Something that writers tell one another is not to take it personally whenever we get a manuscript rejected, or when we get a lousy review, or when we don’t hit it out of the ballpark and get a bestseller, or when we don’t get a decent print run. We tell one another that this is “just a business.” We say that just because our work isn’t being received well, that doesn’t mean it’s a reflection upon us. We pat one another on the back and insist, “Rejecting the book isn’t saying that they’re rejecting you.”
But in our hearts, we call bullshit.
Rejection sucks. Always has. Always will. For all but the most lucky of us, rejection is part of the business. (And even for those fortunate authors who strike gold the first time out and only get better sales from there, I’m willing to bet my favorite chocolate bar that they still get some lousy, even scathing, reviews.) If we don’t learn to cope with rejection, we’re probably not going to be long in this business. After a few years, some of us have developed skin so thick, we don’t need winter coats. Most of us have perfected the public persona of sunshine and laughter, even when inside, we’re freaking out because we’re out of contract. “It’s all good,” we say, when inside we know that no, it’s not good at all — the skies are black and there’s no silver-lined cloud in sight.
Yeah, we take it personally. We get upset when our books don’t do as well as we’d hoped. And sometimes, we get depressed.
My friend Jim C. Hines blogged yesterday about depression, which got me thinking about writers and depression. And that got me thinking about when I was most recently depressed, not too long ago. I’m not talking about the “I’m feeling blue” malaise that happens to everyone; I mean don’t-get-dressed-or-brush-teeth-or-get-off-the-couch depression. I mean feeling so bad that it seems impossible that you’ll ever feel good. This isn’t stress, where you feel like you’re hanging by your fingernails and the next breeze will send you plummeting; when you’re depressed, you know the breeze is coming to knock you off, and you don’t care.
That’s what it was like for me when I was depressed: I couldn’t bring myself to care about almost anything, because in my heart, I felt like nothing mattered anymore.
I’m okay now. I probably wouldn’t be if I didn’t have a group of very dear friends whom I trust more than anything, including my Loving Husband, all of whom have been there for me with love, hugs, strong words, kind words, encouraging words and honest words. I’m at a point now where I’ve reclaimed my health: I’m eating better, I’m exercising regularly, I’m taking my vitamins. And I am working to maintain a positive attitude.
A few years ago, I wasn’t in a good place — I was crying all the time and easily flustered, and I just didn’t see any end in sight. I began talk-therapy and soon, with my doctor’s advice, I took an antidepressant (Lexapro). I had been vehemently opposed to any sort of mood-altering medication, but my doctor explained that depression physically affects the brain, and just like I would take a medication to help combat something like Alzheimer’s, I could/should take medication to help combat depression. So warily, I started — and I was very surprised by how positive the result was. For about a year, I stayed on medication and continued talk therapy; then I came to a point when I felt medication was no longer necessary, and so I stopped. I’m open to going back on medication if necessary, but I haven’t hit that point.
Instead, I’ve found some things that really help me when I’m feeling much less than Zen. So I have some tips I’d like to share with you for when you’re feeling very down about “just a business” — or, really, about anything.
1. Talk about it. This is the most important thing any of us can do: Talk to others. Maybe that means a healthcare professional; maybe that means your SO or your BFF or your parents. Don’t keep what’s upsetting you bottled inside. Don’t tell yourself that no one wants to hear it. Get it out. The hardest part may be convincing yourself that people you trust want to hear what you have to say. They do. As To Write Love On Her Arms says, your story matters.
2. Listen to others. Part of talking is listening, especially when people we trust have something to say. When we turn to people for help, we owe it to ourselves and to them to really hear their words. When things are really feeling bleak, this can be more difficult than some people can imagine. Keep in mind that people you trust aren’t bullshitting you. Listen to what they’re saying.
3. Get outside. Sunshine can do amazing things for mental attitude. Standing in a ray of sunlight can wipe away the gray. This may help kickstart a positive attitude. And, on that note…
4. Take Vitamin D3. This is Nature’s original happy pill. It can really help us with feeling balanced and positive. I had been deficient in Vitamin D3 — a blood panel revealed that — so I take 5,000 IUs daily. (I also take, thanks to my doctor’s suggestion, a triple-dose of Omega 3, to help combat my Raynauds. So far, so good!)
5. Exercise. Yeah, I know – when you’re feeling down, the last thing you want to do is move. But do it. Find a way to make yourself take a walk, or pop in an exercise video, or go to the gym and listen to your favorite tunes while you get on the elliptical machine or go jogging. When we move, we’re alive. Along with tae kwon do three times a week (which is more like play than exercise for me), I am now doing the Insanity program. Yoikes! Last time I attempted it, I made it only 11 days before I cried UNCLE and went back to the gym. Fingers crossed I can make the entire 63-day program! (Just 59 more days to go, oy!)
6. Write down one positive thing you’ve done today. Whether it’s any of the above or something completely different — like, “Called my grandmother just to say hi” or “Spent five minutes meditating” or “Enjoyed the heck out of a chocolate bar,” write it down. If you do more than one positive thing, awesome; at the very least, put down one thing. Sometimes, seeing that reinforcement helps.
7. Celebrate your successes. I have a wall of Me at home. In the living room, one section of the built-in shelves is dedicated to my published novels. Each book is on its own stand, face out. It shows everyone LOOK WHAT I DID. It also shows me LOOK WHAT I DID. Not everyone gets even one novel published commercially; if you’re one of those fortunate enough to have done so, be proud! It’s not about making your numbers, or about hitting a list: it’s about recognizing what you’ve accomplished. Did you finish writing a book? My God, you ROCK!!! Did you start a new project? AWESOME!!! And it doesn’t have to be about books, either; any success you achieve should be celebrated! This is one of the reasons I love tae kwon do so much — with every new belt, I have tangible proof of just how far I’ve come.
8. Acknowledge your challenges. Not failures — challenges. I have yet to hit a list, but instead of saying that I failed, I’ve turned that into a benchmark to strive for. Just because we aren’t as successful as we may want to be, that doesn’t mean we’ve failed; it simply means we have something to reach for.
9. Consider a change in diet. I’ve been all over the map when it comes to diets — I’ve been low carb/low fat/no meat/all meat and everything in between. Last year, I did a lot of research (Gary Taubes’s GOOD CALORIES, BAD CALORIES paved the way for me), and I found that there is a correlation between depression and inflammation — and that grains like wheat can cause inflammation. So I switched to a primal/paleo diet (I found Mark’s Daily Apple to be eye-opening) — and wow, it was awesome. I had never felt better! I fell off of that way of eating in December, when deadlines began kicking my ass. I just went back to going primal, and after only three days, I’m feeling significantly better.
Now, I’m not advocating that everyone should eat like this. What I am suggesting is that you start exploring different ways of eating — maybe Vegan is ideal for you, or vegetarian, or an “everything in moderation” sort of place. You may discover that changing your eating habits may have unforeseen positive mental health results.
I hope these tips help you the next time you take a rejection personally.
As for me, I’ve already done my exercise (first thing in the morning, before my brain can tell my body NO NO NO) and had a protein-packed breakfast. Later I’ll be doing tae kwon do. With dinner I’ll have my vitamins. And even though I haven’t yet heard about one particular project, I’m not worried “what if the answer is no?” — because instead, I’m telling myself that TODAY MAY BE THE DAY THAT THE ANSWER IS YES.
Because if it’s not today, then maybe tomorrow will be that day.