Friday, October 07, 2011

Suffering for Art

There's the common understanding that artists suffer for their art. Usually, this means we suffer emotionally. Creative types are at a higher risk for depression and other mental disorders, including OCD. Some of the most famous creative artists throughout history suffered emotionally.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I was diagnosed with depression back in high school, and I've fought it on and off over the years. I've even blogged about it before. Yes, I'm on antidepressants. Yes, I tried going off of them. No, I couldn't do it and yes, I have accepted the fact that I will be on them probably the rest of my life.

But the suffering I'm talking about for today's post is the physical suffering. Granted, as I have been in deep depressions, I would rather take the physical suffering any day. But that doesn't mean it's not painful. Quite the opposite.

I worked on my novel all weekend. I rarely left the couch. I did get up and take periodic stretches and move around, but then I forced myself to get back to work. Unfortunately, I don't think I was sitting correctly, and as I normally use an ergonomic keyboard for my desktop computer, I knew that working that long on my laptop (which does not have an ergonomic keyboard) might cause some problems.

By Monday, this was confirmed. I have tension headaches that have their root in an old volleyball neck injury from high school. I've been to several chiropractors over the years, have tried several pain medications, and now, I just live with the fact that I have pain in my head almost every day. There comes a point when you get tired of going to the doctor all the time and just learn to deal. I'm at that point.

As Monday stretched into Tuesday and then Wednesday, the pain kept getting worse. I had no one to blame but myself. I, after all, was the one who had sat in that same position and worked my tail off. I had a finished novel, yes, but at what cost to my body?

Wednesday night the headache got so bad, I was in tears. My husband was on alert, knowing he might have to take me to the ER. Thankfully, two prescription pain pills took the edge off and knocked me out so I could get some sleep. But I was a zombie yesterday and had to miss work.

To tell you the truth, I'm a little angry with myself. I should have known better. I should have known that I needed to change my sitting position, done more stretching, done something to prevent it. While I was writing, I knew I might have to deal with a tension headache, but I thought the few stretching sessions I had was enough to keep it at bay.


It's Friday and I still am feeling this headache. Not good. I may have to visit the chiropractor (which means more money and time). I simply can't afford to lose days like this. It's not worth it, in time or in money. And why should I put myself through pain?

Thus, I'm pledging to myself that I will do better next time. Despite being within the throes of creativity, I have to take care that my body doesn't suffer for my art. In the end, it only hurts me as an artist. AND, I can actually prevent a lot of the physical pain whereas the emotional suffering is a slightly bigger beast to slay.

If you're like me and need a few lessons in good posture and ergonomics, here's some helpful links:

Here's to staying healthy emotionally and physically!


  1. I have to admit that my posture isn't always as it should be when I'm writing. The worst thing I do is mess about with an Ipad for hours at a time and the looking down always gives me neckache. I must stop.

  2. So much of what you write here applies to me. I too suffer from depression-I think creative types are more prone to it. It's our ability to feel things more deeply that feeds our creativity-but it also is a side affect of depression.

    Chronic pain is my constant companion too. I have lingering problems from being hit by the truck years ago. It also doesn't help that I'm a klutz and tripped and crashed about a week ago, wrenching my right arm and shoulder. If I don't keep moving, I turn into the tin man when he's out of oil;)

    Hugs, Melissa:)

  3. Debs - I think I get into flow sometimes and don't even realized I'm sitting that long. It might be helpful to set an alarm to go off on your ipad for every 15 minutes or so to remind you to move. :-)

    Valerie - Oh, I didn't know you fell! Hope you're doing better now. And yes, chronic pain is hard to deal with. I'm sorry you have to go through it, too. But we have chocolate to help us get through it! ;-)

  4. I had to laugh at Valerie's remark that if she doesn't keep moving, she's the tin man needing oil. Oh I've been there! I walk as often as I possibly can and find it to be the most therapeutic exercise there is. Have a relaxing weekend, Melissa, and get well soon!

  5. Joanne - Oh, it's such a catch-22 - I get a headache and don't feel like exercising, which makes things worse! But I try and exercise as much as possible and it does help a great deal. :-)

  6. It's always hard to judge if we're harming ourselves if it doesn't hurt at the time we're doing it. Don't beat yourself up too bad! :)

    About suffering for art, my husband, who got his Masters in English creative writing and poetry, discusses this all the time. After reading biographies of various famous authors and poets (most of whom suffered from mental illness, alcoholism, or had been abused or raped), he comes away from it all saying he'll never be famous because he's not willing to torture himself enough to be as good as they are, lol.

  7. Melissa, I so identify. Since I'm a few years older, believe me when I say I've gone through exactly what you described. (And then some with my back.) I have learned to make sure I'm in an ergonomic position. And I set my timer. Get up and move. Do those neck exercises, looking down or up for long periods of time are harmful.
    The body does wear out before the mind. We need them both in fine working order.

  8. I always get a knot around my right back/shoulder region when I type for too long. And I hate massages (because I don't like people touching me) so that idea is out.

    I have to agree with a few people here. Though exercise isn't what we always want to do, we feel better both mentally and physically when we do it. (Well...sometimes we don't feel better physically right away...might be a little sore...but the overall goal is better physical fitness.)

    Thanks for sharing Melissa!

  9. I've experienced a little bit of the same thing this week - my 'office' is usually sitting cross-legged on my bed with a lap desk, which is not really the most comfortable position you can imagine. But my room is in a bright and (usually) quiet corner of the house, so I like working there. With all the time I had to spend on the computer this past week, though, my back and one shoulder got downright stiff and achy!

    Typically, though, eye strain is my problem. I know I'll get awful headaches if I don't stop in time, but time and again I stay on the computer too long and regret it afterwards. I need to be more disciplined in that area.

  10. Congrats on finishing your novel, Melissa. That's great, but I'm so sorry you've been suffering from headaches ever since. What a bummer. I'm sure you were so caught up in and engrossed in your novel that you didn't pay enough attention to your posture. That's a shame. I sure hope you feel better soon.

  11. Melissa, my prayers are with you! I have a bad right hip that flares at will, chronic pain is so debilitating. Love and prayers are sent your way!!

  12. Elizabeth Parker11:27 AM

    I feel for you, Melissa.

    One thing I've been trying lately is THE RELAXATION REVOLUTION by Herbert Benson. It's been scientifically proven that meditating for a short time every day cures tension and pain.

  13. Ouch! I hope you're feeling better. Thanks for sharing those sites...I definitely need to do a better job protecting myself while I write.

  14. Betsy - LOL. I don't think I want to be that famous, either!

    LoRee - Well said. We DO need both in working order!

    Kelley - I actually love to get massages...just can't afford them!

    Elisabeth - It's so easy to get sucked into the writing that we forget what it's doing to us physically. I think eye strain was undoubtedly part of my problem last week, too.

    Lyn - Yep! Too caught up in the story to pay attention to the ol' body! Feeling better now, thank you. :-)

    Anna - Y'know, I never thought of my headaches as chronic pain, but they really are.

    Betty - I think I need to slow down sometimes, too, and just sit in a quiet place for awhile. Hard to do!

    Christine - Doing better today, thanks!

  15. I have had the aches appear after sitting too long in one position writing! It's hard to think about getting up and stretching when you are into a story. Hope you are doing better today!! I hate headaches!

  16. Hi Terri! Glad to see you back in the blogging world. :-) I find it takes me a good week or more to recover from these bad headaches. No fun!


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