The clock in the bathroom has one of those iconic tick-tocks that echoes so loudly in the cold room that one slowly becomes slave to it. The dogs lay here, dozing, having shown no sympathy to my wailing tears earlier. My eyes itch, my stomach hurts, and across the room on a dimly lit shelf, a little doll sits staring at me with a very creepy expression.
Somewhere in California, at this moment, my uncle lays dying.
It was shocking news to see my mother’s frantic message that she needed to talk to me urgently, and when I called her, I worried that it would be news about my grandmother. But that chill news that you never want to hear, the words “hospital” and “don’t think they’ll make it” and “cancer” and “I’m sorry” weren’t about my grandmother – they were about her son, my mother’s brother, my uncle.
There’s a lot to the story, a lot to be said about the big man who was a huge part of my life growing up. He was one of my favorite relatives growing up, with his hearty laugh and his playful smile. I watched his heart break when I was young, and my aunt – just as lovable, and the only real aunt I had – died of a sudden heart attack right before Christmas. In fact, through my youthful years, I saw a huge span of emotion in those great eyes.
Why do I remember so many emotional expressions of a man I saw less and less of the older I got? I don’t really know. Perhaps he simply had one of those memorable faces, for even now, my mind is drifting back to the hospital bed in California where he lies comatose. I can picture what he looks like; face still, eyes closed, perhaps in peace, perhaps in pain, perhaps a mix of both.
Meanwhile, you may be wondering why I’m writing about my uncle on a writing blog.
It’s terribly hard to write when you find yourself catatonic. Maybe you just found out that a beloved relative is dying; maybe you just have a bad headache or stomachache and the last thing in the world you want to do is work. It’s much easier to stare at the screen, to call it a personal day, to tell your clients “Sorry, life sucked today.” When you work from home as a freelancer, the temptation is particularly strong; after all, you’re your own boss, so who else is there to yell at you for taking a day off because you just weren’t in the mood? Yet sometimes, you must somehow find the strength, energy, and mental awareness to press ahead.
I’m not suggesting that you should ignore all these things and work through any and every calamity that comes your way. Everyone deserves days off to relax, recharge, or just plain stop and figure out what’s going on. We all need an eventual catharsis of things small and big that crop up in our lives.
As an independent writer, that’s hard for me to do. I have readers, and I make money when they read my work. If I stop writing for a week, I lose a significant amount of my income as well as “fall behind” on the industry I report on, making me less credible over time. I can afford to skip a day or two here or there; I cannot afford to let the world go by as I grasp to make terms with whatever new drama has come my way.
I have found that the best way to deal with a catatonic state is to take an immediate break as soon as it happens, and take time to get emotional bearings for a little while, appropriate to the issue. I always make sure to do something in this time frame to prevent a total seize-up; it could be something as small as talking a shower, a small nap, or a walk. This is to keep me from dwelling on the subject so strongly that I become oblivious to the tick-tock of the world around me. If it’s an illness, this is a perfect time for me to take medicine and let my body rest a while.
Once I’ve taken a break, I come back to work and lay it out in front of me. This is probably a subconscious effort to stress me out, but the conscious effort is actually to look at what I have to do, and choose those things which I either must get done, or know I can get done easily (with little mental effort). I will pick something out, and then prepare to write it. If I can get started, great. Getting started usually initiates enough forward momentum that I can forge ahead at least on the must-dos/easy-to-dos on the list.
If not, I turn my attention within. This post is actually evidence of that very process. I seek to make emotional amends by writing about what’s on my mind, by clearing the mind through writing. This is a cleansing method that works very well for me; and helps me break through the clog of cold thoughts holding me in place, to allow me to resume forward motion. It serves as therapy and release.
So if you find yourself caught in one of those bad days, just write it out. Release the emotions, the stress, the thoughts holding your mind hostage. You will find your way free.