Saturday, January 17, 2015


Mostly, I mean physical illness, not the current slang of something wonderful being called 'sick.' But now that I think of it, the second meaning is kind of apt, too.

I spend a lot of time being sick. A lot of days I end up laying on the couch, just looking up at the ceiling. Which makes me wish our ceiling was more interesting. Some 'sick days' I'm in too much pain to write at all. But on most sick days, writing is about the only thing I can do.

Sickness for me means fuzzy-headedness. It means sleeping much of the day away. It means that every muscle in my body feels like it's being squeezed in one of those old fashioned clothes wringers, sometimes to the point that the only relief I can get is from crying. I try not to do that often, because it scares my husband, even though he should be used to it by now.

I wasn't always this way. I wasn't always sick. I was normal all through high school and college and working various jobs until law school, and all through law school. When I was in my 30s, I'd gotten my law degree and had landed my dream job. I was a Managing Attorney for the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, which meant I spent my days trying to make sure my clients exiting the state hospitals, some after 20 years of being on the inside, got decent housing, and appropriate clothing, and maybe a job washing dishes. Or I'd try to keep them from being forced to take medication they couldn't tolerate, or being restrained too much while they were still on the inside. Or I'd be in meetings with doctors who needed persuading that my clients (and theirs) were indeed human. I loved my job. I had great colleagues. I really looked forward to going to work every day, then walking my dogs or riding my horse after work.

Then one day, I couldn't get out of bed. I literally could not pick up my head. I thought maybe it was the flu. After awhile, since I seemed to be too weak to walk, I crawled to the phone and called in sick. Then I slept and slept. I called in sick the next day, and the day after that. My muscles began to ache terribly. Then suddenly I couldn't remember simple words. I started calling things by the completely wrong names. 'Cup' became 'lamp.' "Can I have a lamp of tea, please," I would say. "Get me my apple," when I meant my book. It would have been funny, if it hadn't been so terrifying. I didn't know it, but sickness would shape my life from then on.

I lived in Fairfield County at the time, one of the wealthiest places on earth. Which meant the doctors were top-notch, up on all the latest. Which was good, since this was the '80s, when illnesses like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome were barely blips on the medical radar. The doc I went to diagnosed me in minutes, though. I was so lucky. I didn't have to go through years of being told I was depressed, or else just plain lazy.

Yet the fact remains that there is no cure for this sickness. I've experienced a few 'remissions' when I've felt really well for months or even years. But it always comes back, that particular kind of pain, that malaise. Some random days I am normal. I think clearly. I have loads of energy. And no pain. Those days I feel like I'm 25 again. I have maybe one or two of those days a week right now. The other days I force myself to function marginally. Or I lie on the couch and cry in pain, when I'm at my worst. It's a continuum. Unpredictable. It smites me.

But I can write.

I can't really plan anything. I've had to miss: Tom Hanks on Broadway, Rene Fleming on New Year's, more trips to museums or parties or the beach or birthdays or Christmases than I can even count. I think of all I could have done with all the energy I might have had if not for being sick, and it makes me want to weep with frustration. But then I think,

I can write.

I can lie on the couch of pain and be in pain, constant pain, and be fuzzy headed and unable to call things by their correct names, but by God I can write. Pluck the correct words from the universe and set them down, no problem. I can't talk, but I can write, one of the brain's little jokes. It's my cross to bear and my salvation too, this sickness. For without it, I might not have ever written anything but briefs and memoranda and grocery lists. Now I write novels.

So I am thankful for sick. Although I could now be safely shed of it, and still be able to write, sick has given me a treasure. It is sick, in the vernacular. I am sick. But I write, I write I write.

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