“Writing is a way of processing our lives. And it can be a way of healing.”~ Jan Karon
Most writers write because not writing creates distress.
I speak for myself when I say, if I don’t get my quota of writing in during the day, I am up half the night, unable to sleep for all the ideas ricocheting in my head.
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But what happens when a writer becomes ill and does not have the stamina or the desire to write during an illness?
In 1996, my life came to a sudden halt when I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I had fluid in my lungs and breathing became a conscious effort. As soon as the immediate crisis was over and I was stabilized enough to breathe without effort, I turned to reading and journaling.
I’m a writer. I needed to get my thoughts out. Even on my worst days,
April 7, 1998 journal entry during a peripheral stem cell transplant in Boston:
Oh dry heaves and endless nausea and unquenchable thirst. Go away.
Jesus, be with me on this suffering journey. I know you are. I can’t even write anymore…
When I was too tired to lift a pen and write, I talked into a handheld tape recorder.
Years later as in 2016 when I experienced kidney failure secondary to chemotherapy-induced heart damage, I turned again to my writing to process the wide range of feelings that occur when my health suffers a setback. I was not acutely ill but I had to adapt to a chronic illness. I had to adjust to doing home peritoneal dialysis every night. It was a period of physical and emotional ups and downs as I incorporated the intricate procedure into my day-to-day life.
I’m on the other side of it today, having reached a level of acceptance of this “new normal”.
And I never stop writing, except for the days when I feel physically challenged. I do what I can , when I can.
Here are a few lessons I’ve gleaned about writing during an illness:
- Most writers probably agree that writing is a basic need as essential as breathing, eating, sleeping. When you are aware of your needs, you can find ways to meet them.
- When we take care of ourselves, we take care of our writing…self-care is a prerequisite to living as fully as possible. Learn to accept your limitations so you can work within them. I had to change from working non-stop all day to choosing pockets of time throughout the day when I have the energy to work. Writing during an illness is possible—even if it is greatly reduced in quantity.
I learned something as a cancer patient called HALT that applies:
When I’m Hungry I eat
When I’m Angry, I vent
When I’m Lonely, I reach out
When I’m Tired, I rest.
- Let writing become your medicine…it’s a well-researched fact that writing about illness, writing during an illness, can help you reframe its meaning to you as evidenced by the work of James Pennebaker. Linda Joy Myers has also written on this topic. It can have positive physiological as well as emotional and spiritual effects on you.
- Keep a journal and do free writing…get your thoughts and feelings out so they don’t fester inside of you and add stress to your already stressed body.
Writing during an illness is possible, and I dare say, highly recommended. It has been a key part in my own healing journey. Not only does it provide a distraction from the realities of illness but it helps me to explore new perspectives about my life.
My creative well is churning with new ideas and feelings. I have an ever awakening sense of the preciousness of life and health in the present.
Sometimes our greatest obstacles become our greatest gifts.
How about you?
How has illness affected your writing life? Do you write when you are ill? What benefits have you derived from writing during an illness? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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