What writing means to me… Actually, I could sum that up in one word. Everything. Writing means everything to me. OK, so now I’m done with this blog. I’ve said everything I need to say and I can get back to my book. Except for one thing. Recently, my ability to do my writing was put to a test with a medical crisis that nearly cost me my life.
It sounds drastic, and for a while, it was. Of course, I recovered, which is why I’m posting this blog today, and relieved and happy to do so. But a few months ago, my abilities were called into question as the book I was writing started to become a major effort for me. I couldn’t concentrate on the words I was trying to put down on the page, couldn’t formulate sound ideas, couldn’t get my thoughts organized enough to go from page to page. In essence, writing one page was an effort. Writing more than one was almost an impossibility. These were all warning signs of something dire yet to come, but I wasn’t reading them. Had no clue I was deteriorating. Rather, I was fixing an idea in my mind that I didn’t like to write anymore.
Then came the day when I couldn’t type. The ideas would rattle around in my brain but when I tried to type them, the only thing that transferred to the computer screen was gobbledygook. Lines and lines of nonsensical phrases and random letters. My first inclination was that my laptop had gone bad, so I bought a new laptop. But it seemed to be afflicted with the same malady, so another brick went into place in my I don’t like to write anymore wall. I had a book to finish, though, so I hired someone to take my dictation and we did half a book where the ideas came out of my mind and went to the computer screen through someone else’s fingers. Let me tell you, that’s a hard way to do it, especially when my little falling asleep thing started to manifest. Yes, I’d dictate a sentence or two, then fall asleep. And I did this all the way to the end of the book. A book that, which I might add, will never be published, much to my relief. (Much later on, one of my doctors said he’d be interested in reading what a brain in my condition would produce. By then, I’d already asked my editor to toss the book.)
Long story short, now. My husband found me unconscious, I went to the hospital, hung around in a coma-like state for a few days and eventually started to come to. Didn’t have a realization of who I was, where I was, why I was so confused. Didn’t remember that I was a writer, either. So this state of blurriness went on for a while, until I started becoming more aware of what was going on around me. That’s when I noticed that I couldn’t talk right. The things coming out of my mouth were not the things I was trying to say, and I could hear it every time I spoke. More than that, I couldn’t remember so many things. In essence my entire 2015 year was gone, with a few exceptions. The doctors have since told me that my amnesia won’t reverse, and what’s gone is gone. But when I was trying to grapple with these holes in my memory, it was difficult and frustrating.
Then one day, one of my doctors came into my room and said, “I understand you’re a writer. What do you write?” That simple question turned so much back on for me. I remembered writing. I remembered my magazine articles, I remembered my books! This was a breakthrough, maybe my first one. It gave me my first real sense of myself.
So time marched on. The doctors diagnosed me with a freak ammonia buildup in my brain, which had been happening to me gradually over about a year’s time. It literally wreaks havoc with brain function in almost every capacity. Causes a lot of damage. Left untreated, you die. Anyway, they told me what residual damage had resulted, explained my future course to prevent it from happening again, got me medicated and regulated, wished me luck and sent me to a rehab center for further recovery. And I was facing that recovery with a renewed desire to write. I wanted to write again! But could I?
After a person loses as much of themselves the way I did, and the bits and pieces of what’s left over are returning randomly, day after day, it’s always frightening to wonder what will come back and what won’t. I already knew that chunks of my memory wouldn’t come back, but I was encouraged by the fact that my ability to speak had returned. And I was encouraged that I remembered how to walk, how to eat, and how to read…things that were gone from me for a while. But the big question that always hung over my head was, can I write again? Truth was, I didn’t even know if I could type let alone write another book. I was scared to try when the occupational therapist persistently pushed a computer at me and told me to have at it.
I always refused. Wouldn’t play a computer game, wouldn’t log in to my email or Facebook. Connecting with that computer was one of the biggest fears I’ve ever had to face because I didn’t want to find out that one of the things I’d lost was my writing. Still, the therapist continued to try with me, and so did my husband. He’d come up to see me every night, bringing my laptop with him. And I’d always refuse to open it. Fall back into my pillows, close my eyes and refuse to even look at the thing.
But then one night, it happened. After a lot of pressure from my therapists, my husband and family, the nursing staff and my friends, I finally logged in. It was a big step, but it felt good. So did accessing Facebook and my email. The memory of how to do that was still there! Still, my writing…I didn’t know. Didn’t have enough courage to find out. Stayed that cowardly until I went home weeks later. Then one day, when nobody was around to see my failure, I opened my laptop and attempted to write one page of something I hoped could be turned into a book. Turned out, it wasn’t bad at all. So I wrote another page, then another. Those pages eventually turned into the book I finished and sent to my editor two days ago!
I’m lucky that I have great editors at Harlequin. Both Sheila Hodgson and Julia Williams were patient with me when I was, essentially, gone from them for a while. They encouraged me to take care of myself first, and write when I felt up to it. Of course, I was worried about the two books I’d yet to write on a four-book contract. Take your time, Sheila and Julia told me. But I didn’t want to take time, as so much time had already been taken from me. And the thing that really fascinated me as I began writing again is that I was approaching it with an enthusiasm I hadn’t felt for writing since I can’t remember when.
Those were dark days, when I thought I’d never write again. I’d faced death and amnesia and a long, difficult recovery, which were traumatic. But what was equally traumatic was the possibility that I might face life without one of the things I love most in the world. Thank the good lord that didn’t happen. I got it all back.
So, what does writing mean to me? That’s an easy question to answer. And I answer it in all due humility and enthusiasm. Writing means everything!
As always, wishing you health and happiness. And being able to do the things you love most.