Contrary to popular opinion, I am not having a nervous breakdown. This is just my face. But I can relate to having one, in fact, the empathy can make me sick.
So when I read about a man’s plight on his girlfriend throwing away her dreams in a memory stick, asking him to do the deed of disposing of it for her, I had to tear myself away from the computer to remove a sudden burst of anxiety.
He was asking on a forum what to do now that his girlfriend found the thumb drive and was trying to leave him.
According to the post, she had written numerous novels and been seeking agents for years. This search led to nothing, and the comments from the agents made her feel like she was just not good enough as a writer. At 30, she felt she had put everything into this childhood dream and had nothing to show for it. She abandoned her author friends, stopped writing, and put all her files on the one thing she used to back-up her work for the last ten years.
When she found it, she yelled at him for lying, grabbed her things, and moved in with her friend. She claimed she could never trust him again.
He explained he couldn’t bring himself to throw it out, heartbroken seeing her dreams destroyed, but she told him he didn’t know better than her.
It’s a common feeling. You think, especially when you are young, that if you try hard enough and in the right ways, you will one day succeed. Getting constant rejection, even just knowing how competitive a situation is, can make it impossible to push send on any submission. Feeling good, and the hope of feeling good, controls most of human motivation. So after years of having the reality of just how hard it is to get published pounded into you, there can come a moment in which everything hurts, looking to the future doesn’t bring excitement of possibility, but a cold void with only failures in it.
It’s something like a midlife crisis, really.
I went on sabbatical earlier this year for similar reasons. It wasn't the rejection, but the lack of progress. I knew that I was stressed, but I didn’t realize the depths of the depression that I had plummeted in until my family came to visit and we took probably the first real vacation we’d ever had, traveling all across Australia in a relaxed and smooth, non-stop barrage of activities. I had no idea the full extent of my apathy until I came out of it.
I’d say it had a lot to do with the changes in my life, but not really writing as much as I had wanted. Some, it became apparent, thought I was quitting and sent me encouraging emails telling me to absolutely not do so, which I appreciated, but didn’t particularly understand why. I’ve never had the urge to officially quit writing; I felt like if the dream did die, it would go softly in its sleep. As it should.
And for a time, I couldn’t even begin to imagine why someone needed to just quit. What benefit did it do them? I think I talked once before about a blogger who posted loyally every day until I found her, a year after her last one, saying she was done.
In her case, the announcement was necessary, but heart wrenching.
As I get older, I start to see the relief that may come with saying, “I’m done, I’m a failure, get this out of my life.” But honestly, that feeling would be the catharsis of throwing a tantrum, not actually the joy of letting go. The desire to just let yourself throw a hissy-fit is strong, especially in an emotional environment like this one.
What’s worse is for the loved one who has to deal with that, and what’s even worse is for him to be put in charge of actually doing the deed and destroying it.
What do you do when someone you love is giving up their dream? Do you let them?
Had it been me flipping out and threatening to end things, there would have been one simple response I would have wanted to hear:
“I’ve read your writing. You’re being ridiculous. I love you and am here no matter what you want to do, but I’m not throwing it out.”
Of course, he was terrified she was going to leave him. It’s funny how relationships seem from an objective standpoint. In my mind, there was no way she’d actually break it off with him over this; obviously she was taking out her pain on him, looking for something to be angry about to ease the hurt over her perceived failure. It is possible that she strongly hated her life and was, even unconsciously, seeking a means to get out of the relationship. Perhaps she hated him for other reasons. It’s easy to say that, “Well, if that’s the case then it should probably end anyway,” but when you’re in that situation that cold logic isn’t going to hold up against love and pain.
It can be hard to see a loved one quit something they’ve worked so hard at, to see them suffer, see them have a nervous breakdown, unable to emotionally handle the fear and rejection that comes with passion. It can be terrifying to think what they might do in that fit, how they could ruin the relationship that you have together. What do you do?
As an artist soul who has been overwhelmed, fearful, and can throw herself an epic tantrum that’d make a beauty queen flinch, here’s what I have to say to any person whose doesn’t know how to help their friend, lover, brother, sister, child, parent:
Don’t put up with that shit.
The no nonsense attitude isn’t just for your sanity. For someone who is hurting, who feels like she’s going crazy, who is taking out her pain on others, being told to knock it off can actually make the situation seem more bearable. If you act like she’s blowing it out of proportion, it confirms her hopes that it is just an emotional roller-coaster.
Of course acting as though she doesn’t have agency over her dreams is insulting and part of the problem, but if I were her, the best thing he could have said would be, “Call me if you need anything.”
And when she argued?
“I can’t trust you!”
“Nope. You can’t.”
“You don’t know better than me.”
“You’re right. Still not throwing it out.”
In a vein similar to what I do whenever dealing with a competitive asshole in a new environment, not engaging is the fastest way to shut down petty behavior. Arguing is cathartic. Making excuses shifts blame.
It’s like when I watched a woman from my spot on a tour bus. Her child was having a tantrum, an epic sobbing fit of legend, while she continued to smoke her cigarette and watch the people pass by. Then she checked her watch as the end of the world tore out her son’s heart.
Artists are sensitive, emotional beings, but if they act like a child, treat them like a child. We’ll appreciate you for it in the long run.