So five weeks ago, I made a deal with myself. Write when chronic illness allows me to, but shoot for three to four days a week. And on those three or four days each week, just do what I can. If I can only write for five minutes, then that’s five minutes of jotting down ideas. It’s still a win.
And here’s the thing: I’ve met those goals.
I’ve been writing an average of three days a week, every week.
And yes, some of my writing sessions have been five minutes. Most have been under 20. But I’ve made it happen.
So I’ve been meeting my goals.
It still frustrates me.
I’m getting impatient.
I have so many ideas. I know what I need to tweak. I know what I need to completely rewrite.
But I can’t. There isn’t time before a visual aura kicks in and it’s hard to see the words. Or the screen refresh rate triggers nausea and a headache. Or vertigo leaves me unable to read the words I just typed. If I need to work the following day—and our finances do need me to—then I have to stop before the symptoms spin out of control. So I can maybe work on one scene. That’s it. Or I can make a note on what to change in a scene. Which is even less.
It turns out that setting healthy, achievable goals is only half the battle.
The other half is coming to terms with those goals. And accepting that they will never again be what they once were. Which was writing for two or three hours at a time, multiple times a week.
* * *
Last night, I watched an old episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer titled “Helpless” in which she loses her superhuman strength, her Wolverine-like healing abilities, and her incredible hand-eye coordination. Written by Joss Whedon and David Fury, the episode puts our fearless heroine in a corner she can’t get out of with brute force. No longer able to fight vampires or protect the people she loves, she confides in her friends that she doesn’t know who she is if she can’t do those things anymore. Without her strength, she has to run away from street harassment like a normal teenager. She barely escapes a vampire attack by squeezing through a hole in a chainlink fence.
Buffy admits she doesn’t know how to live with the fear, how to move through the world with such raw, terrifying vulnerability.
“What if I just hide under my bed, all scared and helpless? Or what if I just become pathetic?”
Granted, I am no vampire slayer and never was. But I was an amateur athlete. I was lifting weights, taking swim lessons, running, doing dance classes, and performing. And so much of that physical strength began to ebb away before the diagnosis even made it official. My lifelong superstar balance gave way to wobbling in the dance studio. My determination to train for swimming in a triathlon ended abruptly when the breathing rhythms triggered vertigo.
And my physical strength had allowed me to achieve other feats. Things I took for granted. Things I thought, mistakenly, were the result of self-discipline and mastery. Like occasional all-day writing marathons and long bus rides to writing groups and open mics.
I can’t do those things anymore.
And I am tempted to hide under my bed, cowering.
But the Buffy episode reminded me that strength and courage aren’t always physical. And they’re not always manifest in achievement. From here on out, I’m just not going to be able to do a lot of what I once could. And my accomplishments are going to look very different from those of my peers, or even those that my able-bodied self was once working toward.
So I’m achieving my goals of writing three days a week, for whatever amount of time that I can.
But I guess my next goal now is to be okay with that.
Because in my new life, that’s what strength looks like.
That’s mental toughness and endurance. That’s resilience.
I don’t want to “just become pathetic.” So here we go.
Five minutes at a time, I’m going to do what I can.
And I’m going to work towards becoming goddamn proud of that.