The Writer’s Pursuit of Health – When Writing Hurts

The Writer's Pursuit of Health, When Writing Hurts, Serena Saint-Marceaux, Rabid Rainbow Ferret Society, health, writing, physical health, pain, dealing with pain

I could talk about how my writing and my emotional state (my mental health) form an interlocking and interdependent superstructure in my psyche, but. . . Well, I’ve already written that post. (Maybe from multiple angles.)

Instead today I’ll talk a little about the way my writing and my physical health interlock – which is not always such a positive foundation.

My physical health can be a tricky thing to quantify (but isn’t it that way for many people? health isn’t so straightforward as we might like, I think) from the easily-labelled (anaemia, RAD, hypotension and hypoglycaemia that when layered cause dizziness and fainting spells, old injuries, etc.) to the mysterious (trouble under direct summer sunlight, overly ‘stretchy’ tendons and slightly flexible bones, ‘migraines’ that black out my vision with no pain, systemic problems rooted in what could be an immune disorder, etc.). Sitting around for long periods is hard on even a healthy body! With one a little more banged up? Well. . .

The little ‘quirk’ of my loose tendons is why ‘I just dislocated my [fill in the blank]’ is a much more minor problem for me than many people. Either the joint slides right back into place on its own as whatever movement I made continues, with some lingering soreness and stretched muscles/tendons that make it temporarily more likely to happen again, or I manipulate the joint/exert outside pressure to pop it back into place myself.

It hurts for a while, but that’s all. No damage, little difficulty, save for those (like when it happens to my ribs or hips) that I can’t fix and must simply wait.

That quirk is also part of why no one realised that at three years old, a minor car accident dislocated both my shoulders – which never did get put back into place.

My shoulders are still partially out of joint today (a close look shows the acromion of my scapula and the knob topping my humerus not quite together; from the back my shoulders slant forwards at a severe angle) and just about the worst thing I can do for them is, well . . . sit upright or leaning slightly forwards, with my arms in front of me or in my lap. Especially if my head is bowed.

Sounds like a standard writing position, doesn’t it? And also most of my crafty hobbies. Or reading. Or many other things.

Standard healthy position for sitting at a desk/computer.

This is one of the worst positions I can attempt to keep myself in, as it happens. (Diagram is in the public domain.)

So I get creative in how to sit. And I shift often – not only do I feel more comfortable in general, but it can head off the bone-deep muscle aches in my shoulders that radiate outwards and make me want to cry. Or stiffness and pain in other joints and muscles.

Writer curled sideways on couch, working on a laptop.

I’ve been informed that this is a ‘mermaid curl’. I use a blanket to prop at my left side; the pillow is sometimes wedged between my knees for support. (Mostly out of sight, tucked against me and under the table, is one of my cats. This is also a common part of this position.)

My standard writing position is far from most peoples’, I suppose – and certainly from any advised desk posture. I can’t even really say why it is so comfortable, especially as it’s so uneven. (Although sometimes I do switch to a position that stretches the muscles on the opposite side, it is not a mirror of this one.) I do sit in other positions frequently, but this is my go-to, and least likely to aggravate any part of my body.

Another Ferret has told me that while she fully understands I lounge this way because it is comfortable for me, looking at it she can only think of a chiropractor saying ‘Why?

I’ve learned to compensate in the ways that work best for me – and sometimes I’ve just learned to deal with the pain. That’s not the greatest choice, but sometimes it’s the one I’ve got – and sometimes I have to choose; do I write to deal with the mess in my head or keep myself from working into physical hurt.

Sometimes I can’t even make that choice and find myself physically incapable of writing, or doing much of anything that involves my arms (or lying down, leaning sideways, sitting up properly). Those are particularly unpleasant days. Forced inaction chafes on anyone, but to compound that with constant pain and knowing I can’t even write? Well, I do everything I can to minimise those times.

Another problem my tendons contribute to is the one that requires these.

Pair of hands in wristbraces on keyboard.

With these on it can be difficult to even get my fingers fully on the keyboard.

There are eight small, almost pebble-like bones in a human wrist. They are nestled in a web of muscles and tendons and many complex, interlocking joints that give us such amazing flexibility and range.

This is all incredible until one or more of these little bones decides it wants to try being somewhere else for a change. I’m not sure why, but my wrists are some of the most delicate joints in my body. (It wasn’t always so, but there was no incident to pinpoint as the source of worsening trouble.) Sometimes, often without warning or reason, anywhere from one to three of those little bones will shift ever so slightly out of place.

That’s where the braces above come into play. They each have two metal plates in them, and stabilise the problem wrist until it eventually falls back into alignment and the stressed joint(s) heal. I am fortunate that it is rare I have to wear both braces at once. (I also have another, different brace for when the wrist problem extends up to the joint of my thumb, to immobilise it as well.)

Needless to say, a snug wristbrace with carefully-shaped plates of metal in it to prevent movement is very difficult to type in. I am bad about this – I will often take off my brace to write, even if my wrist aches terribly. I type so slowly, and manoeuvring my mouse is so difficult, I get too frustrated. So I simply try and keep my hand and wrist as still as possible while I type, and do nothing else before replacing the brace.

I did once see a specialist about my wrists. Several hours, numerous x-rays, and a number of varyingly painful exercises and proddings later, I was told that he had an idea of what might be wrong. He recommended surgery, to ascertain if he was correct. And if he was, then the problem could be maybe corrected with further surgery. I said no. (Are you kidding me? Invasive surgery – I was specifically warned – on both wrists, as a teenager, just to see if a particular problem was present?)

As it turned out, the braces that doctor gave me didn’t work, either – and they caused me horrible pain. All in all it was not a very productive visit, and little has changed since then. I’m still not any more inclined to go looking for that elusive, surgical solution.

I’ve learned how to manage my body, my health, against my writing (and my passion for it), and at times that means learning when something needs to give, for my own sake. Even if I don’t want it to. (I’m stubborn, I admit.)

So I try to improve, I look for better ways – and ways to get into better shape – and I muddle along in the middle ground I’ve discovered works for me. What more can a writer ask for?

Even if I do most of my writing from a mermaid curl.

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