Swoon Author Olivia Hinebaugh: Being an Author with Anxiety
I have an anxiety disorder. It comes along with a lot of challenges, but also a lot of superpowers that I’ve developed to live and thrive with panic disorder. Being a debut author brings its own set of anxieties and worries, and I’d love to offer a little unsolicited advice and support to the people out there who live with anxiety.
Having panic disorder means that I have frequent panic attacks. Sometimes for no reason at all, a circuit in my brain just misfires and tells my body to act like it’s about to face off with a bear or jump out of an airplane. Panic attacks are pretty much the worst. They can feel like you’re dying or gravely ill. Even knowing that what I’m experiencing is likely a panic attack, the urgency and fear never go away. You can’t logic yourself out of it. Along with panic disorder, I’ve developed agoraphobia. Basically, I’m afraid of being in a situation that might induce a panic attack. And since I’ve had panic attacks in all sorts of situations... it means that I’m anxious. A lot.
Good news: I have an excellent support system. My anxiety is managed with medication and therapy. I’ve had about ten years of practice carrying around this particular weight, which is sometimes light and sometimes crushingly heavy, but it’s always there. As a result, I’ve gotten a lot of strength that comes along with living with anxiety.
Here are five of my anxiety superpowers!
1.) I’ve learned it’s OK to say “no” to things that will be painful. My very first therapist was really hardcore. She thought that since phobias are learned and reinforced through avoidance, I shouldn’t avoid anything. But over the years, I’ve learned a lot of balance. I always question, If I pass on something, will I really be missing out? If the answer is no, then I give myself a break. This means missing some launch parties, and deciding not to try to set up book events that would involve travel I wouldn’t be comfortable with.
2.) I’ve learned to be honest. I’d much rather have people know that the reason I don’t want to do something or can’t come to their event is that it’s hard for me. I’ve gotten so much support and understanding from everyone I’ve disclosed my anxiety to. In the past, I’ve written articles about living with panic disorder and agoraphobia. I get more messages of support or solidarity for those pieces I’ve written than for anything else. (In fact, I was lucky enough to be in the inaugural cast of This Is My Brave, which is an awesome organization. And you can see my performance here if you’re interested!)
3.) I’ve learned a lot about compassion. OK. So there are a lot of people in the world who are suffering, probably more than I ever have. However, developing panic disorder—which is an invisible illness—really struck home that none of us know what someone else is going through. I’ve had other invisible illnesses, and, honestly, these are so common. We can all lend a bit of compassion and understanding to our fellow humans. We need to give each other a little grace. All of those things, I think, are vital to writers. This is totally part of my anxiety superpowers. I have no doubt that pushing through and coping and eventually thriving with anxiety has given me a deeper understanding of the difficulties other people might be facing.
4.) I’m really good at compartmentalizing. I’ve wasted so much energy with worry in my life. There are times when my brain has decided to obsess over things that I’d rather not think about. I’ve learned a lot about quieting thoughts I don’t want to have. I’ve also learned a lot about choosing not to worry about the things I don’t control. In publishing, that’s a lot. You can’t make people like your book. You can’t control your cover or your release date or your marketing plan. I’ve learned to focus on the things I can control and surrender to the things I don’t. I’ve simply chosen not to obsess over things. And, surprisingly, this has worked. I think it’s because I have years of practice.
5.) I’ve learned a lot about gratitude. No victory is too small to celebrate. Meeting deadlines when I’m having a rough week: huge party. Supporting a friend at their launch party: big celebration. I’m grateful for each person who tries to support me and understand what I’m going through even if they don’t “get it.” I’ve learned that when you’ve lived through a time where taking a five-minute walk outside was an accomplishment, that no small victory is too small to celebrate.
Having my book debut is already a huge accomplishment. And I’ve learned to take each victory and run with it. I’m proud of a lot of things in my life, and living with anxiety is a big one.
To anyone reading this who has a mental illness or an invisible illness: I see you! Or, well, you know what I mean. *high five*