As I think most of you know by now, 2015 hasn’t been a great year for me. In a nutshell, after I came home from the UK (this time last year!!!!) I had a few little health hiccups that road-blocked my game plan for the next book. Then, just as I was revving up again, in early December I had a tumble on my mother’s very steep driveway.
Read on …
The immediate damage was jammed lower back, jammed shoulder, wrecked knee-cap and shin, and a ripped thumb. Fairly soon afterwards, however, some more disturbing symptoms cropped up. I started getting severe and constant pain in my left shoulder and arm, and began losing the ability to use my left arm properly at all. And yes, because my timing really does suck, and it was the holiday season, I couldn’t get treatment for it until the new year.
Turns out I managed to herniate 2 discs in my neck, and do some kind of damage to both the cervical/thoracic junction at C7/T1, as well as jam up the first 4 thoracic vertebrae. I know! Clever, wasn’t I? How does it go? If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well?
Complicating matters is the fact that a few years ago I managed to rupture one lumbar disc and herniate 2 more, after previously herniating the same lumbar discs on 2 separate occasions. Since all our bones are connected (see the song!) everything was impacting everything else, and I started dealing with lower back issues again, on top of the upper spine disasters.
I was living on immensely high doses of painkillers, plus anti-inflammatories, plus specific heavy duty nerve drugs, plus physio/chiro 4 times a week, plus intensive massage sessions to off-set the permanent muscle spasms 2-3 times a week. Fun, fun times. Guess how accurate my torture scenes are going to be from now on???
Oddly enough, I wasn’t able to write.
All of that lasted without respite until June. By then, the various treatment combinations took effect and life was starting to get back to normal. There were consequences, like depression from the constant pain and medications, something strange happening cognitively due to the super duper nerve pain drug, and some freaking out over all the writing that wasn’t getting done. I’m still freaking out, but that’s easing. The depression is also easing, but the prolonged isolation as a result of the injuries hasn’t helped. I’m looking at ways of dealing with that.
Things were looking up. I was starting to feel like myself again. I was invited to the Supanova expos in Sydney and Perth, and that was a boost. I had a great time. But in Perth I was exposed to, and contracted, influenza strains A&B combined. I was pretty sick as a result. The terrible coughing damaged my neck and upper spine, so that was a set back. It took me 6 weeks to recover fully.
And all the while, there were no new words.
It’s now late September. I have lost pretty much all of this year to being sick, being injured, being medicated, being depressed, doctors’ appointments, getting various x-rays and MRIs, physio appointments, chiropractor appointments and massage sessions. There have been days when it’s been hard to imagine this won’t be my life for ever. There have been days when it’s been hard to remember what being a writer feels like. What being a healthy person feels like. And as I write this, there are tears welling up. Not like me at all. This year has hammered me in ways I never expected. I’ve survived … but not without some scars.
The good news is, I’m writing again. And I’m exercising again, because the best defence against getting sick and injured is to live inside a strong, healthy body. I’m being careful and considered. I’m being methodical, not going crazy. Not risking the recovery! I am helping the recovery.
But what has this tale of woe got to do with the writing life, you ask?
Well, this. Writing is a deeply personal, deeply emotional, deeply intimate undertaking. When you write stories, you lay your heart and soul on the line. That takes strength, both physical and mental. It takes courage. It takes a bloody-minded obstinacy that refuses to admit you might fall on your face and fail humiliatingly, in public. It takes blind faith.
You need to be healthy to cope with that. You need to be resilient and energetic. You need to be strong. I have been none of those things, really since I got home from the UK, but especially not since I took that fall on my mother’s driveway. It’s changing, though, and that’s a ray of sunshine. And that’s the thing to remember — things can and often do change for the better.
But you need to work at it. You need to take care of yourself. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, because it’s true. Writing is hard, hard work, physically and mentally. Remember that, and do everything you can to protect yourself even as you embrace the craziness that is storytelling.
This is my writer’s mantra: No matter how bad things get, it’s okay, because it’s all good copy.
The bottom line? Life can be a bugger, no doubt, but there really is light at the end of the tunnel, and it doesn’t have to be the headlights of an oncoming train.