On Self-Care as a Writer -or- Rising Like a Drunk Phoenix

Burning clock / burning time

We humans are amazing creatures. One person survives a failed parachute deployment, even walks away from their impact with the ground, while another dies from a bug bite. I guess 7 billion people offers a wide range of outcomes.

I’m feeling rather fortunate at the moment, even after a 7-month illness sidelined me the last half of 2018. It was a body blow after my toddler son was ill through the spring – ear infections ending with tubes, so worrisome but not life-threatening. While this was going on, two friends my age have been dealing with a stroke and cancer. If one has an ounce of wisdom, these events are humbling lessons to respect what we have.
Statistically, I’ve been healthy my entire life. Part of that is staying fit, part is limiting risk by doing things such as washing my hands often and not running stop signs, and some is just luck.

The first two are choices we make to minimize the opportunity for fate to bite us on the butt. Our luck is just rolling good numbers on the dice. But sometimes we roll ones and holy shit what just happened?

What happened, if you’ll allow a medical aside, is I had chronic mononucleosis. In a nutshell, the Epstein-Barr virus causes mono and is ubiquitous among humanity. 50% of 5-year-olds have contracted the virus, 80% of teens, and 95% of humans. I assume this means almost all 30-year-olds have suffered acute mono and, once contracted, this isn’t a virus your immune system eradicates. It stays on, like shingles, and my doctor thinks my son brought something home from daycare potent enough, for me at least, to weaken my system and allow the virus to activate. 7 months later, 3 of which were an exhausted hell, I can get a common cold and sniffle my way through instead of spending 3 days bed-ridden.

I’ve had a few injuries and one previous surgery, though it was minor. Overall, I’ve been lucky, but that one finally came up and was mono. It could have been so much worse, like a Greyhound with failed brakes. Doesn’t mean something as bad or even life-threatening can’t happen, but I should be off the hook for a while – especially if I take care of myself. Which circles us back to my point.

Years ago, I read a quote from an author (can’t for the life of me recall which) who advised that writers need to approach the profession as athletes do. That maintaining a high level of physical fitness also helps condition the brain. I recall noting this at the time and even making modifications to my lifestyle to include more fitness activities. I believe it payed off, though, as mentioned, I can look back on a lifetime of luck for having avoided major physical injury.

That was not true for all of 2018.

Quite the opposite, it pains me to say. I started the year well, acknowledging I’m closing on the big Five Oh (shit!) and want to enter that decade feeling strong. I allowed myself to slow down for our son’s first year, dealing with things to keep our stress levels down, so in January I cleared my To Do list and hit the ground running. More activity, lost weight, ate better (started experimenting with meatless lunches), and experienced gains. Was ready for Spring and the myriad house projects waiting for better weather.

Instead, my son suffered cold after cold when he started daycare and had fluid on his ears for around three months before they put in the tubes. By then, summer was hot, so my daughter and I started climbing at the new rock gym (air-conditioning!). By July, my arms were swole (I assume that is the correct usage, but included here so people can mock me) and my energy levels were up. A normal day of writing was churning out two chapter revisions and feeling great about them.

Then mid-July hit and the virus started. It was a slow decay into the worst of the symptoms, which included brain-fog. Not everyone with mono suffers this, but it was debilitating for me. I wasn’t able to cut through it to write, though I could provide critiques even if they took much longer and found it a struggle to remember details (still do, to be honest, though I’m improving on that as well).

If I connect the earlier point about writers maintaining their health with other points made about our finite years and how few works we can complete over our time as writers, it makes sense to make the most of those years. Efficiency is a skill, and one I’ve failed at the last two years (as a writer, but not as a parent – important to make that distinction – and the latter is much more important).

I spent yesterday working around the house. I’m burned out after champing at the bit for so long and then tearing around the track as soon as the gate opened. And so I’m back to focusing on health, physical to support the mental. I’m wobbling on unsteady legs trying to get started. The weather isn’t helping. Yesterday was 60F+ and today is’s snowing. Even then, it’s a choice to make and time to make it.

If you need me, I’m off to hit the treadmill and eat an apple the size of my face.



Useful links:

The Writer as Athlete – https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/the-writer-as-athlete/22905

6 months of exercise may reverse mild cognitive impairment – https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324056.php

Getting started:

Best 7-minute Workout Apps –https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/2018/01/01/7-minute-workout-apps-tried-30-here-best/991591001/

20-Minute Cardio Workout for People Who Hate Running – https://www.self.com/gallery/cardio-workout-for-people-who-hate-running

Perhaps most importantly, get away and relax: Shinrin-yoku/forest bathing

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