Been a few days. I’ve been battling a winter-time nasty cootie attack that involved feeling like crap for over a week. Some monsters aren’t visible to the naked eye, but they can lay you out just as easily as a zombie or werewolf or pissed-off MMA fighter.
And when I physically feel crappy, I don’t have the creative energy to work on my fiction writing. So I spent a lot of time watching movies and paranormal shows on Netflix and basically sleeping. In other words, spending a lot of time alone without being able to write or go outside and feeling generally icky.
For me, that’s a recipe for monsters.
Not the ones in the shows I was watching or the microscopic cooties that went to war with my immune system. And not these friendly, fuzzy ones:
Rather, the ones in my head. And those, my friends, can be worse than any external monsters we might have to face.
I bring monsters up because everybody has them. You can call ’em demons or issues or button-pushers or triggers or whatever you want. Fact is, you have some. They lurk in your psyche, and when you’re not on your game, you let your guard down a little and all that old stuff you carry around in your head — those beat-up ugly suitcases from your past — flares up and stomps around in your present.
There’s this idea that writers and other creative artiste-y types are basically tortured individuals who self-medicate with all kinds of bad habits because it wards off the monsters.
Guess what? You don’t have to be a writer or artiste-y type to be tortured and self-medicate with bad habits. And just so you know, self-medicating with bad habits does not ward monsters off. It feeds them. Anyway, there is a perception that a lot of writer-ly and art-y types have, historically, done just that (see here, here, here, here and here, for example).
We could spend all day talking about why that might be, why some artists have wrestled with monsters and fed them through addiction and other unhealthy habits. Point is, it happens. And when you’re going through a physically and/or emotionally trying time, it’s harder not to let the monsters have their way.
I’m one of those writer-ly types who deals with monsters on a daily basis. I’ve talked a bit elsewhere about the chronic depression that’s been a part of my life all my life. I came out as a “depress-bian” about 15 years ago, when I realized that the monsters had become too big for me to handle alone. I got help, and it took a few years in therapy and a few years on some medication to learn how to undo some really unhealthy thought patterns and develop better coping strategies.
It was hard fucking work, which required me to walk around with a figurative mirror all day every day so I could understand the destructive and unhealthy patterns that I’d developed as they affected not only me, but others. It’s not fun, to do that kind of work. It’s not fun to take yourself apart and take responsibility for your role in bad situations. And it’s not fun to face every monster you’ve got and stand up for yourself.
But I did it. I learned how to stand up for myself. I learned, with the help of others, what an appropriate response to certain situations was and what was the monster goading me into a reaction. I learned what my buttons/triggers are and how to defuse them. I learned how to keep my monsters in various rooms in my psyche, rather than letting them roam roughshod through my brain. And I learned how to defuse them, too.
That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m “cured.” My brain chemistry doesn’t work like a non-depressed person’s does. My brain doesn’t know how to shut the depression completely off, so it’s a low-grade white noise in my life. I check in with it every day, and I’m better, now, about knowing what is really something to be bummed about and what’s a monster. I am a much better monster manager, and most days, I don’t notice the white noise. And yes, I still go to therapy. I also do a lot of lifestyle things that have really helped me with monster management. Those include being outside, exercising, writing, and acupuncture.
None of which I could do while I was sick.
So the monsters came. Slowly. They’re sneaky like that. I already had a hole in my armor because this time of year is traditionally my “bad time.” November through March is my worst season psychologically (always has been), and it’s made even worse lately because it’s the anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis and mastectomy. It’s also the mammogram time of year, which I dread. That’s a big monster, that diagnosis and its aftermath.
That monster let out some other monsters, and I was too busy battling cooties to engage in proper monster management.
I’m up and about, now. I’m able to do a little bit of exercise, and I’m back to a routine, which helps buy me time to round up the monsters and put them back in their rooms. When I have a routine, I have a bit of structure, and that really helps with my monster management.
I tell you these things because everybody has monsters. Some are able to deal with them without help. Others are not. There is no shame in asking for help with your monsters. Everybody’s are different, and every monster requires a different management plan. You are their manager. It’s up to you to learn how to do that, and it’s up to you to ask for help if you don’t have the tools. I did. And I am so much happier and healthier now than I was in my younger days. Yes, sometimes the monsters get out and run around. But because I got help — because I worked hard to get to this point — I can round them up and put them back in their rooms. And because I got help, I know when to call in an extra wrangler. My years of really dealing with and managing depression — being proactive with it and how it affects me — has helped me see what both my strengths and limitations are, and to understand that there is no shame in either.
So whether you’re a tortured writer-type or not, if you’re having trouble with your monsters, reach out. There are numerous types of therapy out there, and even some medications may help you quiet the monsters so you can figure out how to work with them in therapy. It will require a shit-ton of work on your part. I interviewed a lot of therapists 15 years ago before I found the one I knew I could work with, who was not going to take shit from me or my monsters. You may have to go on medication, and it may take you a while to find the right one. It’s worth the time and effort you take to educate yourself, to learn about yourself, and to find the people who can help you.
I’m not going to tell you it’s pink flowers and happy bunnies and cute kitties and puppies. It’s not. It will kick your ass, this work. It will leave you wrung out and drained some days. It will make you feel crappy and frustrated and lonely. It will make you uncertain and scared. But if you really dig into who you are, I guarantee you will realize over the course of time that your monsters are no longer stampeding through your head, that you actually like who you are and who you’re becoming, and that you don’t need unhealthy patterns to cope.
Yes, this is the hardest work you will have to do, this unpacking yourself and managing your monsters.
But it’s worth it.
Happy Wednesday, all.