TODAY IS A DAY
Today the book I have been working on since 2019 finally gets published. For the last couple of years, I have put undue (and unhealthy) pressure on myself about this book’s release. I have thought things along the lines of “This will make or break my career” and “Dear God, please let this be a hit! Please!! PLEASE!” I’ve mentally taken notes on other people’s book releases and what markers I want to see for my own. Will I hit any lists? Will I get written up in major publications? Will celebrities share a photo of themselves holding Overthinking About You with the caption, “WOW THIS CHANGED MY LIFE”? I have been slowly tallying all the possible ways I can feel like the book is a success. Which also means I’ve been slowly tallying all the ways I can feel like a failure.
The pressure of this book release has absolutely caused a backslide in my mental health. That critical voice that I have spent so much time trying to quiet has come back kicking. I hear her telling me that I’m not good enough. That I haven’t worked hard enough. That if someone else wrote this book more people would care and it would be an instant hit. But since I wrote it, it’s going to barely make an impact. (Yucky stuff, I know! Thankfully I know in my bones that my mental health journey isn’t linear. And while this setback is frustrating, it doesn’t discount all the improvements I have made and will continue to make. If I couldn’t hold onto that, I would be in much worse shape.)
I have tired myself out these last few weeks doing mental gymnastics in an attempt to save myself from what I fear will be the unbearable sting of disappointment. I have tried to focus on the real purpose of the book, which is to help people and get the conversation started about the intersection of dating and mental health. I have reminded myself that some things take time and even if it is not an instant bestseller, it might grow into one or lead me to some other exciting opportunity. I have posted TikTok after TikTok trying to go viral in an attempt to increase the chances of the book’s success and feel more in control of the process. But the one thing I haven’t done is trust that I can handle being disappointed.
It makes sense that I am so afraid of feeling bad after having been through depressive episodes in my life. I know what it feels like to want to die and to hate myself. What I need to remember is that the way I processed negative feelings in the past is not necessarily the way I would process them now. I am strong enough and have the coping skills to be extremely disappointed by this book’s reception and not let it impact my sense of self. I can grieve the loss of a career opportunity without feeling like my career is unequivocally over. I do not need to attach the same level of meaning to one life event as I used to because I have more evidence that life is long, and things inevitably ebb and flow. I don’t need to try to protect myself from experiencing negative emotions because I know I can handle them. Once I realized this, during a therapy session no less, I felt a huge sense of relief.
Putting your work out into the world is hard enough without also trying to control your own reaction to its reception. I wrote a freaking book! I don’t also have to expertly shimmy my way around the parts that might not feel good. While writing this book, my fiancé walked out on me. I had to go through the very painful process of editing the manuscript to reflect that change. I had to cut lines where I sung his praises and dreamed about our forever together with a confidence that is baffling to me now. While a bad review might hurt, it won’t hurt like that. I want this book to do well. But I also wanted my ex to be my life partner. Sometimes we don’t get what we want and we are able to continue living and thriving anyway.
During that therapy session, I kept using the word “failure.” If this happens, I will have failed. If that doesn’t happen, I am a failure. My therapist finally pointed out that not hitting a bestseller list isn’t failing. Failure is when you completely give up. Failure is when you stop trying. So, when I think about it that way, the only way for this book to be a failure is if it stops me from writing. And I think we all know that isn’t going to happen. For starters, I’m already contractually obligated to write another book. And more importantly, writing is a part of who I am. I have never let rejection or disappointment stop me from continuing to pursue my goals and desired career. Why would that suddenly happen now when I am the most comfortable with myself that I have ever been? Easy answer: It won’t and therefore failure is no longer on the table.
While failure is no longer a fear, disappointment and embarrassment are still distinct possibilities. There is a chance I will show up to one of my book events only to find a near empty room. If that happens, I will likely feel disappointed and embarrassed. I will feel guilty that the bookstore spent time and money on me only to have a poor turnout. I will feel worried that the people who did choose to come are going to second guess their decision. And then I will let those feelings pass through me as I give the event my all and sign the heck out of every book placed in my path. A poor turnout might dampen my day, but it doesn’t have to ruin it.
These next few weeks are likely to be filled with some high highs and some low lows. Knowing this, I should absolutely take extra good care of myself and do my best to quiet that negative voice I have appropriately named Critical Caren. But other than that, I have to let the pieces fall where they land instead of throwing myself under them to lessen the blow. I have to trust my future self. And I have to celebrate the shit out of this accomplishment regardless of external indicators of success. Because I wrote an entire book. And that is awesome.