On the evening of 6th May I arrived back in Amsterdam after a month and a half of travel.
The six weeks previous had been gloriously full of new places and new experiences topped off with a visit "home" to see my family, friends for a few days. Sure, I was tired, but I was happy and I was keen to get started on a long list of things to do. I threw myself into finishing client work and editing my stories that are slowly but surely shaping up to be my second book, A to Z: Short Stories Inspired by London.
I relished writing To Get Done lists and I thrived off meeting word count deadlines and sending off invoices earlier than I expected. With no plans for any of my May weekends NewMan and I agreed to work Saturdays and Sundays too albeit with a lie-in in the mornings and afternoon games of backgammon on our deck when the sun came out. As the days blurred into weeks I was proud at how much I was doing but I was also cross-eyed at how much more there still was to do and the sight of my desk in the morning was starting to fill me with dread not excitement for what I could achieve. Then the procrastinating sneaked up on me and before I knew it I was Pinning , Facebooking and Tweeting for no reason other than it's not doing the thing I love most; writing.
No, that doesn't make any sense to me either.
Anyway, I activated Cold Turkey , and got on with the writing. Accept I didn't. I was typing out words and filling in gaps and chopping out sections that didn't work, but I wasn't adding value.
Simply put, last week I was really tired and my lack of focus meant I hit a wall in the editing one of my stories, and I needed a break. This is normal and can easily be dealt with. But of course, I didn't know that. Instead, I ploughed on re-working the same story for three days and battling with the recurring thought "Why is this so bad? Why is this so bad?" . Rather than walk away or start something else - because there are always plenty of other things to do! - I furrowed my brow and fought away at it.
Frustrated and frightened that the story was going to be bad forever and would therefore have to be scrapped, I spent much of Thursday in bed with a minor migraine (I'm lucky mine always last less than a day and are fairly infrequent) and after returning to the same "Why is this so bad?" thought process on Friday, I promised myself that I would take Saturday off. I finally realised that this was my only possible way to rediscover creative calm. Or in other words, GET THE JOB DONE.
So when Saturday morning rolled in and I saw NewMan stroll off to his desk (that boy has a superhuman work ethic) I decided to embark on a spot of long-overdue spring cleaning in my closet. And boy, did I love it. Standing up, moving my hands, re-organising my wardrobe by colour (yes, really!) and using my brain to make simple decisions like "Should this stay?" or "Should this go?" was a treat. I felt like a happy human not an unhappy writer.
Then, halfway through The Big Sort Out I decided to make cupcakes and so I did. Then I took one up to my neighbour and she and I had a cup of tea and a chat. Her friend joined us. It was lovely.
Half an hour later I returned to TBSO and began tidying up so I could clean our bedroom. Heck, I was even going to hoover under the bed.
But shortly after I began dusting my bedside table I felt very peculiar looking down. And when I went to move some bags of clothes destined for charity, I saw the floor move beneath me. Moments later I put them down again because I was so dizzy I didn't feel safe walking down the stairs.
An hour later I had vomitted twice and I was in bed unable to lie on my side without feeling utterly drunk or as if I was out to sea on a boat in a storm. Every time I moved it took long minutes for the walls to stop dancing. As someone who has suffered motion sickness all her life, to suffer it when I wasn't even moving seemed particularly cruel.
NewMan began Googling my symptoms and I began yogic breathing and making promises to myself of all the things I would do should I ever feel better. (Indeed, I was at that melodramatic "I may die" stage of sickness which I am rather good at.) The mental list that was swimming away in my brain somewhere looked a little like this.
1. Stop worrying about the book.
2. Take more breaks. LIVE!
3. Be grateful for what I have, not focused on what I want to have.
4. Go easier on myself.
5. Write letters to those I love.
6. Hoover more often. Oh, how embarrassing it would have been if an ambulance crew had to see the dustballs gathering around the legs of our bed.
Those were the things I really wanted to do in that weird moment of dizzy panic.
Those were the things that mattered most in a world where I couldn't focus.
Four hours after the dizzyness had begun I remembered that I had some Cinnarizine (an anti-histamine I take for severe travel sickness) in the bathroom so I took a few and eventually the sense of constant movement subsided and I could see things in their right place again.
The following morning I woke feeling a little jaded but comparatively brilliant. As I made tea in the morning I felt drawn to my desk again. I wanted to sit and write. But before I did, I opened up my blog and typed this post out.
I need to write down that list so I don't forget what mattered most when I lost focus. And maybe it will help you too.
1. Stop worrying about the things you have to do. ENJOY doing them.
2. Take more breaks. LIVE! And don't feel guilty for it.
3. Be grateful for what you have, not preoccupied by what you want to have.
4. Go easier on yourself.
5. Write letters to those you love.
6. Hoover more often. (Feel free to forget this one!)
I didn't really mean to bore you with this long story about how I was working too much, how I finally decided to take a day off and then I got sick. It's not an unusual story or that interesting. But it emphasises how easy it is to "just keep ploughing on regardless" and how this may feel like the right thing to do. However, I think this can be dangerous. As soon as I felt my health was compromised and I couldn't focus on anything - literally - I realised this was the last thing I should have been doing. If I'd listened to myself earlier I possibly could have avoided not only what I now think was a 12 hour bout of vertigo (which is caused by stress and also linked to migraines) but I could have also spent that time in a much better way.
Because yes, I want to write books.
But I also want to feel healthy and be happy as much as possible.
It doesn't matter if I don't finish my book as quickly as I'd like. It doesn't matter if I fall behind on blog writing. It doesn't matter if I don't keep on top of my admin tasks. It doesn't even matter if I deliver work to a client late, though I have never yet had to do this, BUT IT WOULDN'T MATTER IF I DID.
What matters is my health and my happiness.
If you really listen to yourself, I'm sure you'll hear yourself saying the same thing.
Frances M. Thompson
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