Staring at the wall – a primer for writers

I need to write. It is as physical a need as sleep, more so some days. If I can’t write fiction, I’ll break out in journal notes, notebook annotations in longhand, long emails to friends, comments on the blogs of all those nice people who let me, or, since I have this blog, posts.

Stress, CFS, living, and writing

For personal reasons I won’t go into, the past two weeks have been incredibly stressful. And I have pretended, very badly, to be a functioning adult human woman.

If you know anything about CFS (ME/CFS), you also know that while extreme stress can galvanize us CFS folk very temporarily into coping (if we are the lucky ones), the usual effect of more stress than usual is to reduced in the capacity I call functionality: the ability to get ANYTHING – critical or not – done.

It’s a simple equation. The more stress, the less functionality, and the constant of proportionality can be much greater than one. (My math fails me tonight, and I have visions of inverse curves and calculus which I am ignoring because they make no sense.)

Coping too many times in a day, a week, a month burns us out, and leads to a state like yesterday’s and today’s, where all I’m capable of is 1) feeding myself, and 2) staring at the wall.

I didn’t even have the sense to take a nap, which might have helped. I DID go to church. Husband drove, of course – but then he made me walk past three rows of cars in the parking lot because he wouldn’t park in the snow-covered handicapped spot I said was there and he said wasn’t. I didn’t have the ability to argue, even though he later conceded I was right – and no one occupied the spot, so we wouldn’t have been taking something from a more handicapped person (in this case, more mobility impaired?). I think that counts as exercise.

Leaving the comfort zone, aka house

I do best if I leave the house no more than three times a week. Period. I can’t tell you how many times I left the house last week because I can’t count them. The math side of the brain won’t do it. Many more than three, and I even skipped yoga.

In addition, the Gizmo (aka Gizzy) isn’t eating. I finally captured her and took her to the vet on Monday because I just couldn’t stand the thought of her starving, and she had stopped eating, and the people crises were more under control. The vet gave me three meds, 5 syringes, some Oxbow Critical Care powder (which amazingly is used for small herbivore mammals AND lizards, maybe not so amazingly to you).

And it has taken me an additional 30-60 minutes, four times a day, to follow the vet’s instructions. I’m amazed: somehow I have carved out the ability to do this two hour+ chore.

It goes like this:

Mix up the green stuff.
Measure out the meds into these tiny syringes. Two meds are twice a day, one three times a day. Figure out the schedule.
Go into Gizzy’s room.
Place everything in reach on a footstool.
Spend up to ten minutes capturing Gizzy.
Without dropping her or squishing her too hard, sit on the floor with the chinchilla on my lap.
Wrap dish towel around her.
Somehow, with one hand, and without hurting her, get her stationary for a second and pop the meds in.
She fights as if an eagle had her in its beak and was going to eat her NOW. She can’t be that sick, right? So she’s worth the effort to keep her alive?
Wrap dish towel around her.
Put in some green stuff. The first five days I used a syringe, as taught, to put some in her cheek. Against her strongly expressed disapproval. And lots of it ending up NOT in her mouth, but on her fur (note to self: acquire third hand – really could have used it).
Wrap dish towel around her.
Finally, yesterday, offer her tiny bites off the end of a tongue depressor instead. Hey, a bit of actual cooperation.
Five bites, she struggles mightily.
Wrap dish towel around her.
A few more tiny, tiny bites.
Wrap dish towel around her.
Give her a tiny piece of apple. A few more bites.
Wrap dish towel around her…
Decide we’ve both had enough for now. Quit. Worry chinchilla is starving.
Clean up all the mess, syringes, food dish, tongue depressor, towel, wet washcloth.
Prepare to do again in a few hours.

Consequences = nothingness

The end result of all of this is that I have zero energy for writing – or anything else. I can just about feed her the four times a day this has worked out to.

So I stare at the wall for the rest of the day. Well, not entirely literally – part of the wall is on Facebook, and sometimes people from my online CFS support group put up amusing bits.

Or stare at the computer screen and desperately try to find something worth reading that’s within my comprehension zone.

The good part: I am still spending those hours, when possible, sitting in the chair, ready to capture thoughts. Which are harder to catch than Gizzy. I know they’re there, and they will come back and dock in my brain when it comes back.

I have no unwillingness to try, no Resistance to the idea of writing.

And then along comes another interruption.

And I go back to staring at the wall, as I am now. It’s a perfectly neutral state, with one of my two neurons used for breathing, and the other one idling (that’s the one that sometimes is available for writing fiction).

Back to work

I have to go catch the Gizmo, and feed her the last green goop and orange medicine for today. She isn’t eating enough to keep body and fighting spirit together, but something is going in, and a tiny bit is coming out.

Then I will somehow have to find the energy to brush my teeth. Really. I can’t keep missing days.

And enough energy to make the decision to go to bed. Because I am, as many of us are, exhausted but not sleepy. I literally can’t remember if I took a nap today. I meant to…

Decisions have been really hard today. Okay, okay – impossible.

Just thought I’d document it for y’all – since I have this silly need to make black marks on perfectly good white spaces, and, if you don’t live with this, it’s kind of interesting to consider for a very short while, though not as long as a day – or a week – or longer of staring at the wall.

I hope to get to bed. And then to sleep. And maybe to stay asleep long enough so that tomorrow morning I can be recharged a bit, do the same things I always do if I can, and get back to my chair at this here wordprocessor thingy.

So, wish me luck as I go off to do what I can for the critter, and try to go to bed.

If I’m unlucky, at 3 am I will still be staring at the wall.

Rinse. Repeat.

Do you have staring-at-the-wall days?


3 thoughts on “Staring at the wall – a primer for writers

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Thanks. It’s better today – I got a useful chunk of time out of my brain and solved the next structural problem. Still didn’t get any fiction writing, but it doesn’t matter since I found out WHY I was having trouble, by writing copious notes about it. I use writing about problems to solve them – for some reason my brain won’t do it in-house, as it were, but is willing to sort things out once I get them onto paper or screen.

      Gizzy is eating – some – but only if I hand-feed her, which isn’t a good long-term solution. I’ll have to consult the vet – I followed his 7-day instructions. The only good thing is that we’re much better acquainted. The bad part is that she hates me.

      You can’t explain things to a pet.



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