Thursday, 23 July 2009

What to do when it all falls apart

I think it’s fair to say that my entire career has been enveloped in a shadow of fear: fear of getting sick. I worked in-house [for a company] for many years and was keenly aware of my allotted 10 sick days a year. The stress caused by this dismal number made me sicker! Ten days? I get the flu once and I would be out of commission for seven days. Add children to the mix, and 10 days can blow by before the first thaw. And then you’re expected to trot into work during flu season because your sick days were used up in April. Ahhhh!

Though working freelance has enormous perks (mid-day naps when you just aren’t feeling 100 per cent, bunking off Fridays because you’d rather work Sunday, or late starts to the day), we still need some kind of contingency plan for when we fall sick. I’m referring here to the usual everyday illnesses we suffer, not the I-need-disability-insurance kind of illness. That’s a whole other plan of attack.

I’m guffawing at my own attempt at seeming so well-organized that I have a “plan” for when I get sick. I mostly do an awful lot of praying and deal-making with the universe, along with taking 1200 mg of vitamin C (ramped up to 1800 when I am under the weather) and half a bottle of Bio-K Plus every day to help my immune system boot out as many germs as it can. (Bio-K is fermented milk which helps increase your immune system. It was prescribed to me by Homeopathic Doctor.)

But what do you do when you’re on deadline and are flattened by a debilitating virus or bacterial infection? I suffered a bacterial skin infection in my right hand in January and was on antibiotics that made me loopy. Of course, I had four projects on the go at the time. What did I do? I sent emails informing clients of the situation and said I’d be late a few days. Most times, people are very understanding.

I was curious to see, though, if a seasoned writer had any better tools/tips for recovery so I e-mailed an author friend of mine, Bobby Hutchinson, to see what she had to say. I share it here for you:

“The rule of thumb is: if you're on deadline, anything dastardly that can go wrong, will. I always skate close to open water (leave everything to the last minute,) and was already behind when I broke my right wrist, two weeks before my book was due. The cast went from my fingers to my elbow, making typing nearly impossible. I panicked and immediately ordered Naturally Speaking, a voice recognition program. Well, my naturally speaking voice obviously didn't marry up with the professional variety and what resulted was a sort of logical gibberish with little relation to my story, and only a vague kinship with English.

I persevered for several days and when I reached the point where suicide was a viable option, I finally gave up, called my editor and asked for a lengthy extension, which was graciously granted (by me -- I was her editor at the time!). But when the cast comes off, getting back in the game is much harder than opting out because now you're no longer in the habit of brushing your teeth and sitting down to write. You've become a creature of leisure, albeit one with desperate financial problems. Besides that, if you're anything like me, you've now forgotten any vague plan you had for the original story. All you can do is get through it any way you can.

Walking, mundane as it is, gets me through many writing crises and keeps my behind from exceeding the width of my chair. Reading also works, especially if the author blurb contains some reference to the writer having written the book while suffering from typhoid fever. Two days babysitting small children is also a great way to get back to writing, and feeling blessed--as in, 'Thank God they're gone and I'm too old to have any more of my own.' And there's always Green Drink, a disgusting concoction of blue-green algae, fresh ginger, soy protein, water and a banana. The last, drastic resource is a sign I have taped to my desk. It says: OK, God. You do quality, I'll do quantity.”

So, it seems that regardless of the number of years we’ve put in, whether we write fiction or magazine pieces, work full-time or sporadically, when due dates loom in the midst of things falling apart, we are all equal. There is no magic formula or fail-proof plan for recovery from health setbacks, except for doing all that you can to get through and saying a little prayer for good measure.

When life pushes, push back!