photo: alice popkorn
That post title sounds like a great ettiquette joke in the making, doesn’t it?
So an overdue explanation, a belated apology, and a heartfelt thank you walk into a bar . . .
Oh how I wish that were the case.
I have been working on this blog post for over two months now. I’ve thought long and hard about how to talk about my prolonged absence. Cautiously, was my first instinct. Not at all, was my second. But the truth is, I don’t think you can (for all intents and purposes) disappear for eighteen months and not return e-mails and let personal connections flounder and online friendships dribble to a stop without at some point addressing or explaining the why it of it. At least it doesn’t feel right to me.
But it’s hard because my returning health feels tentative and fragile and, most of all, vulnerable. As if any sudden movements or loud noises might scare it away. And after all, this is the Internet, where sudden movements and loud noises are a daily occurrence.
The short version is, I had been having increasingly painful ergonomic issues in my upper back and needed to address those. What I hadn’t realized was that would be like unraveling a sweater, with each bit of progress we made unraveling yet a new part of my body that had been compensating in the incorrect way for too long. It’s an unusually disconcerting thing, having your body unravel piece by piece. There was a long period of time where I couldn’t sit for more than ten or fifteen minutes. I still can’t sit comfortably for more than about 45 minutes at a time, and watching an entire episode of anything on TV is a major victory.
I spent nearly fifteen months alternating between lying flat on my back, standing for short stretches, or walking for short distances. Because of neck issues that developed, I wasn’t able to hold a book up to read when lying down OR sit and look down at its pages. So no reading, writing, or research. I tried audiobooks and, to my dismay, found my brain is not wired to ‘hear’ story, but to read it.
Needless to say, I’ve seen a number of healthcare practitioners at this point, and if you ever want a good experiment in deep character worldview, I highly recommend it. Each one of them saw my symptoms through the prism of their own expertise.
- My doctor sent me to a physical therapist, who said it was postural and I just needed to strengthen with some exercises. (That made things worse.)
- The talk therapist said I simply was going through a stage of readjustment in my life. (I agreed this was possible and began talk therapy in an effort to understand what might need readjusting.)
- The second physical therapist thought my body has been storing unresolved trauma for years and years and that needed to be released. (Which she did—while I was beyond skeptical, this did help with various issues immensely when standard treatments didn’t.)
- The acupuncturist thought I was very low on yin energy and that needed to be replenished. (This was also a huge help—and I say this as a former needle-phobic. But it helped lessen the anxiety my continued physical dysfunction was causing, as well as helped with those dysfunctions and increased my overall energy.)
- A psychiatrist I saw suggested it was panic disorder. (Which frankly, gave me the biggest panic attack I’ve ever experienced.)
I was also told I had triggered old PTSD from my childhood. (This resonated a bit because I think I cut a little too close to the bone in Dark Triumph.)
- Someone else suggested that my fibromyalgia had returned. (That also caused me some panic because I remember so vividly those years when I was sick with fibro and had two young children to take care of. Did NOT want to go there again.)
- Another practitioner suggested I had been living in my head so long my body had to stage a major revolt to get some much-needed attention. (That felt legitimate to me.)
- And yet another explained that any physical symptoms of anxiety were the result of my sympathetic nervous system being hugely compromised by the extremely poor posture my body had developed from being hunched over a keyboard or notebook for the last fifteen years. (This also felt like it was at least part of what was going on.)
The kicker? The really frustrating thing? I still don’t know which of those is true. Perhaps all of them are true. Or none.
The thing is, I’m a strong willed, determined person, but I was not able to strong will my way out of this. Which has been humbling and scary and frustrating and, occasionally, panic inducing.
While I’m not out of the woods yet, I am out of the thickest part of the forest for sure. The trees are thinner here, and I occasionally catch sight of the meadow and small town outside the forest. So I know it’s there, and well within my sights.
So that’s the part I’m willing to talk about for now. And I do think it’s important to talk about it, not just so you have an explanation for my absence, but because I think this is what women DO—we put off self care until dead last. Or, if you’re like me, you roll your eyes at the term ‘self care’ and mutter, “Yeah, I’ll get right on that, once I…
Get through finals.
Get my degree.
Find a job.
Make partner in my firm.
Get the kids through their formative years.
Turn in this draft.
Get these copy edits back by tomorrow.
Get the kids off to college.
And so the list goes, endless and everlasting. Our bodies and minds can be very, very good at enabling this, at helping us stay focused on those goals because that is a hugely important part of our personal development.
But it’s not the only part. And eventually, that catches up to us and the other parts rise up in protest until the only option left is radical self care. For me, that meant focusing on trying to find a way to strengthen my body—a way that didn’t make things worse. It meant stepping away from the writing—one of the things that has always given me great joy. It meant resting when my body wanted to lay down, instead of forcing myself to slog through. It meant finding a way to be in my body (even though it wasn’t a pleasant place to be) instead of my head. To turn off the panicked noise telling me I was lazy, a wuss, I should be able to power through this. Frankly, that last was the hardest piece of it. It meant learning to be where I am, which is something I’m still struggling with.
Also, I think those of us who have fallen off that particular cliff should at least turn around and shout up a warning to others on the same path, “Hey! Watch out! There’s a huge fecking cliff right there!” So in part, this is my warning.
The good news is, that I am getting better. Finally. And I guess I wasn’t willing to talk about it until I knew I would get better. As a writer, I always need to know the ending before I can begin to tell the story. But thanks to incredibly accommodating regional organizers, I was able to speak at a regional SCBWI conference recently. I have also just returned from my first trip since the Mortal Heart book tour (plane seat ergonomics have been extremely problematic for me) and the first vacation my husband and I have gone on in, oh, about fifteen years. (Note: this is a great illustration of sucking at self care.) And I am doing my first signing event in over eighteen months this upcoming Saturday at the Ventura Barnes and Noble. So yes, I’m beginning to have a sense that the worst of this is behind me.
This has turned out to be far longer than I intended, so I’ll stop for now. But I want to end with a long overdue thank you to you, dear readers, for all of you that have read the books, talked about them, written reviews, tweeted, tumbled, and, most of all, written to me. It pains me that I have not been able to respond to all your lovely emails, but please know I have read them all multiple times and I cannot express how much joy they’ve given me over these past difficult months.
I will continue to talk more about all this in the weeks to come as well as discuss some of the aspects that I’m not quite ready to share yet. I also have some ideas on how I want to be better connected and stay in touch. Also? I might have some news to share soon. After all, you can’t lie flat on your back for that many months with nothing to do but think and not start coming up with new story ideas and plots and …
Thank you all for your patience.