Soft-Writing: Catharsis Through Anxiety

    I keep waking up in the middle of the night feeling what I’ve come to know only too well: anxious.

    When I was 24 I had a mental breakdown. Reality became a bit fuzzy. I had to move back in with my parents and not go out or see anyone or interact with anyone. I couldn’t sleep. It was so bad a doctor prescribed me sleeping medication, which failed to put me to sleep but did make me really twitchy throughout the night.

    After a month of no sleep and two days of Dr. Twitchy’s No Sleep Aid (patent pending), I found wine. A glass of wine and I was out… all night. It was bliss.

    Shortly thereafter I started reading novels. I couldn’t go outside. I didn’t have enough energy to go watch TV, but reading was a calm refuge for me. I was starting with For Whom the Bell Tolls. I had also fortunately discovered Nick Drake. So, when I wasn’t reading, I would sit and drink my glass of wine listening to River Man and Black Eyed Dog.

    In a few weeks I had gained enough self-awareness to recognize that I was feeling very depressed, listening to the songs of a man who died because he overdosed on antidepressants, and reading the prose of a man who blew his head off with a shotgun. Strangely enough, basking in suicidal thoughts, I myself didn’t feel suicidal. I’d defeated that monster as a teenager.

*    *    *

    Maybe six months, later I was working at Best Buy putting the stuff on the shelves early in the morning, before the store opened. My boss asked me to rearrange a shelf based on the new plan.

    Best Buy, and probably all retail stores, often rearrange how things are displayed based on which company they want to promote. This new plan comes to the lowly Merch department in the form of a Plan-O-Gram.

    I had a panic attack. I thought I was going to die. I thought I was going to completely arrange things wrong and fail and get fired and get kicked out of my parents’ house and be homeless where I would get sick and die, alone. My heart raced as I contemplated what seemed like my inevitable degradation and eventual but slow death.

    Then I had an epiphany. I made a choice. I decided that I would rearrange the shelf. It might kill me. I might screw up and get fired and lose my job and… but I would try, and even if I failed I will have tried and that’s something.

    I didn’t fail. 

    I didn’t get fired or die. 

    That was the last panic attack I’ve had.

*    *    *

    These nocturnal anxieties I feel? They feel like really mild versions of that. They stem from a feeling that I may not be able to replicate the same quality of ALGORITHM, and if I do, I won’t be able to replicate its success. I’m afraid I won’t be able to do anything fast enough so I can keep building on my previous success.

    I feel the same fears as everyone else, but to me they’re real and they’re worse! I feel like I’m the only one who has them. I don’t dare wake up Memi for comfort because she has to work in the morning and needs the rest. And I can’t put the entire weight of my sanity on her. She’s an amazingly capable person and if I don’t get to be me, I’d chose to be her. But she’s just a person, not a god or a superhero. She has limits.

    I suffer through the feelings of anxiety. I think it’s important. It brings me back to the mental space I need to be in to be creative without being an arrogant jerk.

    I was in Barnes & Noble yesterday, reading this month’s issue that’s an oral history of Industrial Light & Magic. It was a fascinating read, inspiring because if they did it I can too.

    As I walked out of the building I thought to myself, “Most people have no idea that they’re near someone as amazing and brilliant as I am.”

    That kind of thinking is exactly what needs to go. Whenever I think I’m better than someone else I’m in the wrong headspace. I know I bias the types of reviews to which I subject myself so that I come out with an optimal score. The test is designed to give me the highest possible score.

    And it does. 

    But, it’s wrong.

    The fact is, many of the people I worked with on “ALGORITHM” were more skilled than I am at their area of specialty. Satsuki knows more about cameras than I ever will. Chris Panzera knows more about acting than I ever will. Keith Barletta took intro to computer programming in college, and unlike me, he finished the class. And, I don’t think I need to rehash once again how skilled Kaiser is.

    I allow the anxiety to exist within me for as long as I need it, until I remember that I’m not a god. I’m just a man. Whatever I do, however big it may seem to me is in fact small on the scale of the universe.

*    *    *

    I believe in infinity. I know it exists as an idea, but it only exists in the abstract. The universe is vast but finite. With that as an a priori, I came up with an equation: each human life is of infinite value and since infinities can only be compared to each other in abstraction and not in real life, then the idea of setting a value on human life, even compared to another human life, is impossible.

    Maybe the person I feel arrogant around doesn’t score as well on the Jon-Is-Awesome test. But they have infinite value as well and must be treated accordingly. If my arrogance gets in the way, it’s got to go. 

    I’ve got to change.

    This type of thinking is useful to more than just my own personal betterment. It’s also required in writing. If I think I’m better than the characters I create, then I won’t write them as complete human beings. Rather, I’ll focus on specific aspects of their beings and neglect the rest, leaving the character as a caricature rather than a person with so many aspects to who they are that are implied with each thing they do.

    If I don’t respect other people why would I be interested in observing them to learn to write them better? 

    I wouldn’t.

    So, again, the arrogance must go.

    So, again, the anxiety has value.

    One of the really strange things about me is that I’m a “glass is completely full, just with two different things” kinda guy. I like to find the positive. It gives me the energy to continue, to try hard things, to find hope in the midst of anxiety because I know from experience that it’s hard, but it’s good and the hardness of it will end.