Care and Feeding
CN: Mental illness
Yesterday was a struggle. This is me documenting and dissecting it. If you're looking for writing content, trust me, that comes in a little bit later, but we're gonna have to swim through the feels to get there.
I want to preface my thoughts by saying: No-one is responsible for acting on this data. You don't owe me emotional labor. I'm sharing a. to get it out of the inside of my skull and b. in the hopes that someone reading this takes something useful out of what I have to say.
There we go. Now: the past two days, I've been suffering varying degrees of con drop, which of course has been taking a steel wool to my anxiety. I've also been sleeping poorly, which does the exact opposite of help. As a result, well...my behavioral impulses have not been great.
The bad tape that runs in my head on days like these is nothing new; the voice actors may change, but the message is the same. It's impostor syndrome telling me that I've gamed the system and gotten people to think that I'm with it enough to be worth talking to. It's social anxiety overanalyzing every tidbit of interaction for evidence that I have successfully ruined my connections with people and that it is objectively my fault they no longer like me. It's catastrophizing thoughts insisting that not only are people upset with or disgusted by me, but that is a permanent, unsalvageable state of affairs which I will only make worse by trying to fix it. And the best part is, I know this is bad tape; I know I'm exaggerating tiny flaws into gaping craters, that I'm manufacturing trouble where there isn't any, but that doesn't actually make it sound less true, only add doubt to the series of loops going through my mental sequencers. And if you take that and mix in the natural downbeat of con drop, you don't wind up anywhere good. It hit Peak Terrible on Tuesday night, when I became absolutely convinced that I had offended someone. The whys and wherefores are not important (everything is actually fine, it turns out, and they did nothing wrong to make me think otherwise), only that I thought it had happened and that it was enough to kick me over into the spin cycle.
When this happens, what I want is reassurance that everything is good, that I am loved and wanted and needed and, just as important, worthy of love and want and need. On the better days, I can say that: my friends and I have gotten very good at just saying "I need to be told good things about myself" and getting a response from our support network. On the worse days, I fall back to old habits from my teenage years, which is to say I start wanting to perform like a trained seal on social media, trying to say something Cool Enough or Wise Enough to get people to hit that Like button or reply to me with delicious praise. I definitely did that for a little while last night; the volume of my posts spiked for a couple hours in the evening, and I only caught myself after I had started. If I hadn't had a deadline to meet for Ace of GeeksI might have fallen back into it, but I had to tell my jerkbrain to shut up long enough for me to write the Pull List, then I had to get my exercise in for the night so my pancreas doesn't start another uprising, and then, then, I could go to social media, and I could...
As I said on Twitter last night, writing something and getting some exercise always helps my mental health, and I know that when I'm not sitting at the bottom of the hole already and trying to remember how to climb out. Not only did saying this on Twitter get me those Likes I had been craving in my jerkier phase (and thank you to everyone who cared about my self-care, you are wonderful human beings), but it also helped me drill down to why my impostor syndrome kicked up quite so horribly after the con.
I've been really focused on my novel work, trying to shop The Imaginary Corpse and work on the rough draft of The Boulevard of Mended Dreams, and because I have to hold down a day job and do things I enjoy like watch TV or play video games or have an actual relationship with Sonya, my short story work has fallen by the wayside. On my better days, I know that's OK -- I don't have to do both. But my last publishing credit is a couple months old, and getting older, and I've only got a couple pieces I'd be proud to have out in the world right now anyway (seriously just don't look in my trunk, I haven't cleared out all the toxic masculinity and bad Tim Powers fanfic yet), so even if I get those accepted, at some point I go back to shorts or the credits stop. And when the credits stop, my cred stops, or so say the brain-spiders. And when my cred stops...well, this is where the "Impostor Syndrome" track starts playing. Focusing on my novels has me feeling less like a Real Writer, and if I am not a Real Writer then the Real Writers I know are going to eventually not want to have anything to do with me, etc. etc., ad nauseam. (It doesn't help that I know I check basically every possible box for privilege except "rich," so feeling like I don't deserve to be in the spaces I'm in is reinforced by a lot of poisonous social constructs that allow me to be earn accolades more easily. Anxiety can even turn white privilege into a weapon, it turns out.)
I'm fine now; I'm great, even. My life, on a personal level, is pretty good. But sometimes, things stack up, and it all turns sour up in my head, and then I start getting weird and performative on Twitter, and that's something I want to stop doing, both for banal brand management reasons and because you all deserve better than me trying to turn the Internet into a mill for positive feedback. I need to practice my breathing and my noting, and keep my stuffed penguins and my decaf coffee and my card games close to hand, and remember that the times when all I want is for my Internet friends to like me are the times I most need to sit down and create or go for a walk, even if that seems like the Worst Idea Ever. Because the truth is that you do like me, and I like you, and I am a Real Writer no matter what I'm writing, and I deserve to be in at least most of the places I find myself in. That's the real truth, and all the miles of bad tape crammed up in my brain don't change it.
And if you do see me doing the Internet equivalent of insisting I usually lift more than this, you are not beholden, but are certainly allowed, to point it out to me. It's my struggle, but I don't mind an assist. Really, assisting each other in our struggles is what I'm all about.
That's all I had to say. Thank you for reading; I am genuinely grateful you got all the way to the end.