The Writing Life
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The Writing Life
by Julia Tripp

One Writer's Wake-Up Call

"I'm glad you're here, Julia. Your x-rays came back." The doctor ushered me into her office with those words.  She glanced at my radiology report and said,  "It's not good. You have degenerative disc disease in two of the vertebrae in your neck, and your right shoulder."

My doctor's face was full of sympathy as she explained that there was nothing she could do--I would be dealing with tremendous pain. Long term, I would probably have to take some pretty heavy "meds." My mind reeled as I tried to absorb this unexpected information. And why was she looking at me so sadly, like I had some sort of terminal illness?

It was Friday night. I'd put in a long hard week--nine-hour days in front of the computer at work, then home to my "other" full time job as wife and mom. After two or three more hours of writing and networking on the computer each evening, I fell into bed, exhausted. Daily, the pain in my back grew worse and wore me down more and more. I took painkillers every day, and, more recently, an anti-inflammatory medication. Until that moment, I didn't realize how close to depression I was.

I threw myself into my husband's arms when I got home that night. He tried to reassure me, but all I could see was a future with a crippling illness. Saturday went by in a blur, as I alternated between crying and trying to pull myself together. I had so many projects going on. And how was I going to continue to write if I couldn't sit at my desk without pain?

Sunday, I turned to the Internet. I looked up degenerative disc disease and arthritis. I also researched the drugs I was taking. By afternoon I was angry. I learned my x-ray results were not all that uncommon for someone my age, and I didn't necessarily have arthritis. I wasn't going to let this keep me from the goal I'd set for myself to someday quit my day job and write full-time.

I decided to take action. I set up appointments with a massage therapist, a physiotherapist and my regular chiropractor, who asked to see my x-rays. He told me there are things I can do to slow or stop the degeneration, possibly even reverse some of it. He felt the problem was relatively minor (not arthritis), the result of tension and tight muscles. 

A few days later, I arrived for my massage expecting some help with the severity of my pain, but not much more. The therapist conducted a fairly long interview. Then I got a second shock, but this time I was

"I don't think your pain has anything to do with degeneration in your neck," he told me. "You just have very weak back muscles. Your chest is tightening up in response, and it's pulling your spine and neck forward."

I'd been feeling old and tired for so long, but I never stopped to see what I was doing to myself.  All those hours sitting at computers, poor posture, and lack of exercise, had taken a serious toll on my body. This wasn't good news either, but it was something I could fight.  I didn't have to write through the pain!

The physiotherapist added additional stretches to my daily routine, as well as strengthening isometric exercises. Each day, I make time to do them. My co-workers laugh when they see me sitting cross-legged on my ergonomic chair, working on my posture. I stretch before I sit down to write, and take breaks after each written page. 

I've noticed a big difference already.  Despite less time at the keyboard, I am surprisingly more productive.  I experience much less pain, and I feel energized and excited about the goals I've set. I've only just started on a long, slow journey back to a saner way of life. I now walk at least a mile every day and take a low-impact fitness class twice a week.  These activities clear my mind and I return full of ideas for my notebook. Instead of resenting the time all this takes, I see it as an investment.

Of all the lessons this experience is teaching me, the most important is: take more breaks! Every hour, even if it's just for a minute or two, I stretch or get up and walk around. I felt frustrated at first, impatient to get back to the characters I'd created. But now that I'm into my second pain-free week in over two years, instead of feeling anger and resentment, I'm grateful for the wake-up call my body gave me.

Julia Tripp has worked as a promotion assistant, copy editor and newsletter editor. Her published work includes essays in Housewife Writer's Forum and Rollercoaster, articles in Snail Express News and the Oshawa/Whitby This Week News, as well as poetry in Inedita, an anthology.  She lives in the Toronto, Ontario area with her husband and two sons.

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