Last year, when Covid was new, and all this insanity was fresh, I experienced my first sort of writer’s block. It wasn’t that I didn’t have ideas. I had tons. I just couldn’t seem to get them on paper. I’d sit at the computer and nothing happened. Maybe I’d type a few lines, but in less than an hour, I’d be searching for something, anything else to do. There was one week where I cleaned BOTH bathrooms top to bottom TWICE. I mean, I was actively avoiding writing, guys. I fucking hate cleaning bathrooms. I’ll let them get disgusting before I haul my ass in there to do the things grownups have to do. And I washed walls and windows, cleaned out cupboards and drawers. I scrubbed trim, cleaned my oven and my fridge, and washed shit that was in the closet (already totally clean), because it might be dusty.
I’m sure if we dug into the deeper meaning behind that, we might say I was stressed from work and the shit on social media, and was trying to make order out of chaos, or maybe I felt doing something I enjoyed so much felt wrong, considering the awfulness around me. Maybe it was just that with so much time on my hands, I got lazy about writing. I’ll admit there were times I’d tell myself there was no point in writing. I should quit because I was never going to make any real money at it or because I wasn’t really that good at it. (PS: DO NOT read reviews when you’re in a fragile mental state. Just don’t.) I’ve been in that mindset before, but this time was different. I almost convinced myself to quit. For a few weeks, I told myself I had. That was it. No more. Eventually, though, I found myself at the computer again, ideas begging to be released on the page, and then I found something else to clean before too long.
I’ve already obsessed over the why of it, and it didn’t really get me anywhere. I was fried. Period. Not by writing, but by life. I think that’s the main reason I couldn’t do it. Today, though, we’re not doing a deep dive into my brain. It’s not a fun place anyway. I want to talk about how doing something you’re passionate about can save you.
Let’s go back to the early days of the pandemic. I’m an assistant manager at a grocery store in a small town. When Covid first arrived, we went into lockdown. No masks yet, but we had to overhaul our store. The shelves were empty. People were angry. Up went the arrows, signs, and little red circles showing people where to stand, because apparently, we can’t judge distance on our own. We had to make people line up outside and screen them before they could enter. They gave us a list of questions we had to ask. I probably don’t have to tell you how people handled this, but I will. They didn’t handle it. They were assholes. And then we could only allow one person per household in the store. Ten people at a time. That was… ugh. I worked in the store and pitched in as “security” at the door. Side note: NEVER put someone who has issues with being talked down to or yelled at in such a situation. I’m shocked no one got hurt, to be honest. There were moments where I “saw” myself putting someone’s head through a window or shoving something up their ass. I didn’t, but I really wanted to. I did hide in the bathroom to cry a few times. Never in all my years of working retail have I cried at work like that. Never. And I’ve had some pretty awful jobs. Anyway, moving on.
We were yelled at, threatened, and physically attacked. Someone coming at us became such a regular occurrence, that we stopped flinching. That doesn’t mean it didn’t affect us. I’m still a bag of nerves, and it rarely happens anymore. (still the occasional asshole out there, but for the most part, we feel relatively safe) As I said, I wasn’t writing much at this point and I felt everything bottling up inside me. There was a tightness in my chest and a weight deep in my stomach that never left. My tension and anger became palpable. No joke. My poor family had to endure me snapping for no reason. Sometimes I’d just cry. There was no warning. No reason that anyone could identify. I was either pissed at everything or sad. I was manic or completely immobile. There was no in between. If I had a good day where I felt happy or optimistic, I’d quickly begin to wonder when the awful thing would happen, because I couldn’t possibly be in a good mood without repercussions. Then the good mood was gone, and we were back to yelling, throwing things, or crying. Sometimes all three.
Then restrictions eased a little, and we had a few weeks of slightly less stress. And boom! New rules. New policies. New reasons for people to yell at us. Lather, rinse and repeat for a year.
I stopped sleeping. Well, I slept, but I tossed and turned and woke at odd hours. Instead of being tired, though, I felt almost hyper-awake some days. My body was tired, but my brain was like “Full speed ahead!” It was a weird feeling. Not one I’d like to experience again. I actually thought I was going crazy for a while, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. It was like I was floating outside my body waiting for the inevitable train wreck to happen.
Finally, late last summer, I sat down one morning and wrote 5,000 words. I only stopped because the dogs were acting like assholes from so many hours without attention. The next day I wrote a few thousand words again. And again the following day.
Thankfully, the psychotic break never happened.
What I wrote wasn’t great. I probably only kept half of those words (the book is finished now and just got rejected, so… maybe I’ll get rid of a few thousand more). However, I felt the best I’d felt in months mentally. My head was clear. I didn’t feel that uncomfortable weight on my shoulders or in my stomach, my chest didn’t feel tight, and I slept like the dead those first few nights.
Then I wrote a few shorts. Subbed to some publishers. Got a few acceptances and a lot of rejections. Things were normal again. I was in control again. I found myself singing as I worked or dancing while I cleaned. I was me again.
Was it because I got the feels out on paper? No. It was because for months I didn’t feel good about much. I was anxious because I couldn’t force any words and I had no outlet for the frustration and, I’ll admit it, rage I felt about my situation. I couldn’t even enjoy reading. That’s never happened in my life. Reading is my escape even more than writing is, so if I couldn’t even finish a book, what the hell, right? When the damn finally burst and I got those first words down, all of that changed.
I’ve learned that writing is a necessity for me. The whole process helps realign my chakras or whatever. Sitting down, forming that first sentence, then that first paragraph, and the first page. Even going back and editing is something I need. It makes everything seem manageable. Once I let myself enjoy it again, that joy trickled into other parts of my life. I still get irritable. It’s part of my personality. I’m easily annoyed. However, I’m not lashing out or pitching tantrums anymore. I’m not crying in the shower or laying awake at night. I’m content. Well, as content as one can be in our current situation. I can look at a shit situation and see the humor in it or take the glass half-full approach.
I also realized that the cleaning thing (To be clear, I’m a long way from a neat freak) was my way of trying to find order in the chaos. I couldn’t write, so I did the other thing that made me feel better. If I could make my home tidy, then maybe other shit would fall in line. It didn’t, but I tried. Sadly, my house will never be as clean as it was in the first months of the pandemic. Sorry, family. Those happy days are over.
If I never earned another dollar from writing, I can say that now that I’m certain I won’t stop. (Although I still circle the imposter syndrome drain now and then) The process fuels something important in my soul and I think that’s true for all of us. Maybe your thing is gaming or music or painting or rearranging furniture or cleaning your pantry or gardening or (ew) exercise. It doesn’t matter what it is you love. Now more than ever it’s important to find that thing that brings you joy and embrace it. Put it in a strangle hold if you must. Just don’t let it go. It’s yours and you deserve to have it.
Having just one piece of your life that feels right and orderly is so important for your mental health. Even if it becomes difficult, don’t stop. Eventually, you’ll find that joy again and the planets will align, and things won’t seem so dire. To my writer friends who find themselves experiencing a block like mine: Keep sitting down at the computer (or with the notebook). The words will come. I promise.
In a way, Covid helped me realize how lucky I am. It made me love writing again and it showed me how strong I really am. I mean, I didn’t kill anyone. Didn’t even wound them. And there were a lot of people who deserved at least a maiming. I got through this past year without a criminal record, kept my job, and I rediscovered my passion for the horror genre. So, thanks, Covid, for being such a fucker.
I challenge all of you to find your happy place and dig into it. Don’t let this outside bullshit tear you down. Find something you love and love the shit out of it. You owe it to yourselves, and those around you, to find some joy.
I mean, if you don’t indulge your soul, give it what it needs, you might find yourself creating order in other ways… and then burying the bodies under your house.
Never do that. Bury them at someone else’s house.