You know, I was going to call this post, “writing when you’re sick”, but I realised the title would be misleading. Yes, it can be hard to write when you have a bad cold – I have one now so I know, but at least you can take something for it, or wait a few days until you feel better.
It’s different when you’re dealing with a chronic condition (something that can last for months, years or decades). After all, you can’t put your life on hold for that long (if you’re lucky enough to have the choice that is).
In May a specialist confirmed that I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (or ME, depending on who you ask). This was caused by a bout of Glandular Fever that no one knew I’d had back in October 2012 (I thought it was a cold…)
CFS is one of those annoying illnesses that not many people understand. Tell a room of people that you have CFS and the reaction will likely be a mixture of good and not so good reactions:
- What’s that? (It’s this.)
- You mean Yuppie Flu right? (person provides you with pathetic look)
- Oh, I get tired to. (GAH!)
- My sister had that, it’s horrible, you poor thing.
- My cousin had that, she can’t get out of bed. (Read: how can you be standing here then?)
It’s an invisible illness. I’m lucky, mine is mild. I can still work full-time (from home). I can socialise (I usually prefer not to). I can’t exercise yet, and if I do any extra walking or standing during the day I get agonising leg cramps at night.
Anyway, if you have CFS/ME I think it can help to seek out other people who are going through a similar thing (I say similar, because CFS/ME can hit people with different levels of severity, just look at this New Yorker article for an example of a writer with the condition). There are some great blogs on the subject as well (such as myjourneythrume).
How it affects writing
Well, it really slows things down for me. I’ve been told not to push myself. Not to go to the gym. Not to go on an extreme diet. Not to work through lunch or start work really early. Not to spend all day in front of the computer. I can’t write as much as I did, but I can still write.
When work finishes, or when I have a day off, it’s a fight between bed and writing. It’s all about finding a balance. You can’t take a pill for this condition, it’s all about management – not overdoing things, not underdoing things, and I think it takes a while to get the management aspect right.
You have to be able to filter traditional writing advice to apply it to your situation. You may not be able to write every day. Maybe you can only write on a good day.
You also might want to think about the advice “tell people you’re writing a book”. After a while, you’ll start to hear:
“How’s the book coming along?”
“I haven’t seen that book yet?”
“It took my cousin six months to write her first book and get a book deal.”
This may be well meaning (and I think it usually is), but it can make you feel like a bit of a loser.
I don’t care if it’s just a bad cold or something much worse, you’re the one doing the writing. The story is in your head. It will never be told if you’re too sick to write it down. The most important thing is to take care of yourself.