So, I’ve been struggling really badly off and on for the past year with what I’ve termed at various points anxiety and depression, and this week I think I had a breakthrough about what’s actually happening, specifically, beyond those general terms.
When I was young, I acquired a phobia about phones in general and a terrible anxiety around communication in general. It came from having a hard time understanding social cues and a harder time making myself understood. I preferred writing to talking, and when the internet became a thing, I found a huge relief valve in there. I didn’t really start communicating with the world around me in a way that felt good until the internet, and there was always a clear divide: face-to-face communication was hard, phone communication was harder… but the internet? The internet was easy.
I think it’s in part because my handwriting and speech issues were never a thing on the internet but even more so, it was the fact that the internet was a blank slate for me and I was a blank slate for it. I had no negative formative experiences with the net. The net didn’t have any preconceived notions about me. It was great.
Over the last year and change, though, things started changing. Almost right away, right around January 2015, the internet stopped being as welcoming. There were things going on that turned my email and messengers into a source of anxiety, for the first time ever. Entirely separately from that, there were people out there trying to figure out where I lived and who I was related to, mostly on account of some of the things I had blogged and tweeted about. Over the course of the year, the internet lost a lot of its magic for me. It no longer felt safer than anywhere else. I withdrew more and more, and the more I withdrew, the more the lurking dread around everything intensified.
The only places I’ve really been active online in the past few months are places I was never active before, because the dread hadn’t had a chance to spread to them. I think that’s how I wound up being as invested in D&D stuff as I have lately. That, and it’s always been a refuge for me.
Like most things that happen incrementally and over time, I didn’t realize it was happening. I knew things were wrong. I knew things were off. I did realize I was going quite a long time without checking my email except for the specific things that automatically get highlighted for me, stuff from family and stuff like that. I knew I’d stopped really communicating with my patrons, stopped writing newsletters. I called it depression, because I was depressed and it happened in conjunction with it. But even when the depression was at low ebb, even when I was in a genuinely good mood and full of energy and felt like I could take on the world… it all seemed too much.
My recent experiments in writing by hand again have helped me figure this out, because they’ve been going so well… but mattering so little. I can sit down and write like the very Dickens (or like the Alexandra) whenever I want… but as soon as I start trying to type it up to share with anyone, the freeze sets in, and if I’m thinking about publishing or sharing something as I’m writing it, same thing.
It’s not writer’s block, it’s publisher’s block. Sharer’s block. Communicator’s block.
The real breakthrough came, though, when I was talking to Jack earlier in the week. He has noticed that I’m a lot less responsive to emails, and often I’ll come down to reply to something he emailed me about in person (the first time this happened, I guess I should have realized how bad the problem was, since my inclination has always been the other way around), and that if I don’t have a chance to answer in person, I often forget.
I was trying to explain what was going on with me, and in the course of trying to make sense of it for him, I made sense of it for me: all of my old communication anxieties had crept back in, and spread to my new forms of communication. I have been so isolated and so afraid of basically everyone and everything and so without any outlet, and because I didn’t know what was happening myself, I have been unable to tell anyone.
At the same time, I’ve been making progress. I’ve been chipping away at the other obstacles in my life, self-erected and other. I’ve been improving my work routine, my work environment, my habits. I’ve been managing my mood and my motivation.
But I could only get so far before I’d hit this big, unspoken, unexamined thing that has been in my path, and bounce back.
I guess the best way to describe the way I’ve been feeling lately, now that I’m thinking about it, is that I am all alone in a big house that used to feel comfortable to me but which now has grown oppressively terrifying. One room is this blog. One room is Twitter. Another is Facebook. There are rooms for my stories, too. All the rooms are empty, as far as I know, but I can’t let go of the idea that there might be something in them. I know that if I check there will be nothing and that should put my mind at ease, and sometimes I do and it does, for a while, but the house is still big and empty and I am still alone in it, and so mostly I stay in bed and hide under the covers.
I occasionally go out, when needs drive me to, and when I do I turn on all the lights and talk to myself and laugh to show I’m not afraid, and sometimes I feel better… but as soon as I’m back in the bedroom, it’s like that never happened.
The fear of communication is in part the fear of exposing yourself, of putting yourself out there where you’re vulnerable. It’s partly the fear of letting other people in. But in my case, it’s mainly the fear of what I’m going to hear. What am I going to read, when I open up my email? What’s going to be waiting for me when I sign into Twitter or Facebook? One by one, I turned off all my notifications on every social media site I’m active on, but even then it’s still a lot of effort to make myself look at them.
The point of this post is not to engender sympathy. I don’t have comments turned on at my blog (I think probably in large part due to this burgeoning fear, though I do still philosophically agree with the movement against comment sections being de rigueur) anyway, and I haven’t been looking at the notes and stuff on crossposts. The point of this blog post, as with most of the ones that are about me, self-inventory, self-accountability… and hopefully in this case, self-empathy and self-forgiveness.
I have felt better about this problem since I identified and named it. I felt better already when I told Jack about it, as much as I could when speaking out loud and off the cuff and without a pen in my hands or a keyboard under my fingers, earlier this week. I felt better when I told Pope Lizbet, who has been waiting patiently for me to get my stuff together and finish the anthology I dedicated to her a year ago, what was going on and gave her permission—nay, asked her—to contact me directly and hold my feet to the fire as we finally kick it out the door.
Even though there’s a lot of processing in this blog post, and more processing to do, I felt better even when I made the decision earlier today that I was going to write it.
Naming the problem is not a solution. It’s a step forward, though. I go through this thing periodically where I make a resolution that I’m going to blog more, because it’s my blog and I shouldn’t have to worry about whether I’m blogging right, or what people will think if I’m blogging about something they don’t care about, or what I should be doing with my time, and then I never make it very far, because I’m not dealing with the thing that makes it hard.
I mean, the whole “blog more” thing, it’s not about me not having things to say or time to say it in. It’s not about forcing myself to write anything, it’s about not forcing myself to not write things.
The fact is, I always have a lot to say, about a lot of things. I always have a lot of stories in me. There are a lot of exciting things happening in my life. People are nominating me for awards. I’m up for two Rhysling Awards and there are people nominating me for a Hugo, which whether or not I make it to the ballot is huge. Also, I’m up for jury duty soon. That’s potentially going to be “fun” because trans stuff, but it’s a thing that’s happening.
But instead of talking about that stuff, I’m sitting here in my notional bedroom, afraid to turn on the lights while my big, cold, empty house crumbles around me, talking about D&D because that’s the only thing that feels safe, and even that, the dread is starting to creep into.
I’m going to start another blog post as soon as I finish this one. I’m not sure what it’s going to be about, because I’m going to be making it just for the sake of making a blog post, shaking out the cobwebs from this corner of my internet house. I might not actually finish it before I have to run out for dinner (we have plans tonight with family friends), so don’t be alarmed or think I fell down into the notional cellar if you don’t see it. But I’m going to do it.
I’m also going to crosspost this post in its entirety into my Patreon feed, so my patrons can all read it directly. I’m sorry I have been so unreachable lately, a time frame which for a number of you encompasses the whole term of your patronage. I am going to be talking to you all directly over on Patreon next week, near the end of it. Let’s check in with each other.
It’s going to be hard, because communicating is, you know, the specific thing I’m having a problem with… and I’ve been trying the whole “communicate more” thing a lot without sustained results… but I really think doing it with awareness of what the problem is will work out better.