Acutely Ariane

Anxious girl attempts novel. Results TBD.

Chapter 8: Goodbye, 2017

2017 barreled into me with a vengeance. If you had told me this time last year everything that would happen, I probably would have spent the year hidden under the covers.

My work stress and unhappiness outgrew my fear of unemployment and lack of income, and I quit my job. Of course, the universe then thought it would be funny to throw the rest of the year at me so I could really hone in on that money anxiety.

My personal stress also outgrew my body’s ability to handle it and I ended up in the ER for a panic attack. That was a fun bill.

And then the panic attacks continued so now I have what I like to call my crazy pills.

We also adopted a new puppy with medical issues, and I basically didn’t sleep for the month of October while we tried to figure out why he had diarrhea every two hours. New puppy plus vet visits every week made for more wonderful money stress.

Between the panic attacks, the anxiety dreams, and the nonstop dog potty outings, my writing (my purpose for quitting my job) took a hit. As in, I didn’t write for a month. And I beat myself up about it every day even as I was too exhausted to do anything more mentally draining than laundry.

I had my first ever car accident, which totaled the car I’d been relying on as a constant through my unemployment, and I faced the prospect of trying to buy another car.

You would think, since my boyfriend has two cars, we would have been able to manage. But a week after my car was put down, he also got in a car accident. So for the week it was in the shop, we were down to one car. And then the remaining car started acting up. So the anxiety of being car-less propelled me to deal with the awfulness that is car buying.

I feel like all of this made for a pretty awful year for me. When I think about it like that.

And yet.

I quit a job that I had grown to loathe. On my last day, I felt such a weight lifted off of my shoulders. I had never been able to do anything like that before. I had always just endured things. But this really felt like the first time I was making a difference in my own life.

I realized my anxiety wasn’t something that I could just wave off as a daily nuisance. That it was taking a physical toll on my health (ask my dentist-she could tell from one look in my mouth that I’d been both grinding my teeth and dealing with stomach acid). Going to the ER made me realize I needed to take control. And it’s still a work in progress, but I don’t want anxiety ruling my every day of my life.

I’ve always had a fear of taking pills, especially for mental issues. Like it was admitting weakness, or that it would change me. But not having every waking minute and every dream laden with little anxieties is a strange novelty that I never thought was possible.

Oh, Gambit. The first week we had him, I wanted to take him back. And now I don’t know how I would live without him. Through all the vet visits and late night vomit sessions, he’s never lost his sweetness. I need that sweetness in my life. Even as I’m writing this, his head is in my lap, keeping me warm against the cold.

The car accident did suck. I didn’t even see it coming, stopped at a light and hit so hard from behind that my car was squished between two others. It sent me into an immediate panic attack and I was still hyperventilating as the cops were trying to see if I was OK. But I was OK. Aside from a little whiplash, I was fine. Nobody got hurt.

And car buying, as draining and patience-testing as it was, turned out to be pretty fortunate. I’m actually saving money on my monthly payments, even with a newer car. Take that, money anxiety!

With the dog, the car, and the panic attacks (mostly) settled, I’ve refocused my energy on a novel that’s been begging for an edit since I finished the first draft a few years ago. It was so far from where I envisioned the final product that I used to think it was going to die a slow death on my hard drive. And yet, going through piece by piece, I’m really starting to see how I can make it the story I wanted it to be when I first started writing it. That, coupled with my first short story published in print (!!) and starting this very sporadic blog, has made me think that maybe, just maybe, this writing thing is for me.

Last but certainly not least, the love of my life and now-fiancé has stood by my side through all of my crazy and he hasn’t run for the hills yet. I couldn’t have survived the changes this year has brought without him. Love you, J.

So maybe it’s the pills talking, but it’s getting easier to see the silver lining of things. I’m going to try and continue that into 2018. Whatever it may bring.

Chapter 7: Puppy Problems

I’m a planner. I like to plan things. Spontaneity has never been my strong suit. Change is my nemesis. It took me over a year to decide to start this blog. It took me a lot longer than that to decide to get serious about this whole novel-writing business.

So hopefully you don’t think I’m horrible person when I say that bringing home a new puppy a few weeks ago sent me into a depressive tailspin.

Now you may be thinking: new puppy? How is that anything but a cause for joy and celebration and tail wags?

For most people, it would be. But me and my anxiety brain on this side of crazy town didn’t want anything to do with it.

Well, that’s not true. I thought I did. My boyfriend and I have been talking about getting another dog for a while. And the reasoning seemed sound. Our first dog, Panda, would love a companion. My boyfriend also wanted a furry companion, bigger than our pint-sized Panda. The new dog would be “more his” since Panda is definitely more mine (though I suspect it’s because I feed her more scraps from my dinner than he does). And I was nervous, sure, because when am I not? But we talked about how they would keep each other occupied, that it would be easier in the end, after the initial stretch of training. All sounded good. We looked at dogs every time we had a spare minute.

And then the unthinkable happened.

My boyfriend fell in love with a puppy. A sweet little golden retriever that just wanted to chase after Panda and trip over his own feet and jump clumsily at our faces for puppy kisses. It was love at first sight. For my boyfriend.

Now, I’m not some hardhearted monster. The puppy made me melt, too. He was the sweetest thing. But I could see on my boyfriend’s face that this was the one, and immediately my anxiety brain threw cold water over the warm, fuzzy puppy feelings.

How was I going to juggle writing with a new puppy? Getting up in the middle of the night for many bathroom breaks and cleaning accidents off of the floor and making sure he didn’t chew on anything he wasn’t supposed to and making sure Panda was getting enough attention too…

But I wasn’t going to deny my boyfriend true love, so I swallowed my fears and a crazy pill and we took the little guy home.

And thus began my weeks of breakdown.

You see, this pup wasn’t exactly healthy. He was very underweight and had raging diarrhea (which is super fun) and the tests the vet did came back negative for anything concrete. So we endured two weeks of four different medications and three different diets (one of which was making chicken and rice by hand every day) and I got zero writing done and I think I was losing my sanity a little bit. Grabbing sleep in 2 hour intervals between hosing liquid poop off of the patio and cleaning pee off of the couch will do that.

This was my life now. Forever and ever. I would never write again.

Of course, that’s bullshit. Nothing lasts forever. But anxiety tells me otherwise.

And then, on a Friday night, after four bouts of vomit and more diarrhea than I can remember, for the first time I felt afraid. I had a horrible, stomach-deep fear that this little pup, who I had promised to take care of, was going to die on me.

I didn’t want him to die. I loved him.

He made it through the night, and every night since then, with many more vet visits and yet another new diet.

My body sometimes has a visceral reaction to difficult things, even when they’ll be better for me in the long run. Since that night I’ve wondered if that’s what happened to him, too. Being bounced around at such a young age and shoved full of drugs because people couldn’t be bothered to figure out what was actually wrong, to end up with two people in yet another in a string of strange places. I’d probably be vomiting, too.

As I’m writing this, Gambit is sleeping with his head on my keyboard and I’m awkwardly trying to type around his long snout. He’s clingy and clumsy, not quite healthy yet but getting better. He’s mine.

My fur babies

 

 

P.S. My short story, “All My Children,” is now available in Room Magazine! You can order it online or maybe find it at Barnes and Noble.

http://roommagazine.com/issues/migration

I’m in print!

 

Chapter 6: Blood, Sweat, and Fears

(I wrote this post two months ago but I was nervous about posting it. Here it is anyway.)

I’ve spent the last four years, two months and five days pouring myself into something that I didn’t love.

In retrospect, that seems like a lot of time. In the grand scheme of things, maybe not so much. Still, I’ve always dreamed bigger, wanted more. But all my life I’ve been too afraid to change course. Change is scary. Better to stay on the path you know and tolerate than to leap into the unknown.

I had to prove that I was strong, that I could stay the course set beneath my feet, stretching on and on before me. Twisting it in my head so that staying wasn’t about fear, wasn’t about the million anxieties needling in every decision. There was strength in staying.

That’s what I’d tell myself crying in the bathroom when life was too overwhelming even though it wasn’t supposed to be. Life was supposed to be the path, and the path was supposed to be safe.

That’s what I’d tell myself driving home and wondering if I could crash the car just right to put me out of commission for a few months so I’d have time to just breathe. There was no space for breathing on the path.

That’s what I’d tell myself when weekends stretched into endless periods of dread and depression, and it was all I could do to drag myself out of bed. But I did, because this was the path, and the path was security.

That’s what I’d tell myself when the doctors did tests and said there was nothing wrong so the logical conclusion was that the pain was just in my head but I knew for a fact that my chest was about to rip open with how much it hurt every morning. This was the path, though, and the path was comfortably familiar underneath the pain.

Until it wasn’t anymore.

I wish there was some sweeping, cinematic moment that I decided this, something with lightning sparking in the background and the wind blowing through my hair. But there wasn’t. It just happened. One day, the path wasn’t enough for me anymore. I’d given literal blood, sweat, and tears to something I didn’t love for the last four years, two months, and five days, and suddenly, that was unbearable.

I used to think there was strength in staying where I was supposed to.

But now I know the strength is in leaving.

Chapter 5: Panic

Have you ever felt like you were dying?

And not the “it’s so miserably hot outside,” or “I totally embarrassed myself in front of everyone I know” metaphorical kinds of dying.

Have you ever felt your chest hurting so bad that you think you’re having a heart attack? That no matter what you do you can’t alleviate the pain? That you scour your medicine cabinets for even a single expired painkiller? That when you can’t find any you try to go to sleep, only to realize you can’t sleep because how can you sleep when something is stabbing you repeatedly in the chest?

So when all else fails, you decide that you should go to the emergency room, because maybe you really are having a heart attack and you don’t want to drop dead in front of your confused dog. You drive yourself, even though you’re not really supposed to, because even through the pain and fear you’re thinking about the cost of an ambulance ride.

When you arrive at the ER, there’s conveniently nobody else there. Front of the line! So of course you promptly break down crying in front of the admin trying to take down your information.

Once you’ve sobbed your way through your birthday and medical history, they rush you back because chest pain is no joke. You’re in a room with three nurses, who bustle around you asking questions and prepping equipment and for some reason that really opens the floodgates. You thought you were panicked before. But the joke’s on you, because now there’s snot dripping from your nose as you hyperventilate, all while the nurse is taking your temperature and asking you to change into a hospital gown.

This isn’t your first rodeo. Chest pain means getting an EKG. EKG means a bunch of thingamabobs stuck all over your chest and arms and legs. Now they’ll find the problem, you think to yourself. Once they can actually get the EKG to work. Because you’re shaking too much to get a good reading. The nurses joke with you, smile, encourage you like you’re ten years old again. You start to take deep meditation breaths like your life depends on it. Maybe it does.

Four attempts later, one of the nurses whisks the results off to the doctor. Another sticks you for blood. Normally, you hate needles, but you can barely feel it through the still throbbing pain in your chest, and the panic still teetering on the verge of hyperventilating again. But then your partner walks in and you can see the concern written on his face and you didn’t think you had more tears in you but here they come again and oh, do you think you can give a urine sample?

Finally, after all of these tests, here comes the good part. They give you something to calm you down (probably because they’re sick of seeing you sob), and something for the pain. When the painkiller kicks in, the sudden absence of pain leaves a weird achy hole in your chest. That must mean it’s real. The medicine works. So there’s something there. Something to fix. Slap a band-aid on me and send me home, doc. You giggle at the thought of a giant band-aid over the top of a giant stab wound in your heart and maybe the Ativan is kicking in now, too.

The doctor does, in fact, come in at this point. You’re calm, ready to find out what part of your body is trying to kill you.

He says that all of your tests are normal.

Come again?

Normal. No heart attack. No irregularities. Just…normal.

And you think to yourself, well, that can’t possibly be right because an hour ago I was dying.

And he mentions that “A” word, the one you didn’t want to hear because there is no big band-aid for it and that this was all in your head.

Anxiety.

 

 

 

So you had a panic attack.

A really bad panic attack.

A panic attack with physical pain and palpable fear and red eyes and snot bubbles and partial nakedness.

Maybe it wasn’t in front of everyone you know, but you still feel pretty damn embarrassed.

That’s anxiety. There’s no magic band-aid. No quick fix. You fight it every day. Some days are good. And some days you end up in the ER with sensors hooked up to your underboob.

But you keep fighting in the hopes that, eventually, it will get better.

Chapter 4: The Plasticity of Anxiety

Anxiety is like plastic wrap.

Like when you’re tearing the plastic off of something really awesome and you don’t get it off in one piece and there’s a little piece that sticks to you. By the weird magic of static electricity, the piece sticks to your hand. You try to pull it off and it sticks to your other hand. You can’t get rid of it. You understand why it’s called cling wrap. The fun thing that was inside the plastic is forgotten because there can only be one: you or the piece of plastic. And the plastic is winning.

Every time you try and free yourself, it sticks somewhere else. You get frustrated and resign yourself to having this stupid piece of plastic stuck to you for the rest of your life, clear and invisible to everyone else. But to you, it’s impossible not to think about it. You can’t help but stare at it. Dwell on it. Think about it all day. Dream about that stupid cling wrap.

One day you’ve had enough and shake yourself silly and you look all over and the plastic seems to be gone. You take deep breaths and relief washes over you.

And then you realize that damn piece of plastic is stuck to your back instead.

So now you’ve got this plastic in a place you can’t reach and it’s driving you batty. You stay home, because the thought of going out with that mark of shame is too much. People will see you trying in vain to pick at it. People will judge you. People will stare at you freaking out in public over such a small thing.

Of course, the obvious answer is to ask for help. But that’s too embarrassing. Who could you possibly trust to let in on your dirty plastic secret?

No, you are resigned to this being your new normal forever. There is no getting rid of the cling wrap.

Deep breaths. Maybe some sobs. More breaths, because breathing is good.

Eventually, you realize that maybe such a small piece of plastic isn’t as consequential as you think it is. You think that maybe people were only noticing it because you were bringing attention to it. You shove it to the back of your mind as far as it will go, and you can still feel it there, nagging you, but it’s no longer quite as awful as it was before.

The plastic slips, just far enough that you can grab it. You throw the thing in the garbage, and by some miracle it no longer sticks to your fingers. You stare at the pathetic thing lying on top of the banana peels and granola bar wrappers, tiny now that you have some distance. And then the triumph bubbles up in your chest.

You’ve won! You beat that asshole plastic wrap! You never have to deal with it again!

But you just got a new fun thing in the mail, and it’s sitting there, ready for you to enjoy.

Once you get through the plastic.

Side Note: A Blog About a Dog

Last year, I acquired a dog.

I’d never had a pet before, beyond the occasional beta fish. In fact, as a kid, I was pretty scared of dogs. I mean, I was scared of a lot of things. I was scared that if I didn’t have an equal number of hair ties on each wrist my arms would grow lopsided. I was also scared that if I didn’t have hair ties the zombie apocalypse would break out and my free-flowing hair would get me killed somehow and my last thought would be “Damn, I wish I had had a hair tie.”

So about this dog. I got it into my head that I wanted one, and once the idea took hold it was all I could think about. My boyfriend and I searched for months for the perfect poof.  And then one day he sent me a Craigslist ad, of all things. Until this point, I’d had good luck with Craigslist. I’d found an apartment, a table, and zero psycho killers. The lucky streak continued, as the ad contained a picture of three puppies.

The finest in Craigslist quality photos. If you can’t tell which one is the best puppy, she’s the one on the right.

And that’s how, a few days later, we found ourselves on a drive to a stranger’s house three hours away in search of a dog.

From the minute she climbed in my lap, I knew we were taking her home. She was perfect, and I was already in love. I couldn’t shove money at them fast enough.

Within a few minutes of driving home with my newly acquired puppy sleeping in my lap, I wanted to turn around and bring her back.

It hit me all of a sudden that I was now responsible for this little life. How was that possible? I assume that’s how new parents feel on the way home from the hospital, only parents have nine months to come to grips with the idea, and I had had three days.

Yes, I’m comparing getting a dog to having a baby. Don’t be weird about it.

That first night, she whined. She whined and cried all night. I was a horrible person. She didn’t love me. She didn’t even want to be here. And from there the fears started to build up.

I was afraid of accidentally stepping on her and breaking her foot or her tail or her back. I was afraid I would feed her too much, or too little. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to potty train her and she’d always pee upstairs on the carpet. I was afraid that I’d take her to the vet, and be told what an awful job I was doing and should never be allowed a dog again.

And then, as I started to get used to caring for her, new fears cropped up.  I was afraid of leaving her alone when I went to work, because she’d somehow end up dead by the time I came home (anxiety is morbid sometimes). I was afraid that I wasn’t socializing her enough, or maybe too much. I was afraid of feeling jealous when it came to Panda and other people. At worst, I feared I’d become resentful if she didn’t like me as much as other people.

Except, that’s not how it went. None of my fears came to pass. She eats fine. She’s perfectly potty trained. If the vet thinks bad things about me, she’s never said so. And the joy my pup exudes upon meeting new people, or seeing family after a long time, makes me happy, too. The amount of happiness one wriggly little body can contain is surprisingly infectious. The next time an apocalypse breaks out, hair ties will be a distant second to making sure I have my dog, zombies be damned.

And I’ve never come home to find her dead. Or undead. So that’s good.

People tell me I spoil her. Which is probably true, but I feel like I’m the spoiled one. I’m spoiled with her dragging toys over to me when she wants to play. I’m spoiled with her joy every time I pull out her leash and she knows we’re going on another adventure together. I’m spoiled with her sitting under the table while I write, tail tickling against my feet. I’m spoiled with her coming to check on me when I’m crying and licking up the tears. I’m spoiled with her running to me when she’s scared or hurt and demanding to sit in my lap like it’s the last safe place on Earth. I’m spoiled with the feeling of her curling into my hipbone while I sleep, in constant contact through the night. I’m spoiled with her unconditional love.

I’m not sure what I did to deserve this face, but spoiling it is the least I can do.

 

(In a shameless plug, you can follow my pup on Instagram @panda.pom. Seeing her little face every day brings me joy. Maybe it’ll do something for you, too.)

Chapter 3: The Motivation

Yesterday, I received a paycheck. Not a day job paycheck, but a check for writing. It’s not enough to cover the rent. It’s not enough to cover my car payment. I could splurge on a nice dinner with this paycheck. But somebody paid me for something I wrote, and that’s worth more than the number on the check.

It’s almost too pretty to cash. I want to hug the check but that might be weird. I want to laminate it and wear it on my chest. Again, weird. But the check means something to me, something visceral and so important.

See, I wrote this short story. Like every short story I’ve written, I cranked it out like my fingers were on fire, and then immediately hated it when I was done. But I wrote it, so I had to do something with it. I edited it, and submitted it, and got rejected. Over and over, more than a few times. I put a very personal piece of me out into the universe and the universe kept saying “no thank you.”

The first rejection always stings. It washes away the the delusion that the story is so amazing that someone will buy it on the first try, a delusion my brain tries to convince me of every time I submit a story for the first time.  Stupid brain. The subsequent rejections sting less, but feel heavier. Each one in the pile another weight on the scale towards likely failure, away from improbable success. That’s the kicker, though. There is no scale. There are no rules to this. Failure and success are always equally possible, no matter how many rejections you rack up.

Still, after a handful of rejections, I told myself this story wouldn’t sell. It was weird and complicated. It was too personal. Too female. Too ugly. Too other. I was ready to give up on it, let it collect figurative dust on my hard drive while I moved on to something better.

I sent the story out one more time, more as a final hurrah than anything else. I didn’t expect more than the “thanks, but no thanks” messages that fill my inbox. I let myself forget about it in the months after I submitted.

So I’m pretty sure I screamed when I opened up my email to see “Dear Ariane, we are delighted to let you know…”

My dog was very concerned, but in that moment I was so fucking happy.

Because this will be my second published story, and it’s more tangible than the first. One publication could be a fluke, a flash in the pan. Ariane, the one story wonder.

But two published stories means something. Two means everything.

And I have the check to prove it.

 

(If you’re curious about the story I’m writing about, it’ll be available in the upcoming issue of Room Magazine, out by the end of September.  http://roommagazine.com/issues/migration )

Chapter 2: The Objective

I always leave a little bit of soda in the bottom of the can. The last piece of cheese in the fridge will sit unless someone else grabs it. My inbox is filled with reminders for month-long exercise programs I’ve signed up for, followed religiously for four days, and then never looked at again. I started an online introduction to Japanese course that’s been stuck on “Telling Time and Counting!” for several months now. I should go back and finish. But I haven’t.

I have a problem finishing things. I’m not sure when it started. Maybe it’s always been there, another facet of my daily anxieties. My brain doesn’t like to stay focused on one thing for too long, because then the insecurities, the doubts, the worst-case-scenarios come creeping in. Better to move on before they take root. The grass is always greener with the next idea.

On a related note, I have eleven partially written novels on my computer.

Eleven.

Nobody ever made it big with partially written novels.

The pattern is always the same. New idea! Write furiously because this is obviously the next great American novel and nothing’s going to stop me now. Have another story idea, this one shiny and new and ripe for explosive writing. Abandon previous idea because that one was stupid anyway. Rinse. Repeat.

Only, I don’t think any of the ideas are stupid. They just need work. Work I wasn’t willing to put in before. But I’m determined to make it happen this time, shiny new ideas be damned (just kidding please don’t stop popping into my head I’ll just work on you later).

So this blog is to keep me writing. Keep me accountable. Keep me on track because there’s no going back now.

Chapter 1: The Delusion

So you want to be an author.

What you need is an idea. An idea can be anything. Only it can’t be anything someone’s already done. Or maybe it can, only you’ll do it better. Or maybe you’ll do the next Star Wars meets Harry Potter meets Batman and you can already picture the record-breaking movie they’ll make out of it.

And then you’ll throw that idea out and start fresh because that sounds terrible.

Then you’ll need characters. They’ll crawl around your head like maggots, begging to be seen, but still formless, still waiting for you to bring them to life. When you do bring them to life, they’ll keep changing on you. Can’t decided if they want to be butterflies or moths or ninja pirate samurai. You try to force them into boxes but they won’t go, so you carry on in the hopes that they’ll settle down eventually.

When you start to write, it’ll feel like fire from your fingertips. The words will spill out and you’re the next Stephen King and this is your destiny.

Ten thousand words later, you realize everything you’ve written is shit and maybe you should start over, but ten thousand words seems like too much to waste – 10% of the way there! – so you soldier on even though you’re really starting to hate Character B, and subplot #3 doesn’t make sense anymore.

You’ll get halfway through your novel and think: wow, there’s nothing else I can possibly write about this how did I think I could get a full book out of this idea. Simultaneously, you’ll think: wow, there’s so much more that I neglected to think about when I was outlining this thing that the amount I have left to write seems insurmountable. The juxtaposition of the two will drive you a little batty. But that’s OK. Authors are supposed to be quirky, right? Write.

So that’s where I am. Deep in the delusion that I want to be an author.

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