Welcome back to May Collaborations. Absolutely love having such brilliant writers with me this month and to share them with you. Today I have a lady who is an incredible writer and brilliant to do writing sprints with. So without further ramblings from me here is Liz Meldon;
Today is a Thursday. Like every Thursday this month, I have the day off from my Day Job. My Man and I decided to do a chores/shopping marathon. We’re moving to a new city this summer and we want to update our furniture from university mismatched to something a little more grown up. Because. Apparently we’re adults now that we’re approaching our late twenties. Who knew?
We were out of the house from around noon until 4:30 this afternoon. We bought lots of things. Did a grocery run. Went for an all-you-can-eat sushi lunch just for kicks. On days I’m not scheduled at the Day Job, I write. Sometimes it’s freelance, but lately it’s been on my 2016 WIPs and I’m loving life. I had big plans this morning to write this evening; there is a chapter I’m dying to work on.
Only I can’t. I physically can’t. Because I’ve had a concussion since January, and shopping and running errands for 4+ hours straight sent my brain into overdrive.
I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a long time, because it’s something I feel impacts a lot of writers at one point in their life. Writing while injured. It’s basically the worst, especially when your version of “injured” happens to be your brain.
Let me set the scene. My Day Job is as a ref at an Archery Tag arena. If you don’t know what Archery Tag is, go look it up and immediately find a place to play, because it’s fabulous. For the first time in my life, I love my Day Job. My boss is wonderful and pays all his employees really well. The players who come in are always a hoot who are genuinely happy to be there. The job itself is fun and always a little different every day.
That is, until January 30th of this year. January 30th, I was referee for a particularly aggressive group of players. About ten minutes in, one of them hit me with an arrow (foam-tipped) on the back of the head where my mask didn’t cover. It was from a pretty good distance. It hurt, but it was manageable. I went on with what I was doing. Five minutes later, another player hit me right in the face—from about two feet away. Twenty-eight pounds of force, straight to the side of my face. Insta-concussion.
Here I am, almost three months later, and I’m still feeling the effects of the injury. Concussions present in lots of different ways. They usually aren’t visible on scans. Most doctors don’t know how to estimate the length of one because the brain is a tricky beast who never does quite what you want.
The effects of the concussion set in immediately. For the first few weeks, I couldn’t be on the computer for more than ten minutes at a time without triggering a crippling, dizzying headache. I should have been resting, but I had a huge freelance deadline to meet and I was only a third of the way through it. My client wouldn’t accept me pawning it off on someone else and instead offered to give me more time. Mistake #1 for Liz—not resting enough. So I had to go on the computer for about five minutes every hour, write as much as I could until my head forced me off, then spend the next hour or so recovering.
Other issues outside of the headaches and dizziness included irritability, tinnitus, and forgetfulness. Once I was back at the Day Job I genuinely loved so much, I started displaying PTSD-esque symptoms, including shaking, flushing, ridiculous headaches, and struggling to talk. I frequently used the wrong keys
on things and would have a huge flight-or-fight rush whenever an arrow slammed into the metal door near the front desk where I was permanently sat at to try and contribute somehow.
Best. Of. Times.
Writing was non-existent. The deadlines I set for my personal work back on New Years Eve came and went, and suddenly I was delaying pub dates and behind on a mountain of WIP writing and editing. It was a nightmare for someone who likes to plan and stick to deadlines. To some extent, it still is a nightmare, but I’ve come to terms that I’ll recover when I recover, and not a second sooner. All I can do is cope in the meantime.
I wanted to share what I’ve learned about coping with an injury that has royally screwed over my writing life. I’m hoping that other writers out there who are facing the devastating moment of not being able to do what they love might be able to take something away from my experience.
So, without further ado, here are my tips for surviving as a writer while injured.
When I was first hurt, my primary goal was to stay as on top of my writing schedule as possible. Instead, my first thought should have been recovery. Your body is the most important part of your world—not your work, not your characters, not your schedule. If you don’t bring your body up to snuff, the rest of that career you’ve been dreaming about and working hard on may not go the way you want it to… ever. So take all the time you need to get better. As long as you need. Seriously. Seriously.
Update Friends, Family, and Coworkers
For me, I was nervous that people would be upset that I couldn’t work… or do anything else. Surprise surprise—no one will be angry that you’re injured. Let everyone know what is happening with you. Provide updates for your boss, clients, or publishing agents. The editor I intern with was extremely supportive, much to my surprise, and insisted I take all the time I needed to get better, and the work would be there for me when I was done. It isn’t your fault that you are too hurt to keep up with your usual day-to-day life. People are more understanding than you might expect, especially with head/brain injuries.
Start Slowly and Set Realistic Goals
When you do start to feel better, however long that takes, start slowly. For me, I was desperate to dive back in as soon as the head pain was gone for even half a day, but that would only set me back and lead to more frustration. Don’t throw yourself back into work at your old pace. Your body needs a chance to get up to speed on things again. It isn’t ready for 100% yet. Maybe 10%. And that’s okay.
Another big problem I had once I was starting to feel less terrible every day was that I would set super unrealistic goals for myself. I would pile on too much work that my brain couldn’t handle, essentially setting myself up to fail. When I did fail, I’d be depressed, frustrated, and angry—with myself, my situation, and my injury.
Don’t do that to yourself. You’re in a vulnerable state after an injury and you need to be aware of that. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Create realistic, attainable goals. If, before, you wrote five pages every morning and every night each day, why not aim for one or two in the morning, then maybe one at night if you’re feeling up to it? Start small.
Remember how I said to start smart? Well, you need to celebrate your small accomplishments at the beginning of recovery. So what if you can’t do what you did pre-injury? So what if your daily word count is only a fourth of what it was before? You aren’t the person you were pre-injury. Right now, your smaller successes are actually HUGE! Celebrate!
When I first started writing more, I shrugged at 500 words in a half hour, when really I should have been quietly rejoicing and gently dancing around the house. It was more than I could do a few weeks prior, and that’s all that matters. That’s what you have to consider, fellow injured writers. If the little you do today is more than the nothing you were able to do yesterday, celebrate.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Recovering from an injury, whether it’s a concussion or a broken bone, does a lot to your mental health too. Feeling like you aren’t yourself is so tough. It can be depressing. It can be frustrating. It can be infuriating. It can be disheartening. As difficult as it is, try not to let it get you down—all the time. You’re allowed to have days where you feel like absolute crap, but know that you will recover. One way or another, you will find yourself again. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ve got a huge fight ahead of you to get back to doing what you love.
Writing will always be there for you, but you’ve got to give yourself a fair chance to get back to it.