Writing with Chronic Illness

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Being Anxiety Ink, we talk often about writing with anxiety and depression, and similar. It’s been a month since the doctor told me I have fibromyalgia, and I’ve noticed some issues particular to writing with chronic illness that isn’t anxiety or mental illness that I wanted to talk about today.

1. Self-care trumps everything. As with anxiety, of course, self-care rules. Planned on writing 3000 words today but fibro fog keeping you from getting anything done? Adjust your plan. Pushing through only makes things worse. Often, the pain/fatigue/whatever can’t be shaken, so trying to do whatever goal I had anyway means I don’t get it done, feel guilty and frustrated, and worse, am more in pain/tired because I didn’t give myself the break my body clearly needed. The problem with chronic illness is you can’t really plan ahead of time for it. You need to respond to how you’re feeling now, and that can change instantaneously. So my Type A hard-core scheduler has been weeping a lot the past month as I give myself permission to break commitments and not reach my productivity goals. (Last week’s post, about Habit, is still true–it’s been so helpful because I can prioritize things I NEED to do daily/weekly versus what I’d LIKE to do regularly but don’t want to feel obligated. So… flossing is a daily, but sadly, writing is not. At least right now.)

2. Get creative. Writing is a long game activity. Even if you’re writing a short story or poem, writing with can take hours or months, especially when you add on revision time. When our bodies rebel against us, it can take even longer. When our minds join in, as with fibro fog, we can feel helpless and stuck. I’ve written 10 novels, and I am terrified I won’t be able to write another one. That the mental strain will be too great, it will take me too long and I won’t be able to hold it together. Yesterday I played Eldritch Horror with friends and the complicated GAME took several hours, maybe 6? Not even a full work day. I was so drained from having to focus and strategize that I went to bed when we got home (by 930). Playing a game isn’t as hard as writing a novel. It can be horrifying.

One way to combat this is to keep the creative muscle stretched in other, diverse areas. Maybe take up baking or cake decorating. You can have delicious cookies made in an hour and feel productive and accomplished. Doodle. If you can write fast or only consider poetry a hobby, maybe write a poem or short story instead of the novel you’re working on. Work on a different creative project, like knitting or quilting. Of course, this is only IF you have the spoons. If you don’t, and writing is your passion, spend the creative spoons you have writing. But sometimes it can feel good to do something else when you can.

3. Writing-specific exercises help. Every writer knows they need to be taking regular stretch breaks, but this is even more true if you have chronic pain or another illness. Do your stretches! They don’t need to take long or be complicated. Touch your toes. Make a circle with your nose. Bend your wrists. Get up and walk around the room once. Even that little bit will help.

I’m still learning, of course, and my fibro isn’t “as bad” as some of my friends. Leave your tips in the comments for how you write with a chronic illness.

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