While we're here, let's digress from my hormones and talk about my nerves. I consider myself to be a fairly calm, easygoing person, but that's because I grew up on a drama-llama farm and pretty much had no choice but to become the Pleaser of People and the Soother of Tempers; I learned interpersonal diplomacy at a very early age, to the point where even today I frame my opinions with "I don't know, but I kind of think that" rather than stating something, even something I know to be an outright fact, in the direct affirmative. I can be giddy and squeeful, I can be humorously indignant, I can break out the capslock for effect here on LJ, but I hate arguing, I hate confrontation, I hate yelling at people, no matter who's doing it. I like peace and quiet, I like civil discussion (here defined, as opposed to "argument," as a conversation in which both parties can accept that the other has valuable thoughts and opinions), I like harmony.
This all belies the fact that I'm actually kind of high-strung. Maybe I depend on peace and quiet a little too much; large crowds and loud, constant noise freak me out. I once flipped out and had to leave a bar in New Orleans because I started having a noise-induced panic attack. Actually, I don't know that it was a full-blown panic attack; to my knowledge, I've only had one, and I only realized what it was about half an hour afterwards. I had taken a year off between college and grad school--one I hadn't planned on taking, one that dragged on guiltily as I neglected to apply--and it was my first semester back in academia. I was taking three courses, and we were getting near to Christmas exams and the turnings-in of papers. One night I was in the office of a really fun professor who I liked a lot, and we were chatting, and all of a sudden I felt like I was going to throw up on her shoes and die, in that order. I felt as though my face were literally turning green, I felt so nauseated, and for some reason, I didn't want to admit it. I kept chatting with her, even though I started to feel beads of sweat gathering at my temples. It was like this constant throb of pain throughout my entire body, except it was a throb that lasted about fifteen minutes instead of just throbbing and getting it over with. I knelt down and pretended to pull something out of my messenger bag and stayed there on my knees, calmly chatting, so I wouldn't pass out. I honestly do not remember how the conversation ended or how I was able to stand up and get out of there. And it was only about thirty minutes later, leaving the library and going home, that I realized I must have had a panic attack. I'd gone through some deep, dark, dirty depression when I was in college--I nearly flunked out the last semester of college because I couldn't get out of bed and face the world, when I closed my eyes a dozen times a day and just hoped I wouldn't wake up again--and I'd always dealt with some crippling anxiety, but I'd never actually had a panic attack before, a single, distinct moment where I actually wanted to throw up and die (in that order). And I think it was because I was nervous about being back in school again. I'd had to write papers in three different languages my second-to-last semester in college, and I remembered finishing and feeling like I'd pulled a rubber band until it had broken. I really felt like something inside me was broken. I was so relieved to be done with the fall semester, like I'd almost drowned but just, just managed to come up for air in time, that I think it killed my ability to face another trilingual semester. I traveled that Jan-term, we had a big time, class only two hours a day and then a week in Cuba, and then I came home and any ability to buckle down was just dead on arrival. I had professors demanding what the hell was wrong with me, why wasn't I showing up for class, why was my senior project so god-awful, here, do it again rather than have me fail you completely; I felt like the real me had died and I was wandering around with no idea how to even pretend to be me, and I felt shut away from everyone because I was too ashamed to say that I was depressed, I was sick, and I needed help; I lied to my therapist and said everything was fine. And I didn't go straight into grad school because I was so scared and exhausted from just barely pulling out a cum laude graduation (summa was scratched out beside my name on the organizers' roll call at the last minute; I was still called as an honors program student, even though I had dropped out rather than do the project--and taken an F for it--because no one had found out in time) and I was so afraid of losing my shit again.
It probably goes back to the unholy importance placed on my grades as a child; my mother once gave me the Very Disappointed in You talk because I made my first B, ever, in math because I could not manage to understand borrowing in subtraction. I remind her of this at least once a year ("You're never going to let me live that down, are you?" "Nope, because it WARPED ME"), just because I still feel so awful about it. I was raised in one of those families where a 90 was sin and 91 was salvation (although you could really do better next time). And maybe it was also because I felt it was all I had; I wasn't pretty (although, looking at grade school pictures now, I realize I was a reasonably cute child), wasn't popular, wasn't musical, wasn't athletic, didn't have many friends. If I didn't have top grades, what did I have? I finally learned to accept the occasional Bs in math and sometimes science (and at least one time a C, I think) because no matter how hard I tried, there were just some things I could not grasp until, you know, a year or two later when it was too late. In college I was a little less psychotic about it, but I was still pretty bent on getting As in my core classes. You know, the ones for my double Spanish/French major. And then I got to the end of my college career and I couldn't take it anymore, and I watched myself just give up and nearly drown. So I was scared to go to grad school--and it turns out I was right to be scared, because a few years into that, I started drowning again, and I just quietly stopped taking classes rather than watch myself bomb all over again. I took time off after writing the Movies in Fifteen Minutes book--I was actually in class while I wrote it, and I was even in class when it came out the next fall--but once again, I felt like some spring had popped, and I just didn't go back to class. I don't know if I'm technically still enrolled or not. I just know that I was to the point where I would sit down at the computer, contemplate starting a paper, and begin to cry hysterically.
I think that brings us up to 2006. 2006 was a bad, bad year. I don't remember much of it now, except that I know I started off by trying to write a second book, and that didn't get very far. I was very, very depressed; we increased my Zoloft and I got mortally depressed, and then we started experimenting with Lamictal, as you may recall, and after a scary period where we increased it too quickly, I finally settled down and have done pretty well on it. I started trying to work on the second book again in the first half of 2007. Got a bit farther. Wrote a lot, actually, but on various projects that never really settled down into one concerted effort. And then sometime this summer--July, I want to say, although I think I got deadly serious about it sometime in August or September; God, time has flown--I decided that I was going to finish Black Ribbon if it killed me. And I said that knowing that it might, so to speak, because I got pretty hysterical trying to finish the Movies in Fifteen Minutes book--I missed about three deadlines (through which my agent and my publisher were supremely patient with me). I could (in theory) have pitched a second book, or whatever else I wanted to write, and actually signed a contract and gotten an advance, but I knew--and I think it'll have to be this way from now on--that I could not, I cannot, work that way. I have to turn in the finished project and then get paid, because the pressure of knowing I've already promised to do something and they're waiting on it--I can't stand it.
I think this is why I can't finish things, or why I never finished things on my own. I think I feel the hysteria rising when I get too close, and--without really thinking about it--I back off rather than fall headlong into a nervous breakdown. I think that last semester of college illustrates what happens when it's too late to back out and I can't. To this day, I'm still not sure how I finished the Movies in Fifteen Minutes book. I think I'm telling you this now because I have three or four weeks left on my arbitrary Black Ribbon deadline, and I'm getting scared again. And that's why I have the arbitrary deadline, because I have to teach myself how not to be scared, or at least how not to be so crippled by it. Except this time, even if I do fail--I'm going to be pissed the hell off at myself, but there aren't any actual consequences. No contract, no money riding on it. But at the same time, I find myself creating stakes, absurdly high ones--this is my big chance! This book could be my breakthrough, it could be a huge hit, oh my God I can't do this, I can't do this, it's going to be horrible, I'm going to make some ridiculous geographical mistake or the dialogue's going to be atrocious or the story's going to be too convoluted or people are going to guess all the twists in the first five pages or they won't think there's enough of an ending, you remember the reviews for the Fifteen Minutes book, there were like two good ones and then all the others were snootily mediocre, you remember how that was going to be your big breakthrough into being a professional career writer and you see what happened with that, what makes you think you can even do this at all? Much less birth the Next Big Thing in four more weeks? Oh my God I can't do this, I can't do this, I can't do this.
I get a little high-strung when it comes to personal endeavors, is what I'm saying.
I almost want to have someone to hold my hand through all of this. Not even someone who can phrase an honest opinion kindly; I mean someone close to me whose mission it will be to tell me, no matter what, that everything's okay and that I can do this. It doesn't have to be the truth and I'll know it isn't the truth--it isn't an honest critique, it's not supposed to be. It's just someone saying, "You can get through this." But how quickly does that someone turn into a yes-man? I can't trust anyone to hold my hand; I can't trust anyone to chase away all my doubts. I hate the idea of my sanity depending on someone else. I hate the idea of people whispering to each other, "Oh God, she's hysterical again, go get So-and-So, s/he can manage her." I don't want to be managed. I need to manage myself. I have got to learn to do this. I can't go through my life running this race and then tripping over my own fear right as I get to the last hurdle. I have to learn to tell myself that it doesn't matter if it's the Next Big Thing, it doesn't have to be the Next Big Thing, I only have to finish it and be proud of it and find the nerve to let it out into the world and maybe it's good and maybe it's not, but if it makes a few people glad they read it, it's good enough. I have got to find a way to make myself understand that I am what I am and it is what it is, and then to be content with that. I'll let you know how that works out, I guess.