Check Yourself: Sustaining the Body

How do you navigate working alone, finding a community, dealing with your mental health, finding work, and coping when the money just ain't flowing? CHLOE PAPAS, an experienced journalist and writer, answers all of these questions in Check Yourself, a column on navigating the pitfalls (and the spoils!) of the writing life.

Illustration by  Angela Dalinger

Illustration by  Angela Dalinger

Q: I'm a writer who has recently been diagnosed with a health issue that seriously hampers my productivity.  How do you write when your body doesn't want you to? How can I practice self-care, when I have to discover how my body works all over again?

A: Dear Radical Changes,

I’m so sorry that you are going through this, I can’t imagine how you are feeling. Thank you for reaching out, and I’m so glad that you have. I do want to start off by saying that I don’t know the details of you particular experience, and - of course - I’m not a health professional.

But I do know a little something about juggling health and creativity, so hopefully I can provide you with some general tips on continuing to write and create.

First off, it’s awesome that you are still generating lots of ideas. I know from personal experience that the sudden (or even gradual) onset of an illness can jolt your entire physical and mental being, and your ability to create can do a bit of a runner. So it’s fantastic that your creativity is still rolling on strong - and I think that might be an important thing for you to grasp on to for now. While you may not be able to bring those ideas to fruition at the moment, can you record them in some way? Whether it’s just a few keywords in the Notes app on your phone, or a sentence in a notebook? It might seem like a small act, but it means those ideas aren’t just flying into the ether - and that they are there when you can play with them again.

I think, in coming to terms with these changes and practicing self-care, one of the most important things to remember is not to punish or push yourself too hard. When your mind and body are used to a certain pace, and you’re used to a certain level of creative output that suddenly can’t be maintained, it’s easy to fall into the trap of blaming yourself.

But this is the time that you need to cut yourself some slack, and be gentle. Your brain and body are rewiring, which means your mindset has to as well. Maybe you have to take time away from writing completely for a while, maybe you’ll be able to do half an hour a month or fortnight.

Often when we face physical health problems it’s easy to get wrapped up in finding ways to fix or manage them and the toll that the process can take on our mental health gets forgotten. I can never overstate the value of a good therapist; whether it’s to help you through what is nothing short of an incredibly difficult time, to come up with a plan to keep being creative, or to simply cry at on days when everything feels like it’s turning to shit.    

And lastly, I can’t tell you what your body needs, but I can tell you that you are already practising a huge act of self-care by working with it to figure out how it wants to operate for now. I think adjusting your expectations for yourself and your body while you work through these processes will be vital to retaining your ability to be creative.

Your practice is going to change, but your creativity hasn’t gone anywhere, Radical Changes. This roadblock is shit, and it may be ongoing, but the ideas and words are still in there - you just need to give them, and yourself, some time.

Keep your eyes peeled for the final instalment of CHECK YOURSELF, coming out tomorrow. While you're waiting, read previous posts in the series, on how to survive on the $$ of a Full-Time Creativemaking time for writing, and remaining positive, committed and motivated when you work full-time, or making sure you get paid (& how to write an invoice!)


Chloe Papas is a writer, journalist and editor based in Victoria via Perth. She spent a few years working as a journalist for the ABC before turning to the freelance life. Her work has been featured in publications like SBS, Overland, Kill Your Darlings, Daily Life, Vice and Junkee.