Most writers have day jobs. Even if your day job is staying home with the kids, most of us have other things we must get done. It's not all champagne and keyboards.
When we get home from our day jobs, we have laundry, cooking, and housework that needs to get done. We have to renew our driver's license, pay the bills, replace the computer that just crashed, shop for clothes and groceries, and all the other mundane tasks that are part of life. And then we have to find the time and energy to write.
How do we do it? Well, sometimes we don't. Sometimes those other things in our lives sap us of all our energy.
That's what I want to talk about today because that's where I've been living for the last several years and I know the odds are good that some of you out there also struggle with this, so I thought I'd share my story because I want you to know that, if you're in a similar situation, you have options.
First, I want to say that I love writing stories. I love sharing the characters in my head. If I could write for a living, retirement would be something other people think about. I'd write until senility sets in. And who knows? Maybe that would unlock even more interesting stories.
But for the last several years, the environment at my day job has been redlining my stress levels. It's not the work. I've been doing that long enough that it's gotten a little boring. It's a couple of the people, one of whom, sadly, is our department manager. I could go into how narcissistic and insecure he is, how he'll throw his staff under the bus to avoid blame, how he'll stand outside a cubicle to eavesdrop on conversations, but what it all comes down to is that none of the staff feels safe at work. We constantly have to watch our backs. Most of us also cover each others' backs, but it's unfortunate that we need to. The real problem is that the unrelenting vigilance has a price. When you walk out of the office at the end of the day, you're exhausted.
I have no doubt that my problem isn't unique. It doesn't matter if the stress comes from your work environment or if it comes from financial strain or from difficult personal relationships. The effects of excessive stress are cumulative. Even if the stress level remains constant, the longer you live with it, the worse its impact becomes. Some people get weepy. Others drink. Some get angry. Some eventually become suicidal. I'm one of the angry ones.
So I've been walking around, feeling trapped by the economy and angry at my boss for making me feel this way, and it slopped over onto other aspects of my life. I became pessimistic and cynical about everything. I wanted to come home and work on my current story but I didn't have the oomph to write more than a few lines at a time. Instead, I'd play mindless, repetitive games on the computer, trying to anesthetize my emotions. It didn't work worth a crap. I was angry ALL the time.
The final straw was when I realized that the idea of walking out of that office for the last time, even if I only had unemployment to fall back on, caused a bubble of joy to rise up in my chest. The feeling of joy had become so unfamiliar that it shocked me.
I spent about three minutes marveling over this strange emotion before I picked up the phone and made an appointment with my doctor. He gave me a prescription for antidepressants. Now I've never been a fan of "better living through chemistry" but I have to say, "God bless my doctor." After a minor adjustment to the dosage, life is worth living again. I'm coping with work. I'm working on the first round of editor requested revisions, and I'm finally starting to get excited about becoming a published author.
The point of all this is that if you're in a toxic environment, if you possibly can, get out. If it's not possible, understand that you don't have to live with the emotions you're feeling. There is help, but you're going to have to reach out for it. It's not ideal. You shouldn't have to medicate yourself to get through the day, but sometimes you need a life preserver to get your head above water.