Not long ago, two not-awesome things happened on the same day.
First, my grandmother died. I loved my grandmother. But I will be honest in telling you that mingled with sadness was relief: she was in the advanced stages of dementia, and at the point of her passing, it had already felt like she'd been "gone" for years. I commended myself on handling the news with grace and a healthy outlook.
The second thing that happened was this: I received an e-mail letting me know that my latest book proposal, which I really think is a great and clever idea, had been rejected.
Now, I'll tell you: I had a really good feeling about this proposal. I'd had a meeting with the publisher in question, and it was an awesome meeting. Like, we had inside jokes and HUGGED at the end of the meeting when it was time to part ways. You'd think that they would not only be sending me a book deal, but maybe would be inviting me over for a sleepover with s'mores and girl talk and nail painting.
But none of those things happened, because they decided to pass on my proposal. They decided to pass on me.
The rational part of me knows that this type of thing happens, and that it's "not personal".
But the emotional me thinks: how could it not be personal? I *am* my work, and by rejecting it, you are rejecting me.
This rejection seemingly made it clear: my idea wasn't good enough. I wasn't good enough.
And you know what? I felt foolish. I felt stupid. For having let my hopes get so high. Regardless of what I had said in adult-like tones to others, I realized that I was NOT ok with whatever came of it. I had really wanted it, and I had indeed felt hope.
I also felt scared. Am I a has-been? Has my ship as minorly famous internet personality sailed?
That healthy, circle-of-life outlook? Totally gone.
This rejection devastated me far more than my grandmother's death. And in realizing this, I felt even worse, because in addition to being reject-able, I wasn't even a nice enough person to be sadder about a family death.
What happened then? I started to cry.
When I say "I started to cry" I don't mean in a delicate, ladylike, silent weeping way. Big, huge wails, leaving me gasping for air. Between jags of crying, I conjured up a plethora of creative variations on the theme of "you are worthless". That kept me going for a good long while.
Until someone intervened.
I had the good fortune to have someone who basically picked me up off the floor and took me shopping for adult onesies (you may know them as jumpers or rompers; I have made my decision on what to call them). I sniffled a little bit during the shopping spree...but it helped.
I was still upset, though.
I set to the work of keeping myself busy; I went to Colorado to help my dad deal with the necessary post-mortem business following my grandma's death. I baked, I drew pictures. But the hurt caught up with me. A week or so later, I found myself eating some chocolate cake. But I felt an urgency and a panicky feeling as I ate, and started to tell myself something I often did in my eating disordered days: "you need to stop eating". And I felt the fear that I couldn't stop.
But I'm not anorexic or bulimic anymore.
I let myself have the freaking cake, and raised it one by adding a cup of milk. And then, while I was eating that cake, I acknowledged to myself that I was deeply, deeply hurt.
In some ways, it felt awful "sit" with the awful, gnarly feelings of rejection. But even less bearable? Trying to ignore those feelings and then constantly feeling them on the periphery of my thoughts, lurking in the shadows.
So what do I do with this hurt?
Here's what I am doing.
I do the really ouchy thing: I do sit with it. I make a list, either in my mind or on paper, about the many ways in which this hurt me.
I acknowledge my hurt, embarrassment, pain, as well as my fears: that I worry I'll never have another book deal, that I feel like a jerk for being more upset about the rejection than my grandma's death. And so on.
And then (and here's the hard part), I try to be OK with that. After all, it is possible that they didn't think my work was cute enough or witty enough (OK, maybe that part is hard to believe). It is possible that my website won't last forever and that I'll have to get a job at the Olive Garden. Are these painful things to think? Yes. Would any of them be the worst thing in the world to have happen? No, there could be worse things.
I try to shift my outlook, and to seek validation not in who has approved my work, but in who I am and what I do as a person.
Thinking of awesome things that have happened in my life (having my book on the Today Show, meeting Jay and Silent Bob, having Pee-Wee Herman tweet me) really helps here.
Looking beyond the world of book deals helps, too: nurturing friendships or hobbies that have nothing to do with a book deal or lack thereof. For instance, I went to yoga class and then had dinner with some of my yogi friends afterward, and that was a whole 4 hours that I felt like a real person, and not just like some has-been jerk who had had her book rejected. Those four hours of friendship carried more weight than six months of therapy.
By strengthening connections to people and things that don't have to do with my work, I don't have to place all of my self-worth on the work.
To say yes. It freaking hurts to be rejected, and what it makes me want to do is to curl myself into a turtle shell and to say "no" to everyone and everything, because it all has the potential to hurt. That world of "no" is also where my eating disorder likes to live. It likes to keep me away from all of those other things, so it can have me to itself.
Saying yes is harder. The world can hurt more, because you're more vulnerable. But a world of "yes" is far bigger and brighter in the long run. I know it.
There doesn't seem to ever be an opportune moment for rejection or death. While neither is awesome, both are facts of life.
I don't know if rejection ever stops hurting. I suspect not. But by following my own advice, I can at least acknowledge that the rejection is not a reflection on everything I am and that I do.