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Chronically Ill Writers Can't Borrow Spoons, Unless We're Prepared for Crazy

May 5, 2015

I've spent the past six weeks not writing. As every writer and writer-lover knows, that's a recipe for disaster. And, sometimes, like now, it's a disaster that looms larger and larger without much hope of relief. 

Kafka once said a non-writing writer is only about five seconds from crazy at any given time. (Well, okay, he said it better, much better, but non-writing me only paraphrases, and that's as close as we're gonna get today.) And, I don't know about you, but I'm not a fan of crazy. 

Unfortunately (for my mental health and all of those around me), however, I simply don't have enough spoons to create right now. 

 

Those of you who don't have chronic illness may only understand the concept of borrowed time on a theoretical or "beginner's" level. Maybe you've felt the drag of a hangover or you've experienced an emotional crash or common cold after a stressful week, but you've likely never felt the profound anxiety that accompanies every activity once you start borrowing time in the way the overworked or overwhelmed chronically ill do. 

When you're there, in that place, even a shower becomes a task on your to-do list. Each obligation or work-related task appears as insurmountable as the Titanic's iceberg. Every emotional down-swing sucks away whatever energy you may have woken up with and leaves you feeling like an unmotivated, lazy mess. Worse, every task you push to get done on one day magically transforms into two you can't get done the next. 

That's where I am. That's where I've been, for six weeks. And while I know how to handle this in theory, doing so in practice is much, much harder. 

Writing is both my greatest joy and my most frustrating obligation. When I do it daily, it comes easily, with little need for revision. When I don't though, when I allow other obligations to supplant it as my top priority as I too often do when I am overworked and out of spoons, every word is like the broken shards of glass I once (accidentally) shoved into the ball of my foot. 

I can feel them in there, aching to get out. I can even, sometimes, get a hold of one of them, if I hold the right tool in just the right way. But, sadly, any attempt at actually retrieving them just jams them further inside. And, once the words are like that, I have only two options: 1) wait for them to come out on their own, while limping (emotionally and mentally) around like the half-abled person I become in those moments; or 2) take the time to slice myself open and go digging for them, painstakingly and slowly retrieving each one until I'm finally free of them all. 

The last option is often the best, but it takes an awful lot of spoons. And, for the past six weeks, all of my spoons have been claimed. All day, every day, every spoon. Worse, because I had too much to do and too few spoons, I've spent the past six weeks borrowing them from the only place I could - my future self. 

Now, when I most need them, I'm out. They've already been used. I'm emotionally and physically exhausted, and the time-sensitive client obligations continue, ceaselessly. Worse still, I'm mentally on edge because I'm not writing, and I have neither the spoons nor the ability to do anything about that right now.  

So, what to do?

Scale back. 

It's the only option, and it is one that I, as a driven individual, absolutely hate. I hate leaving things undone. I hate knowing I have hours in the day to finish something, even if I know I do not have the mental, physical, or emotional energy to do it. I hate waiting. But, if I'm going to regain any of my energy, if I'm going to be able to stop having new migraines, if I'm going to get back on top of everything and start writing again, I'm going to have to slow down and scale back. 

Some things are just going to have to wait. And, you know what? That will probably be okay. After all, I finally wrote something. :-) 

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