Tuesday, October 8, 2013

For The Bad Days

Cloudy February day at Swami's Beach in Encinitas, CA.
Yes, those dots in the ocean are surfers.
I have a lot of bad days. It's something that comes with the territory of being both a person with anxiety and a person who writes. Some days all I have to do is wake up and feel the crushing anxiety to know there will be major struggles in coping all my waking hours.

Which makes it hard to get out of bed sometimes. But I try to do that anyway.

Lately I've been having tons of really bad days. It happens—I've kind of accepted that I will have these anxiety-ridden times and that they don't often have logical reasons to go with them. I try to take care of myself when they come, because I know if I don't I'll be facing depression as well as the usual anxiety. Which is something I'm very close to at the moment. It's exhausting and also annoying.

So I want to talk about what you do when you're having a bad day. Or maybe even several bad days in a row. Or a whole month. Or even more.

Because if you're a writer, chances are you'll have bad days even if you aren't diagnosed with something like anxiety or depression. Writing is special like that—able to bring both the greatest joy and deepest sorrow. Not to mention a heavy helping of frustration.

I posted this pic I took while I was in CA because that day was a big deal for me in a lot of ways. But in reference to this topic, it greatly inspired me to see these surfers head out into the ocean on a cold, rainy day. I thought, "They must really love what they do if they're willing to get in that frigid water. That's dedication."

My friends, sometimes writing is like this. Cold, hard, unforgiving. Do we only get in the water when it's nice? Or do we still go out when the rain is falling and it doesn't look like much fun? With that, here's my advice:

Do What You Can
Bad days are days that it's easy to give up and do no work. I admit to falling prey to this more than once. It even happened last week. I didn't write for days because I was just plain sad and that made me tired and both of those made me wonder if I should keep doing this writing thing.

I had no excuses. I just didn't write because I didn't want to. I hate when I do that, when I let the bad thoughts win. They can be quite persuasive at times.

But, for the most part, I try to do what I can even when I'm down. It's usually not a lot, but it's something. A page written. A chapter edited. An important email sent. Something.

Because something is better than nothing. Moving forward, be it the tiniest of steps, is moving. And moving is better than standing still. When I stand still, that's when I dig the hole I'm in even deeper. That's when the dark thoughts come out to play—and they bring all their friends. The longer you do nothing, the easier it will be for you to beat yourself up. This brings me to my next point:

Be Gentle With Yourself
Bad days happen to everyone. It's normal. While it's important to keep going as best as you can, it's also vital to cut yourself some slack on the days when the words just aren't happening or you get a particularly stinging rejection or you find out B&N isn't stocking your novel. Whatever it may be—it's okay to ease up on yourself and allow yourself a day to feel like crap.

Be honest with how you feel and face it now, rather than putting it off. You can't stop emotions from happening, though you can delay them. Which usually leads to them getting worse.

On a bad day, don't beat yourself up for not hitting your goal. Praise yourself for trying in the first place. Recognize that trying is an accomplishment in and of itself. Lots of people don't even get that far.

And sometimes, let's face it, you just need a break. Breaks are okay. You know when you need one, and sometimes that will rejuvenate you if the pushing forward doesn't.

Do Non-Writer Things You Love
Relax. Take that nap. Watch a favorite show. Eat something you love. Go for a run. Play a game. Blast some music. Cuddle an animal. Bathe in chocolate. Whatever.

When I get down about my writing, it's really easy to feel like writing is my whole world and because that sucks then everything else must suck, too. If I can manage to get myself away from my work, it gives me perspective. I remember, "Oh hey, I'm more than a writer and my life is more than what's happening in publishing. Other things are good and I'm not as sucky as I think."

It's important to put things in perspective. When I stare at this screen too much it seems like it's the world—but the world is outside. It's a lot more than the internet and a Word doc.

Doing non-writer things I enjoy, ironically enough, also tends to inspire me. When I'm away from my work suddenly I might find something new to excite me about it again. Burn out is a real thing, and having hobbies is a good way to combat it.

Reach Out To Loved Ones
When I'm feeling bad about myself and my work, my first instinct is to hole up and have a big ol' pity party of one. I don't want to burden other people with my whining or what I feel are stupid problems. It's hard for me to tell people I'm struggling.

But I've learned it makes me feel a whole lot better.

You don't have to profess your struggles to everyone in the world, but I find a huge amount of help just by reaching out to one person. Be it a friend, my husband, or my mother. Talking about it, having someone there to offer understanding—that makes a huge difference in how I feel. So while it can sometimes be uncomfortable, I have people I trust who I know will listen until I talk out my angst and get over myself.

Stay Away From The Internet
The internet is poison when you're having a bad day. Because sometimes even the smallest good news from another person will set you down a horrible path of comparison. You don't need to add envy to your life when you're already feeling insecure and down on yourself or your work. And if not envy, you could just get flat out angry, which leads to the tendency to rant. And if not those, you'll find hopelessness, and maybe serious thoughts of giving up because it all feels impossible. Perhaps you'll feel all of that at once.

That is an icky emotional cocktail—I say that from way too much experience.

So the internet, back away slowly. And if you can't seem to stop the impulsive checking, I highly recommend blocking it in other ways. There's Mac Freedom, turning off your internet, or if you have a savvy husband like me I have him block social media sites. That way I can still use the internet for research but can't go places that make me feel worse on my bad days.

If It's Really Bad, Seek Professional Help
There are bad days, and then there are BAD DAYS. I went for a long time not understanding just how bad my days were getting, and it wasn't until it got dangerous for myself and my family that I realized I needed more help than a break and some chocolate could provide.

If you're starting to find that you're having more bad days than good. If these feelings are impeding you from performing normal, daily tasks. If they are interfering with your relationships. If they are causing you to consider hurting yourself or others. Please, please seek help. You might not think you need it, but I promise you it doesn't hurt. It wasn't until after I got help that I realized just how bad a place I was in. And while I still have bad days, it's nothing like it was before.

There's nothing wrong with getting the help you might need. Don't let the bad days get out of control.

Bad Days Can Turn Around
When I think of those surfers who have the dedication to get out there on the cold days, I realize they know something other people might not—things aren't always as they appear. Sometimes once you get in the water and start moving, things aren't as bad as they look. You get used to the cold water, and hey, the waves are pretty good. You can have fun on rainy days just as much as the sunny ones.

There are days where the last thing I want to do is work. But somehow I find the strength to just get in the water, and by the time I get going I realize I'm having a lot more fun writing than I thought I would that day. And then I write a whole chapter, grateful I decided to just do it even if it didn't look like it'd be fun.

Good luck on your bad days. Hope this helps.


  1. I deal with anxiety normally, and had some strong PPD/PPA after my second baby was born in January. It's gotten better, but he isn't sleeping well again (ahh, babies) so I'm in that dark spot again. Ugh.

    I hope your dark days let up soon, and thank you very much for this post. It's a reminder I don't suck at XYZ and that I'm not alone. <3

  2. This resonates with me, Natalie. I live with depression. I have those bad days when that black wall seems to be building up, and then I have days that aren't so bad. It can be creatively draining. And in the last few months it's been mixed with grief, which doesn't help.

    When I was at my worst, I knew I needed help. Therapy does help, I've found, and I've stayed with it. A good therapist or counsellor knows how to ask the right questions and get you to see things in a different way, to develop strategies and ways to counter it.

    When I'm having a bad day, I'll counter it in different ways. It might mean taking a walk, doing something else, or it might mean listening to the right kind of music. Something uplifting and light. Classical or jazz really helps in that respect.

  3. Great post. I'm currently in a writerly slump; thanks for the pick-me-up! This is why I hate hiding from the internet some days. Just when you think it's all crap, you find that one thing that lifts you up and inspires you :)

  4. The most important thing to do on Bad Days is not to mangle either the past or the future.

    On any given day, both are utterly inaccessible. The future hasn't happened yet (and this will always be true) and the past is open to zero change.

    Probably, it's the mangling of either or both that makes the present so crappy sometimes (unless it's the present that's actually immediately unbearable, in which case, whatever is going on will pass - remember: Britney isn't always singing like a harridan).

    So in addition to staying off the internet, it's important not to let your writerly imaginings do violence to the future or the past, particularly if you're feeling too stressed out to consider yourself up to writing!

  5. "Be gentle with yourself" is great advice for everyone, for sure. It was one of the hardest things for me to learn.

    "Stepping away from the internet" is the one I'm working on now.

    Anyway, good tips. I'm sorry you're going through a rough time, but I feel certain that you can get through it! *hug*

  6. Thanks for the pep talk! I like the comparison with surfing in cold, cold waters...so true!

  7. This is a really great post, and it's very encouraging too. I'm sorry that you went through difficult days, and I hope that things get better soon. I especially agree with your advice about staying away from the Internet and how it can make you feel angry. Sometimes I read articles on Yahoo news or MSN or People.com and I see all these really negative comments that people post; it makes me feel really angry that there are so many hateful people out there. So I'm trying not to read those comments anymore, because I don't need their negativity to make the bad days even worse.

  8. From a fellow writer with depression and anxiety, you have NO idea how much I needed this. Truly. I cried because I saw myself in every word here, especially in how things have been for me for the last several months. Thank you so much for being open about these things, Natalie. These are many of the things I've been learning to do as well, and I'm bookmarking this for the days when I need a reminder. Thank you-- seriously.

  9. Natalie, you are awesome. It takes a lot of courage to talk about this stuff. Everyone's had a dark day or two to one degree or another. It really helps to realize that. None of us are alone, and there are definitely things we can do. Someone I love faces the serious darkness of depression and anxiety, and it's a scary place. Thank goodness help is available! Thank you again for sharing!

  10. I've been having a bad day today--with a rejection yesterday, and problems with my son. And as I got online and went to my reader, I prayed that I'd find something to let me know whether or not to keep writing. Thanks for this post. It helped me remember that it's okay to have bad days. It also reminded me that there is a reason I'm down today. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and this is the time of the year when it really kicks in, and it's been cloudy the last two days which makes the biggest difference in my day and level of functioning.

    My point in commenting wasn't to complain, but to actually just say thank you. Thank you for giving me some perspective at a time that I really need it. Thank you for sharing your publishing journey over the last few years. So thanks!

  11. I like to go for long, long walks on my bad days, listening to my favorite music. It always helps. It's therapeutic to put one foot in front of the other, no matter what, and keep going. And if the "one foot in front of the other" thing doesn't work, I will walk until I'm half-dead with exhaustion and too worn out to think anymore. :)

  12. I finally bought an umbrella to go walking when it rains. I used to like that, but haven't done it for years.

  13. I've had bad days, bad weeks, bad months. The thing is, when I'm feeling down, the one thing I find will always make me feel better is writing. It's *not* writing that leaves me stressed and demoralised.

  14. You don't know how much I needed to hear this today. <3

  15. I needed to hear this today. I love this post so much. It makes me remember I'm not alone in this writing journey full of ups and downs. <3

  16. Thanks, Natalie. I've had a few bad days this week. I needed this.

  17. Girl, we should get a coffee. Hang in there!

  18. I suffer from anxiety at least twice a day. It feels like my life is ending and I can't breathe. Since then this site has been helping me cope up with my anxiety disorder. I'm not promoting this site or anything, but it actually helped me so.