I experience anxiety down in the pit of my stomach. It churns away deep in my belly, an ache that snakes it’s way up to my heart, which then beats faster in response. It takes up space in my torso in such a way that my breath can’t penetrate it. My breath stays high in my chest and my shoulders rattle as it knocks around, desperate to penetrate the heavy mass below. This feeling comes and goes. Sometimes it is there for only a moment and is banished as soon as it arrives. Other times it lingers for days. It’s there when I go to bed at night. It’s there when I crawl out of bed at 3am to feed my baby. It’s there when I kiss my husband good morning. As I write this it has been in residence for a few days. There’s not one clear reason for its presence but many things: a slightly tricky business decision I have to make, a busy week which has me missing my family, my bank balance. But the thing that is spreading its arms wide and inviting is my anxiety about writing. Sometimes when I sit down to write the words flow as if someone else is speaking them to me. My heart rate goes up, not from anxiety but from excitement. I can’t wait to press publish. But most of the time I sit down to write and my inner critic pipes up. My inner critic is clever. She often talks to me as if the only thing she cares about is my wellbeing. She has many tricks to lure me away from my laptop. “You’re tired, and you don’t have any ideas at the moment. Why don’t you try again later?” If I persist, saying to her “it doesn’t matter if I don’t have any ideas today, I’ll just write and see what comes out of it” she grows more insistent. “No one cares about your ideas anyway. Who are you even to even talk about this?” That one is effective, because in many ways it’s true. We should be listening to people of colour, people living in poverty, people living in the margins. These thoughts often have me clicking away from my word document quickly.
Some days though I’m able to understand that I find creative fulfilment in writing and that’s ok. I can understand voice comes from a place of privilege and I have to keep working on recognising that and challenging my assumptions whenever possible. On those days my self critic happily chimes in again, this time trying a new tactic: “you’re not a real writer anyway. You don’t know what you’re doing and the way you strings words together is awful”. This thought can sometimes spring up after I have read something I thought was amazing, something that changed my life. “Who’s life is going to change because of your words? No ones.” It seems like every day my inner critic has new and wilier ways to get me clicking away from my word document. She is perfectly suited to this task because she knows me so well. She knows exactly where to twist the knife and where she can draw blood. I feel her words rise up as I write this, and they come thick and fast.
After writing them down I can see how ridiculous they sound. It doesn’t actually matter if what I write is any good. It isn’t my job and nothing is riding on it. For the moment writing only needs to serve two purposes: to give me a creative outlet away from my creative pursuits that actually need to make money (my business) and to connect me to my community. That is the most important thing. I want these words to spark conversations and encourage others to share their own stories. I want more people to speak up about their mental health, their relationships with their bodies, their imperfect parenting. I think this is important. So, my words don’t need to change someone’s life. I don’t need to craft elegant and metaphoric prose like the writers I admire. I just need to sit down and write. It actually doesn’t matter if anyone reads it. And if I keep writing, maybe one day I will learn to write something life changing and beautiful.
I sit back from my desk and take long, deep breaths forcing air down into my belly. I feel my inner critic turning away, defeated. She isn’t gone for good and I know she will return. I’ve won the battle and not the war but I will keep fighting, and writing.