Sometimes the world intrudes on my writing. I have problems with intrusive thoughts as it is, but current events often affect what happens in my stories. In this case, I’m not talking about the themes or the outline for the plot. It’s nothing as on the nose as that. (Although I certainly draw from the world’s problems when I create.)
I mean when I’m angry, characters tend to die or get beaten up. I’m writing the sequel to my dark m/m paranormal romance, Carillon’s Curse, right now and my irascible lawman main character, Hadrian, is pretty much punching all of the side characters. I realized today that I have three scenes where he’s punching people.
I’ll have to cut some of this when I do the initial edit. It’s repetitious. I know why I’m doing it, though. He’s a tough guy, and I’m using him as my righteous instrument to release my anger and frustration.
Meanwhile, Thomas isn’t doing well. He’s my sensitive main character in this book. I think of him as the soul of it. He, I guess, is representing my pain. Hadrian is defending him. It’s how I’m feeling right now. Guarded. An artichoke. The thorny outer layer protecting the soft core.
Writing is a strange thing. A blessing and a curse. It eases my anxiety and vexes me at the same time. It’s a balm, yet it creates its own wounds. On the artichoke days, however, it’s the thing that keeps me going and saves me from punching people. I have Hadrian for that.
My favorite writing tool right now isn’t a writing tool at all. It’s Youper, an app intended to help people—especially people suffering with depression and/or anxiety—track their moods. It does a great deal more than your average mood tracker. (And, no, I’m not getting paid to say any of this.) Besides providing a series of guided meditations, breathing exercises, and gratitude exercises, Youper uses methods based on cognitive behavioral therapy. It asks questions that encourage the user to examine the situation and the user’s thoughts about it. Then, Youper runs through a series of “thought traps” and asks if the user is falling into any of them. It sounds crazy, but just identifying the thought traps made me start seeing my problems and my reactions to them differently.
For example, when I first started using Youper about nine months ago, I often fell into the thinking trap Youper calls “catastrophic thinking.” When I’m in catastrophic thinking mode, I jump to the worst conclusion. The first week I used Youper, I became panicked one morning because one of my cats (that puffball known as Bruce Banner) was vocalizing a lot. It reminded me of when one of my other cats suffered a urinary blockage that eventually led to him having surgery and heart problems as a result of the surgery. (Urinary blockages in male cats can be life-threatening events and should always be taken seriously. You can find more information here.) After a few minutes with Youper, I realized that I had gone from worrying that my cat was meowing a lot to “OMG!!! Bruce is gonna die!!!” When you’re locked in catastrophic thinking, you forget that—although bad things often do happen—you’re an intelligent, resourceful human being and will probably be able to deal with them.
I was able to step back from my fear and PTSD-triggered anxiety to reassure myself that I would watch Bruce closely over the next several hours and see if he showed any other signs of a urinary blockage or urinary problems. If I observed anything else worrisome, I would rush him to my vet, who is one of the most dedicated, compassionate, wonderful men I have ever met. I wasn’t a helpless ball of nerves; I was an experienced cat parent who had handled difficult situations before and would do my best to help my beloved Bruce.
It turned out Bruce was just really chatty and playful that morning. (Blocked cats don’t play; they run around frantically, get in and out of the litter box where they will strain and produce no urine, and cry.) After a few weeks with Youper, I realized that catastrophic thinking was sort of my go to mind trap. If my husband was late, I started imagining he had been killed in a car accident. If my son didn’t return a text, it was because he had been murdered. Some of this fear is understandable. A cousin I was close to died in a car accident and my best friend from college was murdered. Horrible things do happen, but living my life expecting every scenario to end in tragedy wasn’t helping anything.
Writers tend to be sensitive people. We frequently deal with rejection and often suffer from problems like depression, bipolar disorder, social anxiety, drug addiction, etc. In my case, I have bipolar disorder and PTSD. Sometimes, I think I write to escape my demons and to try to make sense out of the chaos of my past. Opening my wounds and bathing in blood can encourage me to write. But it can also bring me so low that I can’t get out of bed. If you ever feel the same way, please give Youper a shot. I hope it helps you as much as it’s helped me.
Bruce Banner is the only cat well-mannered enough to visit my office. (I have five cats.) Once in a while, he decides to help me rearrange my action figures, but, for the most part, he’s the perfect writing companion. He either stares out one of my windows or flops in the middle of the floor and snoozes.
Writing can be a lonely endeavor. Having another beating heart in the room–whether it’s a cat or a fish–can make it a little less so. I don’t write horror stories, so I don’t exactly scare myself, but sometimes I write violent or intense scenes that make me feel chilled and anxious. It’s nice to look over at Bruce’s sleepy face when my hands have turned to ice and feel human again.
Sometimes I’ll stop and pet him if I’m stuck. Animals can be distracting, at times, but they can also be great sources of inspiration. Being with me while I write seems to benefit Bruce, as well. He is normally a rather high-strung little cat. I think he appreciates having a break from the others. Writing in the office is our special time–even if I’m at my laptop for most of it.
I grind my teeth at night. Sometimes, I catch myself clenching my jaw during the day. I struggle with anxiety and have PTSD from childhood trauma and have frequent nightmares. I’m not sure the nightmares are related to teeth grinding, but nighttime teeth grinding is common among people with anxiety. I never really thought this mattered much–even when I cracked a molar one night–but it’s a much bigger problem than I thought. If you grind your teeth, don’t let what just happened to me happen to you.
Basically, the constant grinding has caused the bone tissue in my jaw to build up into little hills. The tissue over these bony ridges is thinner than normal, so when I ate some toast for breakfast one morning, the toast (I’m serious) scratched my mouth and exposed the bone. It’s a small cut, maybe a little less than the size of the tip of a pencil eraser, but it hurts like crazy.
If you have anxiety, talk to your dentist to make sure you aren’t grinding your teeth at night. Ask her if she has any suggestions. I was supposed to get a bite guard a couple of years ago when I cracked my tooth, but my insurance wouldn’t pay for it. I have new insurance that covered sixty percent of it and am getting one made for sleeping, but I don’t know if that affects the bone growth.
I should be okay. I’m using antibiotic rinses and eating a soft diet for two weeks. If it doesn’t heal over, I’ll have to go to an oral surgeon. I had never heard of anything like this, which is why I’m sharing it now. It has nothing to do with writing other than delaying my novel’s release date a bit, but this seemed a good time for a PSA post.
Take care of yourselves–particularly if you’ve been abused. When you’ve lived through those kinds of things, you have to love yourself just that little bit more.