It’s flu season, and one of the worst in a decade here in Australia. I wish I could say my family and I had escaped the bugs because we live in a remote town in Tasmania. Alas…as soon as children go to school, they bring home more than finger paintings and half-eaten lunches.
I’m in the most fortunate position of my life: I stay at home and write. Aside from duties to my family (and, by extension, to the children’s school), I have no employer or other master to whom I owe allegiance. Any round of illness definitely has much less impact these days than it did when I was working full time AND partially responsible for the family (thank you to my gorgeous husband – my greatest love – for sharing the load over the years!). Nevertheless, illness imparts profound mental and physical challenges to even the most mundane tasks…even when you think there’s no reason to let it get you down.
We count our blessings that we’re relatively healthy people in everyday life. Perhaps that’s one reason why something as unassuming and ridiculous as the flu can become so demoralising. It’s a runny nose and a headache…get over it!! Yeah, right. Illness like this seeps in quietly and sets up its camp, readying the trebuchet and arming the soldiers for a slow, steady assault. It gains ground, it loses ground, it brings in reinforcements…the coughing gets worse, the headache gets better, strange aches and pains appear that make you want to cry… And always the exhaustion…slow and incessant, it wears away at a person like a river carving out a canyon.
It’s this long-term degradation that starts to affect the mental state. I’ve been enjoying my experience of working on One Thousand Candles…until now. Suddenly the demons have crept in…the gremlins are multiplying… I hear the negative voices rearing their ugly mouths, whispering things that – in the clear light of health – I’d easily dismiss as untrue. “Everyone hates your story,” they say. “Why do you even bother? You can’t even think of what should happen in that scene.”
Well, everyone does not hate my story because, as my husband pointed out so eloquently, only one or two other people have actually read it thus far. And I’m writing it, first and foremost, for my own satisfaction. I’ve had it in my head for way too long…the story needs to be told. Every writer has moments of dull exasperation or sheer panic when a scene just doesn’t want to come together…I’ve read enough blogs and “how-to-write” books to know I’m not alone on that. But a niggling illness…I’ll be damned if that isn’t the game-changer today.
I’ve got something of a charmed life, and I know I’m lucky. I have no right to complain too much…things are otherwise great. I guess I’m writing this for the other people out there who might be kicking themselves over silly things because they’re just not in the best head-space. Whether it’s a cold, sleep deprivation because you’ve got a newborn, a crappy co-worker who makes your day…the tiny skirmishes can sometimes feel like Genghis Khan is sweeping across our borders and pounding down the flimsy gates of our balsa wood fortresses.
Yesterday was “R U Ok? Day” here in Australia. We were supposed to ask the question “Are you ok?” Often we are…sometimes we’re not… It’s ok to not be ok, and we don’t have to beat ourselves up because we believe the reason we’re feeling like crap isn’t significant or somehow valid. Has your toddler spilled a bowl of milk on the carpet? Someone cut you off on the way home from work? The cat scratched up the side of the couch? A neighbour complained about your leaves falling on their grass? For the ladies: cramps and ick because it’s your time of the month? You know what: it’s valid…period. (Sorry, pun intended…lol)
So today – despite my donkey-like cough and throbbing headache – I will focus on that scene that’s giving me trouble. I will take the maximum safely-allowed quantity of ibuprofen. I will stare out my window when I need to and enjoy the rain. I will have a few cups of coffee – and when I’m done with the caffeine, I will have herbal tea. I will snuggle with my three-year-old or with my cat…whichever one is more accommodating.
I will NOT give the gremlins any more power, even though I’m sure they’ll be whispering into my ear. I’ll try to keep my head on the task at hand, but if I need to stop and walk away from the keyboard, I won’t beat myself up over that, either. We heap so many expectations and responsibilities upon ourselves that we’re basically excavating and handing our gremlin-enemies the big rocks they need for their trebuchet: setting ourselves up for failure.
You are ok, even when you’re not. Keep going…or not. Whatever happens, don’t let the little things overwhelm you…you can handle this, and the sun will eventually appear. (Trust me…we’ve literally had about a week of sunny days since winter began where I live – and I’m talking non-consecutive days.)
And if you’re a writer…keep writing! Maybe not today…but please don’t give up on what you love. I always imagine being on my death-bed at some point and regretting not finishing this book, and that is not an option I’m willing to entertain.
Don’t let those gremlins have the satisfaction of your regrets.
You are ok…I promise.