Fear and The Attempt: What My Disability Has Taught Me About Writing

On Thursday I went hiking on a four mile trail with 213 steps, several narrow passageways suspended above the forest without a railing, and without much by way of safe, comfortable resting spots. Normally this sounds like not a very big deal, even for the less fit among us. *polishes Less Fit badge*
However, what you need to know about my movement disorder is that it is, by virtue of it’s very name, sporadic and unpredictable. Something that works perfectly fine for me one day won’t work another. The three miles I can walk one day might be a block or less the next day. There’s no way to predict what will set off my symptoms, though I have a good list going of typical triggers, and no way to stop it once it starts. I’ll have 1-10 minutes of symptoms that basically amount to a what looks like a conscious seizure, though it’s an entirely different condition.
So going hiking on Monday was, as you can imagine, a wee bit terrifying. I haven’t attempted anything so strenuous since being diagnosed, and to say I was nervous when we set out is quite an understatement. I already don’t like heights, so tackling heights in a place without railings, where a couple missteps could have some pretty serious consequences, was terrifying. Doing all those stairs, when there was no other way back and I had no way of knowing if my legs would freeze and refuse to work, left me hovering on the edge of serious panic.
But I wanted to go on that hike. I needed to. Because until I tried it, until I stretched my abilities and tested my body, I would never know if I was capable of it or not. So I went.
And you know what happened?
The worst possible thing.
I had an attack.
It was toward the tail end of the hike, at the halfway point of the journey home, and my body had just had enough. It was a localized episode, situated in my neck and face mostly, with some pulling at my shoulders that slipped down into my torso as I continued to try to make my way down the path. Eventually I had to stop and lean on a tree, letting the muscle spasms go on until my brain decided it was done spazzing out.
Did people see me? Yes. Was it super embarrassing? Why yes, it was, thanks for asking. Did I die? Did my world come crashing down? Will I never be able to recover? Nope, nope, and nope.
I went on and I finished the hike. I finished all four miles, all 213 stairs, all treacherous passages. I got to the end of it and I was still breathing. And I was proud of having done it. It wasn’t beautiful, and it certainly wouldn’t win any Trail Hikers of America awards, should they exist, but I did it.
So many times fear is an almost tangible component of our work as writers. Every project has elements of fear wrapped up into it – fear of failure, fear of the words, fear of truth and lies and the balance that honesty in fiction requires. We are afraid of being too real, we are afraid of being false, we are afraid of what it means for us to tell that particular story and what it means if we don’t tell it well.
But you’ll never know, until you cross the finish line of that book, if you’re capable of telling it. You won’t know, until the words are on the page, if you can tell the story, find the truths, respect the lies, strike the balance. If you don’t try that story, will you be happy? Maybe. Certainly you’ll be far more comfortable. But you’ll also never get to finish.
And what if the worst does happen? What if the symptoms of your fear show themselves? What if you write an absolutely horrible book of complete drivel and tortured words?
Well, then I guess you’ll pick yourself up, wipe the tree bark off your hands, and keep on down the path. Because no matter how many times you stumble, the only true failure is the one that keeps you from crossing the finish line. It doesn’t have to be pretty. It doesn’t have to win awards. But you do have to get to the end.

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3 thoughts on “Fear and The Attempt: What My Disability Has Taught Me About Writing

  1. I love this post!

    I too am a disabled writer. Being legally blind, it’s a challenge for me to put down into words the stories that swim in my head. I am completely blind in one eye and have limited, spotted, vision in the other. Details, such as the color of someone’s eyes) are extremely difficult for me to see (unless I get right up in your face). I laugh at myself when my fingers aren’t on the keyboard right and I have my text-to-speech app read back what I attempted to write. A good sense of humor saves the day many-a-time. 🙂

    I’ve come a long way in my writings thanks largely to people like Brenda Drake and feedback I’ve receive from previous PitchWars. I’m love knowing that I can hone my skills and have no doubt I will be successful in my chosen craft. I write Paranormal Mysteries and Historical Romances. Without the hard work, stumbles, and perseverance, the finish line only gets further and further away.

    I’m like you, determined to push my abilities rather than wallow in my disability, or disappointments.

    It’s a pleasure to interact with you in PitchWars. And I’m glad I peeked at your blog! What a pleasant surprise!

    Good luck to you in landing a mentor.

    Debbie Dorris

    1. You are so right that humor is often what saves us! Without it I’d either cry or have to hide under my bed forever so things are certainly better with! I admire you for writing, which is challenging under ideal circumstances, and keeping the faith in your work and abilities! I think the best thing we can do about disability is teach others how to perceive both us and our challenges – with positivity and humor. I often find myself trying to convince myself and others that I’m no different than them, but I’m finding more and more that’s not entirely correct. I am different, and I shouldn’t be ashamed of that, or feel I have to justify it or turn it into something as similar to everyone else as possible. Instead I want to acknowledge it, use it to teach, and turn it into something that sets me apart in all good ways – in how I make use of it and overcome it. We can be joyful together for our unique stories and our precious ways of making our mark on the world 🙂

      1. I couldn’t agree more! Thank you for understanding. I look forward to interacting with you along our challenging journey to successful writing careers. 🙂

        Oh, by the way, what happened to our cool PitchWars story about the woman and the watch? Did it just fizzle out?

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