When I was 24, I was on a walk with my three small children and then-husband. We passed the old city library, which had been closed for years. To our surprise, we found that it had been re-opened and converted into a writing center. The new center was operating under a grant and offered free computer use, printing, lectures on writing and publishing, and even a resource room. The staff were all published and offered guidance on that process, editing assistance, and helped aspiring authors navigate their way through the often confusing business of getting their work into print.
I had two months there. For two months I was able to have my children cared for while I spent my days glued to a tiny MAC computer. I wrote, printed, edited, updated, and searched for places to publish.
I found contacts in the local community who encouraged me until I was brave enough to stand in front of a crowded room and read my poetry and short stories. When my schedule changed and I could only go to the writing center once every week or two, I continued on.
I published three poems and two short stories. I won an award with another poem, and two awards with a short story that would go on to win a third. I was invited to read at many events in the city.
I was on the threshold of becoming a known author, at least in my local area, and making progress toward being known to a larger audience.
Then I started college. Before the end of my first year in college, I left my husband. (That’s another story altogether, but it was a necessary thing.) I found myself with a full course load, three children, and a full-time job. Writing fell away except on rare instances when I was able to revisit the novel I’d begun or scribble down a poem before it fled from me.
I was 26 when that first attempt ended.
Now, I am 46. I’m trying again. Despite the insane speed at which I work, when I work, I’ve been dealing with a sense of dread.
I’m in school.
I’m providing childcare for my grandson.
The joy of having PTSD is that it says “Oh, this thing that happened before, it’s going to happen again, so be worried now.” The “thing” it worries about doesn’t even have to be related to the actual events that created the PTSD in the first place. It’s like knowing not to put your hand on a hot stove, but your brain freaking out because you touched the fridge and both are white so the fridge is a danger as well.
“It’s going to happen again,” my brain is trying to tell me. “You’re going to get stuck without enough time and you’re going to go another 20 years without writing.”
I was actually in tears about this very thing this morning, because if that were to happen, I’m pretty sure it would break me.
The reality is, that’s not going to happen. This time in my life is not that time in my life. I have time. I also am not responsible for raising three children right now. I’ve had help with the mental health issues that I was hindered by in the past, and still get help. I’m older and have more experience at managing time.
I also had a powerful experience that altered my willingness to accept not reaching my goals.
About two years ago I spent three months drugged out of my head, in agonizing pain, in a wheelchair. I fell and messed up my back. It turned out that I had an undiagnosed degenerative disorder in my lumbar region. It took three months to finally get a doctor who knew what to do.
Before that doctor, I’d been told that I may be looking at spending the rest of my life in the condition that I was in. It was very bleak, stuck in that chair, staring at the same 4 walls every day. All I could do at one point was think about how much I hadn’t accomplished. I hadn’t met a single goal I’d ever set for myself.
The final doctor set me up for a treatment that had me on my feet again 48 hrs later and back to work after only two more weeks. I came out of that chair roaring. I immediately began working toward a degree again, thanks to a tuition program through my employer. I started doing the things that I had always put off, thinking I’d do them later.
While the initial fervor has died down some, I will never forget that sense of hopelessness, of failure as a person, that I felt while in that wheelchair.
Dear brain, you can worry all you like. I might take a little longer than expected. I might just hit the deadlines I set for myself. Regardless of the how, I will do this. I will finish this trilogy and I will move on to the other stories that are waiting for me to write them. I will be published, and I will be successful. So go find something useful to do, because your worry is in my damn way!