Tag Archives: coping

5 Possible Paths to Feeling Better

One peril of a mood disorder – even one that’s more or less under control – is that every so often you wind up feeling so bad about yourself that feeling better seems like a Herculean – or even worse, impossible – task. What’s the point of putting effort into raising your spirits when, like Sisyphus’ boulder, they’re just going to tumble back to the bottom of the mountain?

When this happens, you have two choices:

A. Ride out the feeling of wanting to sink into the floor and disappear, beating yourself up for being such a useless lump of meat the entire way down, or

B. Deny, deny, deny, and avoid, avoid, avoid.

Whenever I can muster up the sheer will to avoid A (and that isn’t always), I do, because over the years I’ve learned that sinking into the ground doesn’t make you disappear, beating yourself up can easily become a habit, and lying in the dark listening to depressing music or stuffing your face with pizza might offer relief for a few minutes, but the song will end and the pizza will disappear, and you’ll be right back where you started — though maybe a few pounds heavier. (And unfortunately, there are some other, more destructive behaviors that can start to become part of your routine with surprising ease – and these should be avoided at all costs.)

Which leaves us with option B. What does denial look like in these circumstances? Well, first, I want to be really clear about something: I’m not talking about denying the underlying issues that might contribute to capital-D-depression. I am assuming that you, like me, are getting help for dealing with your mood disorders. This is only meant as advice for how to get through those valleys of emotion, not advice on how to find a longer-term solution. For that, you’re going to want a therapist, maybe some medication, and most likely some lifestyle changes.

But once you’ve done all that and still woken up with shitty!brain (or “brain weasels,” as one friend calls them)… short of lying in bed for hours of despair and self-loathing, what can you do?

1. Stop listening to yourself.

When you’re in a depressive pit, this is really frickin’ hard. There’s a little voice in your head saying things like, “Everything is worthless, everything is useless, I’m useless, I have no self-control, I have no friends, I’m going to be alone the rest of my life, if I just stopped right now nobody would even notice let alone be sad,” etc., etc. Pretty soon, these abstracts can start turning into concrete criticisms: “I’ve blogged for twenty days straight but I can’t think of anything to say today, so I suck, and my blog sucks, and if I let today go by without finding something worth blogging about that means I’ve failed and I’m worthless.” “I haven’t written a play since February, I’m never going to be successful, why haven’t I finished my next book yet, what am I doing, why would anyone want to work with me,” and so on and so forth. But Depression lies. It tells you you’re stupid and useless and a failure. It isn’t your actual self talking, it’s some nasty little bugger who’s squatting in the corner of your mind, and who has no business telling you you’re anything less than awesome. And yeah – it’s one thing to recognize that that’s the Depression talking and it’s another to internalize that fact to the point where it stops bugging you, but if you can find a way to stop listening to that nasty little voice in your head, it goes a long way towards getting things started. And if you can’t stop listening to that nasty voice in your head, do something it tells you not to do anyways. It says you look dumb in that dress? Wear the fucking dress. It says nobody wants to read your idea for a blog entry? Write it anyways. People can always click “next.”

2. Get a change of scenery.

Thanks to today’s highly-connected world, this is so much easier than it used to be. Even if you can’t leave your bed, you can open up youtube. Put on your headphones. Find something beautiful from somewhere else in the world. Watch it. Here’s an example someone shared with me earlier today:

See? With the click of a button, you’re on the sea floor, scuba-diving in Key Largo with no risk of the bends, no need for a certification, and no chance that giant shark will eat you for breakfast.

3. Give yourself something to look forward to.

Maybe there’s a show you like on TV tonight. Remind yourself that it’s on the horizon. Maybe there’s someone you can rope into last-minute plans. If you need to be around another human, let someone know. While retail therapy can be destructive if taken to extremes, buying yourself a new toy can give you a short boost, and a short boost (no, not the kind of short boost that involves eating a whole pizza and descending into a carb coma) can give you some relief.

4. Talk to friends.

If you’ve been dealing with mood disorders for a long time, there are probably some people in your life who know about it. Reach out to them. Tell them how you’re feeling. If they’ve been around a while, they know that they don’t have to make you feel better – they just have to listen, hear you, and maybe talk for a few minutes. If you don’t have that kind of person in your life, that doesn’t mean you don’t still deserve a sympathetic ear. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of online support communities for people with all kinds of problems, and chances are there’s one out there for you.

5. Try to do something physical. Literally any physical thing.

Deep breaths. Leg lifts. Stretches. Tightening and un-tightening your stomach muscles while you lie in bed. It isn’t much, but it’s something, and something is better than nothing. Maybe you can’t get up and run a mile, but hopefully you can still breathe. (I know – sometimes even that is hard.) And any kind of movement can start to help you feel like walking to the kitchen and making a cup of tea lies within the realm of actual possibility.

While none of these are a surefire solution to waking up with a case of brain weasels, some of them can at least help kick-start the recovery process – and, for me at least, they often fire up a sense of momentum. Once upon a time, on its own, that momentum wouldn’t have been enough to push me out of the abyss, but as a tool propped up by all the other tools in my “fuck you, stupid mood” toolbox, it’s started to become useful. This isn’t to say they’ll work for everyone, and it’s definitely not to say that if you’re feeling this way you should use these tactics as a replacement for working with a trained mental health professional.

If you’re reading this, and you’re occasionally beset by the feeling of being a giant useless lump with a handful of decades of the same to look forward to, I hope these tactics will help alleviate some of that strain. And if you have more ideas, please share below – I’m always looking for new ways to stop feeling crappy.

Somebody Out There Hates Your Writing

There are a lot of articles about “coping” with negative reviews. One-star, zero-star, slams and takedowns can make even the most confident writer go through a moment of self-doubt. As a writer and reviewer, I’ve been on both sides of this equation. One time, an offended writer even came to my blog to object to my review in the comments. Which, I think we can all agree, is never a good move for a writer.

But I understand that it can be upsetting, particularly for new writers, when someone gives their work a negative review online. As an editor, I’ve even had writers who’ve even been upset by less-than-effusive (and I don’t mean negative, I mean less-than-effusive) comments made about their own work in reviews of larger collections.

It’s a big bad world out there, and not everyone is going to adore every word that comes off your pen (or keyboard). So here are my tips for quieting the “OMG I’m worthless!” voice that might pipe up when someone says something unflattering about your writing.

1. Any review is just one person’s opinion.

Find out who that person is, and see what other kinds of opinions they’ve shared. For example, the other day I noticed that someone had slammed one of my early plays with a 1-star review on Goodreads. Since the previous review had been much higher, it was a little annoying to see it fall by several stars with one fell swoop. But when I clicked on the person’s profile and checked out their website, I found out that not only was their independent review site dedicated to slamming books “so bad they couldn’t be unread,” but they also took issue with the work of writers who are widely acknowledged as leaders in their particular fields. Realizing you’re in good company definitely helps get rid of the bitter taste of a negative review.

2. People have different tastes.

Not every piece of work is going to connect with every reader. And you don’t necessarily want it to.

When another piece of work was reviewed with one star, and I started doing my digging, I found out that the reviewer’s single favorite line in all of literature was from…50 Shades of Grey. Not to knock EL James, her work, or her readership, but it seems to me that someone whose tastes run so intensely to that particular piece is unlikely to be looking for, or interested in, a book of social-issue themed science fiction. In this case, I doubt very much that the reviewer in question would like any of my work. No harm, no foul.

3. Bad reviews lend credibility to the good ones.

Particularly since the rise of self-published fiction, there has been controversy about how authors acquire reviews. I often provide review copies to serious reviewers, and they note this in their reviews (and I do the same when reviewing the work of others – it’s called disclosure, and lets your reader know why your reaction to a piece of work might differ from that of the general paying public). But there has been a lot of discussion of authors paying for reviews, or recruiting friends to pump them up, and I’ve even seen some readers who say they don’t believe a book is good unless it has a range of reviews at different star levels. While you might lose a few stars early on in the game, keep drumming up reviews and eventually the law of averages will start to reflect a more balanced image of how readers are reacting to your books.

4. Take it as feedback, figure out what’s really being said, and use it to  make your work better.

Recently, my play Ace In The Hole had two scenes read aloud at a “scratch” night in Newcastle, England. After the performance, audience members were encouraged to write their reactions on cards and tack them up for the companies who had presented to read and learn from. When the company forwarded the comments to me, I was thrilled that, for the most part, people seemed to have engaged with the play on its own terms – but as with any group, there were a couple of people who hadn’t liked the work as much as others. Now, theater is a little different from fiction, since there’s usually an opportunity for development of work after an initial presentation to an audience, but the same rule holds true: when an audience member takes the time to review your work, no matter what they say, take it as an honest reaction. If you’re unhappy with what they’ve said, consider whether they might have a point.

In the case of Ace in the Hole, one comment that gave a little sting was that the piece might be better as a radio play. Now, one way to take that is, “This play sucks, it’s not visually interesting, cancel the production.” But if someone took the time to give the feedback, it’s probably because they think there’s something there worth developing. In this case, my interpretation of the feedback was that the action of the play was too static, not physical enough. After all, in a radio drama you only have the medium of sound, whereas on stage both the dialogue and the physical movement of the actors need to contribute to the overall dramatic action. As I redrafted and rewrote the play to its rehearsal draft, I took this as feedback and looked for natural opportunities to make the play more physical. The final draft features a lot more necessary physical action than the first one, and it’s all because someone was thoughtful enough to let me know what part of the play they found lacking.

5. Sometimes, you just have to ignore it and move on.

As part of the same session, one piece of feedback spoke about how the company’s mission was to engage young women, but the play itself seemed like it would speak more to the young men in the audience. There’s not a lot that can be done about that. Ace in the Hole is a science fiction play, set in space, featuring three female characters fighting for survival. To my mind, that feedback speaks more to the audience member’s presupposed notions about who likes science fiction in general, and military-themed science fiction in particular. Since I know plenty of women who enjoy those genres, and since the remit of the commission was to write a play with an all-female cast, set in space…this wasn’t a piece of feedback that I could let lodge in my head.

There are other ways to think about criticism – for example, my home town newspaper has one critic who I love to read because I know no matter what he thinks of a piece, I’ll think the exact opposite. That’s one reason why I’m a big fan of critics who let you know their bias when they’re writing – if you know someone swings for experimental poetic fiction, for example, you might take their thoughts on a historical bodice-ripper differently than if they exclusively review the romance genre.

While we’d all like to think that everyone who picks up our book or buys a ticket to our play is going to love it, writers shouldn’t be afraid of someone out there disliking their work.

After all, in art, as in life – if you’re not pissing somebody off, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Have you read my work? If you have a moment to give it a review – or even just a star rating on Amazon – it would be very much appreciated. Rather leave your mark over at Goodreads? Consider this your invitation! 

Keep Calm & Carry On

So. I went to the doctor yesterday and got my scan results, and they were a bit worse than I had been preparing for (I’ll be okay, nobody panic, I just hadn’t realized how serious this injury would turn out to be). It was pretty upsetting, and I’m glad some of my friends were around to talk with once I got the news. I’ve started physical therapy and will be trying my best to be a model patient while that’s going on.

This morning, in a wildly successful attempt to brighten my spirits, my friend @aboleyn from Twitter has set up a delightful tumblr which we’re populating with pictures of British actors whose work we enjoy.

In the tradition of Calming Manatee, and courtesy of the brilliant @aboleyn, I bring you: