I make a few flippant remarks about writers being bonkers. Not all are (obvs) but it does take a certain kind of person to take joy from sitting in a room all day, alone, conjuring stuff out of their heads from memory boxes or absolutely nowhere. Our brains are our powerhouses (give or take a heart). We sit there typing away at a keyboard, tears rolling down our cheeks at the powerful words we write sometimes, or cheering as one of our characters exact revenge – so real are these fictional worlds to us (obviously I refer to the fiction writers here and not those who write cooking manuals). ‘What if’ is our mantra. We spend a lot of time wondering ‘what if this happened to her’ ‘what if that happened to him.’ Anxiety sufferers in the non-book world are crippled by ‘what ifs’. They are beaten with unrelenting sticks of ‘what ifs’ from which they long to escape whilst writers stand there with signposts on our chests directing ‘what if’ traffic towards them. It’s no wonder that writers are prone to anxiety.
Anxiety isn’t depression. Depression is far worse: a black cloud that eats up hope and energy, a terrible thing to have – the worst. Anxiety is exhausting but it creates the energy it needs to feed from. You become hypersensitive to everything around you and what threat is poses. I’ve had it on and off for years, it’s become part of my way of life. It’s usually my friends who tell me when my worries are exceeding ‘normal’ levels. Being a mum of two teenage lads and ailing parents – plus chuck in the menopause - brings what I call those ‘normal’ worries. It is normal to worry that my cocky man-child will not kill himself on a jet ski when he’s off to Ibiza with his equally cocky men-children mates. Normal to worry that my octogenarian parent still thinks she’s able to climb up on a ladder to dust the top of the curtain rails. But when I lie in bed and worry that the ceiling might fall on my head in the middle of the night, for absolutely no reason at all, I know that the red button in my head has started flashing danger.
I know how to manage it. There’s no shame in admitting I need some non-addictive chemical intervention occasionally; something to help me sleep and keep me asleep. I’m sure that the new wave of mindfulness might help, except I can’t sit still long enough to meditate. My mouth would be saying ‘Om mani padme hum’ but my head would be thinking ‘Oh shit, I’ve just thought of a plot hole in chapter 5’. Plus I haven’t managed the Lotus position since 1975.
Those periods where I am at my most manic, where my brain is spinning like a top, are my most creative times. I am in writer’s heaven. I’m at my worst and my best all at once. That is the curse of anxiety for me, it is the conjoined twin of my imagination. Anxiety opens doors to chambers in my head that only it has the key to. It nudges me awake at three in the morning with the best ideas. Without it, I wouldn’t be a writer. Or, at least, I’d be one that had enough writer’s blocks to build a mansion with.
I’m not alone, I know. Loads of creatives are fruitcakes with added sultanas, we are renowned for it. Renowned for our excesses and our greed and ambition, renowned for our insecurities, yet we are drawn to the most insecure jobs on the planet. Anxiety is part of my life and my world and so I cannot deny it entry but, like a demanding relative who has stayed too long at Christmas, there comes a time when I am too tired to entertain it. I need uninterrupted sleep. I need to walk down the road without thinking that a car is going to plough into the back of me. So it is forcefully shown the door, until I realise that I miss its company and the inspiration it brings and ask it to pop back for a cuppa, but it always arrives with its suitcase, and so the cycle begins again. We are old enemies and old friends, anxiety and I. I am at my most clear-thinking in my work when I am at my most chaotic away from the desk. Take it or leave it, that’s the unnegotiable deal it puts on the table.
I take it.