Screenwriting vs Anxiety: My Last Line Of Defense

June 20, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Screenwriting: My Last Line Of Defense | Screenwriting Blog

I’M AN ANXIOUS PERSON

Before I go further, I’d like to make one thing clear. I have seen the effects of anxiety attacks and depression first hand and it’s no joking matter. My anxiety is mild in comparison. But of course it still concerns me.  That feeling of concern is essentially the root of my problem.

I wake up most mornings feeling guilty and anxious for no reason at all. I’ve even had issues with my jaw because I’m so tense when I sleep some nights.  There are times when I become extremely frustrated because I really don’t have much to complain about. I’m actually a very happy person. I appreciate the things I have, the relationships I hold dear and I look forward to what the future has in store.  So why do I feel like I’ve done something wrong or that people are angry with me every day?  Why am I so anxious?

I wish I knew. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to make sure my door is locked or double checked the oven burners. (Even on days I don’t cook) I quadruple check daily so I don’t end up at work lost in my imagination wondering if someone broke in to my home and stolen my dog.  I like to think that these are useful character traits because I know deep down that I’ll never leave my door unlocked or an iron plugged in. (And that my dog is safe.)

XTRA | A Screenwriter In A Car Accident

A few years ago, I finally got sick and tired of feeling that way and I told my family.  I had hidden it away for years.  Nobody knew that every time I answered the phone, I was expecting horrible news.  Or that I sometimes wrote myself long emails just to ‘talk’ to someone.  I never hit send.

I’m blessed to have such an amazing family but, to tell you the truth, hiding it from them gave me some of the tools I needed to beat my anxiety.  I’m usually able to talk myself down and in doing so, I’ve become a man who rarely gets angry.  I’m known to get frustrated from time to time but I normally make jokes to mask it.  Mild anxiety attacks like mine could easily lead to outbursts but I’ve never allowed it to escalate to that level.  This skill is the only reason people never knew that I was really an anxious person.

Recently, I’ve dealt with a terrible crisis in my life.  A situation that lead to a lot of anger and statements I’ll never forgive.  I’ve never felt true anger before and I was ashamed of myself for letting it happen. At that point, I decided to talk to a pro.  I saw a counselor for a brief period of time to talk about my anxiety.  There was no way I was going to allow myself to become an angry person.  For years, I’d kept my stress levels down because the causes were always tiny and manageable.  Now I actually had something real causing massive amounts of stress in my life and I didn’t know how to handle it.  All I wanted to do was scream at the people responsible.

Thankfully, I didn’t.  Between of my future wife and close family, I had enough support to back off and allow myself to calm down.  Yet, there was something else I hadn’t yet realized…

I HAD SCREENWRITING

I was in college for two years.  I basically spent my entire first year drunk at bars and social functions.  I guess you could say I had a normal college life.  It was a blast.  Every night there was another party to attend that resulted in hundreds of hilarious memories I’ll cherish forever.  However, something changed in my second year.

I realized I was terrified of graduating. I had spent my entire life telling people I wanted to work in film and television and now I actually had to do it.  I was months away from the rest of my life.  That realization was a big wake up call for me and I took action.  I worked my ass off.  I took on every single project I could.  In addition to my regular school work, I was writing on a regular basis and we started producing short films on the side.  This was the birth of 17 West Productions.

Aside from that, I started taking extra assignments in school.  The college even sent me out of town a few times to work on various projects.  For our ‘big’ show, we produced a 30 minute look at the CFL in Canada but we didn’t stop there.  We called in a few favors, drove to Toronto and made a 5 minute behind the scenes documentary of an actual CFL broadcast.  It took two weeks to produce 5 minutes of our half hour show.  That’s the kind of dedication we had but I wasn’t done there.

I started to teach myself web design and Photoshop.  I devoured every new piece of software I could get my hands on.  I couldn’t stop.  What people didn’t realize at the time is that I was keeping myself awake so I could work more.  I rarely slept more than 4 or 5 hours.  I even got into caffeine pills for a short time.

I skipped parties to practice editing.  I stayed home from the bars to write screenplays.  I volunteered every chance I got to gain more experience.  A workaholic was born.

I HAD A CAREER

This effort led me to my current career in television.  I started my month long work placement the day after school ended with 100 hours standing between me and my diploma.  I finished those 100 hundred hours in 12 days.  I never left that studio.  I was training for two separate departments simultaneously.  I’d get to work around 8am and follow one person and at 4pm I’d switch jobs and follow another.  During down time, I sat in an edit suite and practiced.

Needless to say, I got hired and for the next 2 or 3 years I wrote as much as I could in between shifts.  I was addicted to screenwriting by that point and loved to work.

“Find a job you love, never work a day in your life.”

That became my motto.

What I didn’t realize until recently is I was also coping with anxiety.

My counselor was the first person to point it out.  I had told her in my first session that my anxiety started in college.  In my second session I mentioned how much I loved to work and all the projects I tend to put on my plate.  She made the connection.

Subconsciously, I became a workaholic to keep my mind occupied.  I didn’t realize that taking on all that work was really my way of turning off the anxiety.  It was one of those ‘huh’ moments.  Suddenly, it all made sense.  No wonder I worked so much!  I didn’t want to face the potential sadness that accompanied a bored wandering mind.

ANXIETY CHANGED MY LIFE

Looking back, it’s difficult to think about where my life would be if I wasn’t anxious.  I worked my ass off and it led to my dream career, an independent film company and a strong passion for screenwriting.  Over the years, there have been stretches of time when I didn’t write a word.  Close friends will tell you that I wasn’t very nice and I was easily frustrated by the smallest things.  I was on edge and cranky.

If I didn’t write.  I wasn’t happy.  At first I thought I felt guilty for not writing but that wasn’t the case.  I felt guilty because when I don’t write, the anxiety takes over and THEN the guilt sets in.

KNOW THYSELF. (It applies to more than just Neo.)

In the last few years, my constant need to work has calmed down.  Mainly because I live with my wonderful girlfriend wife now and she calms me down without trying.  I don’t think she’ll ever know how important she is to me even though I tell her everyday. (Also because she would kick my ass if I spent my time at home in front of a computer instead of spending time with her.)

Time has healed the anger I felt.  I still have rough anxiety infested mornings but most of the time I wake up with an overwhelming sense of calm.  I’ve made peace with the situation that 2011 ushered into my life.  The truth is, the people responsible have to wake up every single day full of anger and I feel sorry for them.  I’ve moved on.  It’s because of the support system I have and the relationships I will never take for granted.

But more than ever I know that I’ll write screenplays until the day I die regardless of any success that may or may not be in my future.  I know that feeling anxious is a part of who I am.  But it’s also played a part in shaping who I have become.

Regardless, no matter what happens, I’ll always have a blank page waiting for me.  I’ll always have screenwriting.