Click here for an explanation of the The Ways We Struggle guest post series.
Please welcome author Jessica Spotswood, whose debut YA novel Born Wicked was released last month! Jessica grew up in a tiny one-stoplight town in Pennsylvania, where she could be found swimming, playing clarinet, memorizing lines for the school play, or — most often — with her nose in a book. Now she lives in Washington, DC with her brilliant playwright husband and a cuddly cat named Monkey. And today she talks about how she’s struggled with and found ways to tackle her anxiety disorder.
I was twenty-seven when I was officially diagnosed with anxiety disorder, and started taking medication to help control it. It gave name to something I’ve struggled with since I was a little girl. The more I chatted with my therapist, the more I realized how much of me was wrapped up in being anxious: my need to please, my conflict-avoidance, my perfectionistic tendencies, my dislike of the unknown or any deviation from routine. I’ve always had a bit of a death-grip on control.
The medication helps. I fought against the idea of needing it, felt shamed (see: perfectionist). But it quiets the worries that circle my brain like vultures. I don’t think it’s coincidence that a few months after I started taking Lexapro, I started writing fiction again for the first time in years. Without that incessant anxious chatter, there was suddenly much more space in my mind — space for stories and characters to grow.
But to say I am cured would be a lie. I have good days and bad — sometimes good weeks and bad. Publishing is not always an ideal career choice for a girl who loves to know what to expect (um, understatement?). I never know what to expect. A debut year feels like bumbling through a funhouse blindfolded. After publication, I had no control over reader’s reviews, or trade reviews, or what anyone thinks of the words I’ve so painstakingly crafted. I can’t control my book’s sales, or whether it hits the NYT list, or whether movie rights will sell, or whether I’ll be sent to this conference or invited to that event, no matter how much I may want those things. I don’t know when my day will be totally rearranged by an email from my editor with an idea or an exciting piece of news to reveal.
Sometimes that feels exciting. I am, after all, doing what I’ve always wanted to do! But sometimes, the worries and uncertainties seem to multiply into a swarm. The kind of compartmentalization one needs to separate the creative from the business, the writing from the publishing, the joys from the stresses — it is hard for me to come by. And on those days, I try to remember that my brain is a bit more easily overwhelmed than most, and I journal and read and wait it out. I am still learning, slowly, that exercise and productive tasks — and writing, if I can manage it — are always better than the shadow-comforts of cheese fries and naps and wine.
The biggest challenge was finding out that I was going on tour. I was flattered to be asked to do a few East Coast bookseller dinners and to join the Breathless Reads tour. But for a girl who organizes things relentlessly — well, not getting an itinerary until a week out drove me mad. I didn’t know what to expect from school visits, having never been to one as either author or student. I’d only been to a few author events at local stores. I couldn’t picture anything. Cue the anxiety! I was basically terrified for weeks beforehand. I couldn’t shut off the static worry and write. I had an upset stomach for days. And to top it all off, I was furious with myself, ashamed that I couldn’t push away the nerves and just be excited already! I remember piteously telling my husband I didn’t want to go, that I just wanted to stay home. And meanwhile, everyone else was so excited for me! It was mortifying.
But the thing about anxiety — the thing I know, but I sometimes lose sight of — is that I can wait it out. The “Omg! Scary!” signals from my brain only last so long. The first week of tour was rough, a jangle of nerves and early-morning flights and stress. But by the second week, I knew more or less what to expect. Each event, each flight, was a little different, but I found a routine in it. And as I kept surviving, and grew to expect that I would survive the next day too, I started to actually have fun. And I suspect (hope?) that my career will go like this too — that every book will be different, but with each I will know a little more about what to expect, and that my confidence in surviving the ups and downs and uncertainties of a life in publishing will grow, too.