Meet Stephanie Fishman. A fellow writer, I actually met her through an unusual conversation where we talked (as strangers) about blog themes and preferences. From there, with the help of a few otters [long story], we have become friends. Stephanie is able to straddle the fiction and nonfiction world with her writing, for which I will always have unending admiration for her.
What is your illness or illnesses?
I’m living with anxiety/panic disorder and arthritis as well as some chronic pain/injuries. I choose not to say that I suffer from it though. I’m more than the sum of the illnesses. They are just part of my daily life.
Give me a snapshot into a day in your life.
Weather, diet, and sleep affect my body, as does the stress of everyday life. I plan my schedule around the weather. Rainy days will usually find me at home as do cold days in winter. I’ve given myself permission to listen to my body and respond without worrying about what others think.
Lack of sleep can trigger anxiety and also make my pain levels rise, so I try to ignore an alarm clock and give my body the sleep that it needs.
I tend to work in different positions: sitting at a desk, in a comfortable chair with my feet up, or even in bed. I go where it feels comfortable. My laptop is my best friend. Having a flexible schedule and career as a writer has made that easier.
I’ve learned to stop apologizing for myself. I’m the only one that can live my life. I have to do what is best for me and my family, which is making sure that I am healthy and productive at home before meeting the social needs of others.
Love the boundaries Stephanie is setting here. Sounds like these are the result of some hard-fought battles.
I am sure you have some days where an event or deadline cannot be moved, but you don’t have the energy/health to push through. What do you do in these situations?
Cry. Literally. Then I pick myself up, try to push through the best I can, and attempt to keep the self-guilt to a minimum. There have been projects that I’ve had to say no to or refer to someone else.
Some days I’m just not able to do it no matter how desperately I want it. Other times, I am able push through and pay the price the next day. It really depends on what I am dealing with.
If it’s a high pain day (like today), I just do what needs to be done with frequent breaks. If it’s a day with heavy panic attacks, there isn’t anything I can do no matter how determined I might be to work through it. I just have to let it play out and then play catch up or apologize depending on the situation. Those are the days that I really have to watch the self-talk. It’s too hard to beat up on myself when I feel like I’m letting others down.
What are some of the biggest challenges with your condition?
With anxiety, you are dealing with an illness that is essentially invisible. It makes it hard for people to take it seriously. It’s also hard for people to know when I’m having good days vs the bad, because there is no physical reminder.
When I have a flare up of pain, it takes a lot out of me. It isn’t just the pain levels that slow me down. Constant pain is draining. It makes it hard to concentrate. I feel less creative and have a harder time writing.
I’m preoccupied, so I feel like I’m moving at half the speed that I usually do. It’s also physically exhausting. It may take me twice as long or twice as much energy to accomplish something that I did with ease the day before. It’s also embarrassing when you have to ask someone else to open a jar or carry a laundry basket because you just can’t.
What are some accomplishments you are particularly proud of?
Launching my first book, Finding Eliza, was a stressful and exciting time. I was able to keep on schedule and managed to step out of my comfort zone on several occasions. Sharing work publicly is exciting, and I was able to keep the “scary factor” to a minimum.
Tell us some more about that book.
It’s a story that is part contemporary fiction and part historical fiction twisted together with some humor, history, and heartache (and healing!) I have wanted to write for years, and as a birthday approached I decided this was the best gift I could give myself.
When Lizzie Clydell agreed to join her grandmother at the church’s genealogy group meeting she expected nothing more than lemon squares and a few stories. Instead, an old diary leads Lizzie down a dusty road of lies, hidden family secrets, and a lynching that nearly destroyed her family.
What are some struggles nobody sees?
For a person with an anxiety disorder, making simple conversations or trips into a crowded store can feel like you are asking us to move mountains. A minor note to your day may take us an hour to prepare for.
Unfortunately, there are those in the “just suck it up” camp that don’t understand. It’s hard not to let those voices into your head. I lean on scripture and friends/family to keep out those dragons. Sometimes you have to pull back, assess your connections, and realize that part of self-care is knowing who to let into the castle gates and who to keep at a distance. You can’t control what people think but you can control what you hear simply by keeping the naysayers outside your inner circle.
What are some phrases that people use when talking to you, that you wish they would just stop using?
“Calm down.” That phrase is like a ticking time bomb to me. Anxiety and panic attacks are not fun, so I don’t choose them. If I could stop it, I would without needing a reminder to calm down. The stress and anxiety builds and builds because I can’t control it. Reminding me that I’m not like the average bear only makes it worse.
“Get over it.” Just like my arthritis, my anxiety isn’t something that I can control. I can’t just make myself better by thinking nice thoughts. Telling me that not only demeans me, but it also makes it that much harder because now I’m worried about your additional stress.
Are there people who have been spectacular supports for you?
I have a wonderful group of friends and family who try to encourage me and help me in any way that they can. I have a small circle that hear the ugly parts and will text me or email me during them (because they know that sometimes a phone call is too much.) My mother and daughter have helped me tremendously.
This summer, I’ve found myself in the position of single/divorcing mother trying to build a career to support myself and my daughter. It’s been a hard journey combined with panic attacks and pain. My family has been a huge support to me on the days that I just can’t do it all.
Do you feel that you are a resilient person? Have you always been that way (resilient or not resilient)? If not, what changed so you are who you are now?
I do, but not every day! There are days where I feel weak and broken.I have to remember that God didn’t say the journey would be easy. He only said that He would be with me along the way. In my younger life I was resilient through adversity because I was strong for others.
The hardest battle now is to be strong for myself. It takes a different type of determination and strength. I’m still learning but hopefully I get stronger every day. I’m learning to become proud of what I have accomplished.
We need to be thankful and proud of what we’ve accomplished in the midst of that difficulty, no matter what that difficulty is. It isn’t boasting to be proud of what you’ve worked so hard to accomplish especially when dealing with adversity of any sort.
Thanks for being strong enough to share some of the painful parts of your journey with us. Thanks as well for allowing us to join in your victories with Finding Eliza.
Stephanie, Congratulations on your book! Also thank you for being so open and sharing your struggles. I have fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue and that often lends itself to times of depression. It’s awesome to hear how you are still living out God’s calling on your life despite your day to day pain and burdens. Praying God continues to give you strength and the support you need!
Another great post, Chris. I really like to hear about people’s struggles with different problems. It helps us to be more understanding of those around us who may be going through a similar situation.
I do have one question for Stephanie. I now know what not to say to someone that has a panic attack. Is there something a person can say or do to help someone that is going through one of those moments? Would it be appropriate to just ask how can I help?
Sometimes I think those of us who have been guilty of saying the wrong thing do so out of ignorance. I really appreciate this series, Chris. It really does help us look at those around us with more consideration.
Thanks for sharing your story Stephanie… You are definitely an inspiration! I have your book on my ‘to read’ list and really looking forward to it! Praying for you today 🙂
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Stephanie. You’re a true inspiration! I didn’t realize the extent of your challenges.
I loved Finding Eliza and can’t wait for your next book. Anyone who hasn’t read it, definitely should!
Fantastic interview with an Author I love and admire. Thank you for sharing Stephanie’s story Chris she is an inspiration. I agree we should never tell people to suck it up when it comes to anxiety, it is a crippling silent condition that can consume its host. Great to learn more about you Stephanie and when I read your next book I will understand the challenges you experienced behind the art.
Stephanie, reading more about your story (even though I knew about your illness) helps me to have a better understanding. I admire your courage to move forward in spite of struggles and setbacks. I thank God for bringing our little group together and am blessed to call you friend.
Stephanie, learning about your conditions and realizing what you go through to overcome them makes me even more impressed with your work (Finding Eliza is amazing) and with you as a colleague and friend (amazing doesn’t even cover it). So glad you’ve taken up writing, and even more glad to know you.
Thanks for this spotlight, Chris.
Devani Anjali Alderson
RESPECT!!! … All that AND you managed to launch a book. Don’t even know what more to say other then how much I respect you. You’re so inspiring.
Stephanie, so glad to read this as I am finally wading through my inbox. A little late to the party, but GIRL I could relate to so much of what you are saying. You know, anxiety is so misunderstood. The “suck it up” camp as you put it, was the entire generation we came out from under. You are brave to share your story, God bless you.
I thought of our interview when I read this. You two are both brilliantly strong, and I admire you greatly.
Thanks Chris for another great interview! I ordered Stephanie’s book today.
My natural tendency is to not give people the benefit of the doubt. This series has taught me so much about how to be tender toward others, and not assume that they “have it sorted”
I too feel so honored to know Stephanie, though we are just now learning more about one another.