From the Ashes of Self-Doubt and Existential Chaos, A Phoenix Rising

So, uh… Hi there… it’s been a while!

Jeezum crow, last post was… November 2019?! How has it been that long?

Well, a lot happened in November 2019… A lot of… Self-doubt. Mental health quagmires. Then 2020 happened.

Yeah, 2020. That alone could be forgiven for one’s absence. But that, of course, isn’t the full story.

You see, pretty much after the release of my debut novella, Tides of War, back in November 2019, I got a severe case of the dreaded imposter syndrome. For anyone who knows it – and I’m sure ALL of my writer and author friends know that demon well – it is a most vexatious and debilitating thing. It cripples your belief in yourself and your own work. It erodes at your confidence in your own wordsmithing skill. It makes you feel like you don’t belong, in the big leagues or even in the indie circuit. Soon you stop submitting to publications. Soon after that, you stop writing altogether. You question whether this is even the life path for you.

I barely promoted the novella. Hell, I didn’t even update my website to reflect its release. I stopped updating the website and blog altogether. I didn’t promote my last publication, Samsara, in Deadset Press’s Gemini anthology at all beyond a single Facebook post. Imposter syndrome crippled me – or rather tore out my spine and threw it in the river like a gory Mortal Kombat fatality.

That’s what happened to me. But of course nothing is ever so simple, because there’s usually something else in the mix. Life is rarely if ever a straight path, and so it is with turmoil as well.

That something else for me took the form of an official diagnosis of bipolar 2 disorder.

Looking back, so much of my life made sense – I’m talking all the way back. But while a diagnosis proved to be a relief of sorts, if only because my turbulent moods and energy levels made some lick of sense, it didn’t cause the chaos nor the self-doubt or self-loathing to abate. In fact, it exacerbated it.

Cue 2020, and I’m chasing a different goal, a different path. I threw myself into video game development… for a few weeks. By then I had simultaneously applied for work in a little retail video games store by the name of EB Games AND started a channel on streaming platform giant Twitch under the schtick of “horror author scared by horror games for people’s amusement”. And that was fun for a while. But anyone who is familiar with Twitch or YouTube knows how fickle the audiences can be, how difficult it can be to be discovered, and how dissatisfying and embittering the battle to make it can be.

Aside from the omnipresent upheaval of COVID-19, I was facing a new mental illness, poor self-esteem, a ton of career and life uncertainty. It all came to a head around October 2020, where my familial and marital relationships were at their greatest straining point, a threat of a great sundering. But this turmoil led to a watershed moment.

A commitment to get back on track; a commitment to stop being a people-pleaser (which I had unwittingly been, as a writer, as a husband and father and friend, as a Twitch streamer, hell, every role I’d ever played in my life). I committed to making life changes for myself. I’d say no, put my foot down, and stop doing what I thought people wanted. I also put one of my huge fears aside by committing to medication – proper medication from a doctor, not the self-medicating I’d been doing that took the form of thinly disguised alcoholism. I’d resisted this latter point for almost an entire year because I was afraid the medication would not only change my brain – turn me into a drooling zombie of a man – but would dampen my fire and creativity. I wrongly assumed my fire – the anger, chaos and self-loathing – were the power plant of my creativity.

To paraphrase the worlds of my wife: “If that is your fire, then maybe it’s a good thing if you lose it.”

Fast forward to a few months later. The medication – sertraline, a relatively gentle SSRI adept at levelling out mood and drastically altering the frequency of mood cycling – has taken hold to positive affect. My attitude is upbeat, my moods have ceased their violent pinballing and, lo and behold, my creativity hasn’t taken a bullet to the head – far from it.

I heard that neglected part of me calling for rescue, softly at first, a gentle cry, and then a clamouring roar.

It hadn’t gone anywhere. Misplaced maybe, but never gone nor forgotten.

In the month of February, that hungry roar reached crescendo. I realised my time spent streaming games like almost every other person on Twitch was interfering with my goals. Besides, I wasn’t happy. And I wasn’t in the business of doing unhappy-but-do-it-anyway-because-it’s-what-people-want anymore. The foot threatened to come down – and then it did.

Twitch is now just another tool in my writer’s box – or perhaps more appropriately, my marketing box. But in order to have something to market, I have to write again. And so I am. I’m working on my first earnest novel project (if you don’t count my aborted NaNoWriMo project of 2020 – again not gone, only sleeping) since my year-long detour, and I feel invigorated.

My detour taught me many things, but one thing above all else: this is where I’m meant to be.

I am a writer. And this is what I love. This is my undying passion. Even when the fire is quenched, smothered, untended, still it smoulders, waiting for the coals to roar alight. When I don’t tend that hearth I am half a man, a husk, a rind hollowed of its fruit. But I remember now; I know, more sincerely than I ever have. That’s all I needed.

And in 2021, I am coming back with a vengeance.

MT

1 Comment

  1. Great to hear you’ve found your way back to writing, Marcus! It’s always important to take the time and assess your mental health and do what’s right for you, and such a great thing to share your journey away from writing and announcing your return to it (I’m sure others will be inspired by it). I earnestly look forward to reading your works again!

    Liked by 1 person

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