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I’m Accepting and Adapting By S Leese
Sarah is a married mum of two and a cockapoo. When she isn't writing she can be found knitting and crocheting. She also enjoys camping and scouting (weather and energy levels permitting).
Recently, the mouth artist, Henry Fraser, posted a short video on Instagram of himself painting the words ‘Accept and Adapt’ on to a canvas. He used his adapted paintbrush to write out the words in the beautiful calligraphy that he uses on the covers of his books, ‘The Little Big Things’ and ‘The Power of You’. The video was accompanied by the words:
“I may not be able to use my hands to paint but sometimes we must accept and adapt to life’s challenges. Try not to waste energy just hoping things were better”
Henry Fraser, 16th October 2020
Towards the end of January 2019, I had a funny turn while walking the dog, and I haven’t been right since. I spent the first year of being ill going back and forth to the GP, attending an appointment with a neurologist, trying different medications (many of which I reacted badly to) and resting as much as I possibly could, all in the hope that things would get better. Sadly, they didn’t, and at the end of December 2019 I was medically retired from my role as a teaching assistant in a special needs school. Although it was the right, and only, thing to do by that point, I consider it the very best job I’ve ever had, and I was disappointed and heartbroken to leave behind my friends and the children I’d grown to love.
Thinking of Henry’s words, in hindsight it was a waste of my energy hoping things would get better. I spent that year, in between all the appointments, watching television and keeping my hands busy with knitting and crochet, expecting one day to suddenly be diagnosed, given the correct medication and be back at work. The only improvement I felt was when the weather changed for the better in the summer, which sadly lured me into a false sense of security – as I felt better I tried to do more, only to find doing more caused more pain in the long run.
The only diagnosis I’ve had so far is vestibular migraines, which the neurologist based on my history as a head migraine sufferer and the dizziness I was suffering in the first few months of my illness; but on his advice I stopped taking Propranolol (which I’d been taking for several years to help with my head migraines) and the dizziness went away. It turns out Propranolol lowers your blood pressure, and the dizziness was actually a side effect of the medication, not a symptom of the illness. Since then, my symptoms have been pain-related – muscular mainly, but as of August 2020 in my joints as well. Throw in cognitive impairment and fatigue, and I’m a bit of a mess, stuck in a loop where I’m not unwell enough to be able to claim benefits, but I’m not well enough to work either.
In January 2020, I accepted that I wasn’t going to simply get better. Losing my job had proven that despite my best efforts and hopes to return to work, my illness was going to be a much longer problem than I’d anticipated. I realised I needed to find something more meaningful to do with my time than constantly crafting and binging Netflix, so I finally gave in to the nagging thoughts I’d had for the last 17 years – I am going to write a novel series.
I first had the idea for my books when I was 18 and reading Harry Potter for the first time. I was late to the Potter party, but it had its advantages – I was able to read the first four books one after the other within a month of discovering them, and I only had to wait eight months for Order of the Phoenix to hit the shelves, rather than the several years other fans had had to wait. My story idea popped into my head during those eight months, and I started making notes and building a world around my characters.
But that was as far as it went at that point, as I was still attending Sixth Form, with coursework and exams to worry about. After that I started work, before deciding I would go to university after all. That didn’t exactly pan out the way I’d planned, falling pregnant with my son during my second year. I didn’t go back for my third year (I hadn’t actually been enjoying my degree in Management anyway), instead I played stay-at-home mum to our two children while my husband worked, before eventually training to be a teaching assistant in between various part-time jobs. Life got in the way of writing, or to be more accurate, I didn’t make the time to write, so my novel series stayed in my head, always swirling around in the back of my mind, slowly building itself more and more. Now I finally have the time to write and far fewer excuses not to, it’s time to adapt.
In February 2020 I decided to take writing seriously enough that I joined an online writing community. They provide various courses to help you write in different ways (whether you only want to write flash fiction or short stories, or whether you want to write a whole novel), and using their planning and plotting course I have managed to plot all four books of my novel series. Thanks to their chat forums, I have met fellow writers and even been brave enough to have people read and critique my work, and I have been even braver by submitting some of my writing into competitions. I haven’t had any professional success yet, but I live in hope.
In the meantime, I have started to write the first draft of my first novel, which is making slow progress at this time. The great gusto I had again this summer was used in the planning stage of the books, but now my energy is dwindling again and the cold weather is exacerbating my fatigue so I’m struggling to make myself sit down and do much writing. When I do manage to make myself write, I always enjoy it, and I am disheartened and feel guilty when I don’t write. But I understand that part of my illness will always be that I can’t do everything every day. Some days I manage to sit for an hour at a time and bash out significant chucks of the novel or a short story. Sometimes I can manage a couple of 30-minute writing sprints throughout the day. Other times I only manage to daydream bits of the plot, but it’s still part of the writing process and does count (I’ve learnt that from my writing courses!). As long as I do a little bit each time I can manage it, I’ll get there in the end.
Something else I am accepting is how long the process of confirming a diagnosis takes. I write this in November 2020, and I’ve been fortunate enough to still have the neurology appointment I’ve been waiting eight months for via telephone, rather than it being cancelled thanks to Covid. Unfortunately, the appointment was a bit pointless. The neurologist agreed that my vestibular migraine diagnosis is most likely wrong, but as I don’t appear to have anything wrong with me neurologically, he couldn’t help me further. At least that’s something that could have been wrong crossed off the list. It seems I’ll be back to the GP as soon as the report comes through, and we’ll start again with what could be wrong with me. It’s a new beginning I’d rather not have, but looking at the brighter side of it, the longer it takes for a diagnosis, the longer I will have to write.
I’m very grateful my illness; whatever it is, isn’t all bad and I can make the most of this time given to me. Perhaps a miracle cure will be found for me and I’ll return to the traditional way of working, or perhaps, more likely, I’ll be like this forever. Either way, I hope that whatever life throws at me, I will keep on accepting and adapting.
Whole post reading by Jenni Pettican