The Shame That Drowns, an Honest Post

It’s so much easier for me to write about a hard experience after I’ve “conquered” it. I can come to this space and talk all I want about OCD because I’ve had ten years of freedom from and victory over it. It’s exponentially harder to talk about current struggles because there’s no distance from them. It’s not looking back on that time you were in quicksand and boasting how your quick thinking and hard work got you out of the mess. It’s being in the actual quicksand. It’s being up to your chin in the quagmire, having no assurance that you will survive.

Last week, my therapist asked me how I felt around my writing career, and something like a dam broke in me, and the words and tears and shame wouldn’t stop.

Shame?

I usually use the word fear, but there was no confusing my rush of emotions: fear and sadness and stress may have been in the parade, but shame was the grand marshal.

It felt amazing to talk about it and awful too, and even as it was all spilling out of me, I knew that I needed to write about it on my blog. Not because I’ve found any victory, but because healing for me has almost always come about via vulnerability.

I was a high achieving kid, top of my class, Most Likely to Succeed, summa cum laude, hard worker, strong leader, a go-after-it-hard kind of girl. I approached publishing that way too. I spent four years on a novel that never got an agent, and I barely blinked before I started a new story, which ultimately became Truest. I wrote every day for years, threw my time, money, and heart toward writing. I was relentless and driven. I finished the story, then got an agent and a book deal in the course of just four months.

And that’s when the panic came. I was very familiar with anxiety after a lifetime of dealing with OCD, but this was so different. The stress was high, there were deadlines, I wasn’t always on the same page with the revisions expected of me. I battled through it though, and I published a book that I’m still so damn proud of. September 1st, 2015, was like this incredible dream: a hardcover with my name on it, all my friends celebrating with me.

It was only three weeks later that I had one of the hardest and worst conversations of my life– one of the major distributors had not placed a large order for the book, and it was unlikely that sales would be able to make up for it. My book was only three weeks old, and I was being told it was essentially dead in the water. Get ’em with the next book.

Don’t get me wrong: there were so many amazing things that have come from publishing Truest. I’ve heard from the most incredible readers, people whose encouragement will live with me for the rest of my life (shout-out to Kristen!); I’ve met authors, some of my favorites (talking about you, Huntley!); I’ve been able to talk about creativity and mental illness and freedom and stories all over. I have loved connecting with readers, with young writers, with the English majors at my university. I have contributed to discussions and given advice, and I’ve taught classes and workshops and so, so, so many amazing things.

And yet.

I have so much shame around it all.

Like I’m some sort of fraud because the book was never a bestseller. When my friends tell others “she’s an author!” I feel like such a fake. My awareness of my (beautiful, beloved) book’s short reach stings. I let the panic and anxiety and stress get to me. I let myself get ill from it all. I couldn’t get on the same page as the editor I was working with and suggested that we go our separate ways. I can’t seem to follow my own advice and get my butt in the seat and hands on the keyboard. My body went into revolt and it’s been hard and scary to even open my manuscript.

Theoretically I understand that this is not failure. I published a book. Not that many people read it. I will write another and see what happens. Health problems have slowed it all down, but nothing has yet made me STOP. That’s not failure.

But it sure feels like it sometimes. A lot of the times.

Even though I’m no longer under a deadline or signed to a contract, my body seems to not have gotten the memo. It still reacts like I’m under all this pressure. I’ve been told the body keeps the score, and that’s proving very true in my life.

My therapist asked what more positive way I could frame this. I said, “I am at the beginning of a long writing career that got off to a rough start, but someday I will tell stories about these days and encourage other writers.”

I hope that’s true. I want it to be true.

Lately, the desire to write has become more insistent. I want to tell stories. I want to create worlds. I open my manuscript and tiptoe into it for a few pages. I know my characters have important things to say.

I’m still in the quicksand, trying to get on top of the shame and fear and stress. They are like ghosts from a different season, but ghosts can still drown you.

One day at a time. Today I’m tackling the shame head-on by sharing about it. Thank you for listening.

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All the Updates

I started seeing a new doctor, a neurologist, and … I feel SO excited, nervous, and hopeful! I may start a little side blog to chronicle and process my journey to health because, well, I’m a writer and this is how I process life. To make a long story short: I was going to invent my own little trigger point mat but decided to see if what was in my mind already existed … and it did … and the inventor of it was a neurologist known for FIXING (note: FIXING, not just TREATING) fibromyalgia pains AND HE WAS LOCATED 20 MINUTES FROM WHERE I LIVE.

Needless to say, I made an appointment with him right away. He has an entire wall of testimonies of people who found health and relief after years of pain. People come from other states– and other countries– to see this doctor. And here he was in my backyard.

As he said to me, “You’re too young to feel this bad.” YES! I AGREE!

I’ve been writing again! It’s wild to me how much the past couple of years have absolutely BLASTED the confidence right out of me. I’ve been a hard worker, high achiever, intelligent girl for basically my whole life, and that led me to feel pretty confident about anything I undertook. You wouldn’t think that publishing a book (a lifelong dream of mine) would actually lead to having all of that confidence vanish … but it’s true. I am rebuilding slowly.

Online dating still sucks. Basically, all the advice everyone gave me that I chose to ignore came back to bite me. Of course. “The One That Got Away“? I’ve spent the last month feeling lonelier than ever before. But great friends and family and a fantastic therapist and a marvelous God have been softening my heart. I started following Brene Brown on Instagram, and she says that “It’s not fear that gets in the way of our daring leadership. It’s our armor.” So even when fear assaults me, or loneliness, or whatever it may be, I really want to keep myself from the armor.

I want to stay tender and exposed to life.jernej-graj-656657-unsplash.jpg

Grief, Part Three (the Hopeful Part)

guilherme-stecanella-366390-unsplashIf it seems like I’ve given up, that’s not true.

I’m exploring all the regular stuff (medication, therapy, extra rest, a new mattress) alongside less typical treatments like dynamic neural retraining, placebo meditation, Acceptance and Commitment therapy, warm water therapy.

It’s been hard to blog because I can’t seem to think about anything else lately other than how crummy I feel. Even when I try to write about something else, something fun, it only reminds me that I have no energy for it. In some ways I am being reminded of the summer of … oh, 2006 maybe? When I had no energy. That was due to Luvox, an OCD med, and it was terrible-terrible-terrible, but it didn’t last forever.

I know that chronic means ongoing, but I am excited about all the different opportunities to work toward health. And I do not forget that miracles happen. I am in a weird season, I know, and I thank you for hanging in there with me.

My brother is getting married a week from today– it should be a lot of fun. I rented the most gorgeous dress, all navy blue and sequins, and I’ll be reading a poem I’ve written for the bride and groom. The writing conference a couple weekends ago was lovely and life-giving, so delicious to be in the presence of creative believers. I’ve been enjoying inspirational videos online too and wanted to share the one below with you. I’ll warn you that the music is a bit annoying, but the various speeches will give you so much strength!

Holding Both in Such Weak Hands

flare
verb
to suddenly burn or shine brightly

flare
noun
an exacerbation of a chronic disease

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Can’t write much today because my wrists have been in pain for almost 24 hours now. Just trying to rest: pared down my to-do list to just three things, this blog post being one of them. Earlier today, I would not have been able to type it out. This evening, I am a little better.

I want to shine bright, make a difference, be a leader in thought and action. Sometimes it can feel so impossible with a body that feels like a leaky bucket: hard to store up energy when the most mundane things seem to leech power. Some days I feel like a rag that has been wrung out.

I know I am blessed with resources, privileged: I can afford pain meds and peppermint oil, my employer works with me and not against me, I have a support system that could make a king envious.

So, somehow, I get to do both. I get to flare up in multiple ways. Perhaps not at the same time.

But then again, with all I’ve learned of vulnerability: maybe so.

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Photo by Blake Cheek on Unsplash

I’m so hot.

Being a freckled, Irish strawberry blonde, I’ve always been sensitive to heat. I have to be careful about sunburns because, oh buddy, they happen quickly and are brutal.

About two years ago though, I noticed that I was sweating all the time, mostly along my hairline, and even in situations that didn’t seem to warrant it. It also gave me a sense of claustrophobia and drained my energy at a faster rate. I started to choose activities based on temperature, no joke.

Fast forward to this past fall, when I finally started getting answers to my health questions. It turns out people with fibromyalgia often have temperature dysregulation, an inability to moderate our own body temperature. While it looks different for each person, for me, it means:

* being warm/hot 95% of the time

* even when the weather is freezing (hi, I’m a Minnesotan)

* a shower or blowdrying my hair can make me feel like I’m experiencing a hot flash

* I’m ultra sensitive to it to the point where I feel like I can’t breathe well and experience exhaustion

* I have a fan on while those who share my office have their space heaters going

* even coming in from a cold Minnesota day into a regular indoor temperature feels like such a sudden rush of heat that it spreads across my body, my entire scalp, and across my jaw

It’s actually been really good to read up about it. This is a particularly good article, but there are so many articles written and studies done on fibro and temperature problems.

What this means for me, much of which you will never see:

* when someone suggests an activity, I judge it based on how warm/hot it will make me and what opportunities I will have to cool down (for example, going to an outdoor baseball game in the sun would be a terrible idea for me … going hiking would be actually detrimental)

* When I feel myself overheating, I have to stop and cool my body temp down; letting myself pass a certain point will actually make me sick for 2-3 days. It’s better to just go stand in front of my open window for 5-10 minutes and cool my core down.

* it has very little to do with my weight and everything to do with my hypothalamus.

* I have to be careful with exercise. Walking and yoga do the trick; cardio would make me sick for a week.

* I’m ultra aware of not dressing too warm. I can only wear sweaters and fleece in the coldest weather. I barely wear a coat, even in winter, though I do bring it with me (safety first– Minnesota’s winter temps are no joke!). If I dress for cold weather, I need to wear layers because I will likely need to cool down layer on in the work day.

* Cooling down the palm of the hand helps cool your core. This is key.

Why am I telling you all this?

First, it took me a long time to figure out what was going on with me. Maybe this will help someone else.

Secondly, it’s a friendly reminder about invisible illnesses. Your friend or colleague might be dealing with something that doesn’t make sense to you, but it doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Thirdly, usually the person inside the body knows it best. Well-meaning friends can make all the suggestions they want (“Come to my spin class!” “You’ll feel better if you just …”), but it’s your body. You know what will feel better or worse. Trust yourself. Trust the body owner.