Have you ever been gripped by fear and anxiety? Crippling anxiety that dictates your actions. A sinking fear that sits in your gut, strangling your organs, trying to push your breakfast back up and out. I’m sure we can all recall times like that; perhaps while waiting in church to get married; going for a job interview; standing up in front of a crowd to make a speech. Fill in your own scenario. You know what makes you feel anxious.
To be honest, none of the above has ever worried me. You know what does? I hope it’s not just me, but I’m talking about that moment when you let your mouse pointer linger over that ‘publish’ button for longer than you’d like, wondering if what you’ve written is good enough? Should I even click it, or should I just hit the back button and retreat a safe distance and watch as everyone else does click it? At least that way, no one can tell me what I’ve written is terrible.
How do you get past that? Does that feeling ever go away? Maybe not, but there many things you can do to mitigate the symptoms.
When Sue invited me to write a post for her blog, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little anxious. Excited, yes, but also anxious. Me? Little me that only has one full-length title to his name? Perhaps you typed the wrong email address, Sue. That must be it. I’d be receiving an email in a few minutes, correcting the error. But no email came. Not the first day, not the second. There’s that voice again. The one that says ask someone else to do it.
Have you ever felt that way? Felt so anxious about doing something, that you’d rather miss an opportunity, than take a chance? I could very easily have said no to Sue’s invitation, but that would have been a mistake.
For those of you that don’t know me, I was diagnosed with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) in 2001. About eight years ago, I began to notice that walking was becoming difficult. From there it was only a short space of time until it became almost impossible, and I needed to use a wheelchair.
I was not ready for a wheelchair. I was in my thirties. Old people use wheelchairs. People would look at me and laugh; commenting Isn’t he too young to be in a wheelchair? What would my friends think? What about my work colleagues?
I was so concerned about what other people would think of me that I fought against the idea of a wheelchair. I fought hard. I struggled on at work, using just a walking stick. At the time I was a playworker, in charge of a large play project, attracting upwards of fifty children aged 5-14 years-of-age per night. As you can imagine, with that many children, there was no shortage of problems, but that was okay, because I was experienced, and I was trained. However, I wasn’t mobile, so if an argument broke out (and one invariably did), it would need to happen right next to the table I was sitting at. But guess what? It never did. Children can be so inconsiderate. The wheelchair was needed if I wanted to continue in my job.
More importantly, a wheelchair was needed to save my marriage.
But people would look and point and laugh behind my back. That’s what people do, right? But this issue came to a head one summer’s day about eight years ago and threatened my relationship with my wife of fourteen years, making it impossible to deflect anymore.
On this particular day, my wife told me that she was taking our two children for a weekend break at the seaside (Skegness, if there’s anyone here from Nottingham). I was welcome to come along, the only proviso being that I had to use a wheelchair to make the day as stress-free as possible for her and our children. What I hadn’t realised I’d been doing, was making her life miserable with my moaning and complaining and generally opting out of family life because it was too difficult for me to do anything that involved walking or moving.
So I was faced with a dilemma: go on a family-day out and put up with the staring and pointing, or just stay at home on my own. I wanted to go out with them, wanted to be part of the family, but what would people say? What would they think? That’s when I used the first of my techniques for dealing with my anxiety: reality checking.
My daughter (now almost 18) taught me a term that I’d never come across before It’s one which I’ve used many times since: First world problems. Neither my life nor my liberty was under threat at any point. I was worried what people may say or think about me. I did not have to worry where my next meal was coming from. I was worried that people may laugh at me. I was not worried that they would shoot me.
I love my family very much and could not allow a family trip to go ahead without dad, so we all went to the seaside and had a great day! If anyone looked or pointed, I never saw them. With the first hurdle cleared, my next (and probably biggest) hurdle was going to work in my wheelchair for the first time. My colleagues knew I was struggling, but didn’t know I had started using a wheelchair. Now that was a scary thought.
For days, even weeks, I contemplated giving up my job. Seriously. My fear of that initial encounter was all consuming. It owned me for a long time. Eventually though, I knew I had to go to work in a wheelchair. There was no escaping that and no more deflecting to be done.
I remember feeling terrified the first day I went to work in my wheelchair. I worked in a building with really long corridors, with offices on either side. On that first day, the corridors were empty and for that I was grateful; I wasn’t ready to interact with people just yet. I wanted to get this first day over and done with and then get home.
As I rolled along the corridor, I could hear the sounds of my colleague’s voices ahead. As I approached a corner, I could hear them discussing a big project that we had coming up. It sounded like there were several members of the team talking in the corridor. There was no going back. I’d passed the point of no return.
I can’t really say I know anyone here, other than through your work. Some of you have multiple titles to your name and have been doing this for a long time. You’d have to tell me how it feels now, putting your work out into the world, because I still get that sinking feeling every time I hit ‘publish’ or ‘send’, but there are some rules that work in life, that also work for authors:
Be prepared. Have a plan of what you’re going to do to ease that anxiety. Have a list of all the things that you need to have in place before you click that button: do your research; edit your work; show it to beta readers; edit again.
Marshal your supporters. Find the people that are closest to you and share your fears. If you have followers, either blog, Twitter, Facebook, or wherever, you’ve got a bunch of people that want good things for you. Look to them for support (that’s one of the things I should have done). If you don’t have followers, talk to family and friends, tell them what’s making you so anxious.
Accept that you cannot control everything. You are never going to be able to please everyone. I’m sure my mum told me that as I was growing up. You can’t control how people see your work; you can only control how you react to their feedback. In my earlier years, a neuro-linguistics trainer told me something that I still use now and have passed on to my children: choose your attitude; If you want to feel bad, feel bad; if you want to feel good, feel good. You control that. Takes practice, but it works.
Tell yourself something positive. It might be a British condition, or it might just be a human condition, but if you’re like me, you can do nine good things and one not so good, but then focus on and obsess over that one bad thing. Reflect on something that went well.
Help others. There is evidence to show that people who volunteer their time are more resilient. I see this all the time from authors (amongst others); reblog a post that you thought was great; leave a comment to say how great you thought a particular post was; answer a question in a forum.
‘Fake it till you make it.’ Pretend. If you don’t feel confident, pretend. This will help avoid any self-fulfilling prophecies relating to your feeling of not being confident.
Do something creative, like, say, write a story. Once completed, you’ll feel the joy of accomplishment, which can be a powerful tool in tackling anxiety. Of course, you can’t write a novel every time you get anxious. Perhaps a short story, or even a 50 word flash piece.
So, I’m rolling down the corridor, and I can hear my team around the corner. I’ve told some friends how I feel; I’ve written down some of my fears; I’ve told myself that I’m a good playworker and I’ve thought about all the brilliant things I’ve been involved in.
Round the corner, I see two of my colleagues with their backs to me. They are talking to three of our staff, but turn around when they hear me coming. All five of them stop their conversation, look at me, then down to my wheelchair. Time seems to stop. I say nothing.
One of my colleagues looks back up to me and says “Do you know where we put the hockey kit for tonight?”
What a lot of wasted worrying.
Thank you for indulging me. I would like to finish on a story. Helps resilience. It’s a micro piece called The Photo…
The photo had been in his family for as long as Rick could remember. He was not sure how it found its way to him, but he wished that it hadn’t. Perhaps one day he would be rid of it. One day.
The photo was six inches by four inches, landscape and depicted a number of people smiling at the photographer. Folded and creased, the grainy black and white image was clear enough for Rick to pick out his father and mother, his grandfather and several other members of his family that he didn’t remember.
The first time he had looked at the photo, there were only half as many people in it. Over the years, the number of people in the photo had continued to increase, until it seemed as if the picture could hold no more. But somehow, it always managed.
Rick touched the picture gently. His wife and children stared back at him.
Find and Follow Steve
About the author
Steve is a horror and dark fiction author, living in Nottingham, England. His dark fiction and horror short stories have appeared in several online webzines, and the anthologies The Asylum Within and Dead but Dreaming Halloween Edition. Most recently, Steve was a guest author for the short story collection Deathly Musings. In 2016 Steve published his first novella, ‘Die, Blossom, Bloom.’ It is the story of an old man whose love for his wife led him to take some actions he never thought possible. His next book, ‘A Sinister Six’ is a collection of darkly disturbing stories, where the ordinary and mundane become extraordinary and fantastic.
Steve’s books are available HERE or click the links or images to go to Amazon.
‘A Sinister Six’ is a collection of darkly disturbing stories, where the ordinary and mundane become extraordinary and fantastic. Come along, as we journey to the edges of reality and glimpse what lies just beyond our reach. Discover that nothing is quite what it seems, and explore the horrors that travel with us throughout our lives. The characters you will meet within have been forced beyond the boundary of their reality and have encountered what lies beyond.
Die, Blossom Bloom is the story of Ted Harris, an old man who feels a yawning chasm of grief and guilt from the loss of his wife and the way her life ended. Keeping these details secret leads him to commit acts he never thought himself capable of. The Girl in the Park tells the tale of a boy who encounters an enigmatic young woman in the park. As he grows, he begins to fall in love with her, but it is only at the end of his life that he discovers how he can be with her. A Snap of The Fingers asks the questions What would you do for a loved one? Would you die for them? Would you kill for them? Ten-year-old Seth Rogers is asked that very question by a stranger that offers to save his mother from the cancer that is killing her.
The Photograph A photograph is rediscovered decades after it was lost, only now the picture has several new faces in it, faces that were not there when it was taken. The Book demands to be read. It needs to be read. Doctor Monte Hilton is tasked with helping a man that believes The Book is urging him to read it and that the very existence of our universe is in danger if he does. I’m Watching You is the story of one man’s descent into insanity. Long hours and late nights force Mike to question what is real and what is imagined. Some people can only be pushed so far before something breaks.
Read a review of Sinister Six from Ex Libris Regina.