This last week I experienced what I like to call “Email PTSD”. Now I don’t want to diminish the real affects of PTSD but many of us have the similar experiences just on a smaller scale. Last week was my first week as my church’s administrator. They just hired me and I was so excited to start. It has been a dream of mine to be a paid leader in a church and now God has created a role that fits me perfectly! Then I received my first email… It was a simple request which should have taken me less than 5 minutes to respond but instead it took me 25 minutes!! I was pouring over each word looking for mistakes, rewording sentences, and even looking up “Best Email Subject Lines” (No seriously, I googled that!). I Bcc’d one of the elders on the email and hit send. This one simple activity created such anxiety that I ended up emailing the elder I had just Bcc’d to tell him. He was very empathetic and later said he didn’t need to be Bcc’d on those types of emails.
As I was writing that email I realized a few things: I was experiencing shame in the belief that I am not a good writer and that there will always be someone waiting to critique my writing. The reason I call this feeling “PTSD” is because I worked under a pretty critical boss for almost four years. I went from sending emails independently at my previous job to being required to Bcc my new boss on all emails. Why? For training purposes which seemed reasonable to me but for editing and critiquing my writing? I was not prepared for that. I also did some blogging for the company. I was published a couple times (after much editing) but one blog I wrote never got published. I spent a significant amount of time writing the blog and even was paid for my time. I was proud of this particular piece and felt like I found my voice in it. When I asked why it wasn’t published, they simply stated that it needed so much editing that it wasn’t worth it. Not a direct quote but pretty close. The experience of being under such scrutiny was the beginning of a dark shadow that has loomed over my writing for more than a year now.
I admit I have always struggled with my writing skills but frankly I never cared. I enjoyed writing. Especially creative writing. I remember taking a course in Romantic Literature and falling in love! (No pun intended). I enjoyed reading Walt Whitman and writing my own poetry. Technical writing during my college years was the most difficult but I still ended up graduating with honors, so I couldn’t have been that bad…though my dad did edit most my papers. I have a constant stream of words running through my brain telling me stories, narrating my day, and writing my next blog or book or short story. I remember writing a short allegorical story in high school about God’s forgiveness and my youth pastor reading it to the whole youth group. I felt so known and loved in that moment.
So in conclusion, I may not be the best writer/blogger around but here are the reasons why I don’t care:
- I love writing and no critical-shame gremlin will keep me from it (that’s including my inner critic).
- I know I need help, that’s why I hire people to edit things like my website (thank you Martha!).
- I write for both myself and my reader. If my imperfect writing encourages you in someway then it’s all worth it to me.
For those of us who have entered this arena of wholehearted living that long to create connections that last, start businesses that fulfill dreams, and create something from the heart you will experience PTSD moments of shame and anxiety. We all have those gremlins that lurk around corners just waiting for the opportunity to tell you that you’re not ________ enough (good, smart, pretty, successful, you name it…). The best advice I can give you when you encounter your gremlins is what I have learned from reading Brene Brown:
Acknowledge the gremlin don’t ignore it. Understand where it comes from and what message is being communicated. Name that ugly thing: shame. Then tell that gremlin that you’re moving on anyways.
This is a gross simplification so I suggest reading some of her books but it’s a helpful start to understanding what it takes to move past criticism and back into creativity. I know just this past week I am already feeling the ease of emailing once again without having an anxiety attack. I may not be the best writer but I don’t care because at the end of the day I know I tried my best and that’s good enough for me.