A persona of myself

selfie01aA year ago, I had this crazy idea of creating an online persona. I was going through one of these phases where I hate myself and wish I was somebody else, when I realised that with the internet I could be someone else. Nobody would know it wasn’t true.

I’d create a character for myself, the person I’d love to be. She’d be beautiful, stylish, elegant, classy, smart, sensitive… I could dye my hair, photoshop my face, use a pen name. There were no limits to whom I could pretend to be. I mean, obviously I couldn’t pretend to be famous or anything, but… I wouldn’t want that anyway.

Hannah Jane McMurray 03
Ida would look more or less like Hannah Jane McMurray

The name I chose for her was Ida. It’s made up the 3 central letters of my full name. If I was to make it big or get found out as a “fraud”, I could say cool stuff like “Ida is my core self”.

She would be a writer. Not a famous one, just… a surviving one. Ghostwriter, maybe? That would explain why her name couldn’t be found anywhere. She’d be driven, she’d know how to get things done, unlike me. She wouldn’t bother with countless hobbies like I do, either. She’d be writing, reading… maybe just… playing piano in her free time (I do play a little).

She’d be 30 something and have written several books. She wouldn’t let herself get sidetracked. She’d be quite assertive, too. And a business woman, out of necessity.

Her beauty routine would be psychotically perfect: she’d exercise 6 days a week, eat healthily, keep a steady weight all year long. She’d take excellent care of her skin, paint her nails, go the beauty parlour every week. Her house would be clean, her garden well-groomed.

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Art by Arisbeth Cruz Hernandez

Oh, but she’d have to have a few faults, or else she’d look superhuman. So… I guess… uh… well, she’d be a perfectionist like me. And then… wait, I gave her too many qualities, she looks like a freaking Disney princess. She wouldn’t be assertive; she’d be a shyish introvert like myself. And she wouldn’t be so pretty. It’d be a bother to heavily photoshop all of my pictures anyway. There is no need for a writer to be model-pretty.

That’s when I realised the beauty to die for was the only unachievable characteristic – that is without surgery and time-consuming daily routines. Nothing was keeping me from becoming that person. I could take better care of myself. I could give up those hobbies that didn’t make me feel like I was doing anything of value.

Ida became me. I was fine with it; I was good enough. I already was who I wanted to be, all that was missing was a clear path to follow.

DIGITAL CAMERAThen, gradually, I became more like the original Ida. I became more driven; I wrote two first drafts; I gave up all of the hobbies I could; I even go to the beauty parlour every few weeks now. I still gain weight in the winter to lose in the spring; my house is still messy most of the time; my lawn is half grass, half dandelions. It’s fine. People gotta have faults, hey?

Becoming a surviving writer might never possible. It doesn’t matter, being a struggling writer is good enough.

Who would have thought I’d have to create a fake identity to find my true identity?

Just be yourself. Let people see the real, imperfect, flawed, quirky, weird, beautiful, magical person that your are.
– Mandy Hale

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What’s the worst that could happen?

anxiety_by_fukari-d68lzic
Anxiety by Fukari

When you get sick, people will offer you plenty of free, well-meant and mostly unwanted pieces of advice. Some of them are good, though they often imply that you’re too dumb to use Google, they’re just… not enough. Like, if you have ever had serious insomnia coupled with anxiety, it is very likely that you’ve tried a Spartan regimen of steady sleep hours, phototherapy, heavy exercising, complete avoidance of all caffeine and chocolate and neurotic avoidance of refined sugar, and still… it wasn’t enough. It’s ok, I’ve learnt to roll with that.

My problem is when the advice is plain bad. Like when a nurse, of all people, told me that whenever I was anxious about anything, I should ask myself: “What’s the worst that could happen?”. Darling, I’m a writer. An excessive amount of traffic in the morning could end up with me getting stabbed in an alley.

That bad advice works on the premise that your mind is healthy enough to calculate the probabilities of that particular scenario to actually happen. But a) unless you’re a superhuman math genius, I don’t think anyone could realistically estimate that kind of probabilities, b) anxiety disorder is a sign that the mind is not healthy and c) an imaginative person will come up with at least a hundred scenarios or variants that all suck, which increases the probabilities of one of them or an unforeseen variant actually happening.

xmas-65-x-smallNot to mention that anxiety often comes with depression (which was severe at the time I got that advice), and asking yourself what’s the worst that could happen only makes you focus on the negative when really, the problem is exactly that everything you can think about is negative.

Another fundamental problem with that piece of advice is that when you’re anxious, it usually is not because there is any danger right now. It is precisely because you’re afraid of what will come next. So instead of focusing on the future, you should focus on the present.

For example, right now… it’s alright. We can still eat without rationing ourselves and very literally tighten our belts because that made us lose weight we didn’t have to lose. We’re not in debt, either (aside from the mortgage, but that’s not traditionally considered a debt despite its creepy name: mortgage *shudders*).xmas-64-x-small

What also helps me is keeping in mind that the situation is only temporary. I’m sick right now, but it doesn’t have to be always the case. Also, I’m doing everything in my power to get a job and I know I’ll get one eventually. I know that.

But then, anxiety isn’t restricted to the conscious mind. In fact, mine barely even bothers going there; it knows it’s not welcome. Instead, it lives and thrives in my unconscious, expressing itself through fatigue, irritability, muscle pain and poor concentration. Good luck controlling that.

an-act-of-true-love-will-thaw-a-frozen-heart-elsa-and-anna-36903902-245-150So what’s left for me to do? Accept and love. Accept that my mental health has its ups and downs, that right now I’m in a down and that it affects my life negatively; and love myself, fragile mental health and all. Because really, my illness makes me suffer enough in itself, no need to make it worse with self-loathing. Besides, loving myself is a pretty good motivation for me to take care of my health.

People think Frozen was awesome because of the feminism in it (not sure what they thought Mulan was about). I think it was awesome because it dealt with anxiety. Elsa spends most of the movie struggling with anxiety. And does that make her any less awesome? I don’t think so.

Unfortunately, love and acceptance do nothing for my physical pain, but that’s what meds are for.

Happiness can only exist in acceptance.
– George Orwell

 

Resolution for 2017

Happy New Year, everyone!lettering42-1-14

January’s book review will be pushed to next week since special occasions outrank scheduled posts.

Today is the very first day of the new year and I want to take some time to think about a theme for the year to come. What I mean by theme is actually a very vague resolution like “become more self-confident” or “take better care of my health”. In 2016, my theme was to maintain my mental health. I have actually improved it a little.dream-on

For 2017, I want to continue what I’ve started in the second half of 2016 and which actually helped my mental health: following my dream, which is writing, if that wasn’t clear enough yet.

I have one decent first draft that I am currently editing/rewriting and one “very first draft” (or a 50,175 words outline if you prefer) that I have no intention of touching again this year. The year has 365 days. Knowing that, let’s make goals.

2017 theme: plot your own life (I’ve borrowed that idea from a friend)

Plotting my own life means to stop just going through every day passively as I would do in a former life and start working actively toward what I want. That means being mindful, every day, that what I do or do not do will determine my probabilities of getting where I want to go.

So this year, I want to plan my next moves because really, that’s the smart thing to do and most importantly, that’s my M.O. in everything else, so why I failed to make a bigger plan for myself (and stick to it) so far is beyond me.

Here are the goals I’ve set for myself in 2017 (in no particular order):

  1. Finish rewriting book 1.

    tower_of_books_by_platapiotr-d2y0o47
    Tower of Books by Platapiotr on DeviantArt
  2. Have book 1 beta read;
  3. Edit book 1 again;
  4. Participate to camp NaNo in April with my NaNo community;
  5. Finish another first draft;
  6. Read at least one book every two weeks on average, for a total of 26 books this year. As a writer, I should read at least this much. See my list on Goodreads (subject to changes);
  7. Continue to post weekly on this blog;
  8. Write or edit anything daily;
  9. Take a walk at least 5 days a week to avoid becoming too sedentary (with some luck, I’ll find a job within walking distance from my home – that is, less than 60 minutes and this point will be a no-brainer);
  10. Research editing, pitching, querying, publishing, (or any other relevant subject surrounding the publishing process);
  11. Research blogging;
  12. Work on my anxiety;
  13. Take at least one Creative Writing course.

Thirteen goals; it happened like that, but I’m glad it did, 13 is my lucky number.

As you can see, “publishing on Wattpad” is not there; that is because, since I wrote a book, I might as well use it to experiment with traditional publishing. I have no real hope of actually finding an agent or getting that particular book published (I’d rather it not be my official debut novel), but I believe that “practice makes perfect”, and that it’s also the case with pitching and querying. I’ll probably end up publishing that book on Wattpad eventually… just not in February 2017.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
― Eleanor Roosevelt.

End of year wrap-up: in 2016, I followed my dream

card-3Next week is Christmas, and the one after that is New Year’s Day. So this week, I want to take some time to reflect on what I have accomplished this year.

My 2016 resolution was to remain mentally healthy. I achieved this. I had my moments when I was especially down or anxious, but I was able to push through and be my normal self again. That much is a win.

I also “kinda wished” 2016 was the year I’d finally complete the first draft of… any of my stories, really. I did it, and then some! Although I “gave up” writing in February (you can read more about it in my never-ending ramble post Thanksgiving Day), the need to write was too strong and I started writing again in August… Two months and a half later, on October 31st, I finished the first draft of my guilty pleasure novel. One month later, I won my first NaNoWriMo after several years of failure (writing a thriller, no less!). xmas-29Oh, and then there’s this blog that I was able to update once a week since the first Sunday of October. May I take this opportunity to thank everybody who follows me, like my posts and comment on them? You’re the best! Also, I’m behind in replying to you and reading your blogs due to a rough end of semester, but I’ll make up for it, I promise!

That didn’t happen in a vacuum; I had much work to do on my mindset. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but somewhere along the way, I forgot why. A quote wormed its way in my mind and made me remember. It goes like this:

We are what we repeatedly do.
– Aristotle

That’s right, I want to be a writer because I want to be writing. So simple, right? Then, isn’t it odd that I don’t spend every spare minute doing that thing that I love the most in the whole world? Sure, I liked those other hobbies. But at some point, I weighed every single one of my hobbies and decreed that I could keep them only so long as they don’t infringe upon my writing time.

xmas-40The first two or three weeks, there were times when I thought, again, that I didn’t have what it takes to finish a novel. That’s when being in a community of writers came in the handiest. After that, I pretty much started to “fly on my own”. Once I took the habit, I needed the habit. Writing at night, after I’ve put my daughter to bed, is the highlight of my day. It’s also the time when I get to relax. For someone with an anxiety disorder, that’s huge. That’s vital.

The writing habit, it seemed, helped me start a positive cycle: writing helped me relax, which helped me sleep better, which helped be more agreeable to those around me, which made them respect my writing time. All of that also helped me have a more positive attitude toward writing. That also decided me to do a certificate in creative writing.

I also found out this year that the University of Toronto as a whole range of online courses in creative writing. I’m seriously considering registering for the autumn 2017 semester.xmas-28

In the near future, I have to find myself a job, something that won’t ever require me to work 50 hours a week. Thirty hours a week would be the best.

A lot of people seem to have disliked 2016. For me? It was the best year I’ve had in forever.

You want to be a writer? A writer is someone who writes every day, so start writing. You don’t have a job? Get one. Any job. Don’t sit at home waiting for the magical opportunity. Who are you? Prince William? No. Get a job. Go to work. Do something until you can do something else.
– Shonda Rhimes

Your greatest strength might be your greatest weakness

yin-yangWhen I was in high school, somebody told me that one’s greatest strength was also their greatest weakness, and vice versa. At first, this idea seemed silly, but that was because I took it too literally. I came to interpret it as: a character trait can be equally good and bad.

Those of you who have read my post Thanksgiving Day might have inferred that I’m a perfectionist. I used to think this was the “inoffensive fault” you acknowledge to look good in interviews. A few years later, it became incapacitating. Now, I can finally see it for what it is: a character trait with its upsides and downsides.

do-or-do-not-01Before I take on any project, I’ll weight it, do research and analyse the odds of my being able to achieve good results. Perfectionism can give me Spartan self-discipline to achieve my goal. If I’m going to do something halfheartedly, I’d rather not do it at all.

Sounds great? Now, apply that to weight loss. No matter how you look at it, dropping 11% of your weight in a month can’t be too healthy. Apply it to saving money. Hello Scrooge!

It also means that I’d rather not start anything if I don’t think I can ace it. I admire those who can dive right in without overthinking anything.

Got my point yet? The problem is that your strong personality traits will creep into everything you do.

Despair not! The good news is coming.

If your greatest quality can become your greatest weakness, the reverse is possible: your greatest weakness can become your greatest quality!

Now, it’s important that you look at it from a personality trait point of view: thinking your greatest weakness is some disease or unfortunate situation will only make you feel miserable. I’m not saying those can’t make you stronger. They can, but then it all comes down to how you deal with them.

It can also be easy to mistake the symptom for the cause. For example, symptoms of my perfectionism are anxiety, insomnia and procrastination. Actually, perfectionism itself is probably a symptom of an even larger issue: I’m too much in my own head.

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What should I do?

Identify the weakness and be honest with yourself. It’s easy to fool yourself when it’s agreeable. I used to score almost always INFP at a Myers Briggs personality test. Beautiful personalities, those INFP. For Harry Potter fans, that would be Luna Lovegood. I do believe I’m half INFP. The ugly truth is that my other half is INTJ. That would be Drago Malefoy. In Star Wars, it would be Palpatine. Not quite as shiny, is it?girl-1-copie

Now, identify the adverse consequences. See how that could become positive. You’re hyperactive? Good! Focus all that energy of your on something (or several things) that means something to you. You’re aggressive? That’s an awesome quality in the business world.

Work toward keeping your character traits in a healthy range. Everybody’s character traits are somewhere between two extremes, but you can move them a bit. Make them less extreme in strategic areas. How? I have had cognitive behavioural therapy and it helped me tremendously. I also like introspection, i.e. analysing my behaviour and my thoughts. I also read books on psychology and philosophy.

Can you relate? Is your greatest strength also your greatest fault?

Work hard in silence, let your success be your noise.

– Frank Ocean