12.3.15 - On Self-Care and the Writer

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As I write this, instead of happily crashing on the second week of NaNoWriMo, I am sitting in a hospital room in Florida.

My mum had a knee replacement/revision originally scheduled a month from now, but the doctor had an opening and things were suddenly moved up four weeks. I had to drop everything and rush down for the surgery and the first week of post-op. Hey, my mum needed me. That’s what we daughters and sons do when our parents need us. 

I’m trying to work, which isn’t going as well as it could be. We’re taking the hospital in shifts, so someone is with mum most of the time, so I’ve had some quiet time, but I can’t concentrate. I’m worried about her, worried about my dad, worried about my husband at home, worried about my brother, who isn’t as well-versed with this process as I am. (Thank you, pre-med and years of Web MD and multiple surgeries, for giving me the vocabulary to actually speak with doctors and nurses.) There have been 50,000 conferences with 10,000 doctors and nurses and CPAs and students and anesthesiologists and speech therapists and rehab facility case managers and care workers and chaplains, and I’ve been present for them all.

We’ve been eating hospital cafeteria food, doing laps down hospital corridors, dodging men with IV poles and milky-white bottoms peeking through their open gowns, and spending too much time sitting in uncomfortable chairs watching Mum hurt. 

What I haven’t been doing is taking decent care of myself.

There has been no yoga, no walks outside, no vegetables outside of a few salads. Sleep is preciously guarded, but it’s been cut short, too, by late nights and early mornings. There’s been too much caffeine, too much sitting, and way too much guilt about not getting the work done that I desperately need to do. My to-do list is growing and growing and growing, and my stress levels are going through the roof.

Moments ago, it struck me that outside of my mother and myself, no one actually expects me to write this week.

Who can write in these situations? Maybe if you had a chance to prepare yourself for the pain and indignity and general annoyances that crop up every ten seconds when you’re trying to be a caregiver, you’d be able to stay in a creative flow. Maybe if I was a Wonder Woman who really could ignore the sighs and squeaks and knocks and beeps and groans, then I could work. Maybe if I scheduled more than an hour of writing time in the morning, or could stay awake for more than five minutes at night, I’d be hitting my 1666 words a day. (I think there’s a reason NaNoWriMo has a 666 in the daily word count. Just sayin’.)

I had planned to do this post a couple of weeks ago, with warm, nurturing advice about how writers in particular need to practice self-care. One of my favorite yogis, Tara Stiles, founder of Strala Yoga, recently released a cookbook filled with delicious, healthy, easy recipes. Because I pre-ordered the cookbook, I received a complimentary yoga video entitled "Chilling Out." How perfect, I thought. I will share her cookbook, make suggestions for writers to do yoga and get plenty of sleep, water and vegetables, and all will be well in the land. We will all chill out. Chilling out is how the writer can truly exercise self-care. 

Yeah. Like that works.

Maybe what I need to be talking about right now isn’t what I originally planned. Self-care isn’t necessarily about eating healthy and getting enough exercise, though they do go a long way in helping you cope when things do get out of balance.

Maybe self-care is more about finding the right balance.

Maybe it's about forgiveness. About not beating yourself up when you can’t make words flow under difficult circumstances. About accepting life with a little grace, and not trying to force everything into doing exactly what you want it to do.

I got upset with my brother yesterday when he interrupted my “writing time”. I’d stayed home to get some words down, and he came back unexpectedly, turned on the TV, and proceeded to be very distracting. I told him I was trying to work, and he said, “Just do it later.”

Of course, that pissed me off. “I didn’t write 18 book in 10 years by just doing it later,” I retorted, huffing off to the hospital because I had a better chance of working there than at home. I mean, Mum does sleep sometimes. 

I didn’t get anything done there, either.

So here I sit, writing my weekly blog instead of creating, telling myself that exact thing – I’ll just do it later (tomorrow, this weekend, next week) - and I’m trying to find some grace in that.

The world won’t end if I don't make my word count this week.

I will have to double up on work next week to stick to my goals, but that’s okay. I’m needed in a different way this week than normal, and the work can wait.

And maybe that’s okay. Just this once.

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I’ve been blogging weekly for eleven years now. I often get requests to advertise on this site. Because I don’t particularly want to clutter up the blog with lots of endorsements and buttons, I’ve always declined. The thing is, writing these blogs takes time away from my creative writing. The second thing is, I love doing it. That’s why I’ve always done it for free. The third thing is, many, many bloggers I greatly respect and admire either allow advertising, or have instituted Tip Jars. I am a writer, which means I’m a copycat, so I’m going to institute this solution as well. Eventually, if I get enough tips, I might just make a book of non-fiction and other cool stuff from the past several years of my writing journey, just for you!

If you like what you read today, please consider leaving a tip on the way out. No pressure. But unicorns wearing roses might show up if you do! 

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J.T. Ellison

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of fifteen critically acclaimed thrillers and is the co-author of the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. With over a million books in print, Ellison’s work has been published in twenty-five countries and thirteen languages. She is also the co-host of A Word on Words, Nashville's premier literary TV series, which airs on Nashville Public Television. She lives with her husband and twin kittens in Nashville. Visit JTEllison.com, and follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick or at Facebook.com/JTEllison14.