Why I withdrew from the writing community in 2015 (and why this ALA Midwinter is really special to me)

I usually don’t notice I’ve been depressed until I’m done being depressed.

I’ve always had a “clean slate” mentality: if I miss an email, don’t exercise, don’t write, the day’s a waste and doesn’t count. But it’s okay, because tomorrow I’ll evolve into a glistening future being who does everything perfectly always (it’s in the calendar) so today doesn’t count. That tomorrow is more real to me, and today gets ignored.

Except, for most of 2015, there were a a lot more todays than tomorrows. So I did the natural thing and ignored most of 2015.

Except time still passes whether or not I’m paying attention, and that’s how I ended up withdrawing from the writing community for a year when it was supposed to be, like, a day. Depression makes communication Really Hard. When I have zero energy to respond to an email, I tell myself I’ll do it tomorrow. Except I still wake up with no energy, and then it’s 1 pm and I still haven’t replied to the email, and then the anxiety about not replying to the email ironically makes it harder to reply to the email, and then the day is a waste because I haven’t worked, but it’s okay because it doesn’t count and I still have tomorrow.

I know social anxiety is supposed to be easier online than in person, but for me it’s the other way around. There’s only so long I can analyze the stupid thing I’ve said out loud before it fades away. The internet is full of hard little black spiky reminders that I’ve probably embarrassed myself, waiting for me every time I open my Twitter profile. It’s exhausting to constantly generate a stream of these when I can barely even go grocery shopping.

(Sidenote: a part of feeling so down is the chronic pain I’ve been having, which turns out to be probably rheumatoid arthritis! And depression is a big symptom. So there’s that.)

Then my book got bumped, which is totally normal, except I had to watch while all the debut authors I’d connected with moved forward and got excited and grew, while I just felt stuck. My time off turned into too much time, and then I was too scared to come back. I didn’t want to acknowledge what I was going through – my favorite version of myself is the positive upbeat one, and I felt like that identity would be ruined if I had depression. So I had no excuses to give. I was sure that when I did start talking to my writing friends again, they either wouldn’t remember me or would be annoyed at my absenteeism.

But so far, that hasn’t been true.

Nobody’s demanded an explanation. Nobody’s tapped their foot like a eighties movie mom in a bathrobe – “YOUNG LADY, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?” There’s a sense of unconditional acceptance in the writing community, that as long as you like words you’re welcome. It helps that a lot of writers, I know, have experienced mental health issues too. It helps that we were all brought here by the same love. It helps that, for some reason, pretty much everyone here is just really dang nice.

The people in the last couple weeks who’ve casually replied to my tweets or messaged me probably have no idea what it meant to me, that subtle reaffirmation of “you fit in here, you are wanted” or how much of my anxiety they managed to get rid of. I don’t know what I did to deserve being part of this community, but I’ll never stop being grateful. I think, more than anything else, it’s that I was scared of being rejected by the writers and bloggers that I look up to so much!

I’m still getting the hang of it. I still feel out of the loop, and that it’s my own fault, and that there’s no way I can make up for the thousand times I missed congratulating or commisserating. The anxiety is still there, but it’s fading. I won’t tell myself I’m taking a break for my mental health when I know full well that the healthy thing to do is not to withdraw.

I made the last-minute decision to attend ALA Midwinter. and I’m terrified and thrilled. I didn’t expect anyone to care that I’d be there, but instead, lots of people said they wanted to see me! (If you spot me, say hi! I look like this, but with giant tortoiseshell glasses and a gray sweater-dress). This community has given me so much and it doesn’t owe me anything. This year I’ll try hard to give back.

Even though I’ve been around for a while, it feels like I’m coming in for the first time. So: hi, guys! I’m Laura!

It feels really good to be here.

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2 Responses to Why I withdrew from the writing community in 2015 (and why this ALA Midwinter is really special to me)

  1. This is so painfully familiar that it’s like reading my own mind on someone else’s blog. Thank you for posting this. And though I’m not yet part of the amazing community, welcome back.

  2. Yael Itamar says:

    It’s good to see you back. I’m still looking forward to your book. (Also, I can definitely relate to some of this.)

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