It’s only mid-March and I can already feel myself inching precariously toward a reading slump. It may be because I’ve been so busy I can’t think straight, it may be because it’s tax season and for self-employed (and admittedly unorganized) people that’s the worst time of year. It may be because I just got over a flu and feel lethargic and lazy all at once. Maybe I’m not getting enough nutrients, since cooking takes time I don’t have.

But this slump feels bigger, more existential, than even all those tiny reasons compounded into one big reason. It feels aimless, like I’m searching every book for some truth I can’t bring to life, like I’m not really sure if reading (and everything that comes along with it) is really what I want to do with my life. Isn’t living what I really want to do? “I’ve lived a thousand lives, because I read,” and all that—but is one of those my own?

Reading has always been something I’ve loved. And so had writing. But writing is something that has always loomed large over my life, early on it fueled me. Now it just makes me feel as if I’m being watched. Writing has started to fill me with this vibrating tension—panic—the sensation of a rubber band poised to snap over a wrist. For a short while, when I was young, I was able to write as if the words were liquid spilling over my hands and onto paper. Even in high school, in writing classes, my stories were organic and easy to voice. And then I grew up, grew busier and busier, and the ease turned to force, and then it turned to extraction, like pulling a tooth. Because all of these identities and feelings and lives inside me, lives that were never my own, were screaming to be released and understood. Writing is, for me, not so much about self-expression as it is exploration of the other hundred thousand worlds in my head. And try as I might to catch them, they appear like a glimpse of a shadow in your peripheral vision; look at them straight and they’re gone in a wisp.

Still more like pulling a tooth is the fact that not writing, not extracting, makes me feel diseased, like there’s some pent up pain that can’t be released any other way. Like I’m disappointing my past and my future selves all at once. Still, the act of writing doesn’t fix it anymore.

I think it’s a fear of failure, a fear of never amounting to who I at one time believed I could, or should, be. A fear of pivoting; telling everyone, “Okay, I lied. I’m not a writer. I was only pretending.” Because writers write, don’t they? Anymore, the thought of writing makes me need to drink some calming tea (or preferably scream). My heart starts to speed up at the idea that my time on Earth is ticking away (yes, I’m young, but I could get hit by a bus or something) and I may never leave a smidgeon of myself behind. Is it vanity, then? Writers write, and I can’t even think about writing without breaking out in a cold sweat in the shadow of my own mortality.

Maybe I need to be face-to-face with that truth—my own insignificance, my own brevity—to write or do anything of note. Or maybe I’m just making up more excuses. Maybe I’ll eventually put something down on paper and publish it. Maybe I’ll never be a published author—perhaps not an author at all, published or otherwise. Perhaps being a reader, or a thinker or a dreamer or just me, as uninspiring as I am, is enough. The worlds and adventures humming around inside me don’t need to be put on paper to be real, though for someone to acknowledge them or connect with them would be gratifying.