Next Syndrome

Ever suffered from Next Syndrome? Having something good happen to you, like realising a dream, and then immediately thinking “That’s great. What’s next?”

The day after I published Jellicle Girl, I hit the depression wall like a freight train. Why? At first, I had no idea. For one moment in time, I had everything I’d always wanted: a beautiful book with gorgeous cover art, a cool pen name, and the ability to call myself a real writer.

I felt ungrateful. Like gratitude had skipped a generation and entitlement had set in. I moped around until my publicist called me and shook my shoulders via Skype.

“What the hell’s wrong with me?” I complained.

“It’s normal,” she said. “The same thing happened to me.”

I realised later that even though a huge piece of my life puzzle had fallen into place, I’d lost something too—the dream that rode with me every morning when I got up to go to work. The vision that lulled me to sleep at night. My pie in the sky that kept me chasing after impossibly huge forks.

My dream had shone bright and full of fire… but it’d lived its life and it was over. I had no idea what was coming next.

Since I’m about as A-type as people come, goals to me are like tea and wheat-free cookies: necessary for survival. I hadn’t given any thought to what came after the book launch: the marketing and the blogging and the question-answering and the promoting.

I’m a writer, not a publicist, and that part of the equation seemed foreign and daunting.

I needed a “next” to get up in the morning. So, surmounting that giant social media obstacle became my goal. Not the kind of goal I’d ever had before, but something fresh and equally important to the actual writing.

Next Syndrome can be helpful. It’s the root of eternal optimism, the light that keeps us going when Reality piles in a little too deep. Knowing there’s always something around the next bend leads us like a donkey following a carrot—allowing us to keep our eyes on the prize instead of looking around at the tomato-throwers taunting us from the side of the road.

It’s what allowed me to get up and keep writing and keep dreaming, even when the publishing world was in the toilet; when writing cost me money instead of making it; when I wasn’t sure anyone would ever want Jellicle Girl.

Even now, knowing what I do about the struggles of writing, I stand in the shower and grin about the new ideas I’m working through—the research I’m going to do, the people I’m going to meet. Because something’s always coming next.

But sometimes that very Next Syndrome that keeps us one step ahead of depression can also keep us one step ahead of happiness. Because we never learn to stand still and hold ourselves in the moment. Say “Look-it. This is the future you dreamed about.  It’s here and you’re living in it. This used to be next, and now it’s now.”

That moment when you pack up a box of your books and send it to the teachers at your high school who always cheered you on?

Yep—that’s now.

Browsing through the public library website and finding your own work there? Now.

Looking up from your signing table at a book launch and seeing your university professor standing in line for your autograph? Also right now.

Eventually next has to become now. And being able to appreciate the now is the key to unlocking the happy moments that sustain us. Without the occasional prize, the run-of-the-mill reality can mire down even the most optimistic person.

So… I’m trying to enjoy all the “nows”—because they’re yesterday’s “nexts,” and tomorrow’s “I remembers….”