2 May 2013 - 6:03 pm

Fighting the spiral

Watching life zoom by (picture by Norma Desmond)

Watching life zoom by
(picture by Norma Desmond)

For the second time in a month, I’ve had to delay Starwalker posts. Not by one week, but by two.

I hate it. I hate missing deadlines, I hate letting my readers down, and I hate the way I’m sliding into being one of those unreliable writers who can’t keep to her own schedule. I don’t want to be That Writer.

It’s not because I’m worried about losing audience or what people might think of me. My readers are wonderful, and their messages of patience and understanding lighten the load from me. I am more grateful for them than I can say. The hardest person on me is me, and I know that.

It’s because I’m better than that. Being reliable is a part of who I am. Being a writer who puts her work out there is a big part of my life. I can do better than that.

Except lately, I haven’t. I have stared at the Starwalker post that’s two weeks overdue now, over and over, and it’s still not done. There are several reasons:

  1. It’s an action scene, which is hard, and I’m still working out the logistics of what exactly needs to happen.
  2. Things at home went sideways last week when my brother got some bad news (nothing dire, but not ‘good’ either), and now my mother is flying over to the UK to help him and his little ones out.
  3. My health has been getting worse over the past few weeks.

I could probably deal with any one of those on its own. Number 1 is something that I can usually handle without too much problem; I work my way through it, rewrite it two or three times (sometimes from scratch), and generally beat it with a stick until it looks like something I like. However, it requires some focus and attention to achieve, and that has been lacking lately.

Number 2 came out of left field for us, and has meant a lot of stuff to organise and think about around my home life. My mum flies out tomorrow, and it’s going to take the weekend (and possibly some of next week) to iron out the pattern of my life while she’s away. She’s probably going to be with my brother and his family for the next year (a few months at minimum), so my dad and I need to work out a sustainable schedule.

This was complicated recently by the cam belt in my dad’s car going ‘spang’ and taking the entire engine out, which means we’re currently sharing a (my) car. It’s not a problem we can’t work around, but it means that I’m less flexible and mobile than I used to be. It’s another mental overhead to add to the pile.

Problem number 3 is the thing that makes all this worse. I’ve had some tests done into the digestive issues I have, and I have a list of conditions (which I won’t go into) and medications to take. So far, I’m seeing varying success, but it’s going to be a few weeks before I see any real improvements. So plugging on there.

On top of that (and possibly related), the chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is getting worse. I can usually push past it and do what I need to do, but not in the last few weeks. It is a weight that is pressing on me more and more, chipping away at the edges of what I can do in any one day. I am struggling more and more to write during my daily commute to work; in the mornings, I tend to doze and try to charge up before I get to the office. It has been getting steadily harder to summon up the mental energy to be creative. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been too drained to even write on the way home (and I am usually my most alert towards the end of the day).

I haven’t really talked a lot about what the fatigue is like. I’ve talked about the impact that it has, but that’s not quite the same. Maybe I’m more aware of it now, because the physical symptoms are cropping up again (I was mostly free of them for the past couple of years or so). It makes my whole body heavy and hard work to move, as if the world is treacle that I have to push myself through. It gives me exhaustion headaches that work their way down my neck to my shoulders and back, and knot up all the muscles. They can last for a day or more, through the night, even waking me up in the middle of it (there’s nothing more annoying than being woken out of a deep sleep by an exhaustion headache). I ache randomly, or tingle all over. Sometimes I feel dizzy and weak, or tremble. Sometimes, my heart will beat weirdly, or I’ll get random chest pains (it hasn’t got that bad lately, thank goodness).

The worst part for me are the mental impacts (I tend to be able to push through the physical stuff, at least as far as being productive and writing goes). My short-term memory is the first to suffer (I wind up writing a lot of notes to myself). My mood can be affected: when I’m around people, I can get silly and irreverent (I’m hilarious when I’m exhausted), and I’m generally more emotionally reactive to things when I’m tired. My attention span suffers, thoughts bouncing from subject to subject. It’s probably related to the memory issue, as I attempt to check that I haven’t forgotten anything important. Usually, I am most productive when I multi-task and bouncing between things works well for me, but when I’m exhausted, my work becomes fragmented and I struggle to focus well on anything. It’s an effort to finish things (I’ll probably save the draft of this post and wander off several times before getting close to finishing it).

It also becomes hard to be creative. I’ll want to, but getting into that zone is much harder. Right now, summoning up the energy to create the right mood and produce good words is just beyond me. I could force it if I had to, but that never goes well. Some days, it’s borderline and if I push myself, I can do it and it’s fine. Lately, most days, it’s just not going to happen. It’s hard to explain it. Sometimes it’s just the wrong mood for me (trying to do a high-energy scene like the current space battles is particularly challenging), and other times I just don’t have the mental space. It gets hard to step away from the distractions of my life; my brain bounces too often back to real-world stuff and I lose the train of what I was writing.

I’ve heard writing fiction as renting space in your readers’ brains. Well, first you need to create that space in your own brain, build it up and live it in, before you can push it out to the world. With CFS playing up, it’s lucky if I have a shoebox in there to spare, and having a cluttered life brings it down to a coffee tin.

Life with CFS is a game of weathering the ups and downs of your energy. It’s about balancing what I want to do today with how much it will cost me over the next several days. For those who’ve heard of it, the spoons metaphor is an apt one. Lately, there have been more downs than ups, and my general energy level has been low. I’ve had less spoons to play with.

I’ve had chronic conditions my whole life, and I hate when they restrict what I can do so much that they rule my life. We all have things that we have to deal with and work around every day, to do what we want and need to do. That’s fine. But I despise when the condition tries to take over and takes away my ability to live my life.

Let me be clear about one thing: I’m not depressed about it. I have never been depressed about it, even when I can barely get off the couch or stand up without going dizzy. Even when I’m so tired that I can barely think straight and it’s all I can do to put one foot in front of the other to get to the nearest bed/couch/chair. Even when I hurt so much I want to cry but don’t because my headache is bad enough, thanks very much.

I’m annoyed and frustrated. I work hard to support my family and make myself a comfortable place to lay my bones down at the end of the day. I’ve got dreams that I fight to work towards. I don’t need this shit making it all harder, and yet here it is. I take a break to try to catch my breath, but it’s not enough any more. I never truly get back up on my feet before I slide down again.

This is where the spiral comes in, and this is the part that frustrates me the most. I do less to try to rest up, but can never reach that previous level of energy, so try doing less again, and then less some more, until I wind up scraping by, sacrificing everything but the bare minimum of what I need to do to earn a living and eat. I’m not there yet, but I have been down that slope before and I don’t want to be there again.

It’s true that I’m doing more these days. I’m pushing myself harder and reaching for more things. I have a lot of balls in the air, juggling like crazy. Maybe I have finally reached that level of ‘too much’ and I need to cut back – okay, I’ll do that. Maybe it is time for something to give. But lately, I have cut back on everything, even wound up taking sick days off work to rest up because I simply couldn’t function well enough to be at work, and it’s still not enough.

Truth is, maybe I’m a little scared, too. I don’t want to lose everything I’ve worked so hard for over the past five years, building the life I have here in Australia. The friends I spend time with, the writing I do, the communities I’m involved with, the events I organise… I love it all, but all of it together is too much right now.

I think it’s time for a change. Nothing major – certainly not as drastic as shifting country – but it’s time to look hard at the factors in my life and see what I can change to make it work. It’s probably time to go back to the CFS specialist I was seeing for a while (though I’m not sure I can afford that at the moment). I need to re-evaluate the priorities of the things around me, and figure out how to do what I want to do in my heart. It’s hard, because I want to do everything, but sometimes reality just gets in the way.

I’m still slipping down this spiral and I don’t know the answer yet. But I’m damned if I’m going to let it swallow up all the good things in my life. Time to change the tempo and see if I can’t hammer my life into the shape I want it to be, one way or another.

Wish me luck. It’s probably going to get harder before it gets better.

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  1. Trubble says:

    Melanie, I am so sorry thar you suffer from CFS, too! I know all too well how it can affect your life! I also have fibro, migraines, etc…. I know where you are coming from, + I pray you can get it back under control soon! Stress can exacperate it so much! There is a lot of good resources for dealing with it, even support groups, online, thank goodness! That has been a godsend for me the last couple years! But my writing dried up more than 13 yrs ago, + I really miss it! I am still never bored, though, lol! I pray you + your family will pull through just fine!
    As much as I love your stories, I would rather hear that you are feeling better before reading more! Take care! Love, prayers, + hugs!

    May 6th, 2013 at 9:17 am

  2. Mel says:

    Thanks so much, Trubble! Always good to know that there are people out there who understand. 🙂 I really appreciate the good wishes.

    The ironic thing is that I’m a lot less stressed these days than I used to be. Last year was a nightmare for me in terms of stress; this year is much calmer and steadier. Which is a good thing!

    Now all I need is for my health to reflect that. Did you hear that, health? I’m talking to you.

    Hope you win your battles with it all, too.

    May 6th, 2013 at 4:27 pm

  3. Becka says:

    Hey Mel,

    Sorry to hear things aren’t going so well. :/

    Fatigue sucks. It sucks so much more than normal tiredness.

    Only you can say what helps with your illness but I wonder if maybe it would help to have a planned hiatus once the current relapse ameliorates and use it build a little buffer so if things go pearshaped again you can just update and then go rest ?

    Hope things level out soon,

    May 6th, 2013 at 6:37 pm

  4. Mel says:

    Thanks Becka!

    Yeah, taking a hiatus did cross my mind. Right now, I’m just a few posts away from the end of the third book of the web serial, and I was planning to take a month off once that was done, so… I’m kinda hoping I don’t have to do it now. Also, I keep leaving big cliffhangers. 😉

    It’s an option I’m keeping in my back pocket for now. Thanks for the suggestion – it’s most welcome!

    I’d like to take some time off from my life. Do you think that’s possible?

    Hope things are going well for you, too!

    May 6th, 2013 at 6:43 pm