Monday was definitely a Monday. I sat all day and watched patiently for the promised weather forecast–sunbreaks. Yet, they never made a showing. Just one or two would have made all the difference in the world outside my window.
Nothing but gray skies, a chill in the air, reports of freezing fog early morning. None of this aids in ridding oneself of back or leg pain. In fact, it only makes it worse.
Monday’s weather also fed into the slightly depressed, somewhat anxious state-of-mind while you’re awaiting a somewhat complex spinal surgery in a couple of weeks. Winter weather in the Pacific Northwest can bring the happiest soul down a notch or two or more.
The good news is that the weather is looking up–sunny both Thursday and Friday of this week. That is if you believe weather prognosticators!
Today’s post brings to a close this series. The first and second posts on chronic illness and the writer can be found here and here. The five remaining tips for coping with chronic illness and/or pain are shared below. As stated before, I’m not qualified to say these will work for everyone. I share them because, on occasion, they have worked for me. You know your body better than anyone and your illness as well. Let no one tell you what will work best for you. Decide for yourself.
Tips for the not so good days.
If you need a refresher of the first five tips, take a moment to go back and review those in this post.
6. Practice Acceptance.
We all have dreams. Some come true. Some don’t. The part of my dream that came true is the publishing of several essays for inclusion in anthologies. So far my bestseller hasn’t seen publication.
Nothing would be more fulfilling than to have my memoir published alongside others in my online writing family. But it hasn’t happened for me. Soon after retirement, I began planning to my memoir, and I have a completed draft which I’ve revised again and again. What I didn’t plan for were the health issues that came galloping into my life. Continuing spine degeneration and chronic pain more or less control many of my days now. I find myself forced to accept the things I likely won’t do as a writer.
I have learned and also accepted that it takes me longer than others to complete tasks and projects. Patience isn’t one of my best traits, and learning acceptance of what isn’t going to happen is hard for me. There are days when my mental processes won’t wrap around my writing goals and projects. Some days I’m too fatigued to write. Or the pain is too much and the medications make me sleepy.
Acceptance is all I can do on those days. If you have to work through this process, please learn to practice acceptance with grace.
7. Put your health first.
This topic probably should have come earlier in the list of tips, but I think anyone with a chronic illness knows that putting your health first is important. If you have a day when nothing works to keep you comfortable other than taking a nap, take that nap. With a chronic illness or pain, your body and its systems are already compromised. Doing what your body requires will keep you feeling better in the long run.
On the “not so good” days it may be that all you feel like writing is one sentence. If that’s all you can get out, congratulate yourself. Perhaps using these days to brainstorm a new project is the best purpose you’ll find. Envision your characters and begin to structure their personalities. Another good use of down days is to read books by other authors. Learning from other writers is one of the best ways to learn how to write.
8. Seek out a support network either online or in your community.
As writers, we are encouraged to build a community of support and encouragement. As a chronically ill writer, this is even more important to your well-being and writing life.
The worst thing about a chronic illness or condition is being alone. Writers tend to work alone for the most part so it isn’t something new to those of us limited by our health issues. Yet, as you look around, you see everyone else looking healthy and energetic, having fun and being happy. And there you sit all alone taking medications and feeling sorry for yourself. Wouldn’t it be better if you had a place to go where others understand what you’re going through? After all, if they’re going through the same situation, there’ll be understanding and compassion.
One of the best ways to find such a network or supportive community is the internet. Take a look at Facebook or websites focused on your illness for recommendations. I’ve joined a couple of Facebook groups and have gotten answers to questions and found support on bad days. On good days, I can then encourage others. It’s a great way to find common ground with others in your situation.
9. Use a to-do list to reward yourself.
Rewarding yourself from time to time for even the smallest accomplishments is a great motivator. Using a to-do list not only gives you a way to track the things you want to accomplish but also a way to assign a reward of some kind when you check off an item. For example, if you write 500 words, allow yourself a certain amount of time on social media. Or let’s say I finish my book. I can buy myself that piece of exquisite pottery I’ve been wanting. This is a way to work your way through smaller amounts of the work effort and at the same time give yourself a reason to feel good about what you’re accomplishing on your good days. And sometimes even on the not so good days.
If you are looking for an app to help with tracking your tasks, look at one or more of the following: (1) Todoist (free/premium options) lets you keep track of everything in one place; (2) Wunderlist (free/premium options) tracks your tasks for home, office, school and more; (3) Microsoft To-Do (free) keeps your day in focus; (4) Ike (free) is a playful to-do list created in the spirit of President Dwight D. (Ike) Eisenhower; and (5) Habitica – Gamify Your Tasks (free) helps motivate you to get things done using a video game to improve your life habits. I’m not a user of any of these apps. I use Google Calendar to track things I need to accomplish–simply and easily. And free!
10. Don’t forget to celebrate your successes.
Whether it’s meeting writing goals, progress made in physical therapy or nutritional therapy, or completing an online course, celebrate your successes! Remember as you struggle with a chronic illness each day you’re up against obstacles not everyone else has to battle.
Did you get out of bed this morning despite the depression you’ve been fighting? Maybe you finished that short story and submitted it to a contest despite the fact that your fingers and hands were enveloped in pain. Or is that book on its way to the publisher? If any of these or some other accomplishment found its way into your life, celebrate the victory over your situation.
Don’t let the impossibility you feel about big goals get you down. Look at the small accomplishments you’ve already made. See how far you’ve come. Look at the number of bad days you’ve already survived. Set your modesty aside and be proud of yourself!
Depending on what resource you use, you may find a variety of answers to this question. However, in my research as a writer and a patient, it appears the duration of an illness usually labels it as “chronic.” The length required in the health insurance industry is a duration of at least three months or longer. Overall, the medical profession usually considers one year as defining chronic illness.
‘a physical or mental health condition that lasts more than one year and
causes functional restrictions or requires ongoing monitoring or treatment’
Three months doesn’t seem all that long, and yet a year seems like a long time to be under the veil of illness. But suppose the illness or condition lasts longer. Let’s say the rest of your life. Based on your age, that could be several decades or a few years. Take into account the illness or condition and it could be a stressful situation for you and perhaps those you love.
How many people suffer from chronic illnesses?
The Raghupathi findings state that almost half of all Americans (45% or 133 million) suffer from one or more chronic conditions or illnesses. The persistence of such illnesses drive up hospitalizations, insurance costs, long-term disability payments, and death. The only factor showing a downward movement is the quality of life.
A quick look at some common chronic illnesses.
The following listing was compiled with the assistance of the Internet and should not be considered all-inclusive:
As noted, this is not a complete listing of chronic illnesses or conditions that fall under the description used by insurance companies or healthcare facilities as “chronic.” For example, there are numerous conditions which create chronic pain in some individuals. Likewise, respiratory conditions are diagnosed which over the long-term will cause a patient to struggle with chronic breathing issues.
Before moving on, I want to clarify that this post is written with writers in mind. However, it is not intended to imply that other individuals, no matter their profession or career, don’t fall victim to chronic illnesses and the struggles mentioned here. My personal experience is my lens into the subject matter and, therefore, writers and writing are my focus here.
Also, I am not a medical professional. Any tips and/or advice shared are my personal tools for coping. Before using them, you should consult your personal physician.
Coping with a chronic illness.
Coping with chronic illness is not easy for anyone. Chronic illness disrupts not only the victim’s life but also the lives of family, friends, co-workers, and on and on. A chronic illness often begins a cycle of many other changes in the victim’s life, including the onset of depression, lack of society, changing eating habits, level of physical activity, often outward appearance, and more.
The side effects of the chronic illness or pain are sometimes more destructive than the primary illness itself. For example, depression is a component of my chronic pain. Days become long and sad when all your energy is focused on controlling the pain. Certain prescription medications, such as opioids, make bad matters worse in some instances.
Depression can lead to anger and frustration with never-ending illness or pain. When there are no new answers or treatments, it is easy to fall into a pattern of anger and often your anger is taken out on someone rather than the thing creating your emotional upset.
Sometimes you feel like burying your head under the covers and hibernating as a bear does in winter. But this isn’t a solution either. Withdrawing from the society of family and community leaves you feeling lonely, adding to the cycle of depression and anger.
Needless to say, none of these cyclical add-on symptoms help the main cause of the chronic illness knocking on the door of your life.
How does a writer function under these circumstances?
As writers, we’re encouraged to write every day. What do you do when every day isn’t always a good day? How do you move on with your writing when medications leave you in a mental fog? If your pain level is so intense nothing brings relief, how do you manage to put words on the page?
I can tell you firsthand it isn’t easy. You want to write, but somehow you can’t. You search for something that will trigger the flow of words, but nothing happens. Your head seems to be swirling out of control, and then…
Your mind becomes filled with a massive list of questions:
How will I meet my deadline?
How will I ever get through the edits on my manuscript?
I need to get out and get some research done. How can I manage that?
Getting out of bed to get my family out the door in the mornings is a challenge. What can I do to make it any easier for me, them?
Some days the depression envelops me. How can I break that cycle?
I’m angry and frustrated that my life is controlled by a chronic illness/pain. Is there some way to resolve this emotional state I’m in?
And likely this list could grow ad infinitum.
Here is a good place to end Part 1. In Part 2, I share answers to some of the above questions and tips for coping with the chronic nature of some illnesses and pain.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and/or stories about someone you know who has a chronic illness or your own story if you’re comfortable doing so.