I have anxiety, and write about this anxiety. Frequently. Which sometimes gives me anxiety. It’s all very meta.
Let me back up.
I’ve been a professional blogger – and author, and show host — for over a decade. It started in 2009, when I became friends with a woman who was more or less the Paris Hilton of the Internet (I promise this reference felt far more culturally relevant way back then). You know, famous for “nothing” but also kind of legitimately famous for pioneering a new way to make a living, albeit an odd and divisive one. The woman asked me to join her blogging “business,” which at the time was a total Wild West venture, companies only having just started to recognize the value of digital integrations. Overnight, I went from being a mostly-private person to someone whose every decision, from the blazer I wore to the fact that I decided to procreate (imagine!), was unpacked in excruciating – and often unflattering – detail. I even had haters, for god’s sake.
It is a strange experience, to suddenly have your life become a topic of conversation for total strangers, and to get to read those conversations whenever you want (usually from your bed at 2am, when you’re having a particularly masochistic evening).
It makes you feel like people care, like you’re being seen.
It is intoxicating. Until it isn’t.
When I first started blogging, it was very, very important to me that people like me. Except at that particular moment in time I didn’t like me all that much. I was a failed actress and a walking ball of anxiety, so that presented quite the conundrum. My new blogging colleagues had the answer for me: They stressed the importance of being “aspirational,” which I interpreted to mean “rich,” even though I wasn’t, not even a little bit. But I tried! I pranced gamely around a cosmopolitan–flavored version of New York City – a totally different beast from the dirty, sexy, graffiti-soaked city I’d grown up in – because I thought that’s what people wanted to see.
Fabulousness. Or something.
“It is important, you see, to keep up appearances. Especially when you operate in a world where appearances are currency.”
Even though I soon parted ways with my blogging colleagues and dropped that particular act, I was still excellent at putting on a better face than the one I wore when the cameras were off. On my website, I was making videos about sugared cranberries and posting photos of date days with my new husband, but I was also pacing my house at all hours of the night, hallucinating tiny bananas that sat in my cupboards and talked to me (it’s a sleep deprivation thing, and not nearly as fun as it sounds). I was rocketing straight up in bed at four o’clock in the morning with my heart pounding, because it had occurred to me, mid-sleep, that death, as a concept, existed. I also suffered from a crippling fear of public speaking, and would spend the weeks leading up to any in-person or live on-camera appearance practicing deep-breathing techniques, in hopes I’d make it through without fainting, or running away.
I’d become excellent at hiding all of this, of course.
A video crew would show up to my house at 8 a.m., ready to film me talking about spring trends or some such, and I’d spackle on the foundation to hide my tired, blotchy skin, press cold spoons to my eyelids to conceal the fact that I hadn’t slept for more than an hour at a time in days. My head would feel like it was full of bees, and the words that came out of my mouth would seem to me slow, dulled by exhaustion – but I always looked and sounded just fine when I watched the footage later on.
I’d be booked to speak on a panel about being a Successful Career Woman, and I’d pop half a Xanax before stepping on stage to keep my knees from trembling and my neck from turning a furious-looking shade of red. And it worked: I’d deliver my speech, make my way through a sparkling little Q&A, and then head straight home so I could be near my bed when the adrenaline wore off and the medication had moved on from making me “calm” to making me exhausted.
It is important, you see, to keep up appearances. Especially when you operate in a world where appearances are currency. And so there’s a dance you do: you are relatable! So real! But, you know…still hireable. Which means you must only permit yourself to be “real” in very specific, very socially acceptable ways.
Except here’s the thing about trying to live a lie: You can’t. Or I can’t, anyway. It’s too exhausting. And I was exhausted enough already.
So eventually, the inevitable happened: I decided that instead of writing about a life I (thought I) wanted, I’d just write about…my life. What that meant, as it turned out, was writing about anxiety, but also all the rest of it.
Here, for example, are some of the topics I’ve covered over the past year:
I had a misdiagnosed ectopic pregnancy. My stomach filled up with blood, and I almost died. I lost parts of my body I had never given much thought to, and never knew I could miss quite so much.
“It doesn’t make me feel worse to write about my life, even when others are absolutely positive that I’m Doing It Wrong”
I unpacked all of these things and posted the words on my website, offering them up like bits of my body for whoever might want to digest them. Some people were supportive. Some weren’t. As it is in life, it is on the Internet. My real-world friends read the comments about my divorce, my parenting, my forays into the world of dating, and they sent me emails, furious on my behalf.
Just write about mascara, they said. Don’t put yourself in a position where a stranger’s opinion can make you feel worse.
I understand this perspective. I can see why it might seem like solid advice. But here’s the thing: It doesn’t make me feel worse to write about my life, even when others are absolutely positive that I’m Doing It Wrong, and let me know that in extremely direct and shout-y ways. See, I’ve done the dance before and while laying out your mistakes and messes for others to see can be hurtful, speaking from experience here: It hurts a whole lot more to pretend. Because when you are pretending, you are left alone, with nothing but the inside of your own head for company.
So, here are the facts: I am a mother. And a writer. And a divorcee. I have a mental illness. I am strong enough to handle all of these things – a fact that I am certain of, because I am handling them, right this very second. I am also, from time to time, less than the person I want to be. As are we all.
I hear the opinions that roll in about my divorce, my anxiety, my parenting, all of it. I take them in. They don’t make me angry. They used to – oh god, did they ever – but something interesting happens when you take all your mistakes, and throw a spotlight on them over and over and over: You find out that so many others are afraid of the exact same things that you are. You discover that you have a community, and that there is help out there, just waiting to be found. You understand, finally, that it is possible to be both brave and afraid, at the exact same time. And, perhaps best of all, you start learning how and when to listen…and how and when to listen just to yourself.