Is there anyone in your life who you consider a vicious enemy?
If so, you understand what it feels like to be consistently attacked by a villain who has made your systematic destruction their sole focus.
At first glance, this situation may sound more like the plot of a poorly-directed Lifetime movie than a page out of your life or the lives of anyone you know.
But according to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, nearly half of all Americans are victimized by such an enemy.
In this case, the enemy isn’t a person, it’s a condition that physically assaults victims by bombarding them with intense pain and related mental/emotional anguish. This enemy also steals the victim’s money, negatively affects their job performance, and distances them from the individuals they love most.
The enemy referred to here is Chronic Illness, which is defined as a disease that requires ongoing medical attention for at least one year and often limits activities of daily living.
Success in any sort of career becomes problematic when you find yourself battling an illness such as Crohn's disease, Lupus, Diabetes, Celiac, heart disease, or cancer.
And if you are an artist whose career is dependent upon their creativity, there may be moments when you find yourself wondering if you have any hope of success.
There is hope. Many have been able to reach their artistic/career goals while suffering from a debilitating illness.
For example, Venus Williams, arguably one of the greatest tennis players of all time, is battling Sjögren’s syndrome, and award-winning actor/director Halle Berry suffers from Type 1 Diabetes.
So, what about writers? How can someone with a chronic illness still write and publish work with consistency?
While everyone’s situation is different, I can share three things that have helped me to write and publish nine novels while dealing with the unpleasant effects of Hashi-Graves Disease, Celiac Disease, and Type 1 Diabetes.
GIVE YOURSELF DAYS OFF
Every day is a new chapter in the book that is your life. And that book is far more important than the one you're creating on your laptop. After all, we can't write anything if our personal story comes to an end.
So, it's best to approach each real-life chapter with patience and focus, which means patiently focusing on taking life one day at a time.
This approach acknowledges the fact that there will be 24-hour, 48-hour, or even 72-hour windows of time during which pain will not allow you to write a single word of your novel.
And, that’s okay.
The novel will get done later. But what’s most important during a flare up is that you give your body what it needs, which may include medication, vitamins, rest, and even forgiveness.
Why forgiveness? Sometimes, we have this urge to punish ourselves for things that aren't really in our control.
But we have to remember that chronic illness is not our fault.
It might feel like it is, and it might feel like we've done something horribly wrong to make our body turn on us.
That’s not what’s happening.
With autoimmune disorders especially, what's happening is that our body is incredibly confused, and in this bewildered state, it's resorted to attacking itself.
That’s why we might want to try and forgive our bodies for being so "lost." And when we do this, we're actually forgiving ourselves. That kind of forgiveness can be tantamount to removing a huge weight from our subconscious.
Alright. So, the point? Here it is: When those debilitating flare ups occur, take your meds/vitamins and focus on resting.
The work that you love will be right there waiting for you once you’re good and ready to return to it.
USE YOUR EXPERIENCES WITH PAIN AS FODDER FOR YOUR WORK
Doing this would allow me to sit with my pain, explore it, and stop being afraid of it.
That said, writing about my emotions in this way also helps to protect me from becoming too self-involved. How? Well, I’m not just focusing on me. Instead, I'm exercising my empathy by writing from the perspective of a person who is seemingly incredibly different from me.
So, how does that example apply to being a writer who has a chronic illness?
It boils down to the fact that being irreversibly sick upends your entire life, which can make you angry- and I mean very angry- because it’s as if an enemy has purposely stomped on your hopes, dreams and life-goals, ripping away the very aspects of existence that you love most.
It’s cruel, and you have a right to be angry about your situation.
But sitting with that kind of anger for too long can make a person bitter. And that's just no fun. Trust me, I've been there.
So, what's the alternative to becoming bitter and hopeless?
Release the anger, and let it go.
And how do we do that? Well, first we have to accept and understand it. That requires the form of analysis that's known as therapy. And, as mentioned earlier, writing is one of the best and least expensive forms of therapy available.
So, instead of keeping anger or deep emotions bottled up, write them away.
DEPEND ON LOVED ONES
Probably not. A better option may be to reach out to people who have your best interests at heart, and ask for help.
I know. Asking for help can be humiliating.
Honestly, it’s one of the most difficult things in the world for me. But after you’ve shelled out every last cent of your savings to pay for medicine and to cover the cost of that one huge hospital bill, you may find yourself in a financial bind.
When that happens, the stress of trying to figure out how to pay for the minimal essentials of modern life (food, rent, electricity) coupled with the fact that you’re too sick to get a second job can completely zap your creativity.
I get it, I’ve been in that situation too many times to count. And when it's happened I’ve stressed, cursed the heavens, and been saddled with an excruciating case of writer’s block (which is bad when you literally write for a living).
But here's something to think about: While I was all alone having a fit, people who cared about me were waiting in the wings, eager to help. They just needed to know that I was ready to accept their help.
I had to learn (and I'm still learning) to stop letting my pride get in the way.
The people who truly love you (and they’re out there! Trust me, they exist!) won’t look down on you when you ask for a few groceries or for someone to come help you with the household chores that you can’t handle due to a flare up. The reason they won’t mind doing these things for you is because love means wanting to support and assist the object of one’s affection, and until this person has helped their loved one, they feel incomplete.
So, letting family and trusted friends help you get back on your feet is a way of showing appreciation to them for their willingness to assist.
Have you ever given someone a gift and watched their eyes light up with happiness as they opened it? How did that make you feel? It's likely that the pleasant emotions you felt are similar to how our loved ones feel when we allow them to give us the support that we obviously need. It's not a handout or an act of pity- it's just how love works. But we have to let it work.
Besides, once the flare up has passed and we're feeling a little better, we can do something super nice for the family/friends who came to our aid.
Along those lines, it's also helpful to inform members of your writing team about your condition and some of the symptoms it can cause. For example, if you have a literary agent, s/he definitely needs to know that your schedule may be impacted by flare ups or difficult days. The same goes for editors, illustrators, and even long-term Critique Partners.
Once these trusted writing partners understand your situation, they'll be able to support you as you work to complete your novel.
I hope the three suggestions above were helpful, and if you have additional tips please feel free to share them in the comments section!