If you follow me on my socials, you’ll know that I’ve been dealing with some significant health issues for nearly five years now. I write about it sometimes here. Every time I posted about a crazy hospital story, or yet another setback, invariably someone would comment: you should write about that! And while I knew that real life challenges often inspire the best art, writing about how sick I was and the amount of pain I was in was something I had absolutely zero interest in.
But part of me was noticing. Early in my recovery, I sat in a sauna at the local swimming centre at eleven o’clock on a Tuesday morning, in another doomed attempt to ease my pain. I looked around at the young parents with their toddlers in the lesson pool, the senior women in the aqua aerobics class, and the mother and babies swim session that was happening in the baby pool. There was no one near my age in the entire place. Next to me in the sauna was a woman in her eighties. On my other side, a man who looked like Santa. They both eyed me politely. I’d run into this often in the months I’d been home. I looked young and well. I didn’t have children with me. So, whenever I was out alone during work hours, I’d see the question in people’s eyes. The woman next to me eventually asked, ‘Day off?’. I was used to that question and usually just said yes, so that I didn’t have to explain why the answer was no. But that day, I told her about my surgery. She told me about her hips. Santa joined in to tell us about his knee injury in exacting detail. And as I listened and commiserated, I realised what a strange phase of my life I was in. I was yet to turn forty, but I had more in common with these two elderly strangers than with people my age. I was out of step. Living on the offbeat. Sitting in that sauna that morning, I thought: there is a story here. But, I still couldn’t write about it.
Not only was I taking a medication which completely wiped my innate ability to organise language, my brain was too preoccupied with survival to be creative. I couldn’t even keep a journal beyond a couple of short entries. And I didn’t want to write. I’d lost my passion for words, a part of me that had always felt so essential that without it, I wasn’t sure who I was. I read a total of eight books in 2019. Eight books! Me, a one novel a week reader since childhood. I couldn’t think of any stories and had no desire to write ever again. Strangely, I was fine with that. Which is to say, I was not myself.
Then, in late 2020, my medical team decided to try one last surgery. My expectations were very low. My husband’s expectations were very high. And he was right! Which is not how I usually like that to go, but this time it worked in my favour. No one was more surprised than I was to discover that my pain was largely gone, and even though I will be managing a chronic condition for life, I was able to do the sweetest, simplest things in life again – sleep, eat, walk, laugh, cry, sneeze, yawn. Write?
I managed to stop all pain medications over a period of a few months, and I worked hard in cardiac rehab to improve my fitness and exercise tolerance. As I improved, people asked about writing. Are you writing again? Are you working on anything? I wasn’t. Until I was.
This year, I wrote a book about a woman named Pippa. She’s a single mum – recently separated after a long marriage – re-establishing herself in her career, and dating a new and perhaps unsuitable man. This is her second act. But then something happens to Pippa, and instead of launching into an exciting new life, she finds herself severely injured and completely dependent on her ex-husband, who has moved back into the family home as her carer. Now she has to navigate a changing relationship with her ex, manage her injuries, and deal with the isolation that comes with chronic illness and pain. When her ex announces his intention to win her back, she knows she has to make some changes – and fast. Who better to help steer her towards the life she wants than a group of charismatic, fun, senior women? Inspired by her new friends, Pippa completes a list of ten ‘Hard Things’, learning a lot about herself and her relationship along the way.
Thanks to the lovely lady in the sauna with osteoporosis in her hips, who so gently suggested I join her walking group, I had the seed of an idea. Just a tiny one, like a poppy seed. I kept it safe for three years, through surgery and hospital stays, and many days where I felt like giving up, never thinking I’d ever plant it. I wrote it my way. Light, funny. Hopefully relatable with some deep bits. My mantra as I wrote was, tell the truth. And I think I have.
I’m up to the next step – querying agents and trying to be zen about it. And writing another book, of course. Turns out it never really left. It was waiting for me all along.