Mild Neuroticism AKA Being a Writer

This is what we call: a brain dump.

The idea of being a creative is a pretty one. Artists with their hair in shaggy updos, paint staining the insides of their fingernails as they tell you about their new project. Poets furrowing their brows as they stare into their Moleskin on a park bench, armed with a Pilot pen like a sword. Writers frantically scribbling nonsensical ideas into an app or onto a sticky note, never fully revealing the contents of their words. It all seems so movie-like. 

When I think of how I write, I find nothing magical about it. I think sometimes people like to imagine me sitting in some high-class coffee shop, an Americano neighboring my parchment as I pour beautiful words with a quill. Something like that, at least. People see the awards, the published pieces, the excitement of being seen. What they don’t see is the fact that I have to take two showers a day to thaw my body into a state of operation. I typically write in my bed, likely naked after one of the aforementioned ‘thawing out’ sessions, wrapped in an electric blanket, with a face mask sucking the life out of my pores. 

My ‘writing process’ is about as chaotic as I am. I try to explain this to my philosophy teacher, a nice man with an overwhelming amount of good qualities that makes me think he has killed somebody or something awful. They don’t make people that good anymore. He laughs as I stutter in trying to respond. My process? I’m a teenager with access to the Internet. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself the next Salinger. 

My pieces are a product of the mind-nubbing, semi-sociopathic narrative that drones on in my brain constantly. Most of it is incoherent mumbling or intrusive thoughts I have to bring to therapy and beg for some kind of logical explanation as to why I can’t walk down a sidewalk without vividly imagining myself tripping and watching my skull crack open like a melon. I think I should note that I struggle with a pretty severe anxiety disorder. This neat, polished essay is brought to you by three doses of Buspirone daily. 

I used to reject the idea that you have to be fucked up to be creative. I was really into the concept that everyone was capable of being an artist or a writer, but the older I get, the more I realize that I don’t think people have the stones or the balls to do it. Cruel, I know, but honestly, if I told one of my peers that he had to write about his trauma and make it “spicy” with a few metaphors and humorous lines to publish and allow the general public to make a spectacle about it, I can’t say I think he’d jump at the idea. I do think you have to be a little twisted to create. That’s why creatives have to create. If we don’t, we explode. 

I mean “explode” in as close of a direct definition as I can physically be. When I don’t write for a few days, I can feel my mind build up like a pebble stuck in my shoe that gradually grows bigger than my foot and just crushes my bones from the inside of my Doc Martens (told you, intrusive thoughts). I think everyone struggles with this need to express, but everyone does so differently. Some people release this energy at work or while exercising or even during something as simple as popping their knuckles. I just happen to want to die if I don’t drain my brain every few days. Can’t help it. Always been this way. 

I think about writing things about as often as I’d say the average young adult male thinks about sex… maybe one with suffocated sexual desires who can’t help but get a hard-on in the middle of the day. Unfortunately, my thoughts are released in a far less fun way. I practically think in twelve-point, Times New Roman font. I fantasize just as much as they do though, imagining myself walking in Carnegie Hall wearing a purple gown, ready to accept my national writing medal. I see myself writing love letters to faceless men I have yet to meet. I visualize myself getting a book deal on the eighteenth floor of some publishing office in New York City. We all have our fantasies. 

What’s weird is that the accolades and purple gowns feel great in theory, but every time I even get a mild taste of success, I am overwhelmed by the attention. From floods of Facebook comments to people approaching me about my pieces, I get so uncomfortable in the weeks that people notice me. I want to be able to accept others’ kindness and feel proud of what I’ve done, but I get paralyzed in the spotlight that is cast on me every few months. Once the thrill wears out and the dopamine has run to the hills, I am just left with my stories. Stories that others love to read but have absolutely drained my heart to write. 

My stories are my life. They are chapters in a never-ending story that I have thought about ending many times. They are eggs of ideas that I have sat upon for years, waiting for the right time to crack onto the skillet and watch parts of my soul get cooked in front of a live audience who will be nourished with my pain. In a lot of ways, this is so fulfilling. I get to hear stories about how my pieces have helped struggling kids and adults alike. I get to hear my words transformed into living beings, not just stale syllables on a word document. I get to see the “power of the pen” or some other lame English teacher phrase. That is great. It’s all the other components that bog me down. 

I wish I could say that that is the reason why I write, but I’m afraid that would be a lie. I write because I literally can’t not (see ‘exploding’ in the preceding paragraphs). I don’t know how to properly cope with situations or understand what I am feeling unless I see it in chicken scratch or carefully typed out. I feel emotionally stunted in some departments and can only convey affection if it exists in the heart of a couplet or two. I feel ostracized and confused by my everyday environments and can only quell the stemming frustration by making it into a few paragraphs. So yes, I’m thrilled that people benefit from my writing, or are even just mildly entertained, but I don’t do it for others. I’ve been writing my entire life and publicly publishing it since I was 12. I never did any of this for anyone else. I did it because I had to. 

I write things in my head. At my old job, I used to wash dishes for hours at a time and had so much fun doing it. I’d essentially just dissociate and climb into my head where I’d write out ideas and keep saying them until a line stuck. I wrote my entire senior paper on Jane Eyre in my head one afternoon shift. It was due the next day. I went home, spilled as much as I could remember, and called it good. 

I also remember sitting in the back of a car and watching a boy smoke a cigarette for the first time and instead of partaking in the activities, I declined and wrote “he smoked like his cupid’s bow longed for the paper more than anything else. I wanted to be the cigarette” inside my phone notes. I probably looked cool: reclined in the backseat, painfully sober because I’m high on life, minding my own business and texting my countless friends. In reality, I was writing stories like the lonely loser that I am. 

Living like this is fine. It has gotten me into writing programs, won me countless awards, and has brought me closer to random people. However, I forget to live sometimes. I am so caught up in trying to “find” my next idea or pull one out of the depths of my hellish brain that I forget how much is happening at the moment. Instead of having fun at a party, I am scanning the scene and trying to ascribe appropriate modifiers to my peers’ sluggish, drunken behavior. Instead of allowing myself to have feelings towards someone, I am writing the last chapter to the book that hasn’t even started. I get stuck trying to tell the story of my youth that I forget to live it all together. 

My writing process is basically me dipping in and out of a dissociative state. Some medical professionals might call dissociating an “unhealthy coping mechanism,” but I’d simply call it a skill that I have learned to help me live. Does it have mild repercussions like gaps in my memories and the risk of de-realizing life? Yes. But a hammer can be used to push a nail in or bash someone’s brains out. It all depends on how you use your tools. 

I have written this entire thing about writing because I can’t write anything else at the moment. Competitions I have fought in for years are complete. Colleges are gotten into. The stories I’ve been dying to tell for years have been told. So what the hell am I supposed to do now?

I know the answer. I know I have to live in order to find the future stories I have to tell. I’d be lying to you if I said that didn’t scare the living daylights out of me. I am just unclear where to start. Do I pierce my nose? Get a semi-regrettable tattoo? Download Tinder? Approach strange people on the street and ask them to tell me their life stories? Who knows?

I wish I could go to someone for help, but I have played this game before. This whole “life” game is one that is primarily played alone. It is a lead acting role with supporters, beautiful sets, fun costumes, and confusing time changes, but ultimately it is a story lived and told alone. 

So my writing process? Mild young adult neuroticism with a dash of loneliness. 

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