How do you restore faith once it’s been lost?
I don’t know about you, but I’m a writer who is full of self-doubt that only gets worse the older I get. Rather cynical for a girl of 24, but there it is.
I’ve known for almost two decades that I was going to be a writer. I’ve always known that I would have to be in a creative or artistic field; my brain isn’t suited for business or anything that deals with a lot of people. (Oddly enough, I can handle being a librarian, mostly because I love books so much. But that’s about the only “normal” job I can hold and not go crazy or totally mess up.) Writing is really my only talent. I know this. And yet, I still have doubts about becoming a successful writer.
When I was younger, I really didn’t have plan about how I was going to become a published author…but I didn’t feel I needed one. I knew what I could do, what I wanted to do, and all I had to do was do it. I didn’t have any doubts about my eventual success. And yet, now I believe that it’s highly unlikely that I will ever achieve publication of any kind. I don’t even know if I’m capable of finishing anything anymore. For at least six months, that thought has paralyzed me. My depression was in full swing and only getting worse. I’d managed to stem the tide with anime, but that wasn’t enough anymore. I was losing my writing, my faith in writing, and I didn’t know how to stop it.
In many ways, I’m still not sure. I’m still fighting the depression. It’s easier now but I’ve got a long way to go, and I still can’t picture myself being successful. I really can’t. I can’t even picture myself holding a finished manuscript. But one of the coping mechanisms I’ve developed to handle my depression is helping me a little with my crisis of faith as well: don’t look too far ahead.
For whatever reason, I’ve always looked ahead. I try to consider all possibilities and scenarios before making a move. This has allowed me to lead a fairly safe and comfortable life, but it’s also inhibiting. I usually can’t relax, let go, or experiment like many other people do. At least, not without a massive influx of guilt that tends to take away from any fun I might have. Part of that inhibition comes from seeing too many possibilities, seeing all the ways something could go wrong and trying to plan for those possibilities. When you couple that tendency with severe depression, you get a very bad recipe that paralyzes you and fills you with a deep sense of futility. I could see so many ways to fail that I couldn’t see any of the ways to success. That killed a lot of my motivation and caused me to stop writing for a long while.
My coping mechanism has been to stop thinking. I still use the creative part of my brain, but I stopped looking ahead. I try to only plan a day or two ahead of where I am and to focus on dealing with each day as it is. I can note longer-term plans or events in my calendar, but then I don’t think about them or look at them again. Each week I check my calendar to make sure I haven’t forgotten an important appointment, but otherwise, I focus on the here and now. Since thinking about the future caused me a great deal of misery, I now try not to think about it, or I ignore things outside of today. “I’m going to the gym today” is a much more manageable thought and action than thinking, “I will go to the gym every day for a month” or even “every day this week.” That kind of long-term goal or plan is just too overwhelming in my admittedly precarious mental state. My sense of well-being has been compromised, perhaps irreparably, my nerves and emotions lying very close to the surface. It leaves me feeling very raw and unstable. I can’t let myself dwell or brood anymore because that’s the depression that keeps trying to drag me down into the grey abyss again. I caught a breath of fresh air and a beam of sunlight trying to climb out of that pit; and I’m not about to go back.
So, like with the gym, it’s much easier to say, “I will write a page today,” or “I will write for an hour today” than to say, “I will write everyday from now on.” I can’t let my goals be that amorphous and overwhelming anymore. In order to write every day, I have to take each day as if it were brand new and it’s all I’m going to get. Does this make the doubts go away? No, I still think that I’m probably not going to finish. But if I focus on trying to do a little each day, no matter what it is, then eventually, without even realizing it, I’ll be finished. I just have to keep going until I reach that particular day. I can’t predict when that will be, and it really doesn’t matter, I suppose. At least, I tell myself that it doesn’t matter. So far, it seems to be working.
There is one other thing that keeps me going, even though I lack faith: a debt. I owe my characters. I owe them big time. They’ve stayed with me and put up with so much from me that I owe it to them to tell their stories. I do love my characters; I identify with people in fiction far more than I do with those in real life. I know that my own personal history is not particularly interesting. But my characters have very interesting histories and I’m the only one who can tell them. I care about them and what happens to them, and so, even though I may never finish, I still owe it to them to try. This kind of motivation may not exist for everyone, and I’m not saying that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Writers may share similar struggles but we’re all very different people. What pushes me may not push you. You’ll need to look back and find what made you start writing in the first place, or recreate as best you can the circumstances that encouraged your writing. But for me, the give and take of gratitude and debts is a very powerful motivator in my life that colors all of my relationships, real and imaginary. It’s really the only article of faith I have left.
5 thoughts on “Losing Faith”
I agree that looking too far ahead is depressing. I inherited the tendency to do so from my mother (who can worry herself silly about myriad possible futures), but have thankfully managed to change – very gradually – over the years. Much of the motivation has come simply from being fed up with worry. (Being an Exile has helped with this greatly, especially my year in the gym with Fullmetal, where he kept telling me, "Stop thinking. Just push the weight up." It's helped me to be more of the Green Lantern that he saw me as.)I'm glad you've found a perspective that works for you. :-)P.S. – The idea of "owing" one's characters is still mystifying to me. I regard my characters more as ideas—as embodiments of ideals and attitudes and experiences, some real and some hypothetical. (This might be why I like Superman so much. It's not just who he is, but what he embodies and represents to me.)
Yeah, I think I'm finally fed up with worry to and that's why I'm trying to change. The gym really, really has helped immensely….I actually spent 2 hours there today (treadmill, bike, elliptical, pool) and feel…better. A lot better. I can actually feel the poison leeching out of me and can separate my own voice from the depression-voice. I couldn't do that before, and now that I know what it sounds/feels like, I can move past it better. It's a bit of a paradox with me, I suppose. I mean, intellectually, I know that my characters are portions of myself, ideals, fears, traits, mental constructs. But, at the same time…I don't know, maybe some part of me wants them to be real, or needs them to be. It's like taking an imaginary friend one step farther…or never giving up that idea at all. For someone like me who needs a lot of alone-time, it's nice to know that you aren't actually alone or being abandoned because I always have them with me. I know it sounds a little weird, maybe even creepy…but it's helped me maintain a far better grip on reality than you might think. A kind of safety valve to keep me from losing it entirely.
Time to just let it flow. As you have discovered trying to look too far ahead will drive you nuts. There are just far too many variables, and outside influences that you have no control over. You need to let the worry go, it will only give you hypertension, ulcers, and ultimately gray hair. Ever notice the toll that the pressure and worry take on the President? It doesn't matter if he's a Democrat or a Republican, by the end of the first term he's showing gray. Try just flying by the seat of your pants, it can be scary at times, but also relaxing, just let life flow. It will somehow all work out. Drive and ambition can only take you so far, you cannot force creativity to happen. You can be your most creative when relaxed, and just letting your mind drift. Thats where faith comes in for people who are religious, they can just let it flow because they truly believe that God is in the drivers seat, and they don't have to worry about the future, he's got it handled. The rest of us cope in various different ways, meditation, yoga, music, sex, alcohol, drugs, ect. Whole point is everyone needs to unwind somehow to reach that Zen state from whence creativity flows, and it will, naturally. Please do realize that I'm not advocating for any of the vices. Everyone relaxes in their own way. It could be biking, exercising, cooking, whatever. The end result is what counts. Sucess can come the same way, just like a relationship, when you least expect it, naturally. Certainly not when actively pursuing it, just like a lover, it will tend to run away if pursued too closely. Think of all this as grist for your characters, to flesh them out, make them real. You can live vicariously through them, give them the doubts, angst, uncertainties, down side as well as the up side. You're on the right track, you just need to follow through. From what I've seen you have the talent that you need, it's just a matter of harnessing and channeling it. Cheer up! Lose that depression! You are going to be famous someday, I know this, I predict this, and the old Professor is rarely wrong. At least not in this instance!
Thanks for the vote of confidence! I am working on moving through the depression; that's what the gym is for. Having more sunlight helps a lot too. My creativity is slowing the returning, so here's hoping your prediction about my success comes true!
Hi, Kat!Indeed, looking too far into the future can be depressing. It's like looking out into a very dark place called "the Unknown." And of course our dreams and hopes and fears are out in the darkness somewhere, and we don't know when or if we are going to bump into them unexpectedly one day. Really, the sheer uncertainty of this world in unnerving. For me, the greatest comfort is the thought that there is someone greater than me who in control of this very complex universe and my own future. So I pray my way through it and push on, even when I don't feel like it.As for my motivation in writing personally, it has multiple facets. Since some of my characters are actually historical figures who lived and breathed and I believe still exist somewhere, I do owe it to them to tell the story to the best of my ability. Also, my main fictional character is sort of a mutated form of me, so I owe the fictional me some time of day, ha, ha! I'm sure you'll come out on top in the end, Kat; You strike me as a person with lots of resilience, talent, ad kindness. Please don't get too far down about things. Just plod ahead and don't look down, and things will work themselves out somehow. I'll keep you in my prayers. Please do the same for me.Love,Pearl of Tyburn