Stories of My Scribblings: On Writing and Mental Health

TRIGGER WARNING: If you’re triggered by talk of Bipolar Disorder, binge-eating, or overworking, please skip this post.

Dishes, laundry, and getting elbow-deep in the toilet. Staring at the wall and contemplating my existence seemed better than opening my word doc and getting to work on my manuscript. Sometime in early-mid 2018, I prepared to undertake another round of edits. I threw myself into it with no other goal than “make it perfect better.”

I spent the rest of that spring and summer hacking away at my book, desperate to make it presentable for the writing critique group I’m in. I kept pressing on and on, never stopping. The unease in my stomach turned into a knot of dread when I opened the document. A headache formed when I even looked at my laptop. I chugged on, going slower and slower. Every day and for hours and hours. But then I’d catch a glimmer of light and bam! I’d be revitalized.

What I didn’t account for was this quirky and delightful little thing called Bipolar II Disorder (Here’s a great article about Bipolar II Disorder. I recommend checking out this wholeheartedly.) or how my BPD and that goal would affect me in the long run.

When I’d made that goal, I’d been riding on a manic high. When I’m in the manic stage of BPD, that usually results in me going on shopping sprees, drawing for days, and being uncontrollably giggly. Another side effect that I didn’t recognize until fall of 2018? I didn’t pace myself with writing. You see, for me, when I’m manic, I can do anything. I can whip up a story outline and get over ten thousand words into a project in just a few days. In my mind, I’m basically unstoppable. In theory, that’s great, but for me in real life? It can be dangerous.

During that manic stage, I dreamed and planned so much. Too much. By the time I dropped to the darker side of my BPD, I had all of these things that I’d pressured myself to do, but no drive. But that’s okay. Right? I had a writing habit that I’d spent years building up and that had kept me productive and sane during the highs and lows before. I was fiiine.

Except I wasn’t.

If I didn’t work my day job that day, I’d work through my tears for up to ten hours on that project. I would open up my laptop and stare at the screen, feeling sicker and sicker, a deep-seated hatred brewing for everything I was coming up with. I hadn’t reigned myself in during the mania and now I was paying the price.

Why didn’t I drop the project like a flaming turd?

I’ve been asking myself that for months, and only came up with the answer recently: I needed it to be perfect. It didn’t matter if that meant that I paid the price. It didn’t matter if I ended the day exhausted and crying in the shower or quietly puking my guts into the toilet at 3AM. To my “low brain,” there wasn’t a problem if I fell back into binge eating, getting sick, or hating myself and my project as long as my project became “perfect.”

But it wasn’t perfect. I’d barely made any progress and I loathed this book that I was once deeply in love with. And I was suffering burn out after burn out in a sick attempt to perfect this draft. There wasn’t a spark of joy in what I was doing, and I love writing. It wasn’t until a very smart and special person called me out on it this month that it really hit me.

This wasn’t healthy and it needed to stop right now.

So I slept in today.

I slept in for hours and didn’t beat myself up about it. I stayed under the covers and read with my cat beside me without shame. I had my favorite breakfast and didn’t attack myself for taking too long to eat. I read and read without an alarm to remind me to get to writing. I took my time, and let myself be a “lazy teenager” without any guilt or negative self-talk. For the first time in years, I’m letting myself take a day off and do what I want to do without the pressure to do anything else.

Forget my writing group. Forget all of these unreasonable pressures that I’ve placed on myself. I am not going to do anything that doesn’t make me feel better about myself today, and that’s fine. I’m a person, not a robot. I need days off every now and then.

I’m not completely out of the woods yet. Until I can create a healthier writing habit, I’m going to set aside that WIP. I’m going to set it aside until it I can glance at the document without feeling sick to my stomach. Not that I’m not going to stop writing; I’m just going to work on what I actually want to and not write without end. Writing all day, every day might work for some people, but not for me. Not right now.

For now, I’m going to let myself live.

Copyright © 2019 by Nita Pan

All rights reserved. This post or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a review.

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