The Disabled Writer

 Positive Things to Help with Writer’s Block.

Writers hear it all the time, if you are stuck writing or in a brain fog, get up, go for a run, go to the gym, change your environment, or relax in a hot bath. But what if you can’t? What if you are disabled like me? I can only speak for myself and my disability, and I would not presume to tell others how to manage their disability or give medical advice. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t do that. Only you and your own GP know how to handle your situation. What follows are a few things I do when I need to clear my head and get myself back on track.

First things first, I’ll tell you what my issue is and how gimpy I am so you can see why I do the things I do. I have long term Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). A lot of people have it, so you may already know what I’m talking about. I developed it when I was twenty-six and I am now forty-two. It is not an ‘old person’s disease’ but a genetic, autoimmune disease that means my immune system is attacking my joints and tendons causing fatigue, inflammation, pain and general destruction complete with creaking, crunching and grinding noises. There are some medications that suppress the immune system to try and stop its attack, or at least slow it down. At the moment, I take twenty-five pills a day and thirty on Fridays. I also down up to six doses of liquid morphine a day and inject myself twice a week with an immuno-suppressant drug. A lot of those pills are pain killers, like muscle relaxants and slow release morphine (secret: they don’t ever kill pain, they just make your brain recognise it less).

My main problems are restricted mobility and chronic pain. Chronic pain (as I am sure many readers will know) can be emotionally debilitating. It is not something you can just deal with or put out of your mind. Sometimes I cry. I can’t kneel, I can’t squat, I can’t straighten my legs all the way, and my feet are deformed. I use crutches to walk, and at home I use a trolley on wheels a bit like a walking frame. I use this to move between rooms so I can carry a cup of tea or move a plate into the dining area without help. I have been taught some coping skills in cognitive behavioural therapy to assist with pain management, such as pacing and meditation.

That’s enough carry on, let me share some of the things I do to fire up my brain when it is wilting in front of a blank page.

In place of going for a run/walk: I use my trolley and do a circuit or two of a couple of rooms without trying to hurt myself. I make a cup of tea, do some pots in the sink and wipe down the benches, sort my recycling, put a load in the washer or dryer, or if I’m feeling particularly feisty, clean the cat litter trays. These tasks are small and not too stressful. I can pace myself with them and take a break if I start to really hurt. They get me away from my computer and let my mind wander a little. I often find when I settle back down at my writing desk that words come more freely.

In place of going to the gym: I use YouTube to find ‘chairobics’  videos (yes, it really is a thing). I sit in my office chair and wave my arms around like an idiot for ten for fifteen minutes. It is surprisingly tiring. I do however mute the sound and put on some of my own music because the videos are primarily designed for older people and the soundtracks are generally not to my taste. If I’m going to wave my arms around and behave like a fool, I’m going to do it to Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, or Gun ‘N’ Roses, thank you very much. Once again, this gets the blood flowing and I am more energised to write afterwards. It is also at my own pace. If things start to hurt too much, I can press pause, wait for the pain to settle and then press play again.

In place of changing environments: The non-gimpy option is to go to a coffee shop or a library, to get out of the house. I’m not housebound, but getting out and about is not something I can do at the drop of a hat, there are some preparations and considerations required. So for me, changing my environment is more likely to include switching tasks, which I see as changing my mental environment. Sometimes I will try reading for an hour, usually something that does not take a lot of brainpower to get through. Or I will watch a short programme or a documentary of some sort. If it’s a documentary, I’ll usually look for something that relates to what I am writing. For pure entertainment, I find sci-fi or something with a lot of action is best to get the adrenaline pumping either in book or video format. This does work, there is some science behind it. Lisa Cron (Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence and Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel) conducted a study on readers by sticking them in an MRI while they read. Areas of their brains lit up as if they were performing the same tasks or going through the same emotions as the characters. So if a character’s heart is pumping madly because they are running away from the terrifying bad guy, yours will too (or it should if it’s been written well).

In place of having a hot bath: I don’t have a bath, I can’t get in and out of one, so I have a walk in shower with a shower chair. One day, when I have a lot of money I would like to buy one of those walk in baths with the little door, but for now, the shower will have to do. Apparently some bright spark did some research and identified that sitting in a hot bath for an hour increased energy consumption by 80%. It burns about one hundred and forty calories, the equivalent to a thirty minute walk  Voila, you are energised…or sleepy. I’m not sure if sitting under running hot water would do the same, but at the very least, it is relaxing and helps with a few aches and pains. I would not sit there for an hour though, my utility bills would be through the roof.

If all else fails: In this case, I do what anyone would do. There are two options:

  1. Just put words on the page even if it is rubbish, you can always throw it away, and you are still writing.
  2. Give it a rest for the day and come back to it tomorrow with fresh eyes. I would, however, keep thinking about what I need to write and I’d have a notebook or a digital recording device close at hand if I am struck by a sudden thought.

I understand not everything I have written here will be relevant to everyone, but I think it is important. Just because I can’t do what others do when they are stuck, it doesn’t mean things have to be harder, just different. I concede it might be more frustrating, but I choose to look at it this way, I might not be able to move around as freely as someone without a disability, but I can compensate for that in other ways. I have confidence in my abilities to create compelling words and stories people will enjoy, and I will use every means at my disposal to produce that material, even if I look stupid or people laugh at me for it. My joints might be knackered, but my brain isn’t.

Do you have any adapted ways of getting around writer’s block if you can’t get too physical about it? Share in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “The Disabled Writer

  1. Pingback: Little Sea Bear

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