Sunday, February 8, 2009

Writing for Moola = Love and Terror

Hello Friends:

I love earning money (who doesn't?) and I love writing. And I love science and I love teaching. It seems that writing a science textbook under contract should therefore be complete bliss and ecstasy.

But as we all know when you have an anxiety disorder, nothing is that simple.

My employment over the last few years has been based in contract work. When economic times are tough, no one can hire a full time person, but work still needs to get done. So I've had some luck bringing in temporary project and contract work, as well as teaching some classes, as the basis of my career these days. And it initially was working okay. Nothing ever works perfectly given my mental health, but okay is good enough. When this latest depressive episode hit, it all fell apart. One by one I had to tie up contracts and then not seek to extend. In the end, any contract that had me working out of my house had to go - my agoraphobia and other anxieties made it impossible to leave the house consistently. This was besides the overwhelming depression, which for weeks at a time would have me unable to leave my room at all. And completely uninterested in leaving my room, since I didn't care about myself or anything other than wanting the horrible pain to stop. You've been there, so you know what I mean.

I had a couple of contracts that were not time critical during my current depression, so I let them go on, hoping I might recover enough of myself to actually do the work. This textbook I'm working on is one of them. Deadlines have been pushed and pushed, and now I really have to finish writing this thing. And I am doing a lot better, with the bulk of the depression under control, and the anxieties uncomfortably high, but not panic level. So with a tremendous amount of effort, support, and help, I've been able to plod through some of the writing. I have about 40% of it done, after so much effort. I am daunted and I'm beginning to think it will never get finished.

I've only just learned about one of my specific PTSD symptoms, and that is 'foreshortened future'. I've never known it had a name, I just assumed that my complete inability to think past certain points in the future was an 'I'm overwhelmed with anxiety' thing. It's not that. Anyone can be overwhelmed by an upcoming deadline, but if you ask them to plan to meet you for dinner two weeks after their deadline, they understand what you mean, and can crack open their calender and pencil you in. 'Foreshortened future' means that there is a wall in time, maybe in a month, a week, a day, or even the next hour, where nothing beyond exists. If people ask you about something after the wall, you can't deal with it, and you might not even really be able to understand the question. People will repeat the question, and you still can't get it. And more than likely someone forcing you to think beyond the wall won't work, and will end up with you having a strong emotional reaction like crying or anger.

I have this symptom all the time. The wall isn't tied to any sort of deadline, although it can combine with anxiety sometimes to make it hard to tell. But anything beyond the wall is not real. Non-existent. Planning past it is nearly impossible, and imagining that you'll even be alive after the wall is hard to do. Which means, oddly, that part of me does not imagine I'll actually finish the book because I won't be around to do it. Should be comforting in a way, but it isn't at all. It causes real terror. How can I promise to do something in the future, like sign a contract, when no future exists? And this isn't a depressive 'I'm going to kill myself' thing, this is a cold, factual feeling. There simply is no future beyond the wall, no reasons given or needed. It just is.

This is on top of the usual perfectionist 'I hate myself' anxiety, which has me bruised in the head over worrying about people critiquing my work harshly, or having them get bent because I'm not working fast enough, or maybe they'll just back out before I can get it done. That and the fact that I was researching the quantum basis for electromagnetism today all have me really FREAKED OUT.

Trying to find a silver lining - ah ... let's see. After all this textbook research today, I now understand why magnetite and hematite, while both iron bearing minerals, behave different magnetically. Yowzer.

Your Hostess With Neuroses


The Tenacious Writer said...

Foreshortened future!! That helps explain something I experience a lot.

When something is going well, particularly in the professional writing part of my life, I suddenly think I might die soon. When I feel horrible, it seems I'll stay that way forever. When something is going well, I'm sure I'll die on a plane or get hit by one of any number of moving vehicles or get some horrible acute disease that leaves me unable to work. I try to talk myself out of it, but the feeling persists. Why does my subconscious think that feeling good will kill me?

And what is it about Sunday nights and freak-outs?

The Blue Morpho said...

You are so right about Sunday night freakouts! I think for us traumatized folks, it brings on memories of once having 'school' in the morning, and reliving the horror of the bad old days. Not to mention knowing during work the next day you'll encounter tough situations and clueless people. And I don't even work out of the house.

I have that same good=die soon, bad=around for ever sensation. It might be a vacillation between anxiety and depression, not sure. But it definitely puts a damper on the 'I'm feeling better now' phase.

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