I Don’t Get Writer’s Block, I Get Anxiety
I have a massive list of ideas, so why am I frozen?
There is a threshold between my room and the rest of the house, a tall arch that opens to a little balcony overlooking the foyer and living room. My cat likes to sit just on the edge of the threshold, staring longingly at the couches she would love to scratch and the Christmas Tree she dreams of chewing. But, although she gets mad at me if I close the bedroom door, she refuses to cross the threshold. She is scared of the large open space, the unfamiliar smells, and the strange people on the other side. She wants to explore. She clearly feels trapped and longs for room to run and climb, but she holds herself back. She is paralyzed by fear.
As I sit and watch her perform the same dance every night, tiptoeing right up to the edge and then backing down, I wonder if she learned it from me.
Every time I have an idea for a blog article, book, or pitch, I write it down. I currently have three different running lists: one on my computer, one on my phone, and one in my Medium drafts. I almost never feel uninspired. Writing is the way I process my ideas and emotions, and there are plenty of both to go around.
So why do I get blocked?
The truth is, I’m scared.
As someone with Generalized Anxiety, I’m scared of pretty much everything. I’m scared of making small talk with my in-laws, I’m scared that my cat will get cancer, I’m scared everyone I love will get hit by a bus.
But, perhaps, I’m most scared of failing.
The saying goes, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” But when you have anxiety, your brain sees things differently. I tend to see it more like, “You can’t miss a shot you don’t take.” This is how anxiety starts to take control.
When my anxiety takes charge I can stare at a blank page for four hours, the words racing through my head, my heart pounding. I feel like I could punch a wall, and yet I’m completely paralyzed. Every mistake I’ve ever made floods through my head. Every misstep, every wrong word, every regret.
Anxiety isn’t rational. It doesn’t care how many posts I’ve written before, how good I know I’ll feel if I just start, or the rewards that come with finishing. My anxiety is trying to protect me, albeit in a maladaptive way. My anxiety is there to prevent me from failing.
But it’s also preventing me from succeeding. Anxiety is preventing me from editing my book, because I’m scared that I’ll see that what I’ve written so far is bad. Anxiety is preventing me from writing about my experiences as a woman working in tech, because I’m scared of the blowback. Anxiety is preventing me from reaching out to people who could be allies, or supporters, because I’m scared they’ll say no.
But I fight through it.
Today, I started editing that book I was afraid to touch. Maybe tomorrow I’ll take the next step.
My anxiety has served some purpose in my life. It keeps me safe, makes me more alert to danger or threats, and helps me be mentally prepared for the worst care scenario. But, eventually, it’s time to Marie Kondo the anxiety — thank it for its service in keeping me safe, and it go. I am safe, I can afford to take risks now. I can afford to get a little hurt.
Of course, letting go of anxiety isn’t that straight forward. If it was, therapists and pharmaceutical companies would be making a whole lot less money. But, it is a start. Recognizing that my anxiety is holding me back is the first step to pushing past it.
I would never let someone else hold me back — why let myself?
M. K. is a feminist writer and activist with a background in mental health advocacy. Subscribe to get her latest posts directly in your inbox.