Episode 4: The unmasked writer

In which our protagonist gets to the truth of the matter, and the truth really hurts

Dear reader, brave soul, this episode comes to you through floods of tears. This has been a difficult week, and I can’t quite pinpoint why. It’s probably because I’m deep in it now; I’ve realised this is not a game, that there is a hell of a lot of hard work ahead of me and I’m not sure I'm strong enough to get through it.

I promised warts and all with these missives, so here’s the hard, honest truth: my negativity bias is not only in overdrive, it’s driving me absolutely bonkers. We all have a very human need to feel appreciated and loved, but when your brain tells you over and over and over again that such things are just not possible for you so why even bother, it really starts to weigh you down.. 

The warts revealed - here’s a selection of what my brain has been telling me this week:

  • What’s the point? I am and have always been useless.

  • I’ve tried to change before. I’ll give up soon enough so why bother?

  • I can’t write; what makes me think I can write a book, or a newsletter, or anything else?

  • And while we’re on the subject of the book, I’m just a horror writer, not a *real* writer. I don’t belong with the poets and philosophers and literary types; they all look down on me as lesser-than.

  • I shouldn’t go on camera on Zoom or people will actually be looking at me and no one needs to see this fat, ugly layabout - they’ll be put off their food.

  • People only tolerate me, they don’t actually want me around.

  • Sure, they may seem to like you now, but they’ll eventually figure out you’re not worth the effort and leave. They always do.

Most of these have been in my Top 10 rumination hits for years. My limiting beliefs are incredibly hard-wired and deeply ingrained. The hardest thing about it is the simplest, too: I know that if I didn’t think this way, the world would open up to me and I would no longer hold myself back or engineer situations that prove my theories. I would learn that the few dissenting voices are outweighed by the many supportive ones. Can I get there though? Negative, limiting Lauren brain responds: “Not likely!”


Ssssomebody stop me

You, of course, probably wouldn’t realise any of this if you met me. I have perfected the art of what I, ahem, affectionately call The Mask. I’m not talking green-gurning Jim Carrey-style here; it is a metaphorical mask I’ve cultivated to help me live in the world. I’ve become more aware of it in recent years, and I’ll jokingly tell people the mask is on so I’m ok and they don't have to worry about me. 

Of course, awareness does not imply acceptance.

My mask isn’t always necessary, but it’s a protection. A comfort. It helps me project to the world that everything is ok. It helps me to hide my stormy dark ocean of limiting beliefs, and pretend that I know what I’m doing. Even during my most recent burnout/breakdown episode, the mask stayed firm. No one knew how bad things were, not even my husband. It was only when the mask cracked and the light started to get in that the ocean spilled over and I was urged towards help.

The problem is, I’ve been hiding behind the mask for so long I just don’t know who I actually am anymore. I don’t know what I need and, no matter how much journaling I do, I can’t pinpoint the moments where I lost myself. This journey to self(ish) has become about more than self-care; it’s a process of self-discovery and identity-making that I hadn’t quite anticipated. Only when I know who I am, when I meet my authentic self, will I be able to set boundaries that protect my energy and lead me on the right paths. 

Flipping the narrative

Eleanor Roosevelt is oft-quoted as saying: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. Well, I’ve given the world carte blanche to go to town on my inferiority. It’s just the way life is now, and has always been. But when you’re on a mission to find yourself, a journey towards better self-care, that annoying voice of inferiority gets louder and louder - because it knows you’re starting to mistrust it. It knows you’re trying to hear the underlying melody, the one crying for attention, that speaks of your good qualities instead of your bad. This is a sign you’re heading in the right direction. At least, I hope it is.

One of the things that’s helped me get to this point, to turn around the floods, is this week’s choice off the self-help shelf: Chloe Brotheridge’s Brave New Girl. In it, she talks a lot about the stories we tell ourselves, and how these often cannot be trusted when we’re in a state of constant anxiety and stress. Rejection itself is not so bad, she tells us; it’s the meaning we ascribe to the rejection, the story we tell ourselves about it. Most of the time, rejection is just the loss of an idea - the new job, the book deal, the intriguing human you met but didn’t get to know. It’s the idea we mourn, not something tangible that we already had. 

Me, I let these stories get in the way of actually living: the story that says I’m terrible at my job, so I work harder and longer to prove myself worthy. The story that says I’m unloveable, so I say yes and people-please and try to keep everyone happy to prove myself needed. The story that says I’m going to die young like my father, so I ignore my health issues to prove myself right.  

“Being human is messy,” writes Brotheridge. “What needs to come first is acceptance, Weirdly, that’s when things start to feel perfect, when you accept that you, as you are, are pretty awesome. Accepting your imperfections doesn’t mean stagnating. It’s going to make your life so much richer to think of yourself as ever evolving, ever learning and growing, and always making progress, no matter what.”

My new mantra goes something like this (thanks to Jo Bell’s Write to Thrive, once more!): I am magnificent because I am uniquely me, and that is enough. 

Go bravely, dear reader. Seize the day; flip the narrative. Be uniquely you. Be self(ish).

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On the stereo 🎧

Idlewild, You Held the World in Your Arms

I rediscovered a much-loved band of my 20s in honour of Burns Night, and can’t believe I forgot how good they were. “How does it feel to be three years late? / And watching your youth drift away”... I wonder why these lyrics spoke to me? 😳

Off the shelf 📚

The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry

Likely a big reason why my writerly imposter syndrome has been a raging headache this week: some writers are just stardust, huh?

Visual confirmation 📷

As I start to flip my narratives, I’ve started telling myself that I am not too broken. I am, in fact, stronger for my flaws, for I am bolstered by kintsugi. I’m working hard to replace thoughts of irreparability with images of pieces rebonded with gold. Every scar is precious, for it’s made me who I am.

🙏 Thank you, dear reader, for coming on this journey with me. Until next time…