Posts Tagged ‘fear’

It is hard for me to know what it is I want to say. This might be because I have a brain injury, or then again, it might be because I’ve recently gone through a traumatic experience that is hard to talk about. I revolve around this question–is this a brain injury issue or something else?–several times every day.

I didn’t know anything about concussions a month ago, except that you’re not supposed to sleep through the night with one. Only that might not be true because I slept through the night eight hours after sustaining a serious one and didn’t die. Hooray?

I mean, yeah, definitely hooray. I really really really don’t want to die right now. There were times when I was in such bad shape I was asking to make sure someone would take care of Nala if something happened to me and trying to give instructions about reaching my sister, who is off on her annual silent retreat right now and therefore complicated to reach. We (we being mostly myself and my friends Sara and Tony, who are two of the best people I know) tried to downplay it a bit on social media because freaking everyone out didn’t seem like the thing to do, however much I personally was freaking out, but now things have gotten a bit better, I will say things were pretty bad. They are still not great, although I look great and if you have seen me, I might have seemed great, and when I have company to distract me, I am certainly greater than I am the rest of the time.

One thing about concussions I didn’t know is that concussions can cause mood swings, anxiety, depression, you name it. Like, BIG GIGANTIC MOOD SWINGS. Like, I am in so much pain and it is very early in the morning and I don’t know what to do and I don’t know who to call so instead I will just cry for an hour straight type of mood swings. Combine those swings with cognitive impairment that makes it almost impossible to engage in critical thinking or make decisions and things get very interesting indeed.

In case you haven’t gotten it, by interesting I mean nightmarish.

Focus in on me that morning, in pain and sleepless in the dark in what felt like the middle of the night but was probably more like five a.m., questioning myself, my life, and the decisions I’d made that had led to me lying there, terrified and alone. What, then, did my life amount to? I suddenly wasn’t sure. It seemed as if every other person on the planet was an impossible distance from me.

I questioned my recent move. I questioned all the time I’ve spent writing books that practically nobody has read. I didn’t question relationship choices, but I did feel terribly sad. All that time and effort fostering connections with other people, and there I was, so confused I couldn’t figure out if there was anybody I could call who would be okay hearing from me at that time of night and in that terrified state of mind. I wanted my sister very badly.

I thought of this blog, and I thought, “That has been some good work, even if hardly anyone reads it.” I thought of Nala and how devoted we are to one another. I thought of integrity and courage–even a faltering courage, which is what I was experiencing at the time–and love. So there was some comfort.

Eventually I did call a friend, cried for another half an hour on the phone, and said I wanted to go to the doctor. Voluntarily. I voluntarily thought it was a good idea. (For context, I hate going to the doctor. I never want to go. Sometimes I force myself because going to the doctor is part of being an adult.) I kept coming back to the panic of knowing I couldn’t do this, and the only answer I could come up with for not being able to do it was to get some help.

When the advice nurse told me to go in, I was relieved. If the doctors could do something to alleviate in any way even one of my symptoms, I thought it would be worth the horror that is Urgent Care when you have a concussion and are super confused and light and noise sensitive and about ten seconds away from bursting into tears at any given point and also have neck and back injuries that make sitting in their uncomfortable chairs a particularly unpleasant kind of torture. That is how awful I felt. When the nurse brought out the needle to take a blood sample and get me started on the IV, I again felt relieved, even though I have a lifelong phobia of needles. And indeed, he had to make two tries to get the IV going because of my teeny tiny veins. Whatever, I thought. It was so worth it. Anything to lessen the pain. Anything to blunt my awareness that I was about to go in for tests to show whether my brain was bleeding and the knowledge, given to me by surreptitious forays into the internet, that if it was, there was brain surgery in my near future. I told Patrick, who was with me during the wait, that if I went into brain surgery, THEN he had permission to contact my sister.

There was no brain bleeding. I want to say thank goodness, but that doesn’t even begin to cover it. Instead there was me trying to get all the information I needed from the doctor even though I was confused and exhausted and not even with it enough to think to take notes or record the conversation. But hey! I had already figured out how to take cab to Urgent Care, and that had only taken me an hour of dithering.

Even doctors don’t seem to quite get how disorienting having a concussion can be. When your primary means of self-definition is your brain and suddenly your brain isn’t working right, it feels like the bottom has fallen out from under you. Suddenly easy problems seem completely insurmountable and normal stresses want to consume you whole. And it’s not like brain injury is a particularly normal stress anyway.

Today marks the three-week anniversary of my car accident. Like I said, I am doing somewhat better. I have good days and not-so-good days. Yesterday was pretty bad, today is better. I have recovered some of the cognitive function I was missing, which is a relief, although I still become easily overwhelmed with decision-making. I am no longer stuttering or pausing as much between words, and the sound and light sensitivity have improved. I still have spikes of anxiety. I still have sudden weird memory gaps. I still lack focus. I still have frequent terrible headaches. My neck really hurts. When the pain is bad, I become more confused. I’m exhausted all the time, and I usually need an afternoon nap. If I don’t get enough to eat and drink, things can go downhill quite quickly.


Me today. Turns out concussions aren’t always very visble injuries.

But I am here, and I am very grateful for that.

Next time I am well enough to write, I will tell you about the help I’ve been receiving and how it feels like a miracle.

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Sometimes it can be scary to want things.

I just read an Ask Polly advice column, and the whole thing is pretty interesting, but here is the passage I want to look at today:

You don’t know what to do about it, so instead of throwing a fit or walking out the door, you become someone who exists in the margins, someone who can tuck herself into the background and make do with whatever leftovers come her way.

The problem is, that kind of passivity tends to bleed out over the rest of your life. You are willing to wait and see where you’ll live, and wait and see whether you’ll ever have kids, and wait and see if you’ll ever find a better job, until eventually you forget that you have control over these outcomes and everything else in your life.”

This kind of passivity is also a way to avoid commitment, to avoid figuring out what you actually want. What you want enough to really invest in it. What you want enough to risk sacrifice for it. What you want even though you might not get it.

In the last few years, you all watched me go through the decision of where I wanted to live. Before, I felt like I’d just ended up living in the Bay Area. It wasn’t so much that I’d made an active choice to live here as that life events pushed me toward it and I hadn’t resisted. So then, for me, part of learning who I am and what I want was really looking at where I was living and deciding if it was what I actually wanted.

And I have to say, while going through that process wasn’t the most fun ever, I am much more satisfied with my life having come out on the other side with an actual well-thought-out decision. Yes, I want to be here. Yes, I am committed to making certain sacrifices in order to stay. And sure, at some point those sacrifices might be too high and I might change my mind, but even if I leave at some point in the future, it feels good to know what I want right now.

Photo Credit: Shenghung Lin via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Shenghung Lin via Compfight cc

Part of the reason I am writing this now is because it can be easy to fall into passivity. Especially for a recovering people pleaser. It can be easy to wait and see, all the while hoping for the best. And it’s not always wrong to do that, that’s not what I’m saying. Optimism can be a beautiful attitude to adopt. But sometimes it can also allow you to hide from certain realities and steer you away from being fully yourself.

So right now I am trying to embrace the experience of wanting things in active ways. It is terrifying, because once embraced, it makes it feel like I have so much more to lose. I feel vulnerable. And I realize the wanting means I have to take risks. I have to write things I don’t know if I can write. I have to do things I don’t know if I can do. I have to be myself even when that might lead to the necessity of letting go.

I write about this kind of stuff all the time. I write about it because I think it’s important to talk about it, and I also write about it because it is hard for me. Here on the blog it is easier to be clear. It is easier to take an idea and distill it down and develop an understanding of it. And then I carry these ideas out into the world, which is a murky, messy place at the best of times. I get confused, and sometimes I get frightened. Sometimes my ideas don’t seem so easy to implement anymore, and sometimes I forget what I actually think. But even so, I’m better off with these gems of ideas in my pocket, and I hope you are too.

So then, here is today’s gem: Sometimes it can be scary to want things. But that is who I want to be: a person who wants things and goes after them even when it’s scary and hard. A person who will choose risking failure rather than hanging out in passivity.

This isn’t always the person I will be. It certainly isn’t always the person I have been. But it’s the person towards whom I can aim.

Yes, I want things, with all my heart. Let’s see what happens next.

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Things are going really well.

But Amy, didn’t you write last week about how you have a sprained toe?

Well, yes. I still have a sprained toe. That is not so great. It hurts. It is hard for me to get places. I can’t dance, which is awful. Nala’s routine is screwed up, so she’s having some trouble.


Even the sprained toe is going really well. Not because it’s healing miraculously fast (I mean, I think it’s healing, but it’s slow going), but because of everything around the toe. Because the support system…it’s actually working. Blow me over with a feather.

People are feeding me. I love being fed even when nothing is wrong. But when something is wrong, and I’m tired and in pain and getting restless from sitting around all the time, it’s even better. And people have been visiting me. And checking in with me to see how I’m doing. And offering to help. And keeping me entertained.

And meanwhile they are giving me this opportunity to deepen our friendships.

It is so much easier to remain cheerful when you are getting what you need.

The support network is working exactly the way I supposed it might, too, which is to say, unpredictably. And that is lovely, and sometimes surprising in the best possible way. I’m getting to see my friends shine, and that makes me happy for both them and myself. Meanwhile, I’m not having to tap out any one person.

There are so many interesting aspects to living through big change. I’ve talked about the relief and the gratitude. I’ve talked about the testing, about the developing mindfulness, and the backward slides.

And now, here when everything is going well, there is also this: fear.

One night last week, I began to cry because everything was going so well, and things were continuing to improve, and it felt weird, and what if it all went away again? Because I like all the changes. I want to keep them.

I’m pretty sure the Buddhists would call this attachment.

I think that’s why it can be so difficult to change the status quo: it has a hard reality that all other possibilities lack. We know the status quo; we have come to trust it. Even if it sucks.

Whereas when we’re dealing with change, we’re exploring. We don’t know what we’ll find. We don’t know what will happen. We are steeped in uncertainty. And it can feel unreal, like a carriage that will melt back into a pumpkin at midnight.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t real, of course. It merely means we need to become better acquainted, perhaps even intimate enough that we create a new status quo.

This fear of mine, it’s definitely from the old status quo. It comes from decades of shoes raining from the sky. Enough shoes fall on your head and you become trained to expect them. And thinking about shoes falling on your head is scary.

But maybe in my new status quo, there are no shoes. Maybe we can all go barefoot instead.

And meanwhile, while I look up at the sky watching for shoes…things are still going really well.

Barefoot! (And ready to dance.)

Barefoot! (And ready to dance.)

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What I’ve learned in the last three hours of wrestling with this blog post and ultimately producing nothing I could use is that making a point effectively and concisely while maintaining and projecting empathy can be incredibly difficult.

Maybe this is part of the problem.

The troubles with internet culture are not new. From what I understand, Youtube has historically been a cesspit of bile and awfulness, which is why I never read any Youtube comments except when I’ve been unexpectedly hit by a train of stupid by my own brain. I’ve been aware of the death and rape threats routinely made via the internet for many years. And my corners of the internet have been quite troubled for the past several months, by Gamergate, by some controversy in the YA world that I speak about obliquely here and less obliquely here, by the Requires Hate reveal, and most recently by the Hugo award nomination fracas.

In short, the internet can be an ugly place to hang out. There is a cost associated with being here. There is a cost associated with being a thought leader and expressing your opinion here. It is a cost I have been aware of since I began this blog nearly five years ago.

A few friends of mine reached out to me after I published my piece on rocking the boat about #KeepYAKind. I listened to them carefully, and I’ve been thinking about what they said for the last few weeks. My main takeaway is, people are scared. People are scared to speak up. People are scared to share their opinions. People are afraid of the internet being dropped on their heads. People are afraid of the cost involved. They are afraid of the threats, the personal attacks, the harassment, the name-calling. And understandably so.

One of my friends told me, “Someday you’ll see this from the other side.” And it’s true, I know it can happen to me. Of course I’ve thought about it. Of course I’ve thought about what it will be like getting rape threats on the internet, because I’m a woman who sometimes talks about feminist issues, and no matter how careful I am, no matter how many times I read over each blog post and how thoroughly I consider my word choices, I will offend someone. And someday that someone might be a shitty person who thinks an appropriate way to respond is with a rape or death threat. And at some other point, I am bound to say something stupid. I’m sure I already have, and I’ll do it again. And the internet might fall on my head. It might be right about me, it might be wrong, but in that period of time, the rightness and wrongness will probably not be foremost in my mind.

I still disagree with the #KeepYAKind campaign. It showed an ignorance of the type of rhetoric and cultural training that have been used for decades to keep women quiet and “in their place” that I find quite troubling, especially given what it was in response to. And tactically, it was much more likely to silence the moderate and less privileged voices; the trolls weren’t going to be affected by it to anywhere near the same extent, if at all.

But I do agree that internet culture, and the harassment, bullying, and scare tactics that go along with it, are a huge problem, both for writers (my own tiny habitat in the pond) and for society in general. We can theorize about why internet culture is the way it is (the power of anonymity, the dehumanization and depersonalization of others that is perhaps an effect heightened by interaction over the internet, the attention economy, humanity’s history of only having to deal in relatively small social units, etc.). But all our theories will not change the reality.

Then we have Kameron Hurley’s recent inspirational piece about how the internet harassment she is subjected to is nothing compared to the difficulties faced by her grandmother in Nazi-occupied France. I will admit this gave me a severe case of mixed feelings. On the one hand, perspective is valuable, as is having the moxy to live loud on the internet and encourage others to do the same.

On the other hand, we’re looking at some problem comparing here. Of course internet harassment is not the same as living in Nazi-occupied France. But that doesn’t make the fear less real. That doesn’t mean anyone who is afraid or upset or angered by internet harassment should feel ashamed of those emotions. And shame is the danger that inevitably comes with problem comparing, even when such a comparison makes for a great rhetorical device.

Photo Credit: Roadside Guitars via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Roadside Guitars via Compfight cc

Well, I am not ashamed. I’m a recovering people pleaser, for goodness sake. Of course I was afraid when I started this blog. If I hadn’t been afraid, I wouldn’t have needed any Backbone Project. I recognized the need for me to claim my voice in spite of the fear, and I’ve been working on that ever since. And I’m still afraid, sometimes. I still worry. It’s gotten a lot easier, but when I get the internet dropped on my head, I’m sure I’ll have a miserable time of it.

As a writer, I have to keep asking myself: Am I willing to pay the price for lifting my voice? Even when the price is stupidly high? Even if I’m terrified or creatively blocked or otherwise emotionally compromised by the experience? And if the answer becomes no, then so be it. There is no shame in that. Ultimately my own welfare and safety trumps everything else.

But so far, the answer is still yes. And I hope it will continue to be yes for a long time to come.

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It’s time for me to start work on a new writing project, aka a new novel. And this endeavor has forced me into taking a look at the writing angst I’ve been feeling for the last month or so. It hit pretty much the moment I finished the previous novel.

Something I’m fond of saying is that one of the most important parts of being a writer is learning how to emotionally manage yourself. Because being a writer can be emotionally brutal (as can being a musician, as can being most kinds of artist). So if you want to be in it for the long haul, you’re going to have to learn how to deal with all the fun experiences that go along with it: the rejection, the waiting, the insecurity, the criticism, the solitary nature of the work, working on big, long-term projects, being able to finish, finding self-discipline, finding focus, handling the inner critic, etc., etc.

I had such a lovely time writing BEAST GIRL that most of my writer neuroses have been exceptionally quiet all year. My biggest worry was that my moving would derail the rough draft, and once I got over that hump okay, I had a relatively easy time focusing on the writing and revising in a calm fashion. A calm that shattered once I no longer had any work to do.

Suddenly the decision of the next project seemed a lot more weighty than it had before. I came up with a bunch of ideas, and then I came up with a bunch of reasons why I shouldn’t do any of them, or why I should do all of them, just so I could spend a nice period of time dithering and working out all that pent-up writing stress. (This makes it sound like I did this on purpose, but I can assure you it was entirely accidental.)

Finally, late last week, I decided to talk out my decision-making problem with any writer friends who were willing to listen. I talked and I dithered, I wrote summaries and dithered some more. I’m quite exceptional at the practice of dithering. And by the end of the day, it struck me.

This wasn’t about choosing which novel to write next. It seemed to be about that. That was certainly mostly what I was talking about. But that wasn’t my problem. My problem was in managing my writing-inspired emotions. My problem was FEAR.

I am underneath a giant spider. It is scary.

I am underneath a giant spider. It is scary. And also reminds me of LOTR and Harry Potter simultaneously.

Once I realized this, I was actually much more cheerful, as I have confidence in my ability to wrangle neurotic writer feelings. I was afraid agents wouldn’t like BEAST GIRL. I was afraid no one would like the next novel I wrote either. I was afraid it would be hard, and maybe I’d get stuck, or else I’d just be writing very badly, or I’d finish only to have all the agents say, sorry but I already have several manuscripts just like this one. Which is all fine and good, and the fear is real enough, but there’s nothing I can do about any of those things. I can’t control whether anyone likes BEAST GIRL. I can’t control how smoothly (or not) the next novel goes, or whether it ends up being like other novels that hit agents’ desks a year from now.

Recognizing the lack of control gives freedom. If my problem with choosing the next novel project was fear, then there was a simple solution. Choose anyway, go for it, be flexible, and see how it goes.

In conclusion, I am now hard at work at the brainstorming/researching/outlining/ figuring out stage of my next novel. Am I scared? Yes. Gloriously so.

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A few months ago, Robert Jackson Bennett, Ferrett Steinmetz, and I wrote a series of blog posts that Ferrett called a “death-triptych.” I read Robert’s, then I wrote my own, but I didn’t read Ferrett’s. Well, I read the first sentence, and then I stopped because I knew it would hurt me to read it. So it’s been sitting in an open tab ever since, waiting for me to be ready.

Well, a few days ago, I was finally ready.

And this is the part of that post I want to talk about. Ferrett says:

“And I think: Gini is not a guarantee.  There is literally nothing in my life that is a guarantee now.  And I think: You were foolish to think that it ever was.”

This thought, that nothing is a guarantee, is not about death per say. It’s about life, and it’s about the human condition. It’s about how we experience life after we’ve been through trauma.

Or, as Myke Cole says:

“PTSD is what happens when all that is stripped away. It is the curtain pulled back, the deep and thematic realization that life is fungible, that death is capricious and sudden. That anyone’s life can be snuffed out or worse, ruined, in the space of a few seconds. It is the shaking realization that love cannot protect you, and even worse, that you cannot protect those you love.”

So the question becomes how do you go on living, once you have this knowledge? Once you know how fragile everything in your life is? Once you know how quickly you can lose what you value most? Once you know that sometimes nothing you can do will be enough?

My answer is that it is really, really hard. Sometimes you try to construct meaning into your life, like Myke talks about. Sometimes you question why you’re doing anything at all even while you continue to go through the motions, like Ferrett talks about. Sometimes you bend over backwards to create something, anything, that might be different, that might be a sure thing, that allows you to enfold yourself in the comforting fiction that you have some control over the vagaries of life.

And then there's always ice cream, which makes many things at least slightly better.

And then there’s always ice cream, which makes many things at least slightly better.

Sometimes you live your life with an intensity that other people cannot understand. Your emotions are heightened because in some way, you’ve entered into the cliché of living life like today is your last day: like right now is the last time you’ll have with a loved one, like every decision could have a lasting and significant impact, like any small sign could be your only warning of impending doom.

Instead of fear of the unknown, you have fear because you’re intimately aware of just how bad things can get.

And sometimes you become very adept at finding a nice, comforting rhythm with which to end essays like this, like the kind that Ferrett wished he could find but couldn’t. And the thing is, those uplifting positive statements are true. I believe in them with all my heart. I believe in making the most of the time you have, and I believe in keeping the heart as open as you can stand, and I believe that people can be good and noble and beautiful. I even believe that people can change. And I believe that making a difference in somebody’s life–even a small one–really matters.

But the truth is complex. And just because I can see the meaning, the stuff that makes life worthwhile, the positive outlook, that doesn’t mean I can’t also see the dark monster skulking under the bed. Life is freaking terrifying. It sometimes leaves us with too little to hang onto.

In the face of this reality, all I can do is put one foot after another and try my best to be the person I want to be, because of the rich tapestry of my life or in spite of it. It’s not much, but it’s what I’ve got.

(Oh, look. I found a nice, comforting rhythm with which to end this essay too. What a shock.)


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I’ve been noticing lately how often anticipated regret plays a role in the decision-making process.

Regret can be a helpful emotion, however unpleasant it might be. After all, it is when we feel regret that we might take a closer look at ourselves and our priorities and decide if there are any changes we want to make. Regret can potentially push us to improve ourselves and our situations.

But making decisions to try to avoid regret in the future is a recipe for self-limitation, as is discussed by Jeremy Dean in his post The Power of Regret to Shape Our Future:

“Anticipated regret is such a powerful emotion that it can cause us to avoid risk, lower our expectations, steer us towards the familiar and away from new, interesting experiences.”

I’m in the middle of making a major decision myself, and I notice my fear of regret coming into play big time. I have three basic choices, and whenever I think of any of the three, my first thought is about the potential regret I’ll feel in the future. Unfortunately, this is more a recipe for paralysis than it is a viable decision-making strategy. Not surprisingly, the decision I perceive as the least risky in the long term is also the one that is the most boring and playing-it-safe.

Photo Credit: YanivG via Compfight cc

What’s particularly interesting to me is that I’ve made a lot of decisions in the past, and I actively regret very few of them. Even the ones I do wish I’d made differently aren’t black and white: they usually did give me some benefit, even if only that of more knowledge. But when considering feeling regret in the future, I don’t have the gift of hindsight to see both sides, so I’m much more likely to be caught in the trap of only considering the negatives of regret while forgetting the potential positives that haven’t had a chance to happen yet.

It’s also easy to overestimate how unpleasant and lasting the worst case will be. We think we are shielding ourselves from the harm of having something so negative come to pass, when in reality we are exaggerating in our eagerness to avoid a regretful result. This too can distort our decision-making process and dissuade us from taking risks.

I don’t know what decision I’m going to make for myself, but I hope I can keep fears of future regret on the back burner while I’m making it. When I shove those fears aside, I realize how lucky I am to have more than one option, all of which have a decent chance of making me happy.

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