For so many years, it was my enemy– or so I perceived it, especially because full-blown clinical obsessive-compulsive disorder made me fear and reject uncertainty even more than the average bear. Everything in my life was about pursuing certainty, answers, black & white.
And, of course, I was miserable.
In 2008, I went through the harrowing but ultimately beautiful process of exposure therapy, which took my OCD out at the knees, giving me the bandwidth to live with uncertainty, questions, and all the shades of gray.
It’s only recently that I’ve recognized exposure therapy as the training ground (or maybe even battle ground) that would let me later pursue my dreams of being an author.
A hard truth: writing is full of uncertainty.
Not just writing– but publishing itself too. There is this crazy-making stretch of life in the middle of writing a book that feels both unclear and perpetual. What is this book really about? Who are these characters? Can I do this? Can I finish this? Is this story going to matter to anyone but me? Is this going to even matter to me? Will my writing group like it? Will my agent? My editor? Readers? Will I find success? Will I get another contract?
The writing life is, for many of us (and especially for younger writers), a world in grayscale: a constant state of uncertainty that we have to persist in in order to find any relief or success.
For as many days as I think I’m totally failing at life and writing, I have to remember what it would have been like to be writing and publishing before exposure therapy, back when uncertainty was unbearable. I’m not even sure how it would have been possible to be doing what I’m doing now without exposure therapy laying the groundwork for me to bear the not-knowing, let alone to thrive in it.
“The world doesn’t work that way.” I hear myself and other OCD awareness advocates saying this to sufferers all the time. In context, we mean, “Life inherently is full of uncertainty. You cannot eliminate it.”
The truth of that hits me over and over again in the field of writing.
Exposure therapy was the terrible, grueling practice for the writing life. Uncertainty is rampant; I try to keep my arms open.