When you have no idea what you're doing

For the past week or so (okay, more than a week), I've been stuck in this really odd funk. It was a pinch of melancholy and depression over a heap of anxiety, and it combined into something fierce and ugly. It's taken me days, and many sleepless nights, to try to unravel why I've been feeling so...off lately. And I think I finally am able to put a pin in the problem... I have no idea what I'm doing with my life.

A question that keeps getting lobbed in my direction is: "What would you do if you weren't a writer?" I tend to laugh this question off and say that I would do a little bit of everything. Even when I was in college, it was obvious that I liked to hop from subject to subject to subject. I mean, I changed my major about four or five times before I settled on English and Creative Writing (fiction). But this question has been snagging at my brain again, because even though I love writing with all of my dark, dark heart, I'm starting to come to the sad realization that it might not be feasible to call my career as an author as my main source of income. 

So... now what? Now that I'm staring down the barrel of my life and having to make some fiscally savvy and "safe" decisions about my career, what do I actually see myself doing? It's finally time to answer that question people keep asking me, I guess. The thing is, I don't think I will ever not be a writer. Obviously. I want to keep writing and publishing books until the day I drop dead in front of my computer, hopefully many, many years from now. But what else do I want to do?

To answer that question, I dove back through my college notes and curriculum. What classes sparked my interest and enthusiasm, and are also feasible careers. (Also known as "traditional jobs." Which sounds horrible, but really isn't, if it's a job you are passionate about.) You know what kept popping up? Journalism. Marketing. Public relations. New media jobs. And then it started to click. I could take the passion I have of helping artists and other creative-types like myself get their name out there and turn that into a career! I already have a number of years under my belt studying (and even working in) public relations/social media marketing. I just need to refine it, and maybe study a little more.

For now, I think I have a plan. My new goal is to go back to school for my Masters in Communication with a concentration in marketing and new media. In the meantime, I'll explore options working in an entry level position for a company where I can do exactly what I'll be studying, and then, down the road, there's a prize waiting for me. Well, maybe not prize. Goal? Sure. It's another goal. 

I want to open my own boutique digital marketing and public relations consulting firm that will leverage new media to help clients reach a broad range of consumers. I want to help artists on the publicity side of things so they can spend their time focusing on the creative side of what they do. I want to take all I've learned as an author myself, working in publishing, to help market others' and their passions. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? I've already started to build toward this dream, and even have a practically-empty website (see it here) where I will eventually launch these services. By this time next year, maybe my dream will be a reality! I'll tell you one thing... it's giving me hope and driving me forward!

What's driving you forward nowadays?

Apathy is hella lame

I have a quick question that's been nagging me for, well, forever: When did it become cool not to care? Look, I understand that on some level, the whole aloof thing can seem interesting at first. It adds a dash of mystery to your persona where people wonder what you're actually interested in because you seem indifferent. Maybe that then makes people believe you're moody, a dark and brooding artist who has such dispassion in the world because you were hurt. 

Okay, let's not get overly dramatic here. Surely that gets old to play up, because that behavior definitely is tiresome for me to put up with. There's only so long I can deal with someone who's apathetic about everything before I feel the violent urge to shake them out of their stupor of half-shrugs. Do you care about anything?! Or is "meh" the sum of your personality, because if that's the case, yawn. Really though...like...why is that attractive? Why is a lack of enthusiasm something people are into?

In my opinion, there is nothing more admirable or attractive than passion. I love seeing someone talk about something they are enthusiastic about, no matter what that is. The fire in their eyes and the conviction in their voice when they speak on a topic that they care about, that really means something to them, is contagious, and I quickly find myself getting caught up in their fervor. God I love that!

When I meet people who don't care about anything and seem universally unimpressed, I'm always struck with a certain kind of sadness. Do they know what they are missing out on by being actively indifferent to the world? It's a self-imposed depression of sorts -- when you chose this muted version of life where you keep everything at an arm's length. Why? Because it's fun to not care? HOW IS THAT FUN? Again, it is a completely different thing to be in a mental space where you are unable to engage with the world in the way that you want to; depression (or other mental illnesses along those lines) is not a choice, and it is not fun. Not being able to have enthusiasm is a horse of a different color. But when you chose to be apathetic toward things because you're, what, trying to be cool? Not cool, brother. That's hella lame.

I'm a loud, passionate person about things I care about. "Outspoken" is a very appropriate word when it comes to describing the way I interact with my interests. I'm excitable, I gesticulate wildly, and I try to pull people into conversation because this is something that means a lot to me! And that "something" could be anything from books to politics, from gender issues to dogs. Seriously. I am passionate about many, many things, and I speak with he same vigor across the board. When I care, I care hard. Real hard.

Often, this apathetic approach to life is stereotypical of teenage/20-something behavior, but I've seen adults act in the very same manner. There's not much I can say to adults who chose to be this way; they've made their choice, and I don't get it, but whatever. Live your life and do you. But for teenagers and 20-somethings (like myself), let me make something very clear:


I know it may not always seem that way, especially when you're around that kind of person, but it's important to care anyway! Have principles. Stand up for things you believe in or love, even if it won't win you the popular vote. So what? If you care about it, then it is important, and that's all that matters. Maybe, if you're lucky, your enthusiasm will rub off on those around you.

In this day and age, it's especially important to care about things and have strong convictions. Look at the elections we're going into. Americans always talk about what a privilege voting is, yet we have abysmal voter turn out. Some people, if you try to strike up a conversation about politics, have nothing to contribute. They say something about how the country is going to shit, there's nothing they can do anyway, it's depressing to watch the news, so they don't get involved. NO! SHUT UP! GET INVOLVED! Literally, every vote counts, even if it doesn't feel that way. And our generation can make a difference, if we aren't sitting back apathetically watching the world go by. We have to get engaged in the world for it to change. We have to care.

Next time you find yourself starting to slip into apathy, shake it off. Refocus and ask yourself why this is your natural reaction? Is it something you are genuinely not interested in, or is it just that it is sometimes easier not to engage? Because I won't lie: having strong convictions and passions isn't the easiest thing in the world. It can be exhausting. And there will be those people who shake their head at you for caring so much. I've had it happen to me. People have said, point blank, that the enthusiasm with which I speak about some topics is a turn off. Okay. I'm not here to make you comfortable or happy. I live my life for me, and I want to make a difference, so I'm loud and opinionated. If you have a problem with that, I'm sure you're someone I'd rather not associate with anyway, so let's just go our separate ways. 

Your opinions are important, and nothing that you care about is stupid -- no matter how trivial it seems. I don't care if you're really passionate about the color purple. Shout it from the roof tops! PURPLE ROCKS AND SO DO YOU! Find what you care about, what you think is important and what sets fire to your life (in a good way!) and follow that. Don't let others shake you because they don't feel the same. This is especially important to keep in mind going into the presidential primaries. I know it seems like a circus. I know it's a lot to stay informed about. But try. You won't regret you did, I promise. And there is nothing negative I can ever say about someone who is engaged and informed on the issues that are important to this country. That is an attractive quality.

Passion is fucking awesome. Apathy is hella lame. But hey, that's just my opinion.

Take up as much space as you want

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man[...] We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.”
-- Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

You may recognize the above quote -- possibly from the background of a BeyoncĂ© song, maybe you've read it online, or even heard it quoted in the context of feminism (which it has been more and more as the conversation about gendered social conditioning has come to the forefront of our social commentary which is beyond awesome). I'm from the BeyoncĂ© camp; I'm sure I've come across this quote before in my literature classes at some point, but it was never given the proper attention it deserved until I heard it booming over a screaming crowd at the VMAs. It struck a chord with me. A booming chord.

We teach girls to shrink themselves. It wasn't until fairly recently that I realized just how true this is, and I was immediately able to come up with multiple scenarios in my own experiences in which this was true. For the entirety of my life, I've been concerning myself with taking up as little space as possible. I apologize when I haven't done anything wrong. It's a knee-jerk instinct that I'm quietly trying to work on. I use conciliatory language like "just" (see above) or language that undermines my own ideas like "I think..." or "In my opinion..." I step out of the way on a sidewalk when someone else is approaching me, even if they see me coming too -- I'm always the first to move.

This pattern of thinking and behaving reminds me still of a poem I heard waaaay back in 2013 from Lily Myers called -- get this! -- "Shrinking Woman." In the poem, which was first presented (to my knowledge) at a slam poetry event, Myers excavates the idea that women are socialized to grow inward while men are encouraged to grow outward. We shrink while they bloom.

Since then, dozens of studies have been published backing up this notion. There was one study I recall about the frequency with which women apologize. Turns out women apologize more than men, mostly because they feel they have something to apologize for more often than men do. In negotiations over salaries or promotions, women tend to underscore their achievements while men have a tendency to overstate theirs (The Atlantic, "The Confidence Gap"). Another study was focused on an even smaller detail that may go unnoticed: the fact that women tend to take up less room/sit compressed on public transportation while men tend to sprawl. Think about how many girls you've seen sitting cross-legged on the subway compared to men sitting with legs wide open, often taking up more than one seat.
It’s fairly typical for women to fold into themselves making room for others in public spaces, while many men seem comfortable splaying themselves out. Where did this behavior come from, asks Soraya Chemaly? (x)
Women have literally been conditioned to become small and unobtrusive. We don't want to be seen as a burden. Always, we are conscious of the space we displace and those we may inconvenience.

A while ago, I had half-jokingly changed all of my social media profile descriptions to two words: "A handful." It felt like my anxiety was halving me, and that I was bothering everyone around me because I was going through a rough time. I don't often ask for help, and the rare time that I did, I felt like I had immediately become the most burdensome, selfish person in the world. Which, at first, seems overdramatic and is truly ridiculous, but in this case, there had been some negative reinforcements of this fear and the doubting, terrified voice in my head was validated by people who didn't want to take the time to understand. I was, as my social media accounts could verify for that week and a half, actually "a handful." Fuck that.

I've since taken that half-joke/half-not-joke description down. My life is a mess, but I'm not a handful. I'm a human being (or a human bean, as my sister says) and I deserve consideration, even on my off days. Everyone does. Never forget that.

Every day, I impress myself simply by getting out of bed. And then I do more. I survive some days, while other days -- good days -- I get to really live. I challenge myself to grow outside of my comfort zone and do new things, even when I don't necessarily feel up to doing those things. I do them anyway. In my daily planner and my journals, I've written down mantras like "Your feelings are valid" and "You are allowed to take up space." Because I need those reminders, and I need them often, especially when the clouds are rolling in overhead or a storm is threatening just over the horizon. 

Apologies are handed out too often when there is nothing to actually apologize for. I'm guilty of this, and my anxiety makes it worse. Once, I was out with friends and began to have a panic attack and immediately started to apologize, and when I said this, my friends just stared at me and said (as if this should be obvious) that I had nothing to be sorry for. They were right. I didn't. This was a moment I was going through, and I wasn't doing it to be rude or try and ruin their night -- though I did feel as though a was stopping the fun, despite their protests. I'm lucky I have such amazing friends. Those are the kinds of people you should keep in your life -- people who understand and don't place blame or stigma over your experience.

So yes, I apologize too often, and for things I either 1) am not sorry for or 2) do not need to be sorry for. I am trying to be more aware of that. I also want to be more mindful of when I say "it's okay" (when it's so not okay) after receiving an apology myself. You know, when someone goes, "Hey sorry for being a total dick," and you respond, without thinking, "It's okay." Nope, you don't have to say that their behavior was okay, or fine, or however you are minimizing its affect on you. A simple "thank you" is enough to acknowledge their apology. Accept the apology and let it rest at that.

Now, that's not to say that there aren't times to apologize. Obviously there are! But things that definitely do not warrant an apology:
  • My anxiety or depression. If you cannot understand what I'm going through, it is not my responsibility to explain myself to you. And to be honest, I am probably not in the right place to explain what I'm going through at the moment anyway. This is not me being rude or inconsiderate; if you feel it is, I'd recommend you taking a less self centric look at the situation.
  • The fact that I'm not as (whatever) as someone else. (As independent, as stable, as fun, as "normal", etc.) We all have our set backs in life, and if I'm constantly comparing my growth to the growth of someone next to me, I will always feel like a failure. I'd rather focus on how far I've come than how far I've left to go.
  • Putting myself first sometimes. I'm a caring person, and I will go well out of my way to be polite. I've told my dad once that I try to be considerate with my breakdowns (which about sums up my life). There are days when I have to look out for myself before I can consider anything else. This is not a slight. When I am in crisis or panic mode, I am focusing wholly on staying okay. Often during a panic attack, I'll become nearly immobile and completely silent. Let me come back to myself without putting the pressure of your expectations on my shoulders, on top of whatever else I am dealing with.
  • For cutting negative, toxic people out of my life. This doesn't need much explanation but I'll give one anyway. I don't have space for people in my life who are unwilling to understand what I am going through, or that every day I am trying to be better. I don't have the time to try to educate them because I am, well, trying to be better. Such toxic people I will cut out of my life. That is my propagative and I owe you no explanation. If I choose to give you one, great; if not, deal. It's my life and not yours, and I am looking after my own mental health at this point. That comes first. See previous bullet point.
The list could go on, but those four points are a pretty solid start. You should never feel the need to apologize for who you are or what you're going through. Take care of yourself however you can, surround yourself with a support system of positive and understanding friends, and remember to be gentle with yourself. Life is hard, and when you're managing something like anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness, there are days when just making it through the day (or night) feels impossible. But you can do it.

You're okay, even if you aren't right at this moment. You are allowed to take up space and ask for help. That does not make you selfish and that does not make you weak. Everyone needs a life boat now and then, so reach for one. Allow yourself to be saved when you cannot manage it on your own. Anyone who sees you or what you are going through as a burden is not worth your time and obviously has a warped view of the world. Let them go, and feel sorry for their lack of empathy. And know, beyond a doubt, that you deserve so much better than that. No more shrinking yourself; it's time to grow. I give you permission to take up as much space as you want.

Do the thing that terrifies you

Anxiety is my arch-nemesis. Every time I think I’ve finally wrangled it under control, I’ll have a difficult string of days in which all of my progress seems to have slipped backward. All the way backward, to where I started. Anxiety is not something that’ll go away -- over night, over years, whatever. It’ll take time to manage it, but even then, it’ll be just that: managing itIt can be hard to stay positive when you know you’re fighting an uphill battle, but I’m the stubborn sort. I don’t like failing, and I don’t like letting outside influences boss me around. Or inside influences, I guess, like my anxiety. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with saying Yes more often. It's really difficult, but it's working.

Here’s the thing with anxiety… The more you say No, the more anxiety is winning. When you create lists of all the things that could go wrong in your mind and then refuse to do something, you are then validating that list of negativity. Trust me, I’ve been there, staring at 3AM ceilings and circling the drain of panic. You know how you fix that? DO THE THING ANYWAY. I know it’s scary. Seriously, I do. When I was 17, I was so anxious that I’d have panic attacks when going on short walks, a block from my home. Not a good sign. But the more I did things that made me anxious -- the more I waded into those deep waters of possible-panic-scenarios -- the easier they became. After a while, that is. Things didn’t change over night. Nothing ever changes over night, so be patient with yourself. You're trying.

Nowadays, even when I’m knee deep in anxiety, I try to say Yes to more. I do things -- things I want to do -- and I survive them. I more than survive them on some days. It gets better, then it gets worse, then it gets better again. Sometimes I don’t experience any anxiety, and I try to ride that thrilling feeling for as long as possible! Other times, it’s harder, and I have to keep lying to myself about not being nervous, about feeling fine and having fun (“it’s all goooooOoOOOOoood” is my mantra) until, eventually, those nerves dissipate.

Say Yes to things. Reclaim your life and don’t let anxiety win, ever. If you suffer from anxiety (or really any sort of mental illness), know that recovery is not a perfectly up-trending trajectory -- there will be good days, there will be bad days, there will be worse days, and there will be amazing days. Keep progressing and fighting for yourself. Also know it’s totally okay to cry for no reason sometimes. It can help, but look out for those post-hysteria headaches.

Find coping mechanisms that work for you during times of stress. When I have a plan to circumvent the worst of it, I feel more in control of my life. And since all of my anxiety stems from fear of losing control…yeah, it helps. For me, cold water (drinking it, running my hands under it) helps. So does listening to good music (on pre-made playlists), and -- when it’s really rough -- using sea bands on my wrists (seriously they do wonder if you feel sick to your stomach, which anxiety tends to cause because SURE WHY NOT) helps settle me down.

What's one thing you’d love to do that anxiety’s been holding you back from? Go do the thing!

This post was originally published on erica.patchwork-press.com.

Starting fresh and staying organized

Well hello new blog, it's nice to meet you! Today when I sat down at my computer, I had no inclinations to start (another) blog. It sort of happened. Honestly, it was a bit of an accident. A happy, happy accident driven by my obsessive need to organize things based on their relevancy. A few hours ago, I was attempting to organize my other blog and was beginning to get a headache because there was such a mishmash of things cluttering the pages. My posts had no coherency; they jumped around from release day or blog tour posts, to posts about my anxiety, or lists of my favorite things. Sure, they were tagged into categories that were easy to sort through, but seriously. There was no order.

This blog is my fresh start. I'll probably still dip into posts where I talk about writing, but I want my other blog to be my "publishing only" blog, where I'll post official news about the books I'm putting out into the world. This place will be "all the rest." Posts about my anxiety, about my new job, about my upstairs neighbor's Techno Tuesday's, and my weird habit of wanting to throw everything out and start from scratch. (More on that later.)

I'm hoping that having a separate blog will help me draw a clean line between my work life and my personal life. It should help me stay organized, and god knows I need to stay organized. Of course, those who follow me that don't care about all of the things happening my personal life and only care about what/when/why I'm publishing won't have to read content they don't want anything to do with, while those who are interested in my day-to-day life can still follow along. It's a win-win for all involved, don't you think?

So, welcome to my new blog. I'll be trying to produce new (and, ideally, interesting) content often, so stay tuned. And if you are here by mistake and are looking for lists of my books, head on over to http://author.ericacrouch.com/ and you'll find what you're looking for there. Thanks for stopping by and being patient while I get this blog up and running. :)

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