Writing with a Chronic Illness

I have been a writer for years. I’ve had ulcerative colitis for four years. The UC has had a major effect on my writing.

When it started, I became sicker and sicker fairly quickly and didn’t get better. I ended up in hospital a lot, took all kinds of medications with nasty side effects, and last year, I a fairly major two part operation, had my colon removed and replaced first with an ileostomy (where part of the bowel is outside the skin, so I have to stick a bag over it to collect poo) and then that was removed and replaced with a J Pouch (internal ). I’m still sick, I always will be, I’m still symptomatic, but I’m a lot healthier than I have been since all this started.

So how did this effect my writing? Well, bad effects first.
– tiredness. Chronic illness make you tired. Exhausted in fact, so even the effort of picking up a pen is too much.
– pain. When it’s this bad, pain is all you can think about.
– time. So much time spent on appointments, on being ill, on trying not to be ill, on laying around in hospital.

But there were good effects too.
– time, again. I was off sick from my day job, but this meant on days where I was not too bad, I could write. True, I was still exhausted and sick, but I could manage twenty minutes at a time, every couple of hours.
– thinking time. When I was just lying there, too tired to move, when the pain wasn’t too bad, I could just lay there and think. I wasn’t distracted by anything else. I could just focus on the story.
– material. The sickness and the hospital visits gave me tons of material. In fact, part of the second Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson book is set in a hospital, and the seeds of the idea started as I lay in a hospital bed watching the other patients (though none of them ended up as characters!)
– determination. My body was beating me. I was damned if I was going to let my mind lose. I’d been a dilettante writer before, playing at it, whilst pursuing other interests. It couldn’t be like that any more. I just wasn’t physically capable of doing a day job, writing, acting and dancing. I looked at my life, and realised that I had to concentrate only on what was really important. So what did I really want? I wanted to be a writer, more than anything else. So it was time to focus on that. It was time to write a book, and get it published.

My chronic illness made life almost impossible for a time, and will also always make my life difficult, in varying degrees. But I think perhaps, without it, I would never have become a published writer.

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

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