The Precarious Balance of a Writers' Mental Health #Writing #MentalHealth

My first published book received its 200th review on Amazon yesterday. Time for celebration you would think. Unfortunately, the rating was a one star ‘it was rubbish’ analysis. The reader didn’t connect with what I was trying to convey and was disappointed with her purchase.
Woman Reading
Don’t get me wrong, this is not my first one-star review, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but when you struggle with depression and anxiety, every single one is like a kick in the gut.
The black fog quickly descended as I re-read the review over and over until I could recite it off by heart. Why this particular evaluation tipped me over the edge I couldn’t tell you because I’ve had far worse in the way of derogatory comments, but that’s the fragile balance of a mind plagued with mental health issues.
The tears swiftly followed, and then the sugar cravings kicked in. The biscuit barrel was emptied, copious amounts of coffee was drunk, and Grey’s Anatomy (Lexi and the plane crash episode – if you’re a fan you’ll understand!!) was downloaded and watched.
It was as I sobbed into my drained coffee mug and repeated ‘damn you Shonda Rhimes’ for the millionth time that my phone pinged and I read a private Facebook message from a lady who had recently joined my Facebook Group. She was reading my book, the same book that had received its 200th review, and was loving it. She told me how helpful it had been to her, how much the challenges resonated with her own life, and the changes she was going to put in place because she’d been inspired. Wow. She made my night.
I hiccupped slightly, put down the remote and the custard cream, and shot back a grateful response. It was then that the black fog began to lift.
Not everyone will like your work. Not everyone will resonate with your story. Some people will go out of their way to be critical, while others will offer constructive feedback that you can use going forward. Why did this particular review wind me so much? I’ve been crazy busy recently, I’m tired, slightly overwhelmed, and pushing towards a deadline so all of this could easily have contributed to my fragile state of mind.
As authors, we tend to be quite introverted as we hide behind our computer screens. Putting our work out there for the world to see, buy, read, praise, or criticise is an overly extrovert action. We have to find the happy medium where we get to enjoy our craft but switch off a little from the buzz each title creates.
There were many factors involved in my mini-meltdown, and although it took me a few hours to reach a comfortable conclusion, I’m happy to admit that I’m okay with people not liking my books. I write about personal development which is unique to each reader. There are twenty positive messages for every one negative, and that’s what I need to remind myself when I contemplate switching off the computer and giving up.
Looking after our mental health is just as important as fuelling and nourishing our physical body, and while finding that balance might take time, it’s worth the effort. In this instance, I turned to my self-care kit and began the process of healing once again.
I’d love to hear how you cope with negativity or knockbacks. Some people can brush it off with ease while others dwell on issues for longer than necessary. What do you do to support your mental health?
 

24 comments

  1. Oh Shelley! I’m glad you got that message at the end of the day to help clear your fog!
    It’s true we aren’t all the same so our opinions will all be different too.
    I try to remember that if anything negative swings my way, but the way I react depends upon how I am feeling ,emotionally and mentally at the time.
    Usually I can brush these things off but if I’m upset or exhausted, I find it harder to see the positives as quickly.
    I will. In the end. But I have to battle through my own fog until I get to the clear skies again x

    1. I can totally relate to that, Ritu. Being tired mentally and physically really does make it harder for me and I end up reacting to things that wouldn’t normally bother me. Let’s hope the skies stay clear for both of us xx

  2. A reader who leaves a one-star or negative review is not thinking of the impact on the author. They are purely thinking that they didn’t engage with the book, and often don’t understand that others do. I’m horrendous at taking criticism and I’m ultra defensive, but I stop, take a breath (and a custard cream) and then go back and read all the nice comments that have been made. That one persons opinion is not all that important but it’s ok to recognise that you can’t reach out to everyone x
    And oh my, the Lexi episode! I’m off sick today so may trawl through Netflix for devastatingly sad GA episodes ????

    1. Thank goodness for custard creams!! Sorry to hear you’re poorly, Em. Hope you feel better soon. Thanks for your comment, I’m normally much better at coping with negative reviews but I guess that’s the weird and wonderful world of depression. Enjoy your GA-a-thon 😉

  3. The Lexi crash episode is just cruel!! I still have flashbacks to it after only seeing it once on tv ???? must have really needed it, but I’m glad you got a message that lifted the darkness a bit & helped. Sometimes it’s the negative voices that speak the clearest, they aren’t the loudest but they’re the ones that seem to make it through to our ears (& hearts).
    I try to use the 5 step anxiety attack thing to help me lift the darkness, 5 things I can touch that will make me smile – stroke the dog, my favourite cushion, etc.
    Sending hugest hugs xx

    1. Oh, I love this idea! Stroking the cat would have been much healthier than attacking the custard creams!! Yes, the Lexi crash episode is a tough one. I can’t even watch a clip of it without bawling my eyes out lol. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment xx

  4. I love how honest you are with your mental health – it resonates with me so much! I’m not an author, but I certainly am affected with negative blog comments and responses from the blogging community at times… You’re right though, not everyone is going to like your content and it’s always better to take the positives and constructive criticism and learn from it. You’re a fabulous writer and so many of us learn from you and your words…

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Suzie. Being online in any capacity has it’s dark side but learning how to deal with it is what makes us successful. Ignoring trolls, blocking offensive content, and engaging in a positive way are all helpful techniques but dealing with our own head space can be a different matter all together. Talking about it (and writing about it) helps me to work through those feelings. x

  5. I really get how this must have felt for you. I’m my day work I sometimes get criticism and it does knock me because this is like my work dammit.
    I’ve not published yet but I know that a negative comment will come when I do and it will hurt. Regardless of anything what we create is an extension of our mind and while others have a right to say they don’t like something it is a hurtful weapon to the creator.

    1. Absolutely! So many of my author friends told me how it was for them and so I was able to mentally prepare – I’ll always remember my first poor review but it didn’t floor me because I was ready.

  6. Hey Shelley
    So sorry that you were made to feel like this but it just goes to show that you care – if you didn’t then I doubt very much whether you would have been able to produce your books or this wonderful blog – and I mean it when I say wonderful!
    I think there are two points here – the first is expectation and that is a hard thing to meet in everyone – “… you can’t please all the people, all of the time”! I actually work full time but run a creativity coaching business as a side line – fell into it quite by accident and thought it would be easy as I had been mentoring those who had suffered domestic abuse for over a decade – transferrable skills and all that! Wrong! The biggest difference was that my mentees had such low expectations and ended up gaining a lot, whereas my paying coachees tended to have monstrously high expectations and were in danger of gaining very little. The early days were so hard and the negative feedback stung like crazy. Which brings me to the second point – criticism!
    I had a look at the review you refer to and let’s face it, it was a snotty little one liner from someone who thought you made things sound too easy! There are worse crimes in this world! But ultimately it comes down to those who are prepared to read your book, digest what you say and then make a judgement, and those who read a copy expecting everything to be handed to them on a plate – as I suspect this reviewer did. I always try to offer constructive criticism and say something positive which, I believe, is what most reasonable people do. So take heart – you’ve had 200 reviews and the majority of those have been very good ones – that’s not a bad batting average or, to use your World Cup post as an analogy – if you were very skilled at kicking a ball then we may have gotten beyond the semi-finals!
    Finally, and I do apologise for the length of this but you struck a chord – I always recommend your blog to my mentees and have, on occasion read them excerpts from ‘How I Change My Life …’, especially Chapter 3 on creativity – you have a gentle and human approach which helps them greatly, so thank you and keep up all your good work.
    Mel
    And apologies if this appears twice – I tried desperately to shorten what I said and caused a slight WordPress Wobble!

    1. Oh my goodness, you have just made my week, Mel ???? Thank you so much for everything you’ve said. Interestingly I wonder if my background with domestic abuse made me go for a default ‘not good enough’ setting on this occasion? You’ve given me so much to think about, and SO much to feel proud of. Thank you from the bottom of my heart xx

      1. My absolute pleasure and I think you are so right – domestic abuse causes immensely deep scars, and it doesn’t take much to trigger negativity within us (and I speak as a previously battered and abused wife). The best analogy I can use is this – way back, when my ex-husband and I were still dating, we had a pretty bad car smash – my head hit the windscreen and I suffered a pretty awful cut to my chin which resulted in 30 or so stitches (yeah, I know, the omens weren’t good even then but hey I was young and in love!). I will always have that scar and even now, forty years later, if I prod it with my fingernail it still feels far tenderer than the rest of the skin on my face. So why should emotional scars be any different? We may not see them as a physical manifestation but if someone – whether by accident or design, prods that scar then it can hurt – badly. In this case it was a poor review that caused you the pain. But you know what? You could quite easily have ignored it and let it pass by with most of us being none the wiser. Instead you chose to share how it made you feel. That takes incredible courage. And, in doing so, how many of us do you think you helped? I’m prepared to bet a fair few – so be proud of that.
        We all suffer setbacks, but if you think that in the grand scheme you are dealing with your depression in the best way you can, and look on it as a small backward step in the many thousands of forward ones that you have made, then you won’t go far wrong – believe me, I know.

  7. As a long term member of this kingdom, I have decided to adopt the : can you change it? Can you change your thinking about it? And going with whatever I can do. My take on one star reviews (yep I have some doozies) is that Amazon algorithms work on the AMOUNT of reviews, not the number of stars. So each one adds to the chances of my books featuring as ‘people who bought…also bought…’.This is why I am fighting a massive battle to STOP people planning to post one star reviews when Cameron’s book comes out. As for the black dog, I find an hour of making myself write helps enormously. Book 6 (coming in Sept) was largely written while having radiotherapy. I sat down and MADE myself bash on through it. Only way. xxxxxx

    1. You’re so right, Carol. I didn’t think about it like that – bring them on!! You are an incredible writer and I adore your Victorian crime novels (takes a moment for an excited squeal about book 6) and writing through your pain and worry is an amazing achievement. Thank you for sharing xxx

  8. What a timely piece! I’ve just been bemoaning the effect of a negative review of my recently published self-help book, which previously had been selling nicely but now is not, going through many of the same emotions you describe here. I have to remind myself, as you did, that many others have liked and been helped by the book, that there are other places to sell it, and that it’s only one aspect of what I do as a therapist and author. Thanks for this.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I truly believe that anyone reading a self-help book is searching for a specific answer to a specific question that’s unique to them. If we can’t give them that answer (or rather the answer they want!) then the reader believes we failed them. As you so rightly say, our work has helped so many and we must remember that! X

  9. It’s so important to have ego boosts to offset those “rug pulled out from underneath” moments. I’m so glad that someone came through for you and gave you that boost. Someone I admire did that for me last year and I keep that hung up on my wall so I can read it when I need to aka…every day. She wrote that she loved what I did and that she not only reads what I write but incorporates it into her teachings. I almost cried for joy when I read that.

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