dawn_metcalf (dawn_metcalf) wrote,
dawn_metcalf
dawn_metcalf

Public Glee vs. the Private Abyss

I've had a number of conversations that start the same way, people wondering just how much to share on blogs or Facebook or Twitter about their families, their kids, their photos or struggles, the truths they wanted to be open about versus the fact that they were authors with "fans" and didn't want to expose their lives to everybody. "How do you keep your public and private lives separate online?" My answer has always been: "I don't put my private life online."

This is only partially true. I am completely open about my geekery, my love of books and steampunk, costuming and gaming, cooking, karate, my passion for gender rights, GLBTQI advocacy and prevention education, I've even nicknamed my kids to share anecdotes and quotes, but there is a line I've drawn in the proverbial sand and since I'm not THAT big of a name, that has been enough for me to keep some details off the radar, and while it sometimes feels like a half-truth, I think it's good to keep some things private, especially when it involves other people.

But not when it's this.

I love writing--I have my whole life--but recently, I've stopped writing. This is bad in many ways, including the fact that I'm under contract, have hopes of publishing other books I've written and those I have planned, but mostly because writing is my go-to place, my solace, my escape from stress and pressure that rule my other lives* and to have that be the cause of stress and anxiety is tantamount to having my own hands turn against me, trying to choke my own throat--works in B-horror movies, but not so much in real life. It's a paralytic feeling. Being one who had a near-miss with paralysis, I'm not thrilled to get another taste.

I use black humor to jokingly reference the fact that my neck snapped back in September, 2012. The truth of the matter is that accident was one of the most frightening moments of my life and put me on my back for a solid 4.5 months, taking over 11 months to recover to almost 90% mobility. I couldn't stand or walk for more than 20 minutes at a time, I wore a neck brace and was on pain meds (which I detest for that cotton-brained feeling), I suffered vertigo and nausea for nearly a year, I couldn't read or write (!!!) and my regular karate workouts went from consistent to zilch. I lay on the couch, head and knees propped up with pillows, for most of my waking hours. I was SO BORED! I could only listen to music or watch TV and those aren't things I usually do. (Reading books made me want to vomit within a few pages.) The truth was that I simply wasn't built for being lazy and complained to my husband that being a couch potato was *exhausting*--I felt like I was vibrating in place with the impatience to move, pushing desperately against that sinking feeling of being slowly swallowed by the couch.

Then came the day when I stopped fighting it.

Still under deadline, I forced myself to do copyedits 20 minutes at a time, taking breaks to resettle my eyes and stomach, before I'd do it again (and again and again) to get my book in on time. I am nothing if not committed.** My writing time had halved since I couldn't manage to keep up the energy I had for my usual nighttime writing stint (9pm-midnight), being physically exhausted by the end of the day. I couldn't go out. I was frustrated and insular. As an extrovert, this was psychological doom. I stepped away from social media for fear of saying too much. I quietly gained weight I couldn't lose. By the time I was clawing out of this, my second book in the series had been bumped back, I had a new two-book deal on the table and things were looking up...until I tripped on the stairs going out to the car, gaining a sprain, a strain and a hairline fracture in my right foot/ankle and earning a pair of crutches and a boot for my trouble.

Now I couldn't drive. I couldn't exercise, although I had just started up again 3 months prior. Winter was coming and I am no fan of lost sunlight--I think the phrase is "seasonal affective disorder" meaning I'm no fan of lost sunlight. I stopped going out. I started having panic attacks. The Earth and I were slowly growing darker by degrees. I sank into depression, a lifelong frenemy that I usually stave off with heavy exercise and forcing myself outside the house for at least 4 hours a day, but I couldn't do either of these things. Then I lost my agent and no small part of my wits. For the first time ever, I elected to try anti-depressants, enduring uncertainty, sleeplessness, muggy-headedness and searing headaches, but nothing worked. It felt hopeless. I was a wreck. My health suffered. My family suffered. My writing suffered.

And I felt I couldn't tell anybody.

I know many writers have talked about depression far more eloquently and empathically than I--Andrea Cremer, Mike Jung, Myra McEntire and Libba Bray to name a few--and I had nothing to add to the conversation except that I'd managed mine over the years by increasing my exercise. Without that option, my world crumbled. It was a quiet, frightened collapse because now it didn't simply risk myself, but my family, my income, and potentially, my career. I'm not a earning enough to make the risk worth it; I hadn't earned a paycheck in nearly a year, we were feeling the pinch at home and at work, my growing kids needed shoes, my husband asked what I was going to do next now that writing was out? I couldn't imagine. Not write? Are you kidding? I felt like I'd failed across the board, which didn't improve my mood or my ability to write. And that is the flipside of having a public voice and a private life--there is so much of our stories that cannot be told because while being a writer is public, being a human being is private.

So I fell into a dark and quiet hole, feeling creatively defunct and physically spray-tanned in Crisco. Fortunately, I knew myself well enough to know that I'd pull myself out of it (eventually), which I did. I applied myself to getting a new agent, I tentatively outlined fresh ideas, I had gained so much weight that I didn't recognize myself but I concentrated on getting healed and getting better and am now moving at 75-80%, eating right and beginning to move in karate and at the gym. The sun is out. My kids are happy. I re-energized myself at NESCBWI and BEA surrounded by intelligent, creative people and geeky bibliophiles, which felt so good! I'm on the mend and things are looking up.

But I haven't been writing. Barely, if at all. And that frightens me in that little dark cave deep inside my psyche because I've always had writing. Always. So I keep jotting down notes, making partial outlines, sticking colored Post Its on the 4 Act Structure board on my wall, aligning myself to Inspiration and Motivation. Book 4 is on the block. I have 3 projects I'd love to make happen. I'm at the keys for this blog post and it's taking shape, step by step, bird by bird, with a smile and sunlight.

This is private, but now it's public because it's real and part of my story.

Thanks for listening.


* My other lives include wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, advocate, activist and a whole slew of other titles that involve worlds-upon-worlds that I do not share online. There is a great deal of my life that is (thankfully) counterbalanced by being an author, and I value the escape, the place to think things through and the ability to vent what cannot be said aloud in polite company. Books have always been my salvation. Aren't they yours?
** Never to an asylum, although that has been a deeply rooted, lifelong fear due to genetic predispositions in my family tree. It really helps to have a twisted sense of humor about these things!
Tags: it's an author thang, my story
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