Anxiety, Illness, and the Writer’s Life

I thought it might be time to talk about three things very near and dear to my heart lately. Anyone who’s read the site lately knows that I’m getting married at the end of the month in a big Las Vegas soiree-cum-vacation. Sounds like a blast, right? Well, just one problem: I’m utterly terrified of flying.

There, I admit it. Terrified. That’s the right word for it. The thought of takeoff – the engine cycling up, the bumps, the world going near-vertical – makes me shake in my boots. It’s not even the safety issues. I know that flying is one of the safest, if not the safest, ways to travel. I know that I’d have to fly daily for 21,000 years to hit the statistical odds of a crash (although how this comforts I’m not 100% certain as I’m quite sure folks who were in a crash didn’t fly that much). I’ve read all the stats, I can tell you how a plane works inside and out, and I’ve flown quite extensively. I know that, generally speaking, I’m incredibly safe.

Yet I’m petrified, and the closer we get to the flight, now two weeks out, the worse it gets, to the point that it’s interfering with my life. When the time comes, I know I’ll get on the plane and I’ll be fine. I have medication for that, but in the meantime, I’m struggling mightily.  I just hate almost everything about it: the speed, the cramped quarters, the all-or-nothing nature of it. I suspect, in fact, that that anxiety has contributed to my own, very bad, ongoing battle with asthmatic bronchitis.

So why talk about all this? Because it’s occurred to me that it has a lot in common with pursuing a writing career. Both involve a big leap of faith, and courage to overcome the fears that haunt you. When it comes to writing, those fears may seem more mundane: am I good enough to make it, why is my story special, should I even be doing this, am I fooling myself, etc. The thing is, I think there’s a direct connection between those feelings and the feelings I get when I think of flying. Both are unnatural, both are things that can easily be avoided, both are about taking risks to expand and live a fuller life. We could have chosen a closer, “safer” location for our wedding, but it would have missed out on having such a fun place, her family being able to attend, and a lot of great memories.

So I’m going to face down my fears – I haven’t allowed them to run my life to this point and I’ll be damned if I start now. That goes for flying and writing. For awhile there I considered going to traditional publishing because it seemed safer (and the benefits sounded like ones I wanted), but rationally, I think staying indie is the right choice for me. I’m still working through this one and need to weigh the overall pros and cons, but I can see that fear was driving some of my decision-making, and that needs to be removed from the equation.

Does fear ever take the wheel in your career? How do you handle it?

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  1. I know you can overcome your fears, my love!

  2. Take a couple of nips on the plane with you and pop them out as soon as you get on the plane. You can then take a quick nap and you’ll be happy.
    Martini’s do a quick job.

    • Jonathan D Allen

      Thanks for the idea, but unfortunately with my anti-anxiety meds that isn’t really possible. The good news is that those meds will make the whole thing a lot more enjoyable. It’s just getting to that point that’s the issue.

  3. I hear ya, brother. I have phobias and anxiety attacks and both make me angry and depressed, neither of which is conducive to either traveling or publishing. It’s a constant battle between knowing I have an illness to deal with and self-loathing about being such a whiny little loser. I’m older than you, so have been doing it longer, and wish I could say it gets easier. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t, but the part that DOES get easier with time and practice is gritting your teeth and saying, “Screw it, it feels terrible, but I will survive, so I’ll just push through this one way or another.”

    Thanks for sharing this. It takes guts.

    So hang in there.

    • Jonathan D Allen

      Anxiety and panic attacks are the worst. I’ve been through the usual gamut of therapy to deal with most of the things that trigger my anxiety, and have some good coping techniques for all save this one. I somehow just never got around to addressing it. When I have more time I plan to go back and work on it, but can’t do it right now. I hear you on the self-loathing, though. I’ve had to find with my own feelings of inadequacy when it comes to the wedding itself – surely I should just be happy about the wedding (and I AM) and it would overshadow the fear. But you and I both know that’s not how it works.

      Still, I admire what you said, and I live it. It feels terrible, but I will survive, and I can’t let the fear stop me from living. But yeah, I think I might have a slight idea of what you’re dealing with. Thanks for sharing this yourself – it helps to know that someone else struggles with these feelings.

  4. If you are that scared talk to your doctor he or she maybe able to prescribe some Valium to help.You are still overcoming it even if you take some Valium.Happy wedding to you.

    • Jonathan D Allen

      Thanks, Sheilagh. I actually already did, and have a prescription. My main problem has been dealing with the anxiety of getting there – it’s ironic, I know when I get on the plane itself I’ll be fine. For now, though? Brrrrr.

  5. I can totally relate to what you are saying about flying and taking the leap of faith to be an author. The constant battle to make sure that you keep battling each and every day to achieve something that many others think that you are crazy for doing in the first place. I know that you can accomplish your goals because you have the right mindset.

    Thanks for the mental boost to those that say “am I good enough”. Maybe the question really is, “am I unique enough to make my voice heard…my style a reflection of my story and myself.” The answer to that should be a resounding “yes, I’m a unique person and my story is therefore unique.” The rest is all about grammar and formatting. (Ridiculously simplified but sound reasoning…I hope)

    • Jonathan D Allen

      Thank you! I think sometimes we forget that it’s a daily struggle to hold on to what we want. It becomes easy to be complacent about where we are.

      I like your version of the question better 🙂 I’m going to keep that one!

  6. Hmm. I didn’t know about your fear of flying (great picture up there, by the way), and yes, it probably is affecting your health. My wife is terrified of flying, and whenever she gets on a plane, her anxiety reaches anyone within a twenty foot radius of her.

    And interesting comments about this fear leading you back to consideration of traditional publishing. I’m not 100% sure I understand the connection, though. I can see how fear might make one weary of pursuing a writing career (or rather stopping a writing career when it seems like we aren’t getting the validation we desire), but are you saying that traditional is the safer route? I think I see what you’re saying, but I can also see how some people might choose indie publishing because they are afraid of those exact things you mentioned (fear that they/their stories aren’t good enough and that a traditional publisher might tell them as much).

    Quite the quandary, my friend. I loved Jaye’s posts on this topic. And as I am coming up on roughly a year since I really decided to self-publish, I think next Friday, I’m going to talk about what a year it’s been and where I am now.

    Paul D. Dail A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

    • Jonathan D Allen

      Yeah, anxiety can take me over. I’ve decided that I’m just going to let the pills the doctor gave me do their job – even if that means doing it two weeks before the flight. Overall, though, yes I’m definitely saying traditional is the safer route. The publishing world is changing, that’s true, but the big publishers still hold a LOT of the cards. Get into their world and, while marketing is still your job, you’re following in the footsteps of hundreds of years of other writers. There is a prescribed path through the waters (again, recognizing that this is changing overall). Indies can follow what others have done, but so much of it is trailblazing. The indie movement is really only a handful of years old by comparison. Traditional publishing has always had its pitfalls, but the indie world has pitfalls that we might not even understand yet. That’s what I’m talking about here.

      Looking forward to reading your summary! It should give me some food for thought.

  7. Riddle me this: I’m terrified of heights, but love to fly.

    A couple of summers ago, I forced myself to go zip-lining with Mr. Aniko & one of our dearest friends. They were having a great time, but I was barely containing the urge to totally lose it. I made it through the whole ordeal and came out of it terribly sweaty, tired, and shaky. I also came away from it knowing that irrational fears can be managed. Endured. Overcome, at least for as long as it matters.

    I see your analogy with publishing. I’m having a total f*ck it! kind of week, and wonder whether the aggravation I heap on myself is worth it. It’s really tough to work hard on something, to craft a world, and then to have it struggle so hard to find the right audience. I believe in you, though, as do all the other commenters here. You can fly.

    • Jonathan D Allen

      Your comment actually made me cry last night! 🙂 In a good way. I had had the lousiest day and it meant a lot. Thank you.

      I used to be terrified of heights, but I can handle them now, within reason. That zip-lining, however, is not within reason 🙂 But good for you getting through that! That’s the kind of attitude I mean – pushing through the fear to really live life.

      I feel you on that kind of week. I’ve had that kind of last two months. I try to remember that it’s all a matter of time and perspective, but when you pour yourself into marketing efforts and get very little return, it’s incredibly disheartening. If you ever need to chat, feel free to drop me an email, I imagine we have similar sob stories.

    • I think it depends on what your fear actually is. I’ve always said that I’m not afraid of heights, but rather of FALLING from heights. If I feel safe (or in the case of flying, well, I don’t really have any control anyway), then I’m not really afraid.

      Skydiving really changed my life. I’ve always had that fear of falling, but at the same time, I’ve had recurring dreams for years that I could fly. It was sort of a “greatest fear/greatest dream” sort of moment. Still a little shaky about heights, but not nearly as much as I used to be.

      Of course, I’m not convinced that I didn’t actually die that day, and that this isn’t all some imagined life a la “Vanilla Sky.” 🙂

      Paul D. Dail A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

  8. I have a fear of flying too, for all the same reasons you mentioned. But thankfully, mine have not become so debilitating; however, I can fully empathize with the terror of it. It’s not fun, and the rationality, regarding safety, is not as comforting as it’s meant to be.

    I also agree with how you linked it with writing. I’m just now taking that leap and the fears and doubts still creep up on me. But I’m determined to pursue it and see it through, wherever it leads.

    Good luck with your wedding; I’m sure it will be lovely. And I wish you a safe flight 🙂

  9. I was afraid of flying for more than 20 years. Last year, I wanted, desparately, to go to an event across the country. I didn’t believe I was going to survive the flight, but I didn’t care any more. I’ve flown since then, and each time bekieve it will be the last. But I’ve learned to treat these (horrlble) events in my life as adventures. Writing stories is one of the most fun things I do in my life. It doesn’t involve actual crashing and burning. A perk. Life is full of challenges. Congratulations on the wedding and good luck with the flying. 🙂

  10. Good for you! I was terrified of flying the first time I had to get on a plane. I cried all the way to the airport (which was like an hour drive, so yeah; fun times for my family). But the second we started taking off, I stared out the window in amazement. It was gorgeous and breathtaking. I wish I could do it all the time.

    I’m also very intimidated by my writing career. I often wonder whether I’m crazy. It used to really bother me when I had the “So what are you up to?” conversation with family members. They would ask, I’d tell them I’m writing, and then they’d always ask why. I used to try to explain myself, explain why I’m not back in school or working a nine to five as a web designer… and then I realized that by explaining myself to them, I’m discounting myself in my own eyes. I’ve finally gotten over that… but I still often wonder whether I’ve made the right decision. Mostly I question if I’m doing this whole thing right and if my expectations of myself and my sales are fair; too high or too low.

    It takes a major leap of faith, and I’m learning to keep that faith. It’s hard work, though.

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