What New Insanity Is This? OR: The One About Anxiety

So the last few months have been a little crazy. When did I post last? January. So, I guess I talked about my grandma. And then the holidays. I may even have mentioned an amazing meeting with Lev Grossman over coffee, where I also met the talented and accomplished novelist Michelle Hodkin. Maybe one of my sons went in for emergency surgery in the midst of all that? Probably.

Then we had two birthdays (Monty and Everett) in January, and then because we simply didn’t have enough to do, we moved our family to a new home in a new town on February 1.

New House

Eli had his birthday on the 19th and then I moved into a new office the next weekend.

New Office

So all that happened, plus other stuff. I don’t really remember most of it.

Well, here it is March and that craziness is mostly behind me. It’s actually sort of calm in these parts. I’m waking up at reasonable times, playing with the kids occasionally, even reading books again. I mean, what is up with that? Something must be done. Conversations must be had. Like this one:

Me: Whew, glad that’s behind me.
Me: I know, right? But… uh-oh… Oh no.
Me: What? What now? Did something happen?
Me: Yes, something terrible. I… I can’t… I can’t… just… relax…
Me: Oh dear…
Me: Must… do… something… CRAZY.
Me: Oh no…
Me: Sigh. Okay, but no more than an hour a day, okay? No more.
Me: Right. Okay. I can live with that.

So, that’s what this is. Here’s the rules:

  • A blog entry, on this blog, every day for 30 days
  • No more than half an hour drafting each
  • No more than half an hour editing each draft
  • At the end of the second half hour, hit PUBLISH
  • No matter what

Probably, it will be mostly crap. You’ve been warned. Here’s today’s, On Anxiety.

Anxiety is a big problem for me. A short (not exhaustive) list of my anxiety triggers:

  • Someone criticizes me
  • Someone I trust appears to be lying
  • Or suggests that I should lie about something
  • Or I think that maybe they think that I might be lying
  • Or I remember a time when someone thought I was lying
  • I receive an email that is very brief and might, if you read between the lines, mean that someone is unhappy with me and is about to do something terrible like say something passive-aggressive
  • I open the log-in screen for our bank account
  • I look at our bank account
  • I look at our expenses
  • I think about money in any context whatsoever
  • I find a lump under my arm that has been there forever and is just the knot of scar tissue from my abscess several years ago, but maybe this time it means I have cancer

One thing that helps with the anxiety is meditation, and another thing that is much harder but also helps, is running.

So I’ve been running. I know, right? Who does that. Every morning, too. Crazy. I don’t like running. I don’t really much like moving if I can help it. Put me on a couch, with my feet up, and a laptop in my lap, and I am happy.

But every once in a while, you see, something I really want to do requires that I get up and do it–like book conventions, for instance. And if all I’ve done for six months is sit on my butt and write, then I have no stamina for the really cool thing I want to do. Plus, if I die early because my body doesn’t know how to keep going any more, I won’t have stamina for the rest of the things I want to do either. Death is funny that way.

So I got a health coach, and she told me I have to run. Every. Day. Did you know that when you run, sometimes you start breathing hard? And you’re supposed to keep running. Seriously hard-core, folks.

So I’ve been doing that and it pretty much sucks.

Then I picked up a book, Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell, a true story about a SEAL team involved in the disastrous Operation Redwing. I don’t really like the guy. He’s brazen and arrogant and not particularly self-aware. How he loves the party line! But it was a fascinating read, once I decided to view him as a character in a story instead of a real person who gets under my skin.

This stuck out for me:

“The temperature seemed to grow colder as we jogged around in the freezing surf… We all dived back onto the sand. Crawling, itching, and burning. Five guys quit instantly and were sent up to the truck. I didn’t understand that, because we had done this before. It was bad, but not THAT bad… I guess those guys were just thinking ahead, dreading the forthcoming five days…”

So yesterday I thought about that while I was running. I would get all out of breath and my legs would hurt, and I would just ask myself: “This is bad, but is it THAT bad? Am I just freaking myself out, thinking ahead?”

And then I started asking myself: “Can I take one more step?” And when the answer is “yes,” I do it. “Can I take one more step?” Yes. Going up hills, when my breathing is hard and my legs hurt and I feel like I’m gulping air like a fish: Can I take one more step? Yup. Okay. Another? Yup. One more? Yes.

And then, at some point, usually long before I expect it, my timer goes off. It always surprises me. Really? I think. But I only need to take one more step… I could go on forever like that, I think. One step at a time.

Not that I want to, mind you. Being the essential couch potato that I am, I always DO stop as soon as that timer goes off. But conceptually, you understand, theoretically, I COULD go on much, much longer. One step at a time.

It’s the ultimate anxiety-buster, to remember this the rest of the time too. You don’t have to know how you’re going to pay the bills on the first or whether a friend is lying to you or if you’ll die young of cancer. You only have to know what you are doing right now, this instant. You only have to take one step, the one right in front of you.

Same thing for writing a book. I feel like I’ve been writing forever. I have days, weeks, maybe months more work to do, before I can submit a query for my first book to agents. Edits, revisions, query letter, and a dadgum title still to write. But I don’t have to do any of that right now. All I have to do is the next step. This page, this scene, this sentence, this word.

Can I take one more step? You betcha. Dunno about the one after that, but this step I can take.