I have a bad habit. Look at my hands and it’s plain to see. My fingers tattered, skin flaked, nails bitten to the nub. I graze on my own flesh.
I don’t want to do this. But when stuff gets hard or I get flustered and confused and wonder what my purpose in life is I get to biting.
It could be worse. I could be nibbling someone else’s flesh. But that would get me incarcerated. And it isn’t polite.
Finger biting is my tell. Like Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, there’s that tick that gives away my state of play. I’m not sure what’s worse – an eyeball oozing blood or my fingers leaving little red smears on everything they touch.
I lie in bed mulling the day’s events over. Pinpointing things I should have done, conversations where I should have been cleverer, funnier. Sold myself more. Chomp. Flesh peels.
Some people tap. Others chew pens or suck their hair. I bite.
Right now I’m on an anxiety peak. It has become very difficult for me to regulate my negative thought patterns. I’m in a cycle where the voices in my head tell me that I’m pointless. Unemployable. A wasted bag of skin.
I know what triggers this. I know that it will pass. But it’s a long session, this one, and my poor fingers look like they’ve been dipped in piranhas.
I’m typing this sitting in Ted Hughes’ old farmhouse at Lumb Bank in Yorkshire. There is a beautiful view of the spooky mill valley down to Hebden Bridge. I’m sharing words and secrets with a wonderful bunch of fellow writers. I am in the nurturing arms of the Arvon Foundation spending a week immersed in writing.
The mist is terrifying. Any minute now Catherine Earnshaw could tap on the window wailing for Heathcliff. It’s perfect.
I’m seeking validation. Is my writing good enough? Does this an interesting novel make? How is my dialogue? My description? Is my character a soggy mattress of a woman? Do I deserve to walk in the actual footsteps of literary genius?
Peak chomping territory, self doubt. But the wonderful thing about being here is perspective. The perspective of others. We are all on this retreat for a reason. To learn, to write, to understand our strengths and weaknesses. To create something that we believe in, and to do it to the best of our ability. This is our common ground.
There’s a generosity of spirit here that is inspiring. Pheasants scuttle about the garden as we eat breakfast and natter about our work. Our novels are different in execution and theme but we have a shared experience that involves knowing just how difficult it is to put word after word, sentence after sentence, page after page down on paper. After just two days we are recognising patterns in each other, and ourselves, looking for solutions to help.
It’s wonderful. The nibbling has subsided.
There is a crucial factor in winding down my stress-o-meter. I am under an enforced digital detox. There is no Wi-Fi. The phone signal is poor. No news, no television, no distractions. I am remote from the world in this bubble.
What a relief. No emails to check and fret over. Before I came here I had been rushing about, half reading things, sending inappropriate responses to questions I’ve misunderstood.
I look at the view that inspired poets. The county that forged the Brontes. The wildness, the untamed beauty and harshness of the environment. Listen to the weather, which gets a bit primal when Storm Eddie hits. Take pleasure in our many voices, combined for one final night of readings in which we celebrate our achievements.
I grow new skin.
I think about what lessons I can take home. Not just about writing. About letting go. Switching off. It’s impractical to move to the moors but I can dial down the digital. Switch off the news. Walk. Talk. Read. Listen to the weather. Dream.
Nurture new skin.
Thanks as always for reading.
Do you have a tell, a habit that warns you that you’re anxious? How do you dial the anxiety back? Or just feel free to say hello to the GvL community today. We will always say hello back. All comments welcome. Jane.