• Kacen Callender

WIP: Writing, a Coping Mechanism

This is a personal blog post update. Content and trigger warning: I discuss mental health (depression and anxiety), coping mechanisms, healthcare, anti-queer and anti-trans culture, and money. (I tend to openly discuss topics that would be considered oversharing by most of society.)

I’m moving back to St. Thomas in about a month, and my anxiety hasn’t been this high in a while. I’ve never felt safe in the US Virgin Islands because of a culture of anti-queerness, and especially since transitioning, I know I’ll have to deal with the “is that a man or woman?” stares every time I leave the house, which always gives me an extra layer of fear—is someone going to say something? Will I be attacked? Being with family for the first time in years will be a huge, huge plus. I won’t have to worry about rent, either. (It hasn’t made much sense to me, paying rent to live alone in Philly and barely leaving the apartment.) But I’m afraid for my mental health and scared that I’ll feel even more isolated than I already do, even in the middle of a pandemic.

To make things worse, I won’t have access to health insurance unless I get a day job because I’ll be living in a territory (yay, colonialism and capitalism, two best friends), and I most likely won’t have access to trans-affirming healthcare, either, whether I end up getting a day job or not. I’ve been struggling to break out of the millennial struggle bus cycle of having all money go to rent without being able to build for a life—buy a house, put money into retirement, plan for a family and get ready to adopt… I feel trapped and unsure of my future. I’m taking a gamble: I can go to St. Thomas in an attempt to save money for my future, yes, but I’ll need to pay for expensive asthma medication, and I could also have a single medical accident that could put me into debt forever if I don’t have any insurance to cover it. Plus, losing trans-affirming healthcare is going to be rough.

It’s taken me a second to realize what the result of this stress is doing to my mental health and my day-to-day life. I’ve been escaping into my writing without thinking about why. I’ve written four books in about as many months, and this week, I started drafting an adult romance and pushed out 27K words in the past few days. I love this book, and I’m having a really great time writing it… but as I prepared to start a blog post about the manuscript, knowing I can talk more openly about the drafting process since it hasn’t sold yet, I thought it would feel incredibly disingenuous to cheer about the fact that I’m writing a book that I love so quickly, without sharing what’s really happening behind the scenes, or discussing what it means to be a human being who writes as a job when that writing can at times become a coping mechanism. I think that we’re in a culture that generally doesn’t see creators as humans who struggle behind the curtain of what we show the public. There’s a romanticized stereotype of the struggling artist, yes, but when was the last time I actually saw an artist or writer publicly sharing these struggles in an unromanticized, normalized way? We’ve begun to think of writers and artists as brands instead of humans with emotions; brands, or products for sale, as if we are the books we write instead of people.

I could have written a cheerful blog post about how smoothly this book’s outline process has been and how excited I am to finish this first draft. I still might, because this is also true. But it felt more important to share what’s really going on first.

I’d had terrible insomnia for days as this book engulfed me. I gave myself the goal of finishing the first draft within the week, before I started to focus on the move to St. Thomas, something I’ve been putting off for months. I’m lucky, I guess, in a weird way. My coping mechanism of writing is ultimately what gives me the money to survive, since this is also my job. At the same time, since it hit me that this writing spree is a coping mechanism, I’ve started to think about why I’ve always been able to write so quickly in general. I’ve had six books out over the past four years. A part of this was definitely out of necessity. The threat of having to return to St. Thomas always hung over me, and I knew that my life was in danger. I wrote my ass off so that I could escape to the states and afford to pay rent. But, along with the necessity, was the writing of so many books so quickly back then also a coping mechanism? It was easier to delve into the lives of my characters than to be still with my own life and to face my own traumas.

I’ve had different reactions to me putting out so many books in quick succession. Implications that I don’t take my writing seriously because I’m so fast. Jealousy. But people have been impressed, too. “Wow! How do you write so quickly?” I won’t dim my own light for the comfort of others anymore. A part of my answer is that I have a gift, a talent. Another part was a desperate desire to survive. “Bills,” I'd answer laughingly sometimes. I’ve also talked openly about once being motivated a lot by wanting to feel accepted by a community of writers, something else I eventually needed to heal from. But the part that I don’t speak about as often? I don’t think I realized until this week that, underneath it all, maybe my intense focus on writing was an escape—from the life I had, always wanting to get to what I thought would be a new and better life. A distraction. The last few days, my writing has definitely been a distraction from my anxiety, a procrastination technique so I wouldn’t have to begin planning my big move. Maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We all have to survive this world in the ways we know how. But, maybe there's a better way to survive, too.

As I focus on my healing and spirituality, I’ve wondered more than a few times who I am when I’m not writing. Who am I, if I don’t have this identity of author? Would I be able to step away from this job and still feel whole as a human being? Or do I rely on my writing a little too much for my existence? I don’t think I’ll be able to stop writing. I love it too much. But I could just as easily write for only myself. Would I still feel fulfilled? I’m becoming more aware that, while writing can be used as a tool to heal, it can also become a crutch, and maybe even a distraction from healing as well.

I don’t have anything wise or positive to share this week. Just my current state, with the hope that sharing truths like these can feel normalized, and other authors who might be going through similar internal struggles will feel less alone.

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