Thursday, August 20, 2015

Broken, Not Bitter. An Author's Life with RSI (and TOS)

Writers can't write when their computers disable them. My story of how Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and Repetitive Strain injuries stole my excellent nursing job and years of pursuing my writing career is on The Creative Penn blog today. If you depend on a computer to get through your day please read how you can prevent life-changing injuries.

Monday, July 20, 2015

My Life is Not About I Can't. It's About I Can. Reflections on Living and Writing with TOS and other RSI

July is Disability Pride Month. 

I don't spend much time on this blog because I've moved on from those dark days of pain, despair, and hopelessness that limited my abilities, stole parts of my life, and denied my dreams for years. Disability is a place I no longer want to visit, although it defines my life and makes me who I am. Each day I move forward and make the most of what I can do. Since it's been a while since I last posted to this blog, I'd like to share a little bit about what I've been up to and how I manage to do it. My message: Never give up. Even a little bit can be a lot. This blog post originally appeared on The Balanced Writer.

Respect Your Limitations ~ Live Your Dreams

photo by Edward Samuel via Dollar Photo Club
Ask any writer and she’ll tell you it’s difficult to manage writing projects while balancing life’s more immediate responsibilities: parenting, marriage, family, friends, a job. When I started this writing life my biggest issue was finding time to write. I worked as a nurse, had a young child, a husband, a home, all of the above. I wrote when the opportunity arose, often after everyone else went to sleep. It was slow going, but I didn’t care. I knew I’d finish the book someday.  

Then something happened that I never expected, and it left me unable to write for years. An inappropriate computer work station at my job left me with thoracic outlet syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome, bursitis, tendinitis, headaches, and chronic musculoskeletal and nerve pain. All of this led to three surgeries and years of physical and occupational therapy. Yet despite all of the medical care, my chronic pain issues continue to require some level of management every day.

Needless to say, this makes it difficult for me to achieve my goals as a writer, but with these injuries came something I had longed for: plenty of time to write, because the job became history and my new occupation was to get well. What irony. Yet I am unwilling to allow my disabilities to stop me from pursuing my goals, and proceed at my own pace, heeding the words of my very wise doctor: “Respect your limitations.” This requires a delicate balancing act. I often feel like I walk a tightrope, one day in perfect harmony with the rope and the next day teetering on its edge.

Writing with this type of disability involves a variety of tools, devices, and strategies. For example, I rotate my writing between a PC, laptop, and iPhone. Sometimes I skip the keyboard and use pen and paper. I also use Dragon Dictation, an excellent tool.

I manage almost all of my social media via my iPhone. It is indispensable, allows me to take advantage of small chunks of time, and helps me accomplish more than I ever would if I relied solely on a PC or laptop. I’ve used it to write sections of my books, emails and letters, my never-ending to-do lists, and endless research. Automated programs like Hoot Suite and Tweetdeck are also useful in coordinating my posts and tweets.

Daily physical care of my injuries (which flare easily and frequently) involves topical and oral pain relievers, heat and/or ice, and hand splints. Periods of rest and avoidance of keyboarding are mandatory. Aquasize classes twice a week help keep me flexible. Massage therapy and chiropractic are often used modalities.

When on a healing break from writing I read, studying the writing process and learning more about publishing and marketing. I also indulge in novels in a variety of genres.

Five years ago I was able to return to work two days a week. I don’t write on work days and I don’t beat myself up if I’m unable to write for several days after a work day because of a flare-up (my job, unfortunately, requires computer use.)

These are just some of the ways I manage to balance my physical disabilities and my writing life.

A common “rule” for writers is to write everyday. This isn’t possible for me, and so I don’t. Some might say I’m not a writer because I don’t work every day. I disagree. I work when I’m able to – physically - and when that’s not possible I do what I must in order to recover from any overuse so I can scratch out another page or two and slowly work my way to The End.

My advice to anyone who uses a keyboard for any significant length of time is to always be aware of your posture; sit up, don’t slump. Take frequent rest breaks. Listen to your body. If you feel any pain, stop and take a moment to stretch. Muscles, ligaments and nerves can easily become injured from overuse and need tender loving care. These injuries can take years to heal, and some may not heal at all. Often, surgery is required, and is no guarantee of freedom from pain and return to full function. For more information read this.

My story has a happy ending: I’ve learned to manage my disability to the point where I am able to pursue writing at my own very slow, but slowly productive, pace. In April of 2013, I succeeded at publishing my debut novel, Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer’s love story, in paperback, ebook, and audiobook. I’m working on a second novel, Swim Season. I have this blog, a Facebook page, Twitter, and Pinterest presence. I teach classes on how to publish your own book. My writing dream is alive!