I have been sick.
The pain started innocently, just a slight sensitivity in my teeth. I thought I’d been drinking too many waters with lemon, but even after stopping the citrus wedge habit, the pain grew. A week into the illness, and it spread from two teeth to five, then up into my cheekbone and down into my lower jaw, threatening to get worse. First, it hurt to smile. Then it hurt to talk. Finally, it was agonizing to eat.
I kept masking the pain: Motrin by day, wine by night. I believed the sickness and pain would abate, that I just had to tough it out. I was too busy to be sick! Two weeks after that first ominous tooth-tingle, I gained intimate knowledge of the phrase “writhe in agony.”
I ended up in the ER, with an IV of super-charged antibiotics. It turns out all I had was a sinus infection, but by letting it go so long, there was danger of it spreading to somewhat important items. Notably, my brain.
How did this happen, and why didn’t I listen to Felicia Day?
When I first started feeling off, perhaps a week or so prior to the beginning of the pain in my teeth, I had the following items on my To Do List:
- Slay a lion, a hydra, and a flock of sharp-beaked birds.
- Capture a deer, a boar, a bull, and get a monster to give me his cattle.
- Take Cerebus to the bark park.
- Steal apples to feed to the people-eating mares that I, for some reason, must also steal.
- Buy a bra fit for an Amazon Queen.
- Re-route a river to clean a stable that hasn’t been mucked in thirty years.
Find my way out of the Ambition Room.
Okay, so those are euphemisms for the actual items, but the magnitude, oh! – the sheer weight of all those deadlines, promises, expectations! When I stepped out of the Ambition Room, I sloughed off a passel of Sisyphean tasks. That helped just about as much as hiding under a bunch of balloons while Stymphalian birds attack: it was colorful, but didn’t do much to protect me from the poisonous dung and sharp beaks. I was still balancing the equivalent of two full time jobs, a house to tend, a marriage to nurture, friendships to sustain, and two rowdy dogs that need an hour of walking each day. People laugh when I tell them I have my day scheduled down to the minute. I’m not joking; even my lunch hour from my day job is an hour dedicated to my writing job. There is no rest for the wicked, and no breaks for this writer. That’s why I couldn’t be sick. I looked at my mental calendar and saw my days booked, from now until forever, from 5AM to 10:30PM. Literally: booked solid. When could I possibly squeeze in a visit to the doctor? Much less take a day to recuperate?
I learned that I cannot be booked that full, for months on end, and not get sick. Just writing two books in four months is enough to exhaust me. Add everything else to my list (which, of course, kept growing), and I was on a crash-course with physical burnout.
As Felicia Day says in an interview with Riki Lindhome, “Hospitalized for fatigue is not a joke.”
I wasn’t hospitalized for exhaustion, but in the Emergency Room for running myself into the ground comes too close for comfort.
I stumbled across that interview at The Nerdist maybe a week or so before I got sick. I was fascinated by Felicia’s story. Her candor is heartening to those of us going indie: writers, actresses, heck, indie mathematicians – every one of you could benefit from hearing Felicia Day’s journey, in her own words. I love it that she takes the focus of creativity off of finding fame and onto doing what you love. She says, “Do what is special to you, and do it even if only five people ever watched it.”
Part of what makes Felicia Day outstanding is her authentic engagement with her fans. She tweets, attends cons (game and comic), and takes the time to connect with individuals. In the interview, she talks about having to learn to say no to pretty much everything in her inbox, stating, “It’s either you or sleep, and I have to choose sleep.”
My interpretation? That as wonderful as it is to be asked to speak, or participate, or just simply be told you’re awesome, it all takes a little bit out of you to interact. A tiny bit of time here, a minuscule amount of soul-stuff there. Put enough infinitesimal together in one place, though, and you have the universe. In other words: you can work yourself sick.
Now, I am not even remotely famous or well known. I have nothing like the social obligations of an actress/screenwriter/YouTube channel producer. Yet already I have felt the totally welcome, utterly exhausting invitation to authentically interact with peers and horror enthusiasts. I appreciate the attention and the validation. I believe each small bit of exposure is another chance to help readers find my work. I’m happy if only five people ever love my work, but I suspect that there are a lot more out there – if only I could reach them. My drive to push forward, to expand my bookshelf, to accept every request – that drive is strong.
Yet by delaying medical attention for what was an insignificant ailment, I managed to lose an entire week of revision time on my next book. Worse than that, I worried my family, weakened my body, and suffered needlessly. I did not do myself any favors.
Next time, I’m going to listen to Felicia Day.