Beginning Friday, June 9th, I will be stepping away from this blog, my book review blog, and social media as I recover from surgery. During my time away, I’m hoping to regain strength and energy lost during my 18 month battle with chronic pain resulting from a fall in January 2016. I’m also hoping to take advantage of the quiet time to work toward completion of my memoir and ready it for publishing.
When I return, or perhaps before, I may propose some topics for blog posts and ask for your input on what you’d like to see and read here.
In the interim, I wish you the sunniest days of summer, the sweetest of fruits from the summer harvest, and some time for yourself and your loved ones.
In my post a few days ago, I focused on the topic of self-care. I shared the things I believe I did wrong in caring for myself during my working life and the last few years as a writer. Today I want to share what I’ve learned along the way (and ignored). And I’ll share some new things I have read recently about caring for yourself as you write.
TIPS FOR INCLUDING SELF-CARE IN YOUR DAY
This is not intended to be an all-inclusive list. These are tips that work for me IF I remember to use them. If there is something you feel should be in this list, I hope you’ll share it in a comment below.
Remember, self-care is not selfish. To meet the needs of family, friends, and others in our community, we must first care for ourselves.
A daily schedule which includes a start and stop time for work helps many working folks. When creating a schedule, build in time for exercise and at least 30 minutes for a lunch break.
Find a way to spend part of your day standing for certain tasks.
Becoming a Stand-Up Writer by Keith Cronin at Writer Unboxed shares two stand-up options. These won’t force you to break the bank. I own the first option, but purchased it during my recent problems and haven’t been able to stand up to use it. I set mine up on a sewing table which is countertop height and on the opposite wall from my computer desk. Instead of moving the desk option, I move my laptop.
Taking breaks from sitting to stretch and/or walk around a bit is a good idea. A good thing for both body and mind.
A recent article in the New York Times Morning Briefing offers a way to do this. The writer advises getting up every hour to walk five minutes. Using a timer, either an app on your computer or somewhere you have to get up and move to turn it off, is helpful. Be diligent as this is one of the things I ignored years ago while working as a legal secretary. It would not have changed the condition as diagnosed. But it would have provided flexibility in my joints and skeleton as a whole.
In leaving a comment on last week’s post, Joan Hall shared a link for Tomato Timer. I checked out Tomato Timer and found it is somewhat like the Pomodoro Technique®. The technique is based on working on a task for 25 minutes and then take a break, say for 10-15 minutes or so. After four sessions, take a longer break (20 minutes), etc.
NOTE: Neither of these tips may be workable for writers. A screenwriter commented on the NY Times article that he cannot leave his work in this way. Once he’s creating a scene and interacting with characters, he can’t maintain momentum if he takes a 15-minute break. Others mentioned the same on last week’s post here.
Take a few minutes to assess your own working environment, no matter how large or small. It may surprise you to learn what you do or don’t find. Then try one or more of the tips above and note any change in physical problems you’re experiencing.
If you have tips for work spaces and building better backs, I’d love to see them shared below in Comments.
If you’re willing, check back with me to let me know what this post changed for you and what the impact of the change was.
FYI, I have not yet begun employing all the tips I’ve shared above as I’m still in recovery mode. I’ll try to let you know when I do begin practicing what I preach!
The term “self-care” has been on the lips of many for some time, but not as often as since the election of 2016. In the days and months following, many were angry, frustrated, discouraged, depressed even. Self-care was the pathway for many to place those emotions on a shelf.
Putting the election aside, I want to look at self-care from a writer’s perspective. Based on my working and writing life experiences, I’ll share bad choices I made in caring for myself. Over the last 14 months have had time to ruminate over the past and how it played a part in my current situation.
BEFORE THE FALL OF 2016 (AND HERE FALL ISN’T AUTUMN)
Over the past year and almost three months, time on my hands left me rethinking poor choices. While I pondered the struggle I faced in recovering from a fall, I began to wonder just how this had happened to me.
Because of degenerative disc disease, I’ve faced big hurdles including two spinal fusions. There is a history in my family for this particular spinal condition. And it doesn’t help that I have slight scoliosis.
When I retired in 2006, I was ready to put aside the long, 10-hour days sitting behind a desk. I was ready to write my memoir and get on with a simple, stress-free life. What I’ve learned is habits are set in stone and can only be reversed if we take the first step on the pathway to change.
[tweetthis]Habits are set in stone and can only be reversed if we take the first step on the pathway to change.[/tweetthis]
WHAT I’VE LEARNED
As I thought back over my working life up until 2016, I realized I had severely overstressed my body. I had taken no thought of what long hours sitting at my desk continuously was creating.
Retired 11 years and writing nine of those, my work habits carried over into my writing life. And by then surgeries and scar tissue compounded the bad habits.
Let me explain:
From the start of each day, I sat all day except for restroom breaks and a stop for coffee on my way back to the desk.
Pre-retirement, opportunities to stand came my way. For example, copy projects requiring several minutes needed someone to babysit them. But, we had an in-house copy service. I usually opted for their help because of my heavy workload.
At noon, I rarely left my desk. I packed my lunch at home and ate it at my desk. During that lunch hour, I continued to work while eating.
Until the last five years of my working life, the height of my desk or computer wasn’t adjustable. Secretaries insisted on the ability to raise and lower a section of our desks to provide the option to stand up. Yet, the feature was rarely used. With the pressure of court and other deadlines, we didn’t have time to make the adjustments.
If required to work overtime, it included the dinner hour and on into the evening. This meant more hours of sitting in the same place, same position, and doing the same tasks. I’d already been doing this for the past eight hours.
I loved my job, and I admired and respected the attorney for whom I worked. Always wanting to please my superiors, I never changed my working style over a period of 35 plus years. (This is perhaps a carryover from my childhood attempts at pleasing an abusive mother.)
WHAT COULD I HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?
A lot of things. My spine surgeons, my neurosurgeon, and physical therapists provided recommendations. The choice was mine, and I made the wrong choices. Yet, my spine surgeons also told me that what had failed in my back wasn’t my fault. It was the fault of a condition that was going to happen no matter what. And it did.
As I look back, I regret the damage I may have done to my back. Even though my surgeons directed the fault elsewhere, I still wonder what I might have done. There are certainly elements of self-care I wish I had taken the time to inject into my daily schedule.
On Thursday, March 22nd, I’ll share tips on caring for yourself at the desk and computer
Share your thoughts below on self-care, your own struggles with caring for yourself while writing, and bring any concerns you have to the discussion.
Everything. I want to know why it happens. Especially this week. Last Saturday! January 24th! Today!
I thought my injuries sustained in a fall on some stairs on January 24th were healing. I left town with husband Bob last Friday for a two and a half day writing conference on the Oregon coast. Common sense kept my mind busy for days deciding whether or not to travel, but I was feeling better. As we travelled, I even mentioned how much better my hip and back were feeling.
Fast forward to Saturday afternoon when the pain returned with a vengeance. A vengeance so deep and intense I became shaky and nauseous. My first thought was how thankful I was Bob had driven to the coast with me. My second thought: Why now? I called Bob at the condo where we stayed and asked him to pick me up. That officially ended the conference for me.
STILL NO REASON FOR WHY THIS HAPPENED.
Irritation, frustration, anger, and apprehension mixed to create emotional turmoil from this pain re-entering my life. Why was it back? How was I going to get this week’s work done? How soon would I be able to see my doctor? And what would I tell my readers and followers?
Nothing much has improved. I still have no answers, and I don’t see the doctor until Friday morning. But the bottom line is: Sometimes life just happens, and there is nothing we can do about it.
No attempt meant to extract sympathy from you, but I have one place comfortable for sitting and from there I’m writing and reading. I feel imprisoned. Last evening I threatened sleeping there because getting out of our bed is painful, but at the end of the day I needed a change of scenery.
This disruption in my day-to-day activities may keep me from posting as often as I would like as well as the newsletter, not to mention less activity on social media.
The message I want to send above all else is that despite what life throws our way, expected or unexpected, there is a reason for it. We may never discover or know the reason behind it, but rest assured there is a reason.
Perhaps the resulting experience will teach us something. Maybe we’ll grow as a result of the unexpected that came along. Or it may be something we should have learned from previous experiences but didn’t.
Next time something surprises you don’t just ask why. Stop and ask yourself what you’re supposed to receive as a result of this unexpected occurrence. Then exercise awareness. You may be pleasantly surprised by what happens next.
How do you handle the unexpected? Do you believe there is a reason behind everything that happens in your life? Share with the rest of us in the comment section below.
to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing; give ear
to pay attention; heed; obey.
to wait attentively for sound.
The word “attend” appears in each of the above definitions in some for or another. Perhaps the word implies the importance of learning because if we pay attention we generally pick up more instruction. Using the ear to give attention to someone or something implies giving our full attention.
WHY THEN would a writer choose the word “Listen?”
Perhaps to learn from others the grander points in the world of writing. Or perhaps the writer is hoping to pick up tips on things essential to publishing a book.
It seems it would be obvious that a writer may also be looking for ways to make his or her name known, and he or she listens for the names of those writers from whom to learn in the classroom, via podcast or video, or some other means.
PERHAPS THE WRITER LOOKS FOR DEEPER MOTIVATION
The hardest thing I try to do is listen to my own heart and mind. Those two places are where I believe everything I feel about my writing is stored. Storage places I can access in the quiet to listen to my personal dreams and desires about writing.
Do you find it hard to listen to your heart and mind as it relates to your writing life?
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT LISTENING TO YOUR HEART’S DREAMS?
Meditation comes close to what I believe is listening to our own thoughts and feelings, much like meditation can bring a person into communication with a higher power. Personally, I have always found it difficult to settle myself into a meditative state of mind. I was raised by a mother who believed we had to be busy 24/7. Settling into a meditative state takes great effort on my part.
The choice of the word “listen” forces me to practice a meditative state of mind in order to hear those things I hold dear about my writing life. If I don’t assume quietness, I will not hear the thoughts and dreams encouraging me to move forward in my writing practice.
In a few days, I will be sharing a post in which I pose a question to all of you about your own writing life. This is a question I have struggled with in 2016, and a question I have come close to answering this question in a way that may surprise you.
These are the kinds of questions I believe we need to spend some time reflecting on early each year to get our writing lives in order. This meditative state will not only help us focus on our dreams, but also on our writing.
Since January, following a fall, I feel adrift. Adrift as a wife, a writer, a friend, a human being.
My body, in pain most days, isn’t allowed to do housework as ordained by professionals. Simple cooking is OK. No vigorous kitchen cleanup reads don’t make a huge mess while cooking.
My mind won’t wrap itself around the craft of writing. Whether it’s working on my book, the blog, or book reviews, it doesn’t seem to matter. I feel mindless, wordless.
My summer days are mostly inside, and little or no exercise is ordered by any of the illustrious physicians in attendance so far. Don’t even mention flowers and gardening.
One chair in our home allows me to sit comfortably. Our bed allows me the comfort of lying down, but have you tried working from a prone position? I am trying to grow accustomed to standing while using my laptop, but years of otherwise make unlearning difficult.
Rays of hope arrived over the past few days.
After seeing multiple physicians, undergoing as many lab tests and imaging studies, and receiving steroid injections times too many, another doctor seeing me for an unrelated problem listened. I mean she really listened to my complaints and symptoms.
This doctor gave me what probably comes the closest to a correct diagnosis anyone has attempted. Then she referred me to a physical therapist specially trained in treating the adverse physiology I’m attempting to overcome.
(Sorry for the mysterious explanation. It’s a rather sensitive and personal subject as far as I’m concerned.)
We left that appointment feeling we’d been given a ray of hope.
A couple of days later our church newsletter arrived. Physically unable some Sundays to attend church, I’ve learned the importance of the newsletter to feeling in touch with people and activities.
On the last page of this newsletter, the second ray of hope came to me. In the form of a #40wordprayer, incredibly beautiful word creations limited to 40 words.
I requested and received permission to share not only the #40wordprayer, but also a reflection on a conversation with a friend and former student:
for the reminder from a dear life-giver that in life all of the goals and striving do not automatically lead to arriving and as the world is revolving the purpose resides not in solving but in serving and evolving…
Thanks. Amen. #40wordprayers
This prayer emerged out of a conversation I had recently with a dear friend and former youth group student who now serves as a radiation oncologist and just finished her final oral medical board exams. We marveled at how milestones in our lives give us the impression that we will one day ‘arrive’ at the destination to which we have been striving for so long. And then we mused at how this contrasts with the reality that so often these points of ‘arrival’ are actually springboards of ‘departure’ into the next season of the journey.
When Jesus came to the greatest milestone on his journey and cried out ‘It is finished’, it took some time before it became clear that he was actually saying ‘It is beginning’.
In our desire and hope towards ‘arriving’ at the next ‘destination’ of vision and mission as a family of faith at MPC [Moreland Presbyterian Church], may we be ever mindful that in this journey of life and faith, the ‘ends’ (great and small) are actually ‘beginnings’. And as we receive the gift of each new moment of life, may we hear the voice of the Giver saying, ‘My child, begin again.’
With Jesus and with you, brian
ATTRIBUTIONS: PRAYER AND REFLECTION: BRIAN MARSH, HEAD OF STAFF, MORELAND PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, PORTLAND, OR IMAGE OF CHILD: “PATH OF LIFE,” DIGITAL ART BY ALICE POPKORN VIA FLICKR
Am I drifting or evolving?
Perhaps this is a God-given time for reflection, discernment, and new direction. If so, I feel better about the conditions I find myself struggling through in my writing, my home life, and my friendships and other human connections.
Days on end, as many of you know firsthand, of the same thing takes us to a land of drought, parched to the elimination of our art. A life of illness or injury with no definitive answers, again as many know, leaves you with anxiety and stress and doubt, none of which enhances the body’s ability to heal. Nor do these emotions lend themselves well to family relationships and friendships with our online or real-tie community.
I am filled with hope on two fronts now: (1) from the medical community caring for me; and (2) my faith community providing prayers, encouragement, and as Brian said in an email this week special prayers for “sani-T!”
Attributions: Image: Adrift via Unsplash (no attribution required; free images) Image: James 1:5-8 (MSG) via Pinterest
Stay tuned for more about my “evolution.”
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