“There are two kinds of guilt: the kind that drowns you until you’re useless, and the kind that fires your soul to purpose.”
― Sabaa Tahir
One of the hardest things about being a single mom is all of the guilt. I am consumed with guilt as I try to balance work and my daughter. Just two things, right? But those two things are my world.
Even as an evangelical Christian with an overbearing and mentally ill mother, the crippling guilt of my youth was nothing like the sobering guilt of motherhood and singleness.
And just when I thought I had received my fill of guilt, I discovered a new source to fill my bucket, so I thought I should be honest about the whole damn thing.
Not everyone can manage a balancing act.
Ever since I began my writing career, I have struggled to keep up the pace against time and the rest of the world.
See, something interesting happens when you enjoy even a small measure of success as an indie writer. People begin asking for more of you. And for the 6 months, I’ve been increasingly pummeled by requests.
As an introvert, it’s only natural for me to find all of the extra contact a little overwhelming, and one thing is certain — I am going to let all of you down. As a writer, as a reader, as a friend. There will never be enough of me. And I will never be able to please everyone.
“My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do.”
― Francine Jay
Let’s face it, guys. I am not a productivity guru. In fact, I rail pretty hard against all of that stuff. I don’t want to go crazy getting shit done. I mean, I already get shit done, but writing and single momming both take up most of my time. And I have little inclination to do either thing any faster.
I don’t even know what that would look like. My aspie brain can't even wrap itself around doing more and doing it faster.
Back when I was a freelancer for a social media management company, my daughter was spending half the time at her dad’s house so I could work. I hated the arrangement because my daughter cried when her stepmom picked her up and complained that she wanted to stay with me. Watching my daughter scream “I want mommy,” with tears ruining down her face was no way to start a working weekend of writing.
It was hell.
Plus, my daughter’s dad isn’t super duper engaged or dependable, so it’s not like I was happy with her being there.
Since my mom came to stay with us in November, and since I quit my freelancing job in December, I don’t have to send my daughter to her dad’s. And for several weeks I didn’t, since she didn’t want to go. Eventually, her dad complained, so she began spending a couple of nights at his place every other weekend. Which amounted to barely more than four days a month.
She began to complain again, and we had a few co-parenting issues and illness, so now that means my daughter hasn't been to her dad's for 2 months. And that means I am always on mom duty.
Even when I write.
The pursuit of success can be stifling.
In January, my earnings took a noticeable hit, so I had to start writing more. Between writing more and momming more, there’s not a ton of room for much else until my daughter starts kindergarten... which has been delayed a year.
“Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There’s only make.”
― Corita Kent
The truth is… I have limits. You have limits too. Of course, my limits are not your limits, and vice versa. Maybe my limits fall down harder, faster, and earlier than yours. Maybe I’m a wimp and maybe you’re a superstar with everything you balance. But it doesn’t matter because we’ve all got limits somewhere — none of us are machines.
That might be the reason I resist so many productivity hacks. I feel like they encourage us to be machines. Maximize this, optimize that. As a single mom and person with borderline personality disorder, I’m just happy to be learning how to chill. Happy to no longer need another person to complete me and all that jazz.
Still, I have to be honest. There’s this guilt because my life is consumed by writing and parenting. I’ve got readers who want feedback. Fellow writers who want more support. And likely all sorts of social expectations I don’t even understand as an aspie woman.
What all of that means is I am going to let you all down… if I haven’t already.
I am going to say the “wrong” things. And write words that fall flat. I am going to frustrate you with indecision, ineptness, and fatigue. I am going to be too busy for you because I’m terrible with people and haven’t had to be around too many for most of my life.
I will let you down because I’m aspie, and I will let you down because I’m awkward, lonely, and occupied by limits. I will let you down by simply being me. Hopelessly flawed and far from mainstream. And as much as I don’t want to let you down, I will still do it.
Because I don’t know another way to be.
“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.”
― Emma Donoghue
The truth is that for more than a year now, certain fears have ebbed and others have flowed. What was once buckets of mom guilt has cascaded into a flood of writer’s guilt. Fears that I’m not giving back enough even though I’m still treading water.
I have fears of each story failing to ring true.
Fears of my stories hurting someone.
And fears of disappointing every single person who asks for something of me, because I don’t know where to begin to justify the means.
I wonder if all creatives feel this way. Or all writers?
Let’s be real. I am a mentally ill single mom doing her best to write herself and her daughter a better future. And there are all of these hiccups along the way. Well, maybe not hiccups since I’m drowning. But some struggle is to be expected.
But sometimes, I feel like I’m completely losing my ground. Or, you know, my mind.
“Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”
― Rainbow Rowell
We don’t talk about this part of success, mental illness, or parenting. We don’t talk about that point where all three converge. And we don’t talk about when success feels so much like failure. We talk about art and healing as if there’s nothing in between.
Or nothing even worse.
We have to talk about the mental health of writers.
I still can’t decide how I feel when people talk about my work. Whether it’s a YouTube “review,” condescending comment, or recommendation — I know it all takes some sort of a mental toll. Gaining and losing readers, unsteady or uncertain income, invites given and later revoked. Drowning in emails and messaging — is this writing now?
Am I selfish to retreat inward? Or to say I can’t read another story today? Am I a dishonest writer when I choose to play with my daughter rather than reply to emails and comments?
And am I on a downward spiral if my income isn’t going up?
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” — Anais Nin
I have all of these damn questions that I don’t think anyone can ultimately answer. I simply want to throw myself into the burning wind and pray for a fiery rising. Pray for a certain kind of peace.
This is the long, lonely life for many writers. I know this because we don’t have the reputation of being a remarkably happy bunch.
Is it too cliche to say that I am tortured by my work? Cliche to call myself a creative and label my writing work at all?
I can’t answer that. All I can say is that I believe I’m here for a reason. I believe that working out my trauma cannot only pay the bills, but can also help some others along the way. It’s just one helluva hike.
And I’m doing my damnedest to not drown in the guilt.