Take the Time to Heal
The writing will still be there when your body is ready
1. Latest News from the Desk of Sooz
I had my last event yesterday, and now I am HOME! I ended with school visit, which was a truly fun way to wrap up almost two weeks on the road.
I am very glad to be back in my house. I missed Cricket so horribly. Not to mention my own bed.
That said, thank you to EVERYONE who came to see me! It was truly meaningful to see readers in real life again. 💚 Also, thank you to EVERYONE who bought The Luminaries. I am so deeply grateful for your support, and I hope you all enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed writing it (more on that below!).
2. Take the Time To Heal
I would love to hear how you thought about your writing (if at all!) during recovery from your pregnancy trauma, and how your different state of health maybe shifted your approach. I have chronic health issues and am currently in recovery from a major surgery, and it’s hard at times to not give into the fatigue and lose sight of my work. Writing makes me feel more like myself, it also feels so hard when I’m exhausted by surviving day to day. I understand diving into these topics can be difficult, and I respect if this isn’t one you choose to answer!
I love this question, and I initially wanted to make a video…but it was harder than I expected to talk about. So to my keyboard I go!
Also, I want to break this question down into several components:
First, the “major surgery” component—i.e. when we’re recovering from a discreet healing incident.
The “chronic health issues” part—i.e. when it’s an ongoing issue.
The “writing makes me feel more like myself” part of it all.
So let’s dive in.
NOTE: Content warning for childbirth, near death. You can jump to here if you don’t want to know the specifics of what I went through. I personally can’t read about childbirth, hospitals, or near death anymore, so I 100% understand if you want to skip ahead.
Part 1: Discreet Incidents of Healing
In 2020, while in labor, I had a rare complication in childbirth called placenta accreta, where my placenta wouldn’t detach after I gave birth. Thanks to fibroids and previous miscarriage surgery, the placenta dug in too deeply, and when the doctors finally did detach it (manually, by literally reaching inside of me and ripping it out—which, lemme tell you, is more pain than anything I can ever describe to you), I hemorrhaged very suddenly and very quickly.
I lost almost 2/3rds of my body’s blood in the space of about 20 minutes. My body went into shock, my organs started failing. I recall being very, very, very cold though I didn’t fully understand what was going on in the moment. All I really remember is that I was holding my daughter. Then I wasn’t. Then there was a long, long time of pain while they manually ripped out my placenta. Then cold, cold, cold and my husband saying, “Can you give her my blood? Can you give her my blood? We’re the same blood type, can you give her my blood?”
I didn’t know how close to death I truly was until after it was all over and I spent two days alone in the ICU. And quite frankly, that time in the ICU was much more traumatic than the near death itself. I wanted to see my daughter. I wanted to eat something other than ice chips. I was alone, had no glasses (so I couldn’t see anyone or anything), and for a while I didn’t even have my phone. I had a balloon in my uterus that was expanded to hold pressure against the holes left behind by my placenta. I wasn’t allowed to move or stand or do much of anything except sit there while little machines squeezed my legs in an alternating rhythm that kept blood flowing. All I could really do was dwell on all that had just happened to me and wish I could see my daughter.
I also couldn’t speak or even swallow properly because in the rush to intubate me for emergency surgery, they damaged my throat pretty badly.
And yet, that whole time I also knew I had Witchshadow to finish as soon as I got home. Like, in the moments when I wasn’t processing my trauma or dreaming of my daughter, I stressed about Witchshadow.
So then, once they located my phone and gave it to me, I sat there and tried to work on Witchshadow from the ICU.
Let me tell you: that is supremely fucked up.
That is so fucked up, I don’t even know where to begin. I am actually angry at myself for doing that.
And the worst is that my tale doesn’t improve from here! I got let out of the hospital 6 days later, barely able to walk, holding a newborn, and with approximately 45 million postpartum hormones rushing through me…
Also, my throat was still damaged, so I couldn’t eat solids for an entire month because my throat could not physically swallow anything other than the thinnest of liquids.
(Read on from here to skip the trauma part.)
Still, I felt pressure to finish Witchshadow. It was this constant weight, this constant, “You need to do this. Stop wasting time with your brand new daughter or wasting time on physical therapy or wasting time sobbing from your postpartum hormones—there is a BOOK to finish!”
To be fair: this pressure did not come from my publisher.
Nor was it financial. Once I finished the book, I was only going to get about $7,000 in payment. That’s not nothing, of course, but for two years worth of work, it’s not much either.
Yet the pressure I felt was immense.
I felt like I had already let down my publisher and my readers by not finishing Witchshadow the year before. It was all I could think about, all I could feel.
I just could not stop stewing in what I perceived as my failures.
Well, as many of you know, I gave myself shingles from the stress of it all. And it was then and only then—as I endured the absolutely agonizing pain of shingles—that I finally said, “This has to stop. You are killing yourself for a book.”
So I did. I stopped.
As I go back over all of this, I feel a deep sadness for that woman who broke her body for a book.
I was going through so much on the new-mom side of things too that didn’t make any of this easier. My daughter wouldn’t latch and breastfeed, and I tortured myself over this perceived failure. I pumped 8-12 times a day to get her enough milk—and for those of you who don’t know, pumping is basically its own full-time job. I would sit there with the pump attached to me while I tried to find words and figure out what the HECK Iseult’s climax was going to look like…
Plus I was in frequent physical therapy and had so many exercises I had to do because everything that had happened in birth wrecked my body.
And yet all of this felt like excuses. Like these were not legitimate reasons to pause work on Witchshadow, but just excuses for me to procrastinate what truly mattered here: finishing the book.
My god, it’s so fucked up.
And my god, I just feel so sad for that Susan of two years ago. She didn’t know any better. Her books had been her life for so long, her writing had been her identity, she didn’t know how to turn it off.
I am actually crying a little as I write this because I hate how hard that Susan was on herself. How cruel her self-talk was: You can’t breast-feed! You can’t figure out this book! You couldn’t even give birth properly or get pregnant properly! What the fuck is wrong with you?
It was ugly. It was so ugly, and it’s no wonder I ended up with shingles. The inner pain manifested into an outer pain.
And this wasn’t even the end! I also stopped sleeping. For months, I had PTSD panic attacks every night at 3AM. It got so bad that I was afraid to even fall asleep, so I just existed in this awful sleepless state.
I pumped milk all day, tried (and failed) to write a book, wrangled an infant all alone (no childcare because of Covid!), continued frequent physical therapy, and then didn’t sleep at night.
I eventually found a therapist. He diagnosed me with PTSD. And slowly, slowly, slowly, things got better.
I finished Witchshadow.
Then I wrote The Luminaries as an easy, fun escape for myself. (It is1 POV instead of…6? 7? It’s the first in a trilogy instead of an ongoing 6-book series. And it’s just crammed full of alllllll the tropes I love most. That book truly got me through a horrible time.)
When my daughter turned 1, I finally gave myself permission to stop pumping. I was only doing it as punishment anyway. You failed to get her to latch, so now you must pay penance by pumping all day long!
Then I started running.
And slowly, slowly, so slowly, I healed.
I also vowed never again. Never. Again would I kill myself for a book.
I am an older millennial. I graduated college at the beginning of the recession, and I was inundated with that hustle hustle hustle mentality. If you’re not hustling, you’re dead!
HA. How true that was. Even near death couldn’t keep me from “the hustle.” But there are two books I have read since then that I highly recommend:
They both made me reevaluate how I view my productivity—and how I had always defined myself by my productivity. It’s a losing battle when you do that, friends, and I have tried so hard this year to stop that pattern.
Easier said than done, but I am truly, truly trying. I’ll admit my running fell by the wayside in the few weeks leading up to the The Luminaries release. And though I do have childcare now, it’s not always consistent…so I do still pull some wonky hours to get the writing done.
BUT, overall, I am trying. No book is worth killing yourself over. Truly. And while it might feel like the stress now won’t last…it compounds. It compounds and compounds until you give yourself shingles.
Part 2: The Reality of Chronic Health Issues
Chronic pain/health issues were not something I had to deal with until this year. And now I fully understand the “spoon analogy” and have to apply it daily.
This isn’t something I have talked about online because (to be totally frank) I feel like I’m allowed to complain about precisely one thing publicly, and I’ve chosen to complain about childcare. 🥴
But my life completely transformed this year with the onset of frequent, severe migraines.
These aren’t just “bad headaches.” These are, “I cannot see because auras block half my vision; my head feels like someone is shoving an icepick into my left eye; and I am so sensitive to sound, light, and movement that unless I can curl into a ball with pressure applied to my forehead, I will start vomiting.”
I have always gotten migraines, ever since I hit puberty, but only this year did they become so severe and so frequent. Like, I get them 15-20 days per month. (Side note for my concerned physician friends: I have had an MRI recently! No tumors or aneurysms! It’s definitely migraines. And we are working through different trial/error with medications to figure out what will work. Cross your fingers for me, please.)
This has been a real disruption for my work, as you can imagine—or as anyone else with chronic pain or health problems can relate to. And until the childcare became consistent, it was a true physical struggle to tend to my daughter while I was in the throes of one of these suckers.
Even still, because the headaches typically last 6+ hours (well after the nanny has left) it is still hard, y’all. I can’t lie. It is hard.
Plus, nothing depresses me more than finishing the day and seeing, Oh, I spent the entire time my nanny was here in the fetal position in a dark room.
This was such a sudden shift for me this year, that I still struggle to accept this is my new normal. But one thing that has really helped me adapt is the HB90 Planner from Sarra Cannon.
What I like about this planner is that it forces me to realistically count the days I actually have for work. I might think I have 3 months (or 90 days), but if I sit down and really calculate the hours, it’s
horrifying shocking how fast that number shrinks.
It’s also really helpful for planning my career around. Seeing an accurate representation of the time I have—with time blocked off for chronic issues, appointments, unexpected childcare issues—allows me to plan more accurately for my creative work.
The reality is that I don’t have 90 days. I am lucky right now if I have 50. And knowing that allows me to be less stressed, less frustrated—I’m not setting goals I’ll never possibly meet.
Part 3: Writing as Our Identities
Caitlin, when you said you “writing makes me feel more like myself,” I understood this on such a deep, visceral level.
I talked about it earlier this year, actually—how, when the words aren’t flowing, I feel like a caged animal. But when the words are flowing, I finish each day feeling great.
Unfortunately, words don’t always flow for me. I move through boom and bust periods creatively. My brain is just wired that way, and no matter how many times I have tried to be a “write everyday” sort of author…I can’t sustain it.
And that’s okay.
The reality is that I won’t be happy when I’m in a dry period, but I have started to work on accepting that it’s simply part of the process. And my hope is that if I allow myself some grace, the stress of “failing to write” or “failing to figure out the story” won’t eat at me quite so viciously.
I also try to remember the things I say to my writer friends all the time when they beat themselves up for not getting the work done: Hey, be nice to my friend [insert name]! Because I never judge my friends for not writing! I never give them a hard time! I always just tell them to be kind to themselves and if necessary, to alert their publishing team and ask for more time on their deadlines.
So Caitlin, to you I say the same: you are recovering from major surgery. You have chronic health issues. Give yourself some grace. Write if the words want to come, but otherwise, see the surgery as a time to not only heal your body, but also to heal your brain. And when you don’t have the spoons to write, that’s okay. You’re just giving your subconscious more simmer time for all the ideas you’ll one day turn back to.
The writing will be there when we are healed and whole again; it will be there on the days we have a full drawer of spoons to work with.
And trust me: no book is worth your health or well-being.
Thank you all for reading! Now that I’m home from tour, I’ll have a more consistent posting schedule for the newsletter.
I’ll also have a new AMA coming later this week, so get your questions ready if you’re a paid subscriber! 😘
🐙 - Sooz