000 words in the bag. How about that?

      I’m glad you found the post inspiring and writing your comment cathartic. You describe the subjective experience of anxiety well. Many people, I suspect, don’t like to admit to it, as they worry others will see them as weak. We’re expected to be so self-reliant, resilient and upbeat these days. In my experience, I have found the practice of “mindfulness” useful.

      This involves acknowledging the autonomic nature of experience: the heart beats by itself; the lungs work with no conscious effort; the cells multiply; blood flows; the neurons in your brain do their thing, and so thoughts arise; your endocrine system pumps hormones into your bloodstream, and feelings arise. Whatever your feelings and thoughts, they will always pass away. Things arise, exist a while, and pass away. This is the one immutable law. It applies to quantum fluctuations and entire universes – and everything in between them. If you sit quietly, with your eyes open so you don’t fall asleep, you can see it all happening. Mindfulness is an effective correction for overwhelming anxiety.

      I would like to tell you this: you can write and you can write every single time you sit down to do so, no matter how anxious or tired you may be. Next time, try this:

      1. Take a few deep breaths and then let your breath settle to whatever its natural rhythm is.
      2. Allow yourself to be conscious of what you are thinking and feeling, without judgement. Just acknowledge it and let it be.
      3. Name your intention to write and affirm that intention aloud. Say, “I will write now.”
      4. Then write at least one word. One is enough. If you write over one, great, but one is enough.
      5. Acknowledge that, regardless of your thoughts and feelings, you wrote.
      6. Write another word, or sentence, or paragraph. But just one word at a time is always enough.

      With the above exercise, it doesn’t matter what you write. What you are doing is learning that the act of writing is one you need to allow yourself to do, however you feel. The act of writing is simple and easy.

      May I offer you another hint which may be helpful? It’s this: never face the blank page with a blank mind. Writing isn’t a thing in itself. It is the clothing we use to dress ideas, images and stories. If you don’t already have an idea, an image, or a story before you go to the page, you will have nothing to write. Get an idea first. Think of a starting image, or plan the bones of a story (true or fictional) in advance. Do that while going for a walk, driving to work, taking a shower, whatever. Then make a few notes, bullet points, or a “mind map.” Decide on a basic starting, middle, and end structure. Once you’ve got that, you’ve done the hardest part and you can write (because writing is easy). So write. It doesn’t have to be “good.” It only has to be more than you had before you started. One word is always enough.

      If you write one word in the morning, one during your lunch break, and one in the evening, every day, in a year you’ll have written a 1000 word piece. And that’s just three words a day.

      But you’ve already shown us you can write 800 words in a few minutes, when you have something to say which you care about.

      And that’s my last piece of advice today: never mind what you think you “should” write, or what you’d “like” to write. Write from your heart, from your burning soul. The words will take care of themselves. And then you can apply technique and craft and so on if you wish.

      You can write. You DO write.

      So, write.

      And congratulations on your new position at work. I hope it brings you great satisfaction.

      Wishing you well. A.

      February 23, 2017
      |Reply
  6. The Security Fool (@SecurityFool)
    The Security Fool (@SecurityFool)

    Thank you again for your response, it is greatly appreciated. I do write on average about 4000 to 5000 words a day at this time, but about 80% of that is work related.

    As you say, the words are easy, it is the direction and the meaning that stump me most. When I have a feeling like last evening, it is incredibly easy to blast out a few thousand words. I get fatigued at going more than 2 or 3 thousand words at a sprint, but on occasion I will hit 5 to 7 thousand in a sitting. But as you say in your video, to do that, I need to jump around a bit and not try to belabor the single topic on that one sitting.

    As for the direction and meaning, my struggle is two things. I have gone to a writing group where I was discussing and listening to other people’s writing and my own. Frankly, it put me off. I prefer to discuss/share thoughts on writing IN WRITING, not in person. This very dialog is in part somewhat a self realization on the concept that when I read the writings of others, and write my response as in this dialog here, it is very satisfactory. But when I put those same words to air and share, instead of imagining how you respond to this, I might actually see it. And I might not like what I see…

    But back to that content yet again, what I want is to write something excellent, not partially good, but excellent. My ideas however, because I have read so much of other’s work, sees massive redundancy in the concepts I come up with against other’s works. I don’t mean to compare myself to them, but I feel a need to know that if I apply myself to a book, I want it to be on par with someone great. I have many favorite authors, Ben Bova, Robert Heinlein, Stephen Donaldson, to name a few.

    Now to come up with something that wouldn’t be boring to me, wouldn’t be boring to a reader of theirs, and has enough substance to get me out of the gate and into the sprint, there is my fear. I fear the investment of so much time, blood, sweat, tears, and effort in building a world filled with characters, incidents, places, needs, only to shove it all aside because I don’t think it is good enough. I have about 350 to 450 of unpublished work in my journals now (I use OneNote, so yup, I have done word counts), and much of it is in the realm of fiction.

    I just need that idea, or set of ideas, which will light the blaze. I know if I just drop the torch on the pages, it will light. I just have been holding back. But over the past few days, I have felt that current again, tugging me on a journey. I will probably not go back to my other stories, but build something new yet again, because I need crispy fresh right now. But it is time…

    February 24, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi,

      Yes, I typically write over 5k during a working day, but much of that is made of “day job” copy-writing commissions or on spec submissions. When I’m working on new fiction, I write three 20 minute sprints first thing, after exercise and meditation, but before breakfast, which gives me about 2.5k of new fiction. I’m an early riser by nature. I then put that aside and get on with the work I need to do to earn my keep. With the market as it is at the moment, I generally have to work 5 hours a day writing to commission. The remaining hours are spent dealing with all the non-writing aspects of writing for a living, all the “other business.”

      Some folks find writing groups helpful. Much depends on the group. The rest is about personality. You might benefit from applying to join one of the online writing critique groups. You get the benefit of insights, critique and guidance from other writers, but all mediated solely by the written word.

      With regard to perfectionism and wanting to write something excellent: perfectionism is a malady you might be advised to cure yourself of. Perfection is not only indefinable, but most certainly unattainable. Perfection is an abstract concept with no precedent in the history of the universe! Striving for excellence is a noble ideal, however. I’ll rah-rah that. But it’s worth remembering that writing is an iterative process. Writing, re-writing, several rounds of editing and so on, are necessary to bring a work up to publishable standard. It’s better to take faltering steps toward a worthwhile destination, than remain frozen to the spot because you can’t get there in one heroic leap.

      On the other hand, what do I know? I’m not a guru or guide, just a fellow traveler sharing my experience as I spur my reluctant story-donkey onward over this rocky ground.

      Sounds as if you’re working on a High Fantasy Epic?

      February 24, 2017
      |Reply
  7. Dave
    Dave

    Austin,

    It has been a while, and I see in your blog, some time has passed for you as well. Funny thing since February, my anxiety actually got worse into March and April. At that point, things took a turn into May. I finally had the chance to put my hands on with a customer, and it made all the difference in the world. However there was another factor which was quite surprising. I have a thyroid condition, and in the months up to about April, my health insurance had supplied me with generic medications for the condition. When I returned to the non generic medication, a few months passed as I adjusted, and suddenly, in May, everything changed.

    It was dramatic! Every evening prior for nearly a year, I went to sleep with this incredible anxiety. It began when I had a CAT scan to find out why my back was hurting. The first time I attempted to go into that tube, I had a massive anxiety attack. This was April 2016. At that point, I suddenly realized that I was incredibly afraid of enclosed space. It was overwhelming, and as the season moved from spring to summer, the humidity caused me to feel as though I was unable to breath. By Summer I would wake up in the middle of the night hyperventilating hoping to catch my breath.

    This continued on until around October of last year, and with many changes at my old company, I felt trapped and direly in need of a change. This is what prompted me in November and December to pursue the job I have today. All in all, I believe my affinity for the job I have now is far more relevant than my previous roles, but during the transition, that choke hold of anxiety had me firmly in it’s grip. Fear of my avarice to make this move made me feel that I had jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

    However, despite the irrational fears I suffered, I have always had a strength at my core that has allowed me to drive through these things. I kept on pushing, and forced myself to learn regardless of my despair. Because of this, I was able to survive my “trial”, as I felt it was. I refused to give in, and refused to be defeated by this scourge that had blasted me over the past year. My drive has never flagged, even when facing certain defeat, and I think that is my gift from god that guides me when I am in my darkest hours.

    But in parallel, my spiritual and psychological trials included changes in my biology and physiology as a result of that medicine change. From May to July, I lost 20 pounds without adding significant exercise. I was suddenly not ravenously hungry. The change in my appetite piqued my curiosity and I began to explore what possible side effects that my medicines were having on me. As you might imagine, I found some curious things in the literature.

    When my thyroid condition first started, I was about 190 pounds. I am about 6’1″ and that isn’t too bad. But the condition caused my metabolism to go haywire when I was about 24 to 25. Starting in February around 1992 I went from that 190 to about 135. This was dramatic and scary as you might imagine. Most of my family and friends thought I was a drug addict. Having held a high security clearance, I would never have touched anything like that because I would never have jeopardized my future in that way.

    As things turned out, I ended up pushed out of the lives of my friends and family. I ended up homeless, bereft of my son, and living in a Ford Escort in New England. It was winter time, so this was not a pleasant time to be sleeping in my car. I lived like this for almost a year, bouncing from homeless shelters, to friends couches, or living in my car. It was very difficult, and the only way I got out of it was to re-enlist into the military.

    After many arduous situations, I finally ended up being seen by an older Colonel who diagnosed my condition, and changed my life. When they treated me, my thyroid function was eradicated, and I went from being 135 to 235 pounds in about 3 months. I was working out in a gym a lot, so this weight gain was muscle at first. But unfortunately, because the medicine wasn’t the same as my natural thyroid function, my weight gain didn’t stop, and it was no longer muscle but a lot of fat.

    Over the next ten years, I went as high as 278, and felt horrible. I was continuing to hone my mind, but as I discovered in my research this past spring, that weight, the lethargy that overcame me, was accompanied by anxiety and a kind of mental fuzziness that destroyed my muse. I discovered that a side effect of the medicine actually would cause me to be ravenous and crave foods in an uncontrollable manner.

    So when my medicine changed this past spring, and I found myself suddenly pushing my plate away half uneaten, I was somewhat shocked. Since May I have lost about 20 pounds, and my mental state and energy have also changed dramatically. In addition, my more youthful fearlessness and determination have returned. The entire experience has been astounding.

    So I am sitting here, late at night again, but not because I am fearfully unable to sleep, but because I am happily and excitedly looking forward to the future again. Corresponding with you before gave me some level of inspiration, and looking back I wanted to see how you were doing. In addition to my own burst of energy and life, I have become suddenly incredibly concerned with the well being of those that I know.

    So I ask you.

    Austin, first, I hope all is well, and how are you doing?

    My best wishes, and I hope you have just been way to busy to post. This would be welcome news indeed! But regardless, hoping to see another post, and hoping all in all that you are well.

    Kind regards,

    Thunder Hawk AKA “The Security Fool”, or just Dave.

    August 26, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for your full and interesting account of the challenges you have faced and the many ways you have found to overcome them and improve your situation. I’m glad to read that despite your many struggles, you have come out a winner and are feeling happy and positive for the future. I’m also glad that my few words and ideas last time played some small part in keeping you inspired and going forward. One never knows.

      It’s true that I haven’t posted for almost two months now. The reasons for that are many. In part, I have been too busy with the “day job” of commercial copywriting to devote much time here; in part, because I am working on a very long and detailed post about textual structure; in part because I am in the middle of selling a house, packing, moving myself and my business back to Italy from the UK, which in the current “Brexit” climate is a rather long and involved process! There’s light at the end of the (channel) tunnel, however, and I mean to be “back on track” before the end of the year, probably during autumn/fall this year. Then ready for a “new start” from February next year, by which time I aim to be properly settled in my new home.

      It is kind of you to think of coming back to check in here, and I appreciate it.

      All the best to you!

      August 26, 2017
      |Reply
  8. Dave
    Dave

    There goes another 15 minutes of my life, and I don’t regret it! 🙂

    August 26, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Delighted to hear it! 🙂

      August 26, 2017
      |Reply
  9. Dave
    Dave

    Oh, and this just because it was written at the height of my anxiety…

    …and there it is. Discovered, in the blinking eye
    The tear breached rivers of emotion flooded
    In a fearful gush of utter despair at everything
    Because it fails, falls, and disappears in the air

    Thinking that all is well, that goodness flows into life
    Broken only by the understanding
    That every good day is a day gone, every bad one a loss
    People you love falling all around and fearing

    How many more? All of them eventually, and me too.

    How can life mean so little?
    Yearning with dread every moment that passes
    Looking for and wishing to repeat it all
    When it simply vanishes pulled away by invisible forces

    August 26, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Dave,

      Thank you for sharing that. Powerful stuff. One gets a very real sense of what you were experiencing.

      The line, “Yearning with dread every moment that passes” sums up the acute phase of anxiety, when the distress becomes almost detached from any rational consideration and attaches itself to the simple fact of existence, moment by moment.

      Often, I have to overcome acute anxiety to write. And then it’s a case of pushing gently beyond each anxious moment to replace it with a word: breath by breath, moment by moment, word by word.

      August 26, 2017
      |Reply

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