Chronic Conditions, Creativity, & Accepting Death

Image description: A cemetery angel statue with the base of the monument in focus. Green trees and muted blue sky in the background.

Look I have books to write, and art to make, and a film project that’s going on a second year of being on hold.

I want these projects to exist out in the world, so very badly.

But I’m sick. I need surgeries. My spoons are few and they’re being used for my full time job and my masters classes (thanks to a lot of flexibility and personal prioritization, I might add).

In the past when life got difficult, when my health issues flared, when I shifted into survival mode, I would just push my creative projects through, even though I didn’t have the energy to fully develop and execute them properly.

In the past, the only projects that were given proper attention were stories I had accepted to anthologies, where I worked with editors to polish the work and had to adhere to the publishing schedule. As for my independently produced projects, I cut all sorts of corners and made glaring compromises.

I was driven by this terrible fear that I would die before life brought me to a better place. If I didn’t create now, I would not live to see my work out in the world.

Well, there was more than just that. Living with so much pain in my day-to-day, with more bad days than good, I wanted to know I would have work out there to enjoy when the flare up ended and I would be granted a little plateau of stability. And, ultimately, it was a way to feel in control. Things were only really bad, I told myself, if I stopped creating.

So, I kept creating. And I kept adding more and more on to my goals–blogging, guest posts, stories, novel-length self-published books. Photography, videos, art. I wouldn’t read a book unless I could review it for my website. I wouldn’t spend my time on anything unless it was for content. I didn’t rest, I didn’t edit, I didn’t plan much. I just pushed through the pain and created.

Eventually, everything fell apart. Instead of improving a little with each project, I became messier and less detailed. I was burned out, I wasn’t inspired, and I was getting tired of the desperation in the pit of my stomach that settled in every time I tried to produce something. I was also tired of having to unpublish things because there were too many mistakes, or looking at finished projects out of the corner of my eye because I knew I had compromised on what I had envisioned the project to be.

I took a lot of stuff down and revamped my “brand”, trying to move in a different direction. I was going to re-write blog posts and books and republish them, then move on to new projects. But deep down I knew I was just spinning my wheels. I had to start over. So, finally, I took everything I could down and retired my pen name.

And then…

I stopped creating.

I rested. I worked on taking care of my body and prioritized my mental health. I dealt with trauma stuff I hadn’t been able to address when I had been so manic about my production schedule. I daydreamed without writing it down. I started putting together a new personal style. I watched YouTube videos and walked around graveyards and just enjoyed existing as I worked to manage my health. It was strange, yet delightful. A creative rock-bottom blessing I didn’t know I needed, and am so grateful I found.

Of course, one day, I felt the stirring to create again.

But I knew this time, it would have to be different. I would have to plan. I would have to give a particular eye to the details. I would have to edit. I would have to learn and improve as I moved through my process. I would have to take it slow, which would be even slower to account for the state of my current health.

And, yes, thinking about that was scary. A fist in my chest tightened around my old fear. What if I don’t make it to the end? What if I begin, and there’s just not enough time?

I went out to the middle of a corn field to meditate (like ones does) and faced my fear. Ultimately, I decided that I would rather die in the middle of a meaningful project of quality work than die after creating many mistake-riddled compromises. I decided, and I accepted.

Knowing that, feeling that, has been a huge breakthrough in my creative life. Now instead of being upset that I can’t go out and get a ton done on a project, I can focus on the tiny part I am working on now and make it the best it can be. Crafting my project so carefully and intentionally is a rewarding way to get through the pain. And then, when the pain lifts, I can put together what I’ve done and see progress. I can revel in the bright faith of how amazing this project is going to be. I can have passion, even through difficult times.

If you’re worried, I will say, I don’t think I am *going to die*. The fear just arrives for me often, and it’s not surprising. I’ve known intimately the limits of the body since a very young age. But, yes, I also know how strong and miraculous our bodies can be. And I’m doing everything I can to take care of my amazing, miraculous body. (Which includes 2 surgeries this spring!)

I am hopeful now. I know good days are ahead. Actually, I know the best days are ahead. I know that I’ll feel much better after my upcoming surgeries and that everything I’ve done to invest in my physical and mental health will help me on the other side of this most recent rash of medical disasters. I do have to reign myself in. Sometimes I still make a creative to-do list then need to throw it away because it’s too much. But I’m finding that it’s becoming easier to practice a slower creative pace.

And, so far, I can proudly say I have all my corners. None have been cut since starting over my creative life. So my humble goal going forward is to simply keep it that way, no matter how long it takes.

‘Til next time; be sharp, be delicate.

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