When Your Escape Becomes Your Cage

I love writing. I love reading. They are the things that have sustained me for pretty much my entire life. In my darkest periods, they were my escape, and there have been a couple of times when they were probably the only things keeping me sane.

When you love something that much, all you want to do is more of it. And so I wrote and I wrote and I read and I read, and eventually, two years ago, I hit my ultimate goal. I signed a contract for a multi-book, traditionally published series.

I’d made it. My dream was now my life.

But what I didn’t see coming at the time was that, in its own way, it had also become my cage.

Don’t get me wrong—writing and reading are still my passion. But over the course of those two years, the thing I turned to as an escape from the pressures of real life slowly became my real life. Between deadlines and sales figures and marketing, the stress of it slowly began to crush me, to the point where I finally started therapy for an anxiety condition that had been generally manageable for decades, but which had suddenly reached a point where it was controlling me and making me miserable.

One of the first questions my new therapist asked me was, “So what do you do for fun?”

And all I could do was blink at her. It was the scene from Captain America: The Winter Soldier where Sam Wilson asks Steve Rogers, “What makes you happy?” and Steve gives the saddest little smile in the world and admits, “I don’t know.”

As my writing career became a bigger and bigger source of stress, the writing itself remained enjoyable, but it stopped serving as an escape. It came with a huge amount of baggage, reminding me at every turn of the pressures and fears lying in wait.

It took time and a lot of soul searching. But I eventually had to accept that while writing could remain a wonderful, important, fulfilling, enjoyable part of my life, it couldn’t continue to be my entire life. Not if I wanted to hold on to any shred of perspective or sanity.

So. In the past six months, while dodging deadlines and continuing to work my butt off at my writing, I’ve been putting real effort into trying to figure out what else is important to me and what else I enjoy. Some of it I’m less than proud of. Binge watching multiple seasons of Supernatural isn’t the peak of mental health. But at the same time, it was the escape I was so sorely lacking in my life, and while it can get out of hand, a little couch potato behavior can sometimes be a good thing for a mind that can’t seem to let go and relax.

Some of my other efforts have been better. My husband and I have been spending more quality time, going for walks and playing games. I’ve gotten back into some creative endeavors, including knitting, sewing, adult coloring, and even a little bit of drawing. Making something tangible with my own two hands has been particularly satisfying, especially in the publishing world where so much progress is intangible and everything is a matter of waiting.

While the time away from work has come with its own anxieties, overall it’s been worth it. I come back to my writer life with better perspective and more energy. And less crippling fear of failing at what I love. That kind of helps, too.

All in all, it’s a work in progress.

Has anyone else made the transition from doing something for fun to doing it for work? How have you coped? What fun things have you brought into your life to help take its place?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: