Wednesday 21st June 2017
I’m not sure why, but today was a bit of a glum day. Everything is going super well at the moment, everything is progressing positively, I’m happy with what I’m doing and there’s no real major stress. But I just felt like I wanted to climb into bed and give up on the day.
As a writer I spend an awful lot of time inside my own head. Even if I’m not sat down at the computer writing or editing, I’ve got my headphones listening to music to help me think about scenes. When I finish a book, it can take me a couple of days to reconnect with the world.
It’s my personal opinion that we don’t really think about what the process of writing a novel does to a writer’s mental health. I’m not sure whether mental health issues have lead people to writing, or if the issues are a product of writing, or if there is even any sort of link but seeing people talk about their mental health issues have made me try and take good care of my mental wellbeing. I mean, we get exercise to take care of our bodies, why not do the same for our brains?
It’s for that reason, I actually try and be pretty good about taking breaks. I used to get to a particularly knotty problem and then spend hours stressing about it. Now, I’m more likely to walk away and do something else. I find not thinking about something a good palette cleanser to come back to the issue afresh.
I also try and get out the house once a day, even if it’s just to go for a walk to get my picture for that day’s edition of The Climb. I have had days where I’ve worked so hard I could not tell you what the weather was like.
I’m pretty fortunate in that the only real long-term mental health issue I’ve ever had was anxiety. I never sought any treatment for it (although maybe I should have). I would just find myself getting stressed over the most minor of detail and then being unable to sleep.
There is a bit of me that’s a control freak. It’s not being in control that I need. It’s just that I can often see a very clear path to resolution. It’s like seeing a jigsaw puzzle with a number of pieces remaining and then suddenly being clear where every piece needs to go. The control freak in me only comes out if there’s someone else there saying “let’s try that piece there” when my brain is suddenly going at 300mph and I want to shout, “no, there, there, there and there”. It’s not that my brain works it out linearly either. I can often have a solution to a problem where in one instance I know where every piece goes. I go from no idea on a solution to absolute clarity down to the smallest of details. I’m not sure if that’s unique or not, but it can get me frustrated when I have this complex solution formed perfectly in my head and everything will just work if I (or others) do exactly that.
And the problem used to be when something came along that disturbed one of those pieces. It wasn’t that I was in control, it was that suddenly one of those pieces was now a different shape and now didn’t fit the puzzle.
And how this manifested itself was in me getting really stressed and anxious about that piece. It could be something as simple as someone now turning up 10 minutes later, or they were bringing x instead of y. From their point of view it wasn’t a big deal, but from mine it felt like my world had imploded. So I’d stress out about this small detail, and they (quite rightly) would wonder why I was being such a dick over it.
The biggest problem about this was that I couldn’t spot it at the time. All my brain could think of was the fact that ‘Bob’ was arriving 10 minutes later and he needed to be here now. Get here now, Bob! No, don’t be late.
It was only afterwards that I was able to look back and see that I was actually having a panic attack. I hated that, because I’d have to apologise to Bob next time I spoke to him, and would spend the time inbetween feeling like I’d been a dick.
I found certain foods seemed to heighten my anxiety. Again, not scientific at all, but I actually avoided salty food for a while as there seemed to be some correlation between my general level of anxiety and having had salt the day before. I found Pringles particularly bad for some reason.
Tornadoes largely cured me of my anxiety. The way I describe it to people is that some of those situations I’ve been in were so intense they short-circuited my anxiety. I mean, after my first trip, I came back, and decided to move to a city miles away from my friends. I would never have been able to do that before.
These are just my experiences and I hope I’ve been clear that I’m not saying this is what you should feel or do if you have anxiety.
Sometimes the anxiety creeps back, and because I hate when it makes me a dick, I really keep a close eye on my mental health. Which means that when I have a day like today when I’m feeling down for no reason, I start looking at my environment and work to check if there’s anything I can do.
Often it’s just a case of having a random ‘off’ day. There’s no reason, and I put it down to some chemical imbalance (although given how strict my diet is I should be getting that chemical imbalance every week).
The good news is that I can’t see anything that could be a cause and I’m fortunate in that I’m not prone to depression. But I’ll still keep an eye on it over the next few days in much the same way I might treat a bit of a muscle ache.
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