Working as a Writer With Chronic Pain

As I write this, I can feel each muscle throughout my body individually cramp into hard knots. Tiny jolts of electricity course through my veins, shocking me with any movement.

To move feels like wading in cement. After a few minutes, I have to stop to clear the dense fog enveloping my brain and re-think what I just thought and try to figure out what I am going to say next. From time to time, simple names for things escape me and I turn into Ariel from the Little Mermaid. (What’s that word again? Oh yeah…pencil) Good grief.

The migraine level headache in my skull never ceases. My skin feels sunburnt and itchy all the time. Sitting, standing, or lying down for an extended period of time is incredibly painful. Pain medications, lack of sleep, and poor diet choices from struggling to even make a microwaved meal for myself has caused weight gain that only exacerbates the symptoms.

I could use some more exercise for sure, but try doing your next workout wading through cement and you’ll understand why I don’t even bother. I do stretching exercises and some yoga, but that’s about it.

My Fibromyalgia Experience as a Writer

Fibromyalgia has been with me since Day One of my writing career, which started professionally 3 years ago. Fibromyalgia is a debilitating and misunderstood condition that attacks every area of the body both externally and internally with symptoms that defy current medical testing and treatments, to put it mildly and simply.

It can be so strong that it can force you into a bedridden state if not managed appropriately. The pain levels can get so high that suicide is considered a viable option for the unending relief. In fact, suicide is the number one cause of death for this disease.

Other writers I encounter in my social media encounters tell me that my condition is barely perceptible and awed about the workload I’m able to carry in spite of my condition. Truth is, like most chronic pain warriors, I’ve adapted enough to masterfully hide my condition while working.

You learn to do that quickly to avoid misperceptions, stigmas, pity, and well-intentioned bad advice. I chose to accept the condition as a permanent roommate in my life and worked to find solutions for living together.

To give you an idea of my workload: I run two websites, manage a community of writers, and write 10,000-20,000 words for clients on a good workweek. I’m actively pitching for new clients at a rate of 15 pitches per week.

I’ve recently wrote an e-book for writers and I conduct strategy sessions for writers desiring to earn what they truly deserve on a regular basis. I have a podcast and Google Hangout video series, but production in those areas has declined as of late. I have an organizer full of passion projects that I hope to get to one day and I answer questions from writers on a daily basis.

The freelance world is incredibly tough as it is. Adding chronic pain to the mix makes it even more difficult. I have no way of telling how my body will betray me on a day-to-day basis. Do too much on one day and I’m out of commission two days later.

That’s bad for business. To be successful, I employ strategies that allow me to work around my constant pain companion and focus my efforts heavily on serving others to distract me from giving attention to my condition.

Tips For Writing With Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain

Writers I’ve talked with are scared about working with their chronic pain condition and meeting client expectations. When you can’t trust how you will feel from day-to-day, there’s a nervous apprehension about working with clients.

What if your illness makes you miss a deadline? What if the client finds out- will you get fired? What if the project I agree to take on is too much for me to handle?

How can you live with chronic pain and still be a successful writer? Here’s a few things that have helped me along the way.

Create an adaptive work environment.

Carve out a writing space or two that helps you adjust physically throughout the day. For example: My office has a bed so that I can lie down and stretch, and still get my work done. Recently, I purchased an adjustable sit/stand desk so I can work in either position. Get an ergonomic chair and keep your medication and other pain management tools within reach while you work. 

Create a plan of attack before the workweek starts.

Write down everything you need or would like to get done for the upcoming week. Now, separate these tasks into two lists according to the level of concentration required to accomplish them. Throughout the week, tackle high concentration items such as writing articles and pitching clients when you are feeling well enough for work. Tasks that require very little thinking can be managed on higher pain level days. Batch similar tasks together as much as possible.

Let go of your expectations and comparisons.

Chronic pain slows a person down tremendously. Looking around at other writers pumping out content at a much faster rate than you can cause you to feel like raising the white flag of surrender. Your path is that of the slow turtle running the race. Be okay with that. Really truly accept it. You don’t have to do what “they” are doing. Challenge yourself to be your own competition. Shed any “shoulds” from your internal conversations. Focus on one goal at a time and doing it well.

Do you live with Fibromyalgia or chronic pain? What advice would you give to other writers to help them succeed? Share your stories and comments below.

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