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Writing Self-Care for When the World is Afire

[1]At graduation, by all objective measurements, I should have been a well-trained family doctor. Yet during my first three years of medical practice, I don’t think a day passed when I didn’t want to tear my hair out in perplexity.

People would walk in with vague symptoms that didn’t seem to fit any specific diagnostic pattern. In my newly minted state, I wouldn’t know if I was seeing an obscure condition I hadn’t been taught about, a minor biological glitch that would soon fix itself, or the earliest, nondescript stage of a dangerous illness.

As a hyper-conscientious nutcase—an extremely scientific term that encapsulates my personality—let me describe how this affected me: When I managed to reach my bed, I slept poorly. My holiday plans? Deferred and shortened. During family walks, I’d think about work and hustle us home to look up “just this one thing.”

That’s probably why my extremely patient husband used to repeat a particular story on the regular.

I have no idea if it’s true, or if it’s one of those urban legends that conformed with his loving and personal agenda. I might have responded with an eye roll and a “yeah-yeah.” But the ToolMaster was consistent in the telling and in hindsight, I think it’s a useful parable for difficult times.

When working to address a famine, he said, the people who stick—the ones who can last more than a few weeks or months—are the ones who bust their humps during the day and then spend the nighttime in retreat. They return to their compound. They  take care of themselves—resting, eating, talking with others who are working through the same challenges. Thus replenished, the following day they return to their battle stations.

What does this have to do with writing?

Well, I’m composing this post on January 12th. By the time you read this, it’s impossible to predict what political events will have transpired in the recent past, or what the next 72 hours will bring. I have ideas, though, and they’re largely concerned and anxious ones.

I hope to be proven wrong. I hope you’re coming to Writer Unboxed for your routine boost of inspiration and writing-related skill acquisition. I hope you won’t be glued to the TV in dread, and that your biggest concern will be about what to defrost for dinner and which Zoom-interrupting kid to yell at first. But if things are scary and big—and even if they aren’t—there are writing lessons to unpack from the ToolMaster’s anecdote.

During challenging times, self-care is a key to longevity

Here’s an exercise to try: Turn off the TV, tune out the world and set your timer for 5 minutes. Open a document or take a sheet of paper and write down these categories of health: physical, mental, spiritual. Then brainstorm the things you can do today to enhance them.

Can you commit to doing at least one thing on your list?

Is writing on your list? For some of you, it’s an instinctual act of self-care, if not an absolute requirement for financial reasons. If not, if you’ve dismissed it as self-indulgent or trivial, or have no external deadline that pushes you to the page, I’d urge you to reconsider.

If you’re not writing, one thing to keep in mind is that…

You can cultivate resilience through tiny acts

One meal. One hour of reprieve. One decent sleep. Those can be enough to gain distance from the battle and restore the energy to fight.

If you’re not writing at all, I’d hazard that you’re asking too much of yourself. Unrealistic expectations backfire at any time, but never more so than during moments of societal upheaval. Can you be kind to yourself with your goal-setting and perhaps go smaller yet?

For instance, here’s a list of tiny writing-related actions you might consider taking:

If none of these appeal, try this exercise, which The Hope Foundation of Alberta used for their patients. I’m going to tweak it slightly to incorporate the third point from our anecdote, which is that…

Hope thrives in supportive communities

Put on your boots/shoes/flip-flops and grab your camera or smart phone. Go for a walk and take a photo of anything which strikes you as a symbol of hope. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering.

For example, you might return with an image of a flower growing in a crack, a beautiful sunset, or a dog romping in the snow. Bonus points if it’s an image of something related to your WIP.

Got your image? Now share it with others. (Use the hashtag #WUHopeOGram)

Come join us on the thread I’ll start on the Writer Unboxed Facebook page [2]. I’d love to see what you come up with.

Now over to you, Unboxeders. Are you writing during this unsettled time? If not, is there one tiny step you are willing to take, today, to rekindle your career?

About Jan O'Hara [3]

A former family physician and academic, Jan O'Hara [4] (she/her) left the world of medicine behind to follow her dreams of becoming a writer. She writes love stories that zoom from wackadoodle to heartfelt in six seconds flat: (Opposite of Frozen [5]; Cold and Hottie [6]; Desperate Times, Desperate Pleasures [7]). She also contributed to Author in Progress, a Writer's Digest Book edited by Therese Walsh.

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