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Writing While Sick, Depressed, Scared, And Other Deadly Sins

by RoAnna Sylver 4 years ago in advice
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Let's talk about writing while... well, the title.

I write things. Obviously; you're reading this now. #Writing is my life. And my life is also made up of a veritable cornucopia of suck. Mostly in the form of chronic illnesses, pain, and a brain that would much rather do anything besides writing, including dying immediately. And I figure some of you might be in the same boat here, so let's talk about writing while... well, the title.

How Can Bodies And Brains Suck? Let Me Count The Ways...

I got a message a while back asking about what it’s been like, writing with my various illnesses, both physical and mental/emotional.

And yeah, I have a lot of genetic weirdness going on. These things have funny names like Townes-Brock Syndrome (only one kidney! A removed extra thumb!), Arnold-Chiari Malformation (brain-stem compression fun!), Mast Cell Activation Disorder (anaphylaxis fun!), Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (heart and circulatory system fun!). And along with that, there's acute #anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, #depression... and more. Lots more.

But that doesn't even begin to say what it's like. A list of conditions doesn't tell you how #chronicillness and #disability inform every single area of your life - including your writing. It doesn't say how it makes you actually live, or feel.

Sometimes nobody can know until they've lived it. But it's still important to express.

You know the single question I get the most often?

"Are you scared?"


The Avengers, 2012

The Avengers, 2012

...Except not so much 'angry.' Same deal, though.

That's My Secret, Guys. I'm Always Scared.

And you wouldn't like me when I'm scared.

Or paralyzed with pain, literally or figuratively. Or thinking writing just isn't worth kicking my malfunctioning brain into working. Because pain makes you sharp. Hard. Have you ever seen a cornered, injured animal? Pain and fear can turn you into that.

Pain can make you a stranger even to yourself. Someone you don't know, or want to know.

But sure, if I'm lucky, I can maintain some kind of productive working/suffering balance. Sometimes the pain takes a backseat.

Copyright KC Green

Except that when I’m depressed, nothing matters.

I’d cry, but I don’t even have the energy. I’d talk to someone, but they definitely hate me regardless of evidence, so why bother? I’ll just make everything worse.

And with anxiety, everything matters.

I overanalyze every single word I have ever said, to anyone, and come to fifteen different (often contradictory) conclusions about why I'm wrong and nobody will ever love me and I have to fix everything or I will die right this second.

Sometimes, all that happens at the same time. Combine that with chronic illnesses and often-debilitating pain? While trying to write/work/do anything? Holy crap.

Copyright KC Green

It's hard to write when your brain very literally feels like it’s trying to kill you. "Self-expression" at that point would kind of be a horrified projectile vomit of despair, agony and terror (and maybe some literal vomit too).

So what I'm saying is, if you're dealing with any of the above, I totally hear you. You're not alone. It's okay to freaking hate writing, along with everything else in your entire life.

But unfortunately, if you're a writer, with deadlines, you kind of have to... write. So you gotta find ways. Here's some of mine.

You Can Try To Work Past It. ("Try" Being Key Here.)

It's easier on a good day. But when you have a deadline, you often can’t wait to feel better, so you just have to write through it. One way is to just start typing, anything, stream-of-consciousness, write absolute nonsense. (Which, you know, I usually think around 98% of my writing is.)

Ah yes. A fine day's work.

But here's the good part - writing is kind of like getting in the shower for me. I don't want to start/get my hair wet/stand up for that long, but once I'm in, it becomes so much easier and I never want to stop.

So if you can just punch through that first sentence and start writing anything, it should get a little better and easier. It's the starting that's hard. (And I don't have any magic for that, unfortunately, besides. The writing-nonsense thing.)

However, you can...

Make Deals With Your Brain!

Little reward systems work sometimes, especially when you're trying to build up to a routine, or hit a really hard writing day. It can be anything as simple as write a paragraph, and look at a video of a kitten or bunny or something. (There’s a great site for this actually:! I highly recommend!)

He's so proud of you for writing!

The more you write, the bigger your 'rewards.' Write a chapter, hide under blankets and play a videogame. Obtain a cookie, perhaps. Consume said cookie. Repeat.

Spite-Writing: Another Handy Little Cheat

One of my favorite tricks is to think about all of the people in my life who would love it if I stopped, and then write just to spite them. They want me to shut up? I will write and increase the never-shutting-up, so there.

My face when I spite-write

Sometimes it’s a bit worrying how much that helps.

Don't Just Write What You Know. Write What You Need.

Gonna get (even more) personal here for a sec.

I did write a book. Three, actually, and working on more. And the response to my first book, Chameleon Moon, and its sequels has been amazing. It's a sci-fi series about #LGBT/chronically ill/#disabled people like me, having superpowers and surviving a perma-burning dystopian city called Parole, and generally kicking ass and being awesome. But I also put a lot of my own fears/pain into it, and I guess that's what makes it ring true and feel real to so many readers.

I needed a book like it, that showed me I wasn't alone. Especially when I was a scared, sad, sick teenager. Hell, I still need that. So I try to write it.

It has a kind of amazing cover too.

Chameleon Moon isn’t just about people with superpowers who probably shouldn’t have them. It’s about dealing with pain every day, and surviving a horrible, impossible situation. The quarantined, burning city is a metaphor for how I feel living with chronic illnesses and brain-fun like #PTSD.The ground under my feet is cracking and there’s a fire burning under me. I’m living in Parole.

Regan, my main dude? The green one up there. He’s got scales and a lizard tongue -- and PTSD and acute anxiety, like me. His life is run by fight-or-flight. He’s constantly in a state of borderline panic, wanting to lash out or run away. He’s always got the shivers, he jumps at shadows.

And writing Regan is easy. Because I know exactly where he’s coming from. I bet you can write real, honest characters from your life-experience too. It's the realest writing, and it helps, both for you and someone else in the same crappy boat.

So Take The Hell, And Run With It.

Use the pain, anxiety, illness or trauma. Make it work for you.

Channel it into a character who helps you make sense of it. Like making a lizard guy who’s scared all the time. You get a really useful look into his reptilian brain. (Yeah, that's a psychology joke.)

Write what you need. And do it as much as you can. Because...

Thanks, Jogger Guy From Bojack Horseman.

That’s the goal, anyway, using your writing for catharsis and expression and making something beautiful - or ugly, or shocking, or raw - where there used to only be suffering.

You're The Best, Man

...Real talk tho? About having to do it every day? You don't. Not if it's more pain and less gain. So if you're struggling with any of the above, particularly if you're disabled, you modify. You do what you can. Bodybuilders don't blast the same muscle groups every got-dang day, they rotate and take breaks to let their muscles recover.

So it's okay to take a break. That's way better than burnout. And maybe rotate your 'workout,' and try putting the time into another area of your life/recovery.

Whatever step you take, even if that's standing still/just maintaining the ground you've made/avoiding a breakdown... you're still in the race. And that's what matters.

If Nothing Else, Remember:

  • There’s no shame in asking for help, or in resting. If you feel like you’re drowning, tell somebody you trust. You deserve to be safe and as happy as possible.
  • Writing can help you. This is your world you’re creating. Let it help you with your “real” world. Express the pain. Help yourself however you can.
  • It's okay if you can't write for expression or be 'productive' yet. It really is.
  • Most things are temporary. But some pain is chronic. Some you'll live with for the rest of your life. So...
  • If you need to, go back to point one.
  • You can do this. I believe in you. Fully. Wholeheartedly. Powerfully.
  • You are a goddamn hero.

Yes. I Crap You Not.

This is not just sugary-sweet #inspirational bullcrap; I mean this with my entire dysfunctional, palpitation-having heart.

If you are writing anything—or drawing, singing, painting, dancing, creating anything, contributing something positive to the world--

And even if you're not, even if you’re just trying to breathe, or trying not to die…


You are a freaking rock star.

You and Alice Cooper. (Wayne's World 1992)

You are a goddess, god, or glorious otherwise-gendered deity, worthy of praise and delicious desserts. Just getting through a single day is a victory. And you’ve won.


I tried to find the Most Inspirational Meme, and I was not disappointed

And, holy heck, if you manage to write, draw, sing or dance something, while feeling like the single worst being crawling across the surface of this planet? You’ve done one of the hardest, most important, single best things on the surface of this planet.

You're goddamn right, participation deserves a trophy sometimes.

Well Done. Bravely Done.

Despite all of the above, I'm not perfect, or well, or anything close. I still need to remind myself to keep going, every day, and some days I just can't.

But I try. Even if I'm in pain, or scared.

Like the Hulk, remember? I’m always scared.

Me, Punching Pain And Fear In The Face. (Also, Avengers, 2012.)

But I'm still here, and that's what matters.

Let’s be heroes together.


About the author

RoAnna Sylver

Writes weird books about marginalized people surviving/rocking out (CHAMELEON MOON, STAKE SAUCE), amazing puns, and geeky articles. Lives with chronic pain/genetic weirdness. An actual mutant. Open Your Eyes, Look Up To The Skies And See!

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