Having a Breakdown in the Happiest Place on Earth
Many of you no doubt saw my constant posting recently while on my honeymoon in Disney World. You saw me having the time of my life in the outfits I’d planned for months, enjoying all the parks had to offer.
But there was one part I made sure no one saw.
It was a decision I made at the time not out of embarrassment, but out of a desire to keep myself focused on the positive. Because that’s what I do. It’s what I always do. I’m a happy person by default, and never more so than when I’m doing something Disney related. Now, though, I’m realizing that this is something I want to share, because it’s the exact sort of thing I always preach we need to be more open about.
See, on the final day of our trip, we booked an early dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table. For those that don’t know, that is the restaurant inside Cinderella’s Castle where you get to eat a nice dinner in an awesome castle decor with great views of the park, all while meeting a host of the princesses.
Needless to say for anyone that knows me at all, I was looking forward to it. A lot.
In fact, it had been one of the highlights of our plans for me...
Right up until we sat down at our table.
And I had a panic attack.
I knew the feeling right away. Anxiety is something I have struggled with my entire life. Even as a small child, most of my memories are of how I would wind myself up so much that I would get sick. Throughout my life, it was much the same. Sometimes I’d freak out over very real, very stressful things and make them worse. Sometimes, I would be to the point of trembling and gasping for air over nothing at all.
There were countless opportunities in my life that I let it hold me back from. Chances to study abroad and see the world, chances to pursue things I was passionate about, chances to go to universities that could have opened up whole new worlds. And I let that invisible foe I fought every day hold me back.
I’ve been very glad to say that over the last few years, my anxiety has been at an all time low. I hadn’t had a panic attack for a few years—far and away a record. I didn’t feel anxious even ever week, let alone the daily struggle I’d known at times. For the first time, my anxiety was the normal kind, the anxiousness over specific, real issues as they come up that was easy to get over.
And then, I sat down in a restaurant I’d been looking forward to visiting for months and that old, familiar feeling returned full force.
I sat there, choking down two small bites of food I nearly couldn’t swallow, trying to breathe, trying to do every mental exercise I’d ever learned to make it pass, trying to put on a smile for my new husband that wasn’t buying it for a second, until I couldn’t hold it together anymore.
I was having a full out breakdown in the happiest place on earth.
And what’s worse, what’s always the worst part for me and many others, is that I had not one clue why.
I was happy. I couldn’t be more happy than that exact set of circumstances. There had been multiple days of near constant activity and a fair bit of crowds, but nothing that should have sent me into that kind of tailspin, not when it had been so long since I’d experienced it.
Eventually, we left the dinner we’d booked months ago and paid in full for without even getting to eat it, all the while I choked back tears I refused to let loose in public because my stupid, stupid anxiety had taken something else from me.
It wouldn’t be for a few days, until we were back home, trying to get back into the routine of things that I’d really come to understand why I’d been so overcome in that moment.
I’ll start this next part by saying that I feel blessed every day that I’m fortunate enough to do what I love for a living. Truly, I cannot imagine doing anything else. Getting to write, getting to share these crazy ideas that have always floated around in my head with people that love them the way I do is incredible.
It’s also—as all careers are—incredibly draining.
Writing, or any creative endeavor, is a deeply personal thing. It’s not just words on paper, it those of us that do it pulling at our own souls and laying them out there. Even when it’s fiction, even when it isn’t based on our lives in any way, there is still a huge part of us in those pages.
Since I wrote and released my first book in 2014, I’ve never not been working on another. That doesn’t always mean being at a computer, sometimes it just means the countless hours where I’m pouring over the ideas of what’s to come, even when I’m doing other things. I can be surrounded by people, deep in conversations that have nothing to do with my work at all, but some part of me is still at it. All day, deep into the night when my thoughts are going to fast to even think of sleeping.
That doesn’t even touch on the fact that working from home, having a career that’s so based in social media with other people across varying time zones means that there isn’t a time to clock out. The business side of things, even when that’s just interacting in a lighthearted way online, doesn’t ever really end for the day unless you make it. And then there is always the voice that whispers if that is the right choice. Here you are, blessed to have this career. To tune out, to say “no, I don’t want to anymore today” feels selfish. It feels wrong. It feels like taking the whole thing for granted.
It’s a word everyone knows, and a word you often see floating around in authors groups in particular if you run in such circles. The big fear. The constant lurking shadow that means that it could all be gone, all the creative energy that you thrive on nothing but a memory.
It took literally breaking down in the last place on earth I ever thought I would to eventually make me realize how close to that edge I’d gotten.
The drive to keep going, keep pushing, write the next book, promote the next release. Go, go, go. It finally caught up with me.
I’d thought I’d been cautious. After all, after my last release, having just gotten engaged and deciding the wedding would come just three months later, I’d made the decision to take a break. While Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then my wedding and honeymoon all happened in less than a total of 56 days, I wouldn’t write the next book. I’d take the time for me.
Except with all of that, two holidays and a full wedding to plan—on top of some other unexpected tragedies that rocked that time—I wasn’t taking a break at all. I was going, full speed ahead, as hard as ever. It just wasn’t on writing. Which meant that while I did all of that, I was feeling that guilt, that pressure that I should be writing. But I told myself I would as soon as we got back from Disney World. I’d get right to it and write a novella I’d been meaning to, the shorter length meaning I could get it out that much faster. I’d get back from my honeymoon and dive right in.
Now, we’re back. We’ve been back for more than a week, and I hardly have it in me to tackle the most basic of work tasks.
Because that panic attack, for all I raged against it and hated it at the time, showed me that I’ve been pushing too hard.
My honeymoon was the first vacation I’ve taken since my 21st birthday (six years ago) that wasn’t attached to a signing. Don’t get me wrong, I love signings. I love being at them, seeing all the people I’ve come to know through the book world, getting to have an excuse to travel to all sorts of places around the US and now through the world. But the fact is, those trips are never relaxing. Enjoyable as they may be, they are also fraught with the pressure to be ON 100% of the time. Constantly trying to be outgoing—which, as an incredibly shy introvert, is a struggle—and make sure that anyone and everyone I meet at an event sees me in a good light, has a good interaction with me, has a good time for all that I can contribute to that, leaves me sompletely exhausted at the end. And I wouldn’t trade the chance to get to go do that for the world, but it’s still a reality. I’ve never done a signing that didn’t involve me coming home and needing time to recover. And those were the only “vacations” I’d given myself in years.
Even our honeymoon, for all that I loved every minute of being in my favorite place in the world, was one of being on our feet, constantly on the move every day from dawn to dusk and after.
And now, back in the comfort of my own home, trying to force myself right back into the work, into the house hunt we put on hold, into all the rest of the responsibilities that make up the joy of adulthood, it’s clear to me why that old nemesis anxiety decided to rear her ugly head again.
So, I’m sharing this to say that I’ll be taking some time. I’ll still be writing. That Savage Disciples novella will be out soon if you’re waiting for it. The last Sailor’s Grave book will come after that. But for the moment, I can’t make any promises about exactly when those will come. For now, I’m taking this one day at a time, no faster.
But more than that, I’m writing this to remind everyone, regardless of whether you are an author, a teacher, a stay at home mom, a CEO, whatever the hell it is you do, your mental and physical health always has to come first. Even above your passion, even above your fear of disappointing others, even above the money. None of those things can happen if you don’t take care of you.
Take care of yourselves.
I’ll endeavor to do a better job at the same.