The other day, I jokingly told my physical therapist that they’ve earned a spot in my book’s acknowledgments. “If I do manage to finish this book,” I said, “it’ll be because of you.” (At this point, I could probably say the same thing to my massage therapist and my therapist-therapist.) I have another manuscript revision due this week—third draft’s the charm, right?—which is frankly terrible timing, because for much of the last two weeks I’ve been unable to write without pain.
Neither my chronic pain nor my chronic illness is immediately perceptible to others. It’s hard to tell someone about your health after they’ve made a “joke” or said something grim about a condition you happen to have; it can be equally difficult when they’ve simply assumed that you must have no health issues at all. Sometimes, too, I feel like an imposter when I try to talk or write about mine: There are long stretches when my energy is high, when the test results are good, when the pain dulls to an ache I can almost-but-not-quite ignore. I am an enormously privileged person who is able to access the ongoing health care I need in order to live and work and care for my family and myself. But I’m not a machine, and I am increasingly aware of this fact as I work to meet my book deadline.
If I don’t often write about my pain, I have had to learn to write with it. Sometimes this means literally writing through it, because there is work I cannot put off. Other times, writing with pain means paying attention to it, listening to my body, and resting if that is an option.
I’ve found similar lessons in learning to write with pain and learning to live with grief: Both have forced me to awaken to specific needs and limitations, as well as the fact that what I want to do may not always line up with what is possible. Struggling against this reality, denying myself rest or care or other things I need in the name of nonstop productivity, won’t make it any easier to create the things I hope to create. I need to offer myself the same grace I would extend to anyone else.
You may have noticed that a topic frequently visited in this newsletter is how to sustain a creative life while treating yourself humanely. That word, sustain, is the key—because we all experience days when it may be difficult or impossible to write, for any number of reasons, and it’s important to remember that what we are actually trying to establish is a practice that will endure; that will allow us to do the creative work we love and need to do over years, decades, a lifetime.