by Elizabeth Haltom
I love that Colleen’s website is titled Writing and Wellness,
because those are my two favorite things in life.
The latter I practice so that I can be a fully functional human.
The former I practice because it’s just what I do.
But there are times when preserving the one means walking away from the other for a spell.
Our Culture Doesn’t Encourage Us to Look After Our Wellness
Have you ever tried writing (or any other creative endeavor) when you weren’t looking after your wellness, be it physical, mental, or emotional?
In the short run, I’ll admit, the adrenaline and drama can provide a temporary boost to creative productivity. In the long-run it’s a formula for a crashing burnout, which can put you on the sidelines for months—or longer.
Looking after our wellness is not something we are socialized to do in our culture.
We are encouraged to eat foods that are highly processed and convenient, but not good for our bodies. We are encouraged to turn to over-the-counter pain management to treat symptoms rather than look for a cause to address. We are told to “push through,” never quit, never walk away from a challenge. If the going gets tough, you just need to get tougher.
No doubt, there are times when you need to buckle down. But there are also times when you need to stop what you are doing and tend to your wellbeing.
So how can you tell the difference?
6 Signs It’s Time to Make Well Being a Priority
While I am not an expert in wellness, I’ve survived 47 years of sweet highs and heart-crushing lows (i.e., an ordinary life).
I’m also the at-home parent for two elementary-school aged kids and the primary caretaking support for a 91-year-old relative, so maintaining my wellness as a writer has meant listening to and paying attention to the signals from my body and the people around me to let me know when I’m pressing myself too much.
After all, this isn’t just for fun; my long-term creativity depends on it.
The following is a list of red flags that I’ve noticed with myself and my peers that can give us an indication when it’s time to make our well being a priority again.
1. You’re experiencing new pains in your body.
Physical pain is probably the very first early-warning data point for wellness monitoring.
We tend to treat pain as a nuisance to be endured or treated, and an unavoidable fact of life, particularly as we get older. While it’s true that there are some medical conditions that include chronic pain, unexplained back pain, neck pain, migraines, dizziness, poor digestion, fatigue, recurring illness—all of these are red flags for your wellness.
You may think you’re doing great, blowing through deadlines and staying on top of a heavy workload, but if you have noticed an increase in physical pain that is starting to become more nagging, consider this a warning light on the dashboard from your body.
2. You’re having mood swings.
As we all know, there are mood swings, and then there are mood swings. Unless you are possibly menopausal (ahem) or on a medication for which mood swings are a known possible side effect, this might be another “huh” moment for you that perhaps your wellness needs some tending to.
If you notice that you seem to be on the verge of snapping at people for minor things, crying at the auto parts store ad, or deliriously enthused about staying up all night to complete a project that you had a week to finish, this may be another red flag for you.
3. You’re having accidents.
Dropping glasses, two fender-benders in the last month, walking into furniture—sound familiar? Hello, it’s your subconscious trying to get your attention to tend to your wellness.
For those of you who have experience with depression, move along, because you know the drill.
For the rest of you, this is a potential red flag for an oncoming depression.
Depression gets its own bullet apart from mood swings, because depression is different. It isn’t a mood. It’s the absence of any mood at all. It’s the painful feeling of not feeling. It is the flatline of your inner heart, the liar in your head that tells you you’re weak, you’re a failure, people don’t like you, everyone knows you’re a fraud, you should just give up.
Depression can happen to anyone, at any time. Prolonged periods of stress and/or anxiety are associated with depression. Even super-human resilient types can experience depression. Just like stroke and heart attack, know the signs and seek prompt and appropriate medical care.
5. The people around you are expressing concern for you.
If one person tells you they’re worried about you, meh. Two or three? There’s possibly something there.
Assume that your friends and family love you and are on your side. If more than one independent source is expressing concern about your well being, it’s probably worth looking in to.
We have a culture that says it’s okay to use everything from caffeine and sugar to nicotine and alcohol (and worse) to “boost” our performance.
If you can’t work without the substance, whatever it is, consider this another red flag for your wellness—probably the most glaring on this page, because these substances will tend to mask all of the other red flags that you might otherwise be aware of.
Don’t Worry—the Muse Will Wait
It can be scary to pull back from your writing to tend to your wellness. I know from firsthand experience.
What if the Muse abandons you altogether?
What if you become so darn balanced and well-rounded that everything you produce after that is terrible?
I’m here to tell you, the Muse doesn’t go away just because you take a much-needed break. As in any other profession, most who succeed do so while also taking care of their health and well-being. Over the long-term, only one route is the sustainable one, and that’s the one where you put your wellness first as needed.
* * *
E. A. Haltom writes what she likes to read, and sometimes that requires a lot of research and a sword. Preferably a 12th century English broadsword. Her debut novel, Gwendolyn’s Sword, explores the ancient idea of heroism through the eyes of defiant underdogs and outcasts. With a sequel on the way, Haltom is building an imaginative and compelling epic that brings the people and events of 12th century England vividly alive—with an Arthurian twist. She lives with her husband and kids in Texas, where she writes and indulges in reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Doctor Who. Find more about her and her work on her website, or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.
Gwendolyn’s Sword: Cornwall, England, 1193. Eleanor of Aquitaine, the indomitable dowager queen, has ordered all of England onto a war footing while her son King Richard languishes in a German dungeon. Gwendolyn de Cardinham, the defiant wife of an absent crusader, protects and defends her estate, Penhallam, with her sword and the garrison of men that she commands.
While travelling to deliver a captured mercenary of would-be usurper Prince John to a nearby gaol, her constable takes her on a detour to the local prior, who gravely informs her that King Arthur’s mythical sword, Caliburn, is destined to be hers.
When Gwendolyn discovers that Prince John has been hunting for Caliburn, she realizes she is in a unique position to end the wayward prince’s rebellion. Determined to protect Penhallam and its tenants at any cost, Gwendolyn travels to London to present herself to the dowager queen, placing herself in the middle of the brothers’ duel for the throne. But Gwendolyn has kept a secret from even her constable that could put all of Penhallam—and herself—at risk if the queen discovers it.