A month ago I finished my novel. This is a happy thing, I know it is. The feeling of being done, finally, finally done, is just lightness and air and every good and joyous thing. I went out to celebrate with my husband and, unexpectedly, we were joined by pretty much everyone else we know. I took a few deep breaths and I smiled and then I steeled myself for what was to come.
I try to prepare, to think ahead. I start planning my next book as early as possible, months before I expect to need it. But the problem is, the book I plan has never, ever been the one that I end up writing next. No matter how many plugs I construct, they just don’t fit the hole that emerges when I finish a manuscript.
I think partially it’s my mind’s way of forcing me to take downtime. I have to take a break between books. I don’t have a choice. But I hate that time, I can’t stand it, because no matter how many books I read or walks I take or cookies I bake, the anxiety always comes.
Writing is my therapy — I realized that a long time ago. I started writing when I was a kid in part because it forced my brain to slow down and focus, rather than running in endless, exhausting circles. My mind is like one of those dogs in a too-small yard. Boredom frustrates it. Inactivity sends it wild. It paces the same old, worn paths until the grass is all worn away and all that’s left is dirt and an overwhelming, unnameable terror.
When I’m writing, though, I feel normal. I feel like anyone else. I don’t lie awake at night, paralyzed by everything could possibly go wrong in my life. I don’t spend the drives to and from work running through every embarrassing thing I’ve ever said and imagining crashing on the side of the road just to make the thoughts stop. I don’t spend hours thinking about all the ways I could die or have my loved ones taken from me.
But when I’m not writing, all those things come back.
I know what to expect, my husband knows what to expect, and we mitigate the damage as much as possible. It gets easier every time, because I know what’s coming, and I recognize it when it does. It helps to know that I’ve gone through it before, and always come out the other side. Here’s a maxim I learned when I was a teenager, suffering through my first ever bout of depression: tomorrow will be different. Maybe better, maybe worse, but never exactly the same. How I’m feeling right now won’t last forever.
It wasn’t too bad this time. Or at least it could have been much worse. Because everything that could have gone wrong did, all at once.
First, my Labrador, Mika, injured her hip. This meant I was without a running buddy for the first time in two years. I was too miserable to try running on my own. I was too afraid to go into the bush without her. Two of my major coping mechanisms — running and nature — were taken from me at the worst possible time.
Then, Robin Williams died. I didn’t realize it would hit me so hard. Celebrities have died before, lots of them, and the sadness has always been momentary and light. I guess it was the way that he died, as well as the timing. It brought up a lot of things for me. I started thinking, if Robin Williams, a man who made his living from laughter, couldn’t make it, then how could I? I guess I wasn’t the only one, because Beyond Blue, an Australian helpline for people with anxiety and depression, received 50% more calls after the news broke.
I got sick, my hours were reduced at work, and then the rain started. Weeks of it. It’s still going — it feels like it’s never going to stop. Even sunshine was taken from me.
But I’ve weathered the storm. I grasped at every good thing I could find. I searched for beauty in every ordinary moment. I went out for coffee a lot (yay coffee!) and I went for walks when the sun came out and I hugged my husband and puppy as often as I could. I tried to be kind to myself, recognizing that the bad moments would pass and I’d write again when I was ready. I wasn’t always good at these things, but I did my best.
And on Monday I took my puppy on her first pain-free walk and then I sat down at my laptop and started tapping at the keys. The flow was slow — just a dribble, but it was something. Then yesterday, I did a session of yoga, Vinyasa-ing until I couldn’t feel my arms anymore, and wrote 500 words. 500 beautiful, wonderful, happy words. I’d hug them, but I don’t want to scare them away.
Today the rain is back and some of the old fears are creeping up on me, but I’m going to sit down at the laptop regardless. Maybe the words will come or maybe they won’t, but every season passes. The good ones and the bad. Tomorrow will be different.