How Illness Improved my Writing

It’s no mystery that stripped of all obligations and confined to a bed provides the coveted time to pursue writing skills, however; it is the actual experience of illness (in my case ME/CFS) that provides the platform for expansion.  Although I have been a ‘writer’ since my early years, the past four have marked a turning point, almost as if the absence of ability is the catalyst I needed to create a solid voice.

My first journal was actually my father’s Week-At-A-Glance desk calendar. Just learning how to write, the entries are laughably mundane:  got ice cream…hate my sister…like Stephen.  (Seems even back then I was boy crazy).  Nevertheless, it started a habit that has continued fifty years later, the journals evolving and eventually being replaced by blogs.

While declaring myself passionate about writing, I also managed to keep any hope of ever succeeding at arm’s reach.   Various career paths offered aspects that required penmanship – typically technical manuals, or short pieces for business newsletters – and teaching allowed me the opportunity to facilitate a creative writing class, however; I was always too busy, and too full of excuses to pursue it any further.

I was convinced that I had nothing worthy of sharing, that I lacked the maturity needed, and that writing was just self-indulgence, and not a viable source of income. (Damn, I still think these are all true…but anyway…)

Illness knocked me off my feet and landed me in bed, barely able to do the most basic of tasks, like brushing my teeth or washing my hair.   I wondered if I’d ever be able to do anything of merit again, and that is when the doctor suggested:  If you write, you might be able to do that.

So my husband bought me an MacBook Air and I began to write again, only this time, I didn’t waste my energy on journalling;  I had a purpose.  I was driven to capture in words the reality of a life lost to illness, and the blessings that ensued.  In a culture so focused on physical well-being and individual power,  I felt compelled to offer balance, to let my story stand as a reminder of the importance of compassion, and communion – that we are more than just physical beings, and that wealth and success are measured by standards unrelated to marketing agendas.

Inflammation on the brain, and a propensity for tiring easily, challenged me to be more efficient with my words, and to use a dictionary and thesaurus.  Some days I would have to look up numerous words, but I was determined.  Losing language was not an option for me, and delivering a clear, descriptive message was equally as important.

As processing information with the fluidity of healthier days was gone, I found reading too steep a hurdle, so instead, I listened to audio books.  My author’s mind became peaked with interest to hear how dialogue unfolded, or description leant itself to understanding:  I discovered a new tool for honing my craft.

Hours spent in isolation left the door wide open to reflection – I became a deep diver in the realm of introspection, questioning the whys and wherefores of everything that had been, was, and could possibly be.  (Insomnia contributed quite a bit, also.)  I felt like I was walking a personal Camino: a sole crusader on a spiritual quest.

The disease has eased for the moment, and while I am able to be out of bed for longer periods of time, writing has become an essential part of my day.  I view it now, not as a selfish activity, but as self-preservation:  it is the gift I give to myself.  Ironically, in the midst of great loss, I have found renewed purpose, direction, and hope for a passion formerly stifled.  Illness, it seems, is a great teacher.



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Permission to write, paint, and imagine are the gifts I gave myself when chronic illness hit - a fair exchange: being for doing. Relevance is an attitude. Humour essential.

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