Anxiety or ANXIETY (IWSG Post)

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It’s the first Wednesday of the month, so I’m posting about anxiety and writing as part of the Insecure Writers Support Group. Head over there to visit writers who are almost as neurotic about their work as I am.

Like many folks, I freak out about writing. I worry my work stinks. That agents and publishers will never accept me. That all my work is for nothing and I’d be better off studying carpentry, electrical engineering, or other useful skills.

On the other hand, I also get ANXIOUS. I worry that something terrible will happen to my children. I’ll get fired. Lose the house. Ruin everything for everybody. That the world would be better off without me. ANXIETY can make me curl up in my room, drink to avoid reality, and turn into an all-around lame guy.child book

Actually, I don’t get super ANXIOUS much these days. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder several years ago. Since then, I’ve eliminated caffeine, reduced my sugar intake, and I take medication daily. Oh yeah, I’m also supposed to exercise. Some months I’m really good about it.

My point is that we need to know when we are experiencing normal anxiety and sadness related to the writing process and when our fears, worries, and depression are getting out of hand.

This distinction has consequences. Here’s a quick list of writers who have taken their lives:

Manuel Acuña, Louis Adamic, Arthur Adamov, Francis Adams, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Jean Améry, Raymond Andrews, Hubert Aquin, Nelly Arcan, Reinaldo Arenas, José María Arguedas, Takeo Arishima, Charles Ashton, Arno Assmann, Zo d’Axa, James Robert Baker, R. H. Barlow, William Vincent Barré, Rex Beach, Victoria Benedictsson, Lore Berger, Steven “Jesse” Bernstein, John Berryman, H. S. Bhabra, Jens Bjørneboe, Samuel Laman Blanchard, Ernest Bornemann, Karin Boye, Menno ter Braak, Henry Joseph, Steele Bradfield, Richard Brautigan, Frederick Hazlitt Brennan, Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić, Eustace Budgell, Andrés Caicedo, Albert Caraco, George Caragonne, Don Carpenter, Camilo Castelo Branco, Harry M. Caudill, Samson Cerfberr, Ana Cristina Cesar, Nicolas Chamfort, Evan Chandler, Iris Chang, Thomas Chatterton, Konstantin Chkheidze, Charles Clegg, Charmian Clift, Danielle Collobert, Charles Caleb Colton, Courtney Ryley Cooper, Branko Ćopić, Elise Cowen, Ida Craddock, Hart Crane, Thomas Creech, James Ashmore Creelman, Hector-Jonathan Crémieux, René Crevel, Harry Crosby, Géza Csáth, Will Cuppy, Stig Dagerman, John Davidson, Osamu Dazai, Aldo De Benedetti, Roy Andries De Groot, Penelope Delta, Frederick Van Rensselaer Dey, Thomas M. Disch, Tove Ditlevsen, Michael Dorris, Chris Doty, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, K. Sello Duiker, Tristan Egolf, Carl Einstein, Alexander Fadeyev, Fan Changjiang, Arthur Davison Ficke, Ham Fisher, John Gould Fletcher, Vsevolod Garshin, Romain Gary, Helen Palmer Geisel, Peter George, Sam Gillespie, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Guy Gilpatric, Richard Glazar, Denis Goodwin, William Lindsay Gresham, Paul Gruchow, Hjalmar Gullberg, Stephen Haggard, Kenneth Halliwell, St. John Emile Clavering Hankin, Tamiki Hara, James Harden-Hickey, Horace Hart, Walter Hasenclever, Rashad Hashim, Beatrice Hastings, Attila Hazai, Sadegh Hedayat, Olle Hedberg, Thomas Heggen, Carolyn Gold Heilbrun, Ernest Hemingway, Leicester Hemingway, Jarl Hemmer, Henry William Herbert, Iva Hercíková, James Leo Herlihy, Anderson Bigode Herzer, Ashihei Hino, Jane Aiken Hodge, Merton Hodge, Abbie Hoffman, Doug Hopkins, Brian Howard, Robert E. Howard, Lorraine Huling Maynard, Arthur Eaglefield Hull, Robin Hyde, Evald Ilyenkov, Kaan İnce, William Inge, Charles R. Jackson, Philipp Jaffé, Morris K. Jessup, Orrick Glenday Johns, B. S. Johnson, Maurice Joly, Ingrid Jonker, Philippe Jullian, Metin Kaçan, Sarah Kane, Yasunari Kawabata, Bizan Kawakami, Anthony Paul Kelly, Alan Kirschenbaum, Jim Kjelgaard, Heinrich von Kleist, Jochen Klepper, Ardian Klosi, Fletcher Knebel, Vsevolod Kochetov, Arthur Koestler, Sarah Kofman, Hannelore Kohl, Nikola Koljević, Jerzy Kosiński, Deborah Laake, Lao She, Mariano José de Larra, Margaret Laurence, Katherine Lawrence, Pepi Lederer, Joel Lehtonen, Édouard Levé, Primo Levi, D. A. Levy, Heather Lewis, Lester Lewis, Hans Leybold, George Lichtheim, Erik Lindegren, Ross Lockridge, Jr., Petre Locusteanu, Erich Loest, Jack London (either suicide or accidental overdose), Leopoldo Lugones, F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, Philipp Mainländer, János Majláth, Klaus Mann, Sándor Márai, Eugène Marais, Nilgün Marmara, Harry Martinson, Eleanor Marx, Gunnar Mattsson, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Alexander Keith McClung, Tom McHale, Johann Heinrich Merck, Carlo Michelstaedter, Richard Barham Middleton, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Roger Milliot, Yukio Mishima, Edgar Mittelholzer, Vilhelm Moberg, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Henry de Montherlant, Pamela Moore, Jason Moss, Dhan Gopal Mukerji, John Mulgan, Inge Müller, Börries von Münchhausen, Mirosław Nahacz, Nandanar, Yves Navarre, Gérard de Nerval, Torquato Neto, Adela Florence Nicolson, Hollister Noble, Franz Nopcsa von Felső-Szilvás, John O’Brien, Alexandru Odobescu, Louis Owens, André Paiement, Breece D’J Pancake, Dillwyn Parrish, Cesare Pavese, Harry Thurston Peck, Mike Penner, Petronius, Richard Pigott, Edappally Raghavan Pillai, H. Beam Piper, Peter Pišťanek, Sylvia Plath, John William Polidori, Gabriel Pomerand, Raul Pompeia, Jan Potocki, Lucien-Anatole Prévost-Paradol, Gert Prokop, Dragoș Protopopescu, Qiu Miaojin, Horacio Quiroga, Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo, Fritz J. Raddatz, Alexander Radishchev, Taqi Rafat, Ferdinand Raimund, Rajalakshmi, Anil Ramdas, Christopher Rave, Richard Realf, Liam Rector, David Oliver Relin, William Relling, Jr., Cale Young Rice, Jacques Rigaut, Roger-Arnould Rivière, E. Arnot Robertson, Amelia Rosselli, Berton Roueché, Gerolamo Rovetta, Alice Rühle-Gerstel, Mário de Sá-Carneiro, Gunter Sachs, Jun Sadogawa, Stig Sæterbakken, Emilio Salgari, Ramón Sampedro, Thomas Parker Sanborn, Drake Sather, John Monk Saunders, Alexander Saxton, Hermann Georg Scheffauer, Runar Schildt, William Seabrook, Mark Shepherd,  Gennady Shpalikov, Peder Sjögren, Edward Stachura, Frank Stanford, George Sterling, Adalbert Stifter, John Augustus Stone, Alfonsina Storni, Michael Strunge, John Suckling, Mikhail Sushkov, Aaron Swartz, Hidemitsu Tanaka, Rudolf Těsnohlídek, Hunter S. Thompson, James Tiptree, Jr., Ernst Toller, John Kennedy Toole, Felipe Trigo, Thaddäus Troll, Kurt Tucholsky, Peter Tyrrell, Dorothy Uhnak, Tor Ulven, Urmuz, Nikolai Uspensky, Louis Verneuil, Guido da Verona, Ned Vizzini, David Foster Wallace, Horace Binney Wallace, George Drought Warburton, Albert Wass, Gary Webb, Josef Weinheber, Otto Weininger, Ernst Weiss, Lew Welch, Edward Lucas White, Gustav Wied, Charles Williams, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Alfred Witte, Wally Wood, Virginia Woolf, Shōji Yamagishi, Francis Parker Yockey, A. P. Younger, Unica Zürn, Joost Zwagerman, and Stefan Zweig.

I could produce a similar list for other professions, but it wouldn’t be as easy.

That’s because research has demonstrated that writers are more likely to face mental health challenges than non-writers. Using a ginormous sample (N = 1,173,763), researchers found that being an author was “specifically associated with increased likelihood of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, unipolar depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and suicide.”

The study found that individuals in other creative professions (artists, musicians…) actually had a reduced chance of being diagnosed with these disorders. In other words, all creative types do not suffer equally. Writers suffer the most.

Here’s the study if you want a closer look. Mental Illness, Suicide, and Creativity

There could be a bunch of reasons behind this relationship.

People with mental illnesses may be more likely to write because we want to work out the issues that bother us.

We tend to be introspective as well as thoughtful observers of the world around us. Such awareness might lend itself toward anxiety and depression.

Writing can also be a lonely life full of criticism and failure, so there may be something about the writing process itself that fosters poor mental health. I have doubts about this argument. Writing can be therapeutic as well as anxiety producing.

I am inclined to think that people who are extra sensitive are more likely to have mental health problems and also more likely to write. But, honestly, I don’t care about the causes. I just want to make sure I stay mentally healthy and keep my anxiety from becoming all-consuming ANXIETY.

The first step comes in recognizing the difference.

There are bunch of online resources to help you figure out if your anxieties are getting the best of you. I don’t know enough to say which one is best, so I do not want to link to one over the others. Just Google “do I have an anxiety disorder” or “anxiety checklist” and you will find a slew of them.

man panicThe standard advice is to seek treatment when anxiety affects your daily life. Does it impede your physical health, relationships, or work performance? If so, take it as seriously as you would a stabbing pain in your heart. Self-medicating is another big sign. If you are drinking to calm your worries or smoking herb to chill out, you may have a problem.

In short, if anxiety is screwing up your ability to function or enjoy life, schedule an appointment with your general practitioner. They will help you diagnose your condition and possibly think out a treatment plan. They may also connect you to a specialist.

That’s what I did, and it helped me become a better husband, father, and worker. Spending less time worrying has also opened up new hours for writing. You can’t write when you are paralyzed by fear and, despite what some folks say, writing drunk rarely produces quality work.

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11 thoughts on “Anxiety or ANXIETY (IWSG Post)

  1. Whoa. That is one scarily long list of writers. I definitely think it’s good to know the difference between anxiety disorder and small anxieties over writing. I used to struggle with social anxiety – complete with palms sweating, hard-to-breathe, nausea moments, but somehow, over a lot of years and lots of exposure, I’ve gotten it to a manageable point. I realized early on that I’m less afraid of reciting lines and singing songs on stage with a drama production or choir, so I did that a lot in high school and then I transferred some of those experiences into my just saying hello to people experiences. Then, I also try to give myself huge pep talks before heading somewhere new or different to meet people.

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  2. Interesting list, but some of the names on the list were people who also had other issues. I am a musician and writer, so I’ve had a double-barrelled shot of this nonsense since I was diagnosed with existential depression at age 9. Yeah, that’s a thing and it led to a motor disorder which kinda led me to stop playing for a few years and that’s when the writing career began. Jerzy Kosiński survived not only the Death Camps, but the slaughter of the Manson Family in 1969 in Los Angeles, California. Stefan Zweig was a Jew who was forced to flee to England. He was actually a librettist who had worked very successfully with Richard Strauss on several of his more well-known operas, and although Strauss appealed to Joseph Goebbels to let Zweig collaborate with him from London, of course, Goebbels thought Strauss was out of his mind. The only reason Strauss didn’t end up in a Labor Camp himself is because he was too well-known in the West to do away with.

    It is very true that writers and musicians and artists of all stripe are sensitive people. It’s how we process the world and how we respond to it that leads to our particular mental illnesses. In my case, I was the only child. My father, who loved me dearly, was an alcoholic; he was my initial care-giver and was with me constantly until I started nursery school (this was in the 50s and he was in college on the G.I. Bill). My mother was co-dependent and was exceedingly jealous of what she perceived to be her upheaval from the center of my father’s universe and took it out on me in capricious and vicarious ways; I developed ulcers at age 9, but they did not present until I was 29, when I almost died from perforation and loss of blood. I took to the viola because I loved music and as a refuge, and when I graduated from high school, I left forever. My mother’s attempted suicide when I was 7 did nothing for my parents’ marriage and my father, who I thought would leave when I left home, was ironically enough, abandoned by my mother.

    In retrospect, they were two people who were just trying to raise a kid and really were in over their heads. Stefan Zweig took his life, due to the fact that he had no other prospects before him and World War II was raging and London was being bombed. Kosiński had made several other suicide attempts prior to his last successful one. It is an unfortunate thing, because we do still live in the age of Anxiety. It is always with us. I have taken Beethoven as my muse. As bad as my life has gotten, and it has been at times, horrific, I live it with passion. Each day. Beethoven and I weirdly share the same birthday and I was drawn to him as a kid (he also wrote the first interesting orchestral viola parts) and he would say to you, “To play a wrong note here or there is forgivable, but to play without passion, is inexcusable!” Thus it is with life. I’m bipolar, too. Even when I’m down, I know the sun will come out again. Suicide is not a way out for me. Great post. Hang in there and keep on writing!

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  3. That’s one long scary, tragic list, David, in the middle of an inspiring post. It is a hopeful post because you vividly describe a problem and share an excellent solution. I heartily agree with your suggestion to get help, starting with your GP. I eventually sought help with my depression and anxiety, thanks to Tipper Gore’s speaking out about mental illness. It changed my life. Yes, I’m one of those people who will have to be on medication throughout my life, but I am grateful, especially when I think of the suffering from mental illness that has plagued generations of my family. I remember clearly when Ernest Hemingway committed suicide in 1961, such a tragic waste. I struggled with suicidal urges in a number of dark periods, but I came through, mostly because of my mother. I think it’s important for people to speak out about these things, to show that there is a way to a better life. Have a good one!

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  4. Oh, that list! I cling to my writing as therapy and dove into it headfirst when my anxiety was at a high level. There’s a big difference between writing and publishing, though. Writing reduces my anxiety. Publishing increases it.

    I’m glad you knew when to cry uncle and that you’ve gotten your anxiety under control. Thanks for sharing the warning signs.

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