Ink-Stained Scribe

Super Freak: Moon-Swings, Modern Times, & the Panicking Artist

I've never hated the phrase YOLO. To be honest, it both inspires me and scares me to death.

You only live once. You only get one life to do what you want to do. It's not that you only get one chance--there are so many chances to succeed or fail--but a reminder that you have to make the most of them, because life isn't forever. Unless you think it is, I guess. Somehow, though, that doesn't comfort me. It doesn't make me feel better to imagine I'd have a chance in another life to succeed where I've failed here, because I wouldn't be the same person. I wouldn't know the same people. I probably wouldn't want the same things. I wouldn't tell the same stories--that's for sure.

I mean, what if--in another life--I wanted to write literary fiction?

Joking aside, I've talked about depression and fear on this blog before. I haven't tried to hide the fact that I have panic attacks and really horrible crash-and-burn mood-swings. I accidentally just typed moon-swings, which makes me smile a little bit, because it does sort of feel like I transform into a fuzzy ball of fangs and depression and "just-lock-me-in-a-panic-room-till-it's-over" misery. I wish it was timed to moon-phases so I could arm myself with chocolate, b vitamines, and tissues on a schedule (or at least blame it on my period), but unfortunately, that's not the case. TMI, I know, but my panic attacks usually happen in the week leading up to my period, so I've been able to blame the magnitude (if not the genesis) on that. Today was different (hormone timing isn't an excuse for this one).

The thing is, it's both terrifying and wonderful to be an artist right now. Terrifying, because our society is not structured to support artists. Our school systems are not structured to nurture artists. There is a pervading assumption that artists must be crazy in order to make anything meaningful, or brilliantly good or brilliantly bad in order to make a work of art noticeable enough to earn a living, or just really lucky to have been in the right place at the right time.

All those things are true to some degree: anyone who, given the fact that school, society, and the marketplace places such low value on art, still insists on pursuing art, is probably just a little bit nuts. I also think that anyone who willing jumps out of a plane or goes into a profession where they'll likely get shot at is nuts, it's just a kind of nuts that the larger part of society can put a value on. Adrenaline rush. Saving lives. But writing a mid-list novel? Painting a picture of a soup can? The value is hard to measure, so we call it crazy to sacrifice so much time and passion for it when we could be working at a call center to finance boats and Netflix subscriptions and parachutes with which to jump out of planes.

It's also very true that most of the limelight (and therefore most of the cash) go to the very good and the very bad, but that's not to say it's impossible for someone in between to make a career, especially right now. It ain't easy (see paragraph above). But it isn't impossible. There are people doing it. People have done it for thousands of years, in times which, I guess, were much harder than this. I believe there is a way for me to do it as well, and I've just got to figure out what that is, or carve a new possibility out of the slow-weathering rock of societal change.

And, of course, luck has a lot to do with it. But I believe you make your own luck. You have to keep your eyes open for luck to walk by, then open the door and invite luck inside. Luck isn't going to fall on your head or bust down the door.

It's exciting to be an artist right now, because distribution has never been easier. The internet opens doors for good and bad and frustrating, but artists have way more opportunities to put their work out there. The challenge remains on the other side of the screen.

I sound pretty optimistic right now, I'm sure. Part of it is a front, part of it is me trying to convince myself it's true so I don't feel like a madwoman being petted and pitied by family and friends for my inability to function as a contributing member of society. Some of it is true, though. I have a lot of faith in myself. I have a lot of faith in my passion, even if I don't have all the skills to back it up, I'm not afraid of doing the work.

After all, I quit my job because it was keeping me from doing the work. I'm working hard to improve my life, to make it the life I want and envision.

But it's not easy. Days like today make it even worse, because they bring all the insecurity and fear to the surface.

I was sitting with my parents and my brother, and my dad went out to mow the lawn. My mom was going to go out and get on the other mower before too long (it's a several-hour job with only one mower), but she and my brother and I started talking.

See, I'm hoping to move in the next two years. Possibly to Portland. My brother and sister-in-law and their bambino (on the way) are hoping to move to Iowa next year. My mom mentioned that if both of us end up out there, she and dad might sell the farm and move closer...but that wouldn't be until they were much older, or until there was only one of them.

Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. I don't like thinking about that. The thought scares the crap out of me partly because I'm not financially solvent and still sort of a failure as a human being (heh, more on that particular feeling later) and partly because, you know, they're my parents. I don't like to think about my life without them in it.

But we have the conversation and I'm trying to feel like an adult having a life-conversation with my family.

But the feeling of unease has already set in. Now, I'd like to point out that the unease was not caused by the conversation. Yeah, it's not a pleasant thing to talk about, but there's nothing inherently alarming about planning for the future. That ominous feeling, like a little pocket of doom sitting in the back of my head, is usually the first sign that conditions are favorable for the Panic. Often, I can distract myself at this point and avoid a meltdown, and I was hopeful my revision would be enough to pull my brain away from going full Shrieking-shack.

So I get in the car to head to Starbucks. I look out and mom and dad are performing the mower version of dueling banjos and I love the sight of it. Then my brain says, "this is not forever."

I make it halfway down the road before I freak the fuck out. The idea of losing my parents is terrible. Part of the freaking out is that dread, and the guilt of not spending more time with them, and the guilt that I am nearly thirty years old and they're still having to take care of me because I'm on and off my feet like a medieval noblewoman. And that was the start of the spiral.

I've been able to pull out of the spiral more and more easily lately. The last big panic attack I had was at Balticon, actually, and it was really embarrassing, but I couldn't have been with more understanding people*. This time I couldn't do it. I couldn't drag my brain away from the loop.

Luckily, I got to Starbucks parking lot and parked in the back before I totally lost my shit. It was that awful, vocal sort of crying that feels at once appropriate and completely ridiculous. Luckily, there were cars on either side so no one saw my "furry little problem", as James and Sirius might say. I tried to call a friend, but it went to voicemail, and I decided I probably didn't want to talk to anyone in particular anyway. But I felt adrift, completely. And embarrassed. Too embarrassed to put the burden of dealing with my emotional werewolf on any one person.

So I posted it on Facebook.

I don't know what brought it on exactly, but I am freaking the hell out in a Starbucks parking lot. It's been months since I have been so unable to control the panic. I feel like I have no future at all and am utterly useless as a human being. I suck at contributing to society or to my family or to my friends. I'm just a resource suck with no security and no ability to let other people get close to me. Is this just what late 20s feels like? I'm ashamed of my inability to work a normal job, find someone to share life with, and be freaking content. Why do I suck at everything except these worlds and stories no one is even interested in? I'm almost 30 and what the fuck have I done with my life? I'm so scared of the future. When I'm my grandmother's age, who will be there? Will I even make it? What will I have done? I'm a third of the way there and I've got so little to show for it right now. I've got no way to measure because I don't have any way to quantify the failures and successes o my life against the conventional. Ugh. I will probably end up deleting this post but at the moment I feel so unconnected. I don't want to reach out to anyone in particular because I'm so embarrassed of my own inability to control these episodes of extreme panic and depression and low self-worth.

Maybe that makes me an attention whore. I don't really mind if people think that, because I am trying to get a response. I'm trying to feel like I'm not crazy. I (and the people I care about) know I'm not manufacturing a panic attack in order to get the attention, which I think is where the girls-sobbing-in-bathrooms stigma of Facebook meltdowns comes from in the first place. Sure, just the fact that I'm talking about the panic attack at all is going to convince some people I'm faking it (and invite others to start in on the "just be happy you're not me"s, which is both disrespectful and unhelpful) because a lot of people believe that people who actually suffer from depression or panic are rightfully ashamed enough to keep it on the down low.

Yes. My panic attack was horrible and a totally disproportionate reaction to the legitimate worries it brought to the surface--that's part of the frustration. Yeah, the worries are real, but they're not this constant, debilitating fear shackling me.

Panic attacks are like Dementors. They swoop down on you and bring all your worst fears to the surface all at once, forcing you to live through them all in one potent moment. You feel cold. You feel crazy. You feel like your life is over and you'll never be happy again.

And then it ebbs and you're exhausted, embarrassed, and in desperate need of chocolate and a hug (but also not to be coddled and touched at all because that's also embarrassing). You're a little afraid to be alone, and a little afraid to go outside, in case they come back.

Learning to head them off is kind of like learning the patronus charm, and then learning to actually cast it when you feel the dementor head your way. I'm working on it. I know a lot of my readers are too.

I've never been sure what form my patronus would take. I should try to figure that out, give me a touchstone to sanity when I have these moments.

What's your patronus? Have you had panic attacks? What do you think about being an artist right now?

*Balticon 2013: Shout out to Veronica, who caught it early on and helped push it back a while, and to Bryan, Doc, Nobilis, Ben, and Sammy, who were there when it broke respected my request to ignore the tears so I could calm down, because I hate crying in public.