A Long Exhale

I started seeing a therapist recently. For lots of different reasons.

I’d been putting off doing this for years, telling myself that I was fine, or I would be. I’ve always considered myself a pretty self-aware person. I had ideas about the person I wanted to be – self-disciplined, productive, passionate, loyal, empathetic, kind, funny, intelligent, open, fearless, etc. – and I would work towards becoming those things, in spite of myself. And in my more compassionate moments with myself, I can see that I’ve done good work on myself. I am closer to being the person I want to be than I have ever been.

But a while back, I reached a point where I stopped improving on my own, where I chased myself in circles around a giant knot that was too big and too tangled to hold in my mind at once, or to tease out smaller bits from to work on.

And I reached a breaking point in January.

It’s hard for me to ask for help. I became acutely aware of this tendency in grad school, both in terms of my professional life and my personal one. I managed to mostly overcome it in regards to my professional life (I now happily embrace the words, “I don’t know,” because that’s how best to learn). Not so much in my personal life.

So I dug out a piece of paper with a name on it that had been sitting on my dresser for months, written down by someone I love. I made an appointment. And now I have a therapist.

It ranks up there with one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. At the same time, I’m surprised at how much I’ve been waiting to say.

One of the things we’ve talked about is writing. As you might imagine, I have a lot of feelings about this: Fear of failure, fear of success, problems with motivation, fear of plateauing, being too hard on myself when I fail to live up to unrealistic expectations – all fairly typical artist neuroses. And talking, so far, seems to be helping in ways not even directly related to the content of our conversations, like just having an outlet now for all of this stuff I’ve kept bottled up for decades is letting a bit of steam out of the emergency release valves.

And one of the results of this is helping me to feel less crushed by the unrealistic expectations I take to the keyboard with me whenever I sit down to write (which I’ll admit I stopped doing completely the last three months of 2013).

When my therapist asked me how much I would need to be writing to consider it enough, I responded, “All the time. Every waking moment.”

She gently suggested that might be an unrealistic goal. I knew it was when I said it, but it doesn’t change the fact that’s how I felt. How I still feel. It’s an unattainable goal, and no matter how much I write, it’ll never be enough. That’s a road with pretty scenery that leads straight to a chronic sense of failure.

As such, I was so grateful to see this post by Bear the other day about her writing habits and average daily word counts. Bear’s self-discipline (when it comes to a lot of different aspects of life) is something I deeply admire and aspire to, and I told myself that she must be writing every waking moment to be as outstanding and prolific as she is. But in reality she writes at a rate of four pages a day, which is about the daily word count I’m working with right now.

It helps to know this because it helps me to be less afraid. That this is something to be chipped away at, like running, or yoga, or therapy. Superhuman effort only serves to burn you out and leave you disappointed with yourself.

I have been working on being more patient with myself. It’s helping that I’m working on novel revisions for the first half of this year. I was able to finish a reverse outline of the previous exploratory draft and write a detailed synopsis where I fixed a lot of the plot issues and mapped out character arcs before the start of the Rainforest Writer’s Retreat (which was amazing, as always, and I already can’t wait to see everyone again next year to sit quietly next to, sharing nibbles and giggles and ukulele songs). At the retreat I rewrote the first 15,000 words of it, and in the week since I’ve been back, I’ve managed nearly every day to sit down and get at least an hour or more of writing in. The word count continues to tick slowly upwards.

I’ve done this before. Mostly for NaNos. But this feels different. It feels softer.

And most importantly, it feels like the me I’m trying to be.

Be patient and kind with yourself. You deserve it, even if you have a hard time believing it.

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3 Responses to A Long Exhale

  1. Congratulations on the decision and follow-up action. I may do the same myself.

    Four pages a day with a full-time job and amateur music career seems like a lot to me.

  2. ernestwhile says:

    Goddamn Brave Post.

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