HOW I LOST MY IDENTITY & LET STRESS ALMOST KILL ME

I’ve been thinking about writing this blog post for a while but I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t at the stage where I had figured out how to stop my downward spiral and take responsibility for ‘fixing’ myself.

Now, I have.

Finally.

And if my story can help any of those in the same situation. Either as an author or in any other facet of your life, then I’m glad.

Word of warning, this is another personal post that goes on for a while…so either grab a drink and enjoy or move along.

Oh, and there will be typos.

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First up, let’s talk about loss of identity.

I don’t know about you, but with a little bit of success comes a hell of a lot of doubt. While your friends and family are going ‘Wow, you’re doing so well’ on the inside all you’re thinking about is ‘Yes, but it can vanish in an instant and I’m terrified.’

To the outside world, you look like a confident achiever. To your snarky inner voice you’re an utter fraud.

I’m sure not everyone feels that way but I did for much of last year before finally accepting that I could relax a little and be happy that I’d done my best and not to stress about the future.

Then…I lost that confidence and started to slip.

I don’t know what happened.

No, that’s a lie.

I do know what happened.

I started comparing myself to other successful achievers and stretching myself too thin. I believed that I’d gotten to where I was as a pure fluke, that I needed to diversify and broaden and write in genres that were hot. I didn’t trust in myself or my brand and because I didn’t trust, I lost my identity.

For almost a year, I put my #supersecretseries on hold as my publisher was very interested in it (still are but that’s another story). I pitched it as a contemporary romance. I swore to myself that it would be sexy and awesome but with none of the dark that I find adds such a thrill to stories. I thought I was doing the right thing.

For months and months, I kept saying to authors and assistants that I was going to branch out and leave the dark romance brand. I believed whole heartedly what I said.

Only…my imagination left me high and dry.

Whenever I tried to plot my #supersecretseries it was dust and emptiness where normally my mind is bursting with flavour and colour. But I didn’t let it phase me. I just figured I needed a bit more time for the characters to marinate.

Unseen Messages Facebook Cover Art

So, I decided to take time off to write a book just for me. Unseen Messages was the book I always wanted to write and stand by it 100%. I lived the days on the island; I was there as G and Stel built their new world. I guess I had to write that book as I LOVE the thought of going off grid and living on an island in the middle of the tropics.  Every day I adored going into their world, but it did teach me something I didn’t want to hear.

It sold.

It sold okay.

But it didn’t do what Tess and Q did. It didn’t do what Jethro and Nila did.

Why?

I have a feeling why.

Because it wasn’t my brand. I wrote it for me, but it didn’t have that spark that dark romance manages to conjure.  I LOVE dark romance. There is something intrinsic about it as a genre that defies others in a way I can’t explain.

The same thing happened with Ruin & Rule and Sin & Suffer. Those books I loved writing, however, my market wasn’t expecting a Motorcycle book from me and it showed.  It sold. But it didn’t sell like my others.

Subconsciously, I knew what I needed to do, but because I’m stubborn, I ignored my instincts and pushed on with contemporary. I should really have noticed that I was setting myself up to fail as I couldn’t even write Forbidden Flaws without wanting to make it dark. I managed to get 90,000 words into that book before I had to admit I couldn’t do it and scrapped it.

Because I kept banning myself from the one thing calling to me, I lost who I was. I became adrift and unsnapped myself from an anchor granting me courage to be me no matter what the market told me I had to be.

I got scared.

I got nervous.

Then started comparing.

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Now, some comparing is good.

It gives you a kick up your butt to push harder and inspires you.

However, constant comparing is not good.

And unfortunately, this writing business makes us compare constantly. Not in a bad, but in a business way. We constantly monitor the market, seasons, genres, pop-out successes, and fluxes in readership expectations.

If we spend money on Facebook ads, we constantly have to watch the book rank on the platforms promoted to see if the ROI (return on investment) is worth it. If we plan to reinvigorate a back list with sales and advertising, we have to look at other author’s releases, busy time of year, and try and figure out what would be best. There is no such thing as a simple release. All of it comes with stress and unknowns. Not matter how successful the book was or is.

There are two sites, no three sites, that strip my confidence, happiness, and courage and I don’t even notice it’s happening until it’s too late. Those sites are: Facebook, Amazon, and my sales dashboard.

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Facebook can be a wonderful place of friendship and encouragement but it can also be a drama school ground for trolls and hurtful comments. Amazon is a wonderful place to buy, stalk, and investigate but if you’re already down about your future and lost as to who you are, looking at other books doing well and driving yourself nuts with trying to predict the market whittles away your self-worth click by click.

Let’s just do a little case study…I’ll reveal some very personal stuff to get my point across.

Last weekend, I went on an overnight trip with my husband to meet a wonderful friend who’s been in my life for over 13 years. Hubby and I had an argument before leaving which was so unlike us. And it was over work.

The night before, I’d asked him to help upload the Indebted Boxed Set onto iBooks on the Mac. I have no idea how a Mac works as I’m a PC lover. So that’s his task. However, I was multi-managing and doing a bazillion things at once and he asked me questions to make sure he’d done it right. I said flippantly ‘give me a second’ but it obviously came off a lot ruder than I meant and he no longer wanted to help.

I get it. I do.

When I’m in my head, I’m in my head. This is why I’m so hard to work with or for. I don’t know how to delegate and do everything myself before asking for help even when I’m drowning.

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Okay, so moving on.

Hubby went for some time out and I sat there finishing everything. What I didn’t tell him was…for WEEKS I’ve been suffering heart palpitations from stress. At the time, I didn’t know it was stress. Most of my life, if I had a test at school or a scary day at work, my heart would flutter and double-beat all the way to the event making me breathless and slightly woozy. When I faced the source of my fear, my heart normally calmed down and behaved and it became a good barometer of my anxiety levels.

Over the last few years, I’ve been woken up by heart palpations just before release wondering if I’d uploaded the right file, set the right price, and edited the damn thing. Without fail, I would feel at least a few heart flurries before I calmed myself down.

But I’ve never had them constantly.

They’re not as thundering as the single incidents but over the past few weeks, I’ll get a few flutters every few hours or so. It doesn’t matter what I was doing: writing, online, watching TV, hanging with friends. Out of the blue, my heart will spaz out and I’ll take a few gulps of air to calm down.

This is what I hadn’t told hubby before the argument and when he needed time out, I went to bed and we NEVER go to bed without resolving an upset. So, obviously the next morning, when we should’ve been happy about going away for the weekend, we finished what we should’ve last night, finally getting back to happy levels only for my Indebted boxed set sale that I’d uploaded onto Amazon not  being published because of a letter from Amazon saying my books were available for free online elsewhere, therefore, I couldn’t sell them for money.

These emails are STRESFFUL, especially if you have close to $1000 in promo booked in and it’s all hinging on getting the sales link asap.

Know what causes that email from amazon?

Pirated books that are stolen and uploaded illegally. They not only steal revenue but also create havoc for authors on the other end.

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Anyway, I’ll wrap this up quickly.

Instead of having a relaxing drive, all I could think about was my release and promo that would go to waste. It was the weekend and amazon was shut, so I couldn’t get resolution. The night out, instead of laughing and living fully in the moment, I was constantly refreshing my dashboard to see if NOW it had published. The next day driving home with our friend, instead of catching up on the year we’ve been apart, I was internally freaking out that my book still wasn’t live.

Guess how many heart palpations I had on that weekend away?

Let’s just say I’m lucky to be alive.

So….that…it was a catalyst to show me how invested, obsessed, and addicted to this business I had become. It wasn’t making me happy. It was stripping me of every mortal thing. And it started me thinking about change.

And this is the point that I can now talk to you about how I made that change as I did and I’m 100% happier and if it helps anyone else, then I wanted to share.

A few days ago, I spoke to a very dear friend, Skye Callahan, and finally opened up about having these heart palpitations. She told me it might be PVC and it’s stress / anxiety related. I had to find a way to rebalance before it was too late.

In the meantime, a week before going away through some fluke of nature, I was able to lease a horse. (I’ve attached the FB screenshots so you can see how it happened). I thought this would be a turning point that I would automatically feel the stress melting off but the opposite happened.

It added yet another layer to my already chaotic life.

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Not only did I have to market, plan, write, meet deadlines, deal with a stranger who’d leased my land, care for a horse, keep on top of my house / chores, and relearn everything equine after a 15 years sabbatical from the saddle, I also struggled with my lost identity and a future that I didn’t know if I could face. The uncertainty of being able to afford a new horse or the time away from work drove me to breaking point.

The horse, like any animal, could sense my stress and nervousness and those first few days, she acted out. She bit and reared and acted like a brat. Yes, she was testing me as her new owner to see what she could get away with, but because I’d lost myself, I let her walk all over me.

I wanted to throw my hands up and say it’s too hard, I can’t do this. Take her away.

But a small voice (that annoying voice that keeps you going even when you want to give up) told me to get a trainer and see if she was a bad horse or just me. I wasn’t surprised to find that the horse (although stroppy and needing discipline) was a sweetheart when her respect was earned.

Then hubby said something to me the other day. Something I’d said to him a few years ago and totally forgot.

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That.

That was the line that made my life, my stress, my lack of identity screech to a halt.

I had said that. I do remember it. And I fully meant what I said. I believed the day I made a childhood dream finally come true would be the day that I could look at my life and go…I did well. Yay me. Now, let’s relax and be kind to myself.

Only the opposite was true.

I was lost. I was the most stressed I’d ever been. I was at a crossroads. And I was so tired I had to fight tears so he didn’t know how much of a fraud I felt. Because I felt more like a fraud than ever before. I was afraid of this horse. I was afraid of my future. I was afraid I’d peaked and had nothing left. I was afraid I couldn’t do this anymore.

Meanwhile, my heart was going like crazy and I finally forced myself to step back and ask one simple question.

One question I used to ask a lot in my past and it was the perfect tool to keep me focused on what was most important. Imagine my horror that I hadn’t asked that question for over a year. No wonder I was twisted up and confused and scared to the point of overwhelming stress. I was trying to do it all because I believed it all mattered.

What was that question?

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If I don’t look at amazon to see what genre is selling best will it kill me? No.

If I don’t look at my dashboard every hour to ensure my paid marketing is working, will it kill me? No.

If I don’t go on Facebook every second to promote myself, will it kill me? No.

See… by asking that simple question, it puts things into a huge perspective. I started asking questions that really mattered:

If I don’t get off line and start living, by being mentally present and not just psychically, will it kill me? Yes. (Yes, I could lose my husband and our incredible life together.)

If I don’t spend time on my health and happiness, will it kill me? Yes. (Literally, I could die of an illness that could’ve been prevented.)

If I don’t exercise and get strong again to horse ride, will it kill me? Yes. (I could fall off and be seriously injured.)

If don’t remember how to be myself and remain true to my passion, will it kill me? Yes. (I’ll destroy my career and have nothing left.)

It was like taking a huge breath and finally being able to breathe.

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Yesterday, I found I had focus for the first time in so long. I was able to finish a book, respond to necessary emails, and be able to say, I’m done work for the day with no guilt or shame or worry. I went to the paddock and tacked up the horse and took her for a walk down the lane. She listened, she obeyed, and we finally bonded because I was THERE with her in both mind and body rather than thinking about my next release, next post, next everything…

I came home content.

And I haven’t been content in so long.

The moral of this very long winded story is if you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and stressed to the point you’re making yourself sick.

STOP.

Ask yourself that question. If I don’t do this, will it kill me? And if the answer is no, then don’t do it. Give yourself a break. A true break. Don’t worry about it. Don’t think about it. It will be there when you get back.

Along with finally taking time out to find what was important, I re-watched The Secret to help remind me that the fear of lacking and terror was me sabotaging my self-worth. I remembered why I have been successful and that was because I focused on me. Not the market. Not the noise of life. Not the worry if I was doing the right thing. I focused on what made me excited because that was the voice of instinct telling me I was on the right path.

If you’ve watched the program, great. I put a lot of my success down to The Secret and keeping my mind focused on positivity. I get that it isn’t for everyone, however, if you want to watch it, I’ve included the link below.

So not only did I set myself back onto the path of no stress but I also swam to the bottom and found my anchor once again and strapped myself tightly to it.

And I am FINALLY able to say this with conviction, honesty, and utmost excitement.

I am Pepper Winters and I write dark romance.

For so long, I wanted to put some distance between me and that brand. But WHY would I want to do that? I LOVE LOVE LOVE Dark Romance. I don’t want to dilute my brand or destroy my reader’s faith in me by delivering books I don’t truly feel. Comparing to others can do dangerous things to our confidence but remembering what’s true can restore it.

All great authors have a brand: Nora Roberts has her contemporary family sagas mixed in with a few paranormals.

J.R Ward has her kickass vamp series that sells like hotcakes.

J.R Rowling had Harry Potter (with a pen name for other works)

They all stayed true to their brand. And I was not. I was betraying myself. No wonder I was so damn lost.

I’m often asked why I write dark romance. Why go for taboo subjects and things that make some people uncomfortable. I honestly don’t have an answer for that. I love the depth of human emotion I can reach when my characters are at their lowest. I love the height of love and forgiveness I can tap into when the pain becomes redemption.

Darkness is in all of us and its recognised by those who understand it. For a while, I started believing that what I was writing was wrong. That people didn’t want that. That I shouldn’t be delivering such tales of wrongness when there are so many other great things to write about. I locked up my true passion in the search of another.

And by doing so, I doomed myself.

#supersecretseries (that will be introduced with the covers and blurb on the 3rd June) reminded me that I can’t lie and write something that isn’t in my heart. Finally realising that took away the restrictions and ‘should dos’ and finally allowed me to listen to what my imagination was telling me.

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For a full year, I couldn’t find a plot for #supersecretseries while I put chains on myself to keep it light and romantic. However, the moment I removed those chains and thought truly what I wanted to write, the plot exploded within 5 minutes.

FIVE minutes.

Within 5 minutes, I knew the synopsis for all five books. I knew the hero; I knew the heroine. It was as if they’d been waiting for me to come back to them.

I can proudly say #supersecretseries will be dark / grey romance and I will write it exactly as the characters tell me to. No more second guesses. No more comparing. No more worry about the future.

I know who I am. And I’m going to stay true to that.

I still have heart palpitations but hopefully over the next week or so, I’ll be able to reduce the stress in my blood. The horse will help. Knowing my true path will help. And finally having the confidence to share this most definitely will help.

If you’re still reading…that is how I lost and found my identity and succumbed to the awfulness of stress. I wanted to be blatantly honest about what I’ve been going through because I know I’m not the only one. The world today puts so much expectation and pressure on all of us that we feel we have to be superwoman / man all the time. We have to juggle friendship, family, work, and careers all at once. We have to bow and conform and obey.

Wrong.

We have to be happy.

That is our one task in life and we can only be happy if we listen to who we truly are and be gentle on ourselves.

Be happy.

❤ ❤

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15 thoughts on “HOW I LOST MY IDENTITY & LET STRESS ALMOST KILL ME

  1. These are words I needed to hear today. Thank you for sharing. You’ve found yourself again and that’s wha matters.

  2. Oh Pepper,
    I am so sorry that you had to go through this. Whatever you write I will read because I believe in you 100%. As far as comparing your writing to others is an impossibility because there is no one out there who writes as you do. A lot of authors write the same causing a reader to be unsure as to whom they are reading, but this ABSOLUTELY NEVER HAPPENS WITH YOUR BOOKS. My first and only horse that I leased was also an Arabian 14 hands so I understand your passion. I hope you have found the peace and confidance that you deserve. YOU ARE ONE OF THE BEST AUTHORS OUT THERE SO DO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO.

  3. I love how open you are and honest and I’m glad you found yourself. Grasp it, take it, it’s yours. No one can take it from you.

    I’ve purchased all your books individually and the box sets! I’ll save enough to purchase to have the hard copies eventually! Lol, college student-money doesn’t come to me as much as I spend for books there.

    I love escaping into the word you create because it’s something I can’t really talk to other about, but you make it happen for me.

    I thank you and wish you so much success in all you do.

  4. I have been going through anxiety and heart palpitations for the last 9 years. So, I’m so glad you talked about this! I always read your blog posts, because I have always felt a connection to things you say. This time is even stronger. And, the Secret, I use to watch it as well. I totally believe in it. I have the DVD! Anyway, I’m so happy you got your beautiful horse! I knew when I read the Indebted series that you must love them. With how fondly you speak of them. I’m also happy that you will continue to write dark romance! I absolutely love all your books, but you truly write the best dark romance ever! I truly wish you the best! I’m still struggling with anxiety and heart palpitations, so I know it’s so scary. But, we will both be ok! Just like you said we need to focus on ourselves and be happy. I need to take that advice too. Thank you for sharing this part of yourself with us. You truly aren’t alone. Hang in there! ❤️

  5. Dear Pepper,
    you are a brave, brave woman for writing that down. It takes a lot of courage to put what’s going on in your head, out to the world, especially when it hurts. I’m not sure whether you realise it or not, but you are a genre all by yourself. People adore your books and your characters because they are so dark. I’ve never read any author who does it quite like you, but I’ve certainly read a few that have tried. Anxiety of any kind is horrible, lonely and all consumming. I think in a way everyone has some these days and social media, I believe plays a massive part in that. Turn it off, I say, claim your life back and do what you love because people love you for it, and they always will, despite what Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads or any of those sites say.
    You rock 🙂
    Lily

  6. First off, I am so glad you got back to you! Thank you for sharing your story. It is never easy admitting we are only human. All to often we see successful people and don’t think that they have struggles like everyone else. I hate that you went through that, but I am so glad you got to the other side. I wish you much success with the new series and hope you continue to take time for yourself and your loved ones. Life is far to short to let stress and anxiety and work take over your life completely. Take care of you!

  7. I love to read blogs when people get real. Pepper, I read your stories because I like how you write and I love your imagination. I loved” Unseen Messages” and was thrilled it was different than your other stories. You are a writer not a brand. I think that we all need to evolve and change or we get stagnant and wither. Your dark romance lead me to so many other genres of writing I had never experienced before.
    Many years ago I loved printing images in the darkroom, alternative photographic processes. Then I became a photographer and lost myself in style, competition, the business end….ughh. It sucked the life and creativity out of me and I stopped because I couldn’t stand to look at another staged portrait. Many years later I have found my creative muse again. It took writing my poetry and listening to music and practicing because I think we all have snarky, little inner voices. I am slowly getting my mojo back.
    Keep on keeping, I will look for your name and keep checking out your stories. I know most of my spiritual growth comes through pain. I hope you remain compassionate to yourself.
    To thine own self be true.

  8. Thank you for sharing. I have also been through some of what you have and I came to the same conclusion. Be happy for yourself, not for others. But if you do find yourself sinking again, remember your own word – “Stop” People can wait, but you and your health and well-being cannot. I think most of your true friends would probably wish to have you happily with them than another book on the bedside table whilst you are miserable. You are never alone….

  9. First, thank you for sharing something so deeply personal. It took courage to, not only recognize your demons, but to open yourself in such an intimate way with others.

    One of my favorite quotes is “I know this transformation is painful, but you’re not falling apart; you’re just falling into something different, with a new capacity to be beautiful.” –William C. Hannan

    I won’t go into all the details, but I came close to losing myself. Several years ago I made a conscious effort to plod through my mental chaos and reacquaint myself with my identity. It was definitely a process. Everyone has a different method. Mine was through Reiki and cord cutting. As the fog began to clear I felt myself beginning to reconnect with my spirit. One of the most important parts of my being was the ability to write. It had been on the back burner for so long I didn’t even know where to begin. On my 50th birthday I gifted myself with a long weekend of chakra cleansing and alone time in a oceanfront hotel with my laptop. The block was lifted and I began to write again. I felt centered and happy. I was me again.

    I had to let go of those insecurities that whispered in my ear. I may not be a published writer but I can call myself a writer. I will not allow my fears of success and failure control me. I have learned all the ways fear can manifest. For me, it’s mostly procrastination. It’s thinking I’m not worthy. When I shifted my thoughts to the positive life began to fall into place. I found myself meeting professional writers in the most random of places. All of these people had valuable advice and support. Even your blog was meant to be. I do not believe in coincidences. Things happen for a reason. I’ve learned to hear and trust my inner voice. I have found a definitive path to live my dreams.

    The lesson we both have learned is to do what feeds your soul. Feel the passion. Success will follow. Everyone’s definition of success is different, but without a doubt it will be there. We’re worthy.

    By the way, I’ve read most of your books. You are a favorite author. The Indebted series slayed me. It was equal parts dread and anticipation in turning each page, ( it was my Kindle app on my iPad, but you get the picture). Their love was stunning. I read Unseen Messages when it came out. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was blown away. As a believer in the power of the Universe, I was immediately pulled into the story. I don’t wish to live off the grid, but I was a huge fan of Swiss Family Robinson and Robinson Crusoe (what’s the deal with the name Robinson?). I was gripped by Unseen Messages. You wrote with such realism and heart. It’s been a while since a book made me cry…..I was sobbing in the dark as I read the last chapters.

    Thank you for being you.

    Mary Helen Scott-Lewis

  10. Thanks for sharing Pepper. It really sounds as if you had a tough patch there. I agree with so much that you said – there is wisdom in those words. I really like your dark romances, and I cannot explain why, just as you cannot explain why you like writing them. I know I love the depth of characters and how they respond to challenges in their lives, the dark and emotionally hard challenges most of all – perhaps it connects with something within me.

    Keep doing what you are doing and where your heart and passion lead you, and yes, ‘stop’ every now and then to identify what is really important. We all need to realise that the breath we are taking right now will never be repeated; the moment we are living right now will be over in a heart beat; the day we are living right now, once over, won’t return. It is up to each of us how we live our moments, breaths, and days.

  11. My Dear Pepper,
    Your story has made me cry, and I’m so sorry for the hell you have been going through. I have been a fan of yours for a couple of years now and have read everything you’ve written. There is nothing you have written that I did not enjoy 100%. (even those books YOU weren’t really feelin’) You are a wonderful, truly gifted writer and I appreciate all you do. Whatever you want to write, you do it. I’ll read it. I’ll support you. I’m sure there are many that feel the same way I do. I want to thank you for sharing your personal story and please try to ride at least once a day, even if it’s for just 30 minutes. Use that time to breathe, relax an reset. (I used to ride myself, knees and expense won’t let me anymore) Those heart palpitations is scary stuff, I know, I suffer with the exact same thing. And it’s all due to
    S T R E S S. I’m getting better at handling my own stress, I know its not easy, old habits and all. But we can do it!

    Enjoy yourself Pepper, as far as I’m concerned you already “made it”. You ARE a successful, beautiful women. Live your life to the fullest.

    Much Love
    Abbey

  12. I am in a new journey but it is for something that I have beenough putting it off for the longest. I have all that I need to do what I have to do but I have this feeling of fear which I resent, I am disgusted by it because I feEl like it owns me. If I don’t face it, I KNOW FOR SURE THAT I WILL BE REGRETTING NOT TO DO WHAT IT IS NECESSARY FOR ME TO SUCCEED. When you mention about asking yourself about “if it will kill me not to do it? ” I can’t say it 10000% sure that it will. I have to do it for me and then my family. So thanks for sharing a very personal part of you. Not everyone is courageous enough to do it. Thanks again. .

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