To Protect My Emotional Wellness, I’m Letting Myself Take a Break
Every Wednesday I take a Zoom call with a number of writers and speak.
Sometimes we talk about professional things like revising, editing, or writing to the marketplace. Sometimes we talk about politics. Most of the time we talk about survival – especially how to survive as a writer in a world that underestimates the written word.
I’m not exaggerating when I say the group is keeping me sane. For one, they get it in a way that friends and well-meaning relatives don’t get. On the other hand, they force me to take care of myself. Not only do they value my creative output, they value me, the Creator, even when I am blocked, burned out, or physically unable to achieve the goals I set for myself late last year.
Every Wednesday my writing group reminds me of my humanity. Meanwhile, my therapist questions my ideas of “calm” and “productivity”. I can’t rest well. You could say I’m terrible at it. I have delusions of performance, which means I’m good at covering up my illness. I am not disabled! I have no chronic pain! I just sit in a wheelchair all day and need help with everyday tasks – neither of which is a prerequisite for abnormalities.
Every few months my therapist asks if I live by the values of others. Do I really want to be a productivity expert? Or is it just that I feel like I am all of these things?
A few weeks ago I got my first booster vaccination against COVID-19. I knew there would be side effects, but the truth of the matter was I never expected how much it would blow me away. I was out for a week. I had everything from headaches to chills to fatigue. I knew I was expected to handle this as an adult; my healthy friends didn’t have the luxury of wasting a week on something as trivial as a vaccine. They had jobs, mortgages, families. My to-do list is short in comparison.
Of course, I started beating myself up for not having achieved everything I set out to do at the beginning of the week. I didn’t have the energy; I literally didn’t have it in me. But I was still frustrated. I knew I needed to rest, but a small, stubborn part of me felt that I shouldn’t.
My therapist’s answer was simple. I told her that I felt I didn’t deserve to rest, and she just said, “Why?”
“Why do you feel that way?”
“Why can’t you accept that you can’t do everything?”
My answer was just as simple: “I don’t know.”
In public, I’m my mother’s friend who makes people take care of themselves. But in my private life I’m much crueler – not to the people in my life, but to myself.
All along, I’ve been pretending to be someone I am not. I don’t have limitless energy. I don’t have a body that can recover from a particularly intense vaccination. I am extremely sensitive – physically, but also emotionally.
My emotional well-being suffers as a result
It was not only that I was stabbed, but also that my mother recently tested positive for COVID-19. It was the cumulative stress of a pandemic, a major home renovation, and a chronic attack of pain. It was the unresolved grief of putting the book I’d worked on for a decade on hold. It was the intensity of a life transition plus the mental illness associated with the change of seasons plus the pressures of living with a progressive illness that should have killed me long ago.
“Why can’t you accept that your life is different from everyone else’s?”
I do not know. But I’ll find out.
When my group of authors discussed ways to temporarily save energy a few weeks ago, I was left empty. I am not in school. I do not have work. I have several creative projects, but I cannot call myself a full-time writer – compared to others in my field, I do the bare minimum.
I have been writing this column regularly since the beginning of 2017. It never occurred to me that I could hibernate for a while like a bear in winter – focus on the things that matter most to me with the intention of repeating certain activities once the snow melts. I had felt burned out for a while, but I had learned not to question it.
I came to accept it too. And how sad is that? Lack of imagination if you ask me.
All of this means I’ll be taking the rest of 2021 off. I’ll be back in 2022 with the first draft of a new book and many more thoughts on activism through storytelling. I can’t juggle eight balls at a time – and that’s fine. My body is my body. If I want to survive in this, I have to figure out how to deal with it, not against it.
Thank you for reading these lengthy little essays of mine for years. It means so much to me that you are here. I’ll be back in the new year, but for now you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, subscribe to my newsletter or support me on Ko-fi.
Soon more, in love.
Note: SMA News Today is solely a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always contact your doctor or other qualified health care provider with questions about any medical condition. Never disregard or hesitate to seek professional medical advice because you have read something on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company BioNews and are intended to stimulate discussion on issues related to spinal muscular atrophy.