You might remember a few weeks back I spoke about author Julie Forward DeMay, and how I was planning to dedicate a blog post to her on January 31st as part of SelfPublishingTeam’s ‘Indies Forward’ event.
The premise of the event is simple: What if you couldn’t promote your own book?
Julie Forward DeMay, a mother with a lifelong passion for writing, finally realised her dream when her book, Cell War Notebooks, was released in 2011.
Tragically, Julie was never able to promote or enjoy the success of her book, because it was published by her mother two years after she passed away with cervical cancer, leaving behind a nine-year-old daughter, Luka, and a husband.
Cancer is a cruel disease. I remember when I was younger, seeing those adverts where they claim that one in three people are touched by it in one way or another, and thinking, ‘Yeah, but that doesn’t mean me, right?’
But life is cruel sometimes. My auntie passed away with pancreatic cancer over the Christmas holidays. She always seemed bright and full of life, even a matter of weeks before her diagnosis, so the speed at which the disease moves is truly shocking at times.
Back to the premise: the organisers of this Indies Forward ‘blog-a-thon’ over at Duolit suggested each participating blogger posted about a time in life where we were inspired to overcome an obstacle. I want to talk about something that I don’t like talking about a lot, to anyone: anxiety.
What is anxiety?
Bit of a stupid and loose sounding question, I know, but anxiety seems to have a load of definitions. To some, it’s a sense of dread. To others, it’s butterflies in the stomach in social environments and the like. But I read loads and loads of definitions and nothing seemed to help when I suspected I was suffering from a bout of anxiety back in 2011.
Damn, this is going to be a tough post to write. I’ll give you a bit of context: in the summer of 2011, I finished my first year at university. First year was great — I made loads of friends, had a whole host of new experiences. It helped that by nature, I was confident and extroverted. I could pretty much talk to anyone, or deliver a presentation in a room of 10 or 10,000 — it really didn’t matter to me.
But something happened at the start of my three month summer holiday.
I started to gradually become wary of everyday processes. It started with, say, taking a trip to the supermarket, whereby I’d put it off because it wasn’t entirely necessary. Then eventually, it grew to other aspects of life. Visiting town with friends. Going to parties. I didn’t quite get as far as becoming a recluse, but I’d say if I wasn’t as strong-headed as I am, I’d probably have got close.
Some days, I just wanted to lie in bed and hide from the world. I’d wake up with a sense of dread about… well, absolutely nothing at all. In hindsight, I know exactly what caused it — in returning home from a long stint at university, I lost my everyday routine. By slipping into a mindset whereby I’d put off events like social gatherings and trips to the shops, I grew more wary of the routines.
Why? I think it’s because at university, you have to do these things to live. You have to go to the shops because you have to eat. You have to go to lectures and seminars and live with friends, therefore interacting becomes a part of life. In hindsight, I know exactly what brought on this bout of mild anxiety — a loss of everyday routine, therefore a confusion of purpose.
How did I overcome this obstacle?
In August of 2011, I decided enough was enough. I’d wanted to write a novel all my life, but that month, I decided it was time. Initially, I felt resistance. My inner critic whispered down my ear, ‘You can’t do it because you don’t feel up to it.’
But I ignored it and wrote through it.
I know these epiphany moments sound cliché and cheesy, but something definitely switched in my mindset the moment I started writing. I had something to look forward to every day. A routine. And that’s when I realised that it was a lack of routine that caused my problem that summer.
What happened next?
This post is getting rather lengthy, so I’ll cut the next chapter short: I kept on writing. I started to grow more confident in my abilities. I talked to people about my writing. I returned to university. Things just got better and better and better. I kept on working away on my book.
I released that book in December 2012. It’s What We Saw.
I won’t lie though: some days I still wake up and think, ‘damn, I’d rather not go out today,’ or ‘I’m not sure I have it in me to write anything.’
But instead of getting all het up and trying to resist these feelings, I embrace and accept them. ‘These feelings are okay because I’ve seen how great things get. Today is just an off day.’
Usually, when I’ve accepted this, ‘today’ usually ends up a pretty good day regardless. The mind is a cruel thing sometimes, and indeed very powerful. Instead of fighting a losing battle with it, accept what it has to say, and move on.
Of course, the same cannot be said about a physical battle such as cancer. Nature is even crueller than the mind in that it always has its way. But the point I’m trying to put across is that it’s so important to keep a sense of routine in order to keep our mind healthy. Julie will have found her memoirs a great comfort to her whilst battling with cancer; a way of keeping the fragile mind healthy, regardless of what was going on inside her.
I know this sounds a bit ‘me me me’, but the story of Julie Forward DeMay has made me realise how lucky I am to be able to celebrate the launch of my book, and made me appreciate my own life more.
I hope you have found this post enlightening. I realise it’s a bit stream-of-consciousness, but I’m not entirely comfortable talking about things like this in a linear, structured way. I guess we all have our ways of dealing with things.
‘How’s today,’ I hear you ask? Today’s good. In fact, my life’s been pretty close to perfect since the start of 2012. Summer 2012 was nothing like summer 2011, something I was concerned about. I set up my blog, gave myself a routine, and enjoyed some really happy and productive months.
But if an off-day does crop up, I accept it, and I move on. Life’s too short to worry about things. Instead of aspiring to do something, embrace your dreams and act on them. Julie always wanted to publish a book. It’s just so tragic that it couldn’t have been a more positive release of which she was able to celebrate the success.
In memory of Julie Forward DeMay and the Indies Forward movement, instead of saying, ‘I will do this,’ today, do that thing you’ve wanted to do but have put off for weeks or months. Life is cruel and unpredictable, but it’s also beautiful. Make it count.
Have you ever been affected by an obstacle in life? Does writing help you battle this obstacle?
Cell War Notebooks is available to purchase from Amazon.com for $11.65. All proceeds go to Julie’s nine year old daughter.
Thanks for sharing this, Casey. The mind is a beautiful and powerful force… yet so fragile. It’s a profound dichotomy, really. Writing is my therapy, but even there I find my psyche under attack sometimes, to the point I won’t write. In the spirit of sharing what’s hard to talk about, my obstacle was an eating disorder, specifically anorexia. I’m a healthy weight now, yet every day takes a conscious effort to choose to eat–to fight the lies that flood my mind and chisel away at my self-confidence and self-worth. Your post and Julie’s story have given me much to ponder.
Your respect and honor of Julie Forward DeMay and the Indies Forward movement through your own story is both admirable and brave. May many people find inspiration, renewal, and the power to overcome in the words that are written in honor of this movement.
Thanks for the comment, Leanne. I really appreciate it – I imagine it can’t be an easy issue to talk about.
The mind is indeed a peculiar thing. Funny really, how something that technically is ‘us’ can trick and fool us at times, eh?
All the best for the future! Glad you found the post a worthwhile read.
Thanks for your post Casey, it must have been hard to write! Your honesty is great. Helena
Thanks, Helena. It’s never easy in theory to talk so personally, but the fact that I’m able to reflect on a bad time in hindsight and not from present experience is a positive in itself. 🙂
I’m enjoying reading your blog – this post made me think.
I’ve lived with ME/CFS for 23 years. It cost me my career as a research physicist at Princeton U. It made it incredibly difficult to homeschool my three kids (two born before, my daughter after getting ill) – but that’s what I chose to spend my little daily bit of energy on.
Now that energy goes to writing FIRST – I’m starting to serialize the current novel on my blog.
But your post made me realize that at least I’m alive – and not everyone gets that chance. I’m an incredibly slow writer and editor (I’ve been working on Pride’s Children since June, 2012) – but at least I CAN write and edit.
It made me determined to do better in the use of the rest of my time to be reminded that it could disappear tomorrow – and I don’t want to leave hubby and kids with a mess to deal with, a mess that I can do something about in tiny bits if I make more of an effort. I handle the crises well – no choice – but the daily stuff I need to do a LOT better on. Thanks for the inspiration.
Thanks for your very open comment. It takes a lot to talk about these things.
Delighted to hear that all your energy is focused on your writing. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow of a writer you are, at least you are writing, eh? That in itself is a fantastic thing.
I’m glad the post resonated with you.
It did resonate.
I’m convinced part of the job of being human, of being a writer, is to put this stuff down where other people who have the same problems can see they’re not alone. And ‘normal’ people (whoever they are) can get a little bump in their consciousness that says ‘value your time and energy – it isn’t infinite.’
Otherwise I’d leave it all in my private handwritten journals.
But I’ve benefited from others who have written, like you. Every once in a while, when it gets too overwhelming, I read – and life is better.
Correction: meant to say I’ve been working on Pride’s Children since June 2002, not 2012. Darn keyboard.