I have anxiety and depression.
This is not exactly a new discovery. I am what my mother affectionately calls “a worrier.” Growing up I thought it was normal to panic at the thought of ordering for myself at McDonald’s. Instead I would beg my mom to let me stay in the car and fiddle with the radio while she requested my plain no toppings double cheeseburger from the Dollar Menu. I still feel the same frantic dread at age twenty-eight as I approach the counter and rehearse my order under my breath. God forbid something goes wrong. How do I flag down my cashier and ask if my order got lost? What if they mess up and put pickles and onions on my burger and I have to scrape it off the beef patty? What if I still taste the pickles?
Eventually, with the help of the internet and multiple bemused ex-boyfriends, I realized that there was something chemical happening in my brain that filled me with ever-simmering unease. That something chemical is Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
(Between you and me, it had to get pretty bad before I figured out that this wasn’t normal worry and that I might need help. Like, hiding in my bedroom and peeing in cups to avoid bumping into my roommate because the prospect of seeing another human filled me with mortal terror kind of bad. I’ve never told anyone that besides my boyfriend. This is what you’re paying for, folks!)
Depression took a little longer to decode. Anxiety and depression are two sides of the same dirty coin: it’s hard to draw a line between being unmotivated, wanting to sleep all the time, and feeling like you have nothing to look forward to. Anxiety makes me worry that I’m not good enough, and depression tells me it doesn’t matter if I’m good enough because nothing matters anyway. Depression suggests that I not do any work today, and anxiety spends all day telling me I’m going to get fired for not doing any work so I can’t even enjoy blowing off my responsibilities.
On most days I can tell these rude twins to stop making noise and stay out of my way. A daily SNRI helps me bully them into submission, and even when they get mouthy with me, I know coping mechanisms to turn down their volume. When the radio in my brain gets loud, I lock my Twitter account for the weekend. I take a walk. I listen to 99% Invisible and let Roman Mars’s soothing voice teach me about traffic signs.
But anxiety and depression still collaborate to kick my ass in one specific way: email. I, Ella Dawson, am horrible at email. Terrible. Just the worst. If you email me, the odds are very low that I will ever get back to you. Don’t get me wrong, I will read your email! I’ll spend weeks staring at it at the top of my inbox and hating myself for not answering that email. I’ll put that little star next to it and flag it as important and keep marking it as unread so that it doesn’t disappear. But will I answer it? Probably not. And then I shall hate myself for it.
I find ways to wrangle my inbox at work with the help of to-do lists, scolding labels and writing templates to take some of the agony out of drafting email responses. But when I left my last full-time job and tried to make a go of it as a freelance writer, I came face to face with my inbox terror. If I didn’t send emails, I wouldn’t get work. If I didn’t read emails, I would miss opportunities. If I didn’t reply to emails, I would burn bridges. I couldn’t just write a draft and ask a publication to pay me for it as-is. I had to pitch, and then edit, and then edit again, and then I had to write more emails to get paid for all of that work. The writing itself wasn’t hard, it was the damn emails I had to write in order to write.
My dream in life is to be able to support myself with my writing. I do not know if that day will ever come, not because of my talent, or my voice, or my courage, but because I am garbage at email. It is a purely irrational fear. I’ve never gotten terrible news via email. Sure, I’ve received a lot of harassment and stalking via email thanks to my career as an internet feminist loudmouth, but my email anxiety pre-dates those experiences. I am perfectly capable of writing funny, clear and professional emails. There is genuinely no reason to be afraid of my inbox. I just am.
That’s why I’ve joined Patreon. I want to write. I need to write. Writing is what I do. Patreon allows me to cut out the middleman of pitching and editing and freaking out and then never sending an invoice because the sheer terror of attaching a PDF to an email outweighs my fear of not paying the rent. I need to work on my email issues, and I will, preferably with a very chic therapist and some Cognitive Behavioral Techniques. But until I am a self-actualized email savant, I’m thrilled to write directly for an audience that believes in me and wants to support what I have to say.
I also think I’ll make more money writing directly for you than I would if I were pitching and collecting cool bylines. Many of you know me from the very first article I ever was paid to write, Why I Love Telling People I Have Herpes for Women’s Health. It was a fantastic essay that changed my life and launched my career. It brought in thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of readers to the Women’s Health website. For that essay — in which I bared my soul and talked about one of the most personal, stigmatized topics in the world — I was paid $75.
At the time I had no idea that that was an absurd rate for a personal essay, particularly at Conde Nast. I had no idea that I could and should ask for more money. I was delighted with that $75. I bought myself and a date fancy grilled cheeses at a restaurant near my apartment. What a sweet summer child I was then. Wasn’t 2015 a trip?
I know what my writing is worth now, and I know how to negotiate better rates. But, again, email. You know what’s fun to do when you have irrational, extreme email anxiety? Write an email asking a stranger to pay you more money.
And all along, there have been readers who have supported me with kindness and tips on PayPal. The generosity of strangers never fails to amaze me. When an essay I wrote last year about struggling with burnout went viral, I made over $1,000 in tips, much of which came from first-time readers who related to what I had to my experiences. Your kindness over the years has taken my breath away. I want to share more with you. I want to write about sexuality and relationships and mental health and feminism. I want to start a YouTube channel for my occasional hot takes, and keep developing a podcast with a close friend of mine. I want to invest in myself and my future as a creator in a way that works for my wacky brain and my introversion.
My hope is that through Patreon, I can get to know you all better, too. So please, consider becoming one of my patrons at the tier that you’re comfortable. You’ll get all kinds of perks, like a monthly newsletter, a hand-written thank you in the mail, and livestreams, and hopefully soon… MERCH. Because who doesn’t want a herpes+ poster to proudly display in their entrance hall? (I’m kidding, it’ll be subtler than that.)
If there’s something specific you’d like from me, like an advice column, a regular pep talk, whatever it might be, let me know! I’m still figuring out what I want to make in the months to come.
Thank you, you generous internet stranger. You are now my bro. Let’s go write some prose.