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The Pecman

Writer's Block, Illness, and Other Excuses...

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I've been having a tough year. Starting sometime last summer, I started experiencing a weird allergy: kind of a skin-crawling "itchy" sensation on my legs, a burning sensation in my eyes (resulting in a crusty-like material I'd have to clean out every hour), along with mild asthma. I've never had asthma in my life, so it's baffling to experience it past the age of 50.

We've had several teams of specialists come in to clean the air conditioning ducts, replace carpets, you name it. The first team blew out the air ducts and made the situation 1000 times worse. I made the mistake of being in one of the exhaust rooms when they hit the switch, and I felt like thousands of little needles hit my entire body -- like Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk. I didn't suddenly get big and turn green, but my allergy symptoms went off the scale.

I've been to three different doctors, and all of them agree that my LGE blood levels are off the scale -- 15 times higher than normal. There ain't no cause and no cure. All of the symptoms completely disappear when I leave the house. If I sit in my backyard, or drive in my car, I'm fine. Only inside the house do I have any reaction. I've had a battery of allergic tests, and I show no reaction to dust mites, mold, or anything similar. They say the worst thing I'm allergic to is certain grasses and pollen, yet I can stand in my front or back yard in my bare feet and have zero symptoms.

We have virtually no plants, and the two cats we have have been here for more than 12 years. Neither the cats nor my partner shows any symptoms, nor do any of my friends who come over to visit.

This bizarre disease (if we can call it that) has drastically affected my ability to write. I've also been afflicted by occasional bouts of depression, most related to work-related and money problems, which I think everybody in the country is going through right now.

Finding the energy to sit down and get back to my novel has taken an enormous effort. It took me almost four months to finish the current chapter of my novel, and I'm pissed-off as hell about it. The good news is, the change in weather seems to help my condition; as it's getting colder, my symptoms are beginning to lessen again. God help us when summer comes back, but with luck, maybe Rod and I will be outta this place and living in another dump somewhere else.

But I had some thoughts about Writer's Block in general that I thought I'd share:

1) for me, it happens when I'm trying to include too much in a chapter. Sometimes, simpler is better. I think cutting out a lot of the fat and just sticking to the meat of the story works well.

2) don't try to be a perfectionist. Many times, I've sat down to start a paragraph and said, "no -- this isn't good enough." I think it takes courage to just say, "screw it. I'm just going to write something bad, just a couple of pages, to get something down." The key is that you can always throw out the bad stuff later on. You never know; maybe you'll at least get a good paragraph out of it.

3) develop the discipline to write at least a page a day, no matter what. This hasn't been possible, because of my ridiculous work schedule and my ongoing allergy, but I've been trying as best I can. I think just forcing yourself to stick to a writing schedule can be a help. If nothing else, it puts your brain in a writing mode, which should make it easier the next time you sit down.

4) don't forget physical activity. I've recently forced myself to get back to the gym and start exercising again, and I think it's paid off by positively affecting my mental attitude. Just doing something 100% physical, like running around a park, taking a long walk, or swimming a few laps in the pool every day can help. I hated exercise as a kid, but I realized years into my adulthood that the biggest benefits of exercise for me were mental, not physical. It clears my head and helps me think better.

5) I've mentioned this one before, but if you're stuck for the start of a new chapter, consider attacking your story from a completely different angle. Pick it up from another character's point of view, or jump ahead a few chapters and write something that's going to happen later on. Once that's done, go back and fill in the details that came before it. There's any number of ways you can mix things up and make it less stressful to write.

So that's my brief tale of my ongoing struggle. Anybody got any similar tales of Writer's Block to share? I can't promise we'll find a way to cure it, but at least we can commiserate here, and maybe put you on the path to figuring out a solution.

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Interesting. For almost two years now, I've had this incredible green yellow discharge in my eyes, that turns to a nasty crusty stuff if not removed. Cleaning my eyes with any fluid, like artificial tears, or anti-biotic eye drops just makes things worse. It is so bad, at times I have to do an emergency stop of my car, to clean things up. If I go away for a weekend, it is all fine in a few hours, and within a few hours of return home, I've got it again. I've tried elimination diets, thinking it is a food allergy, but nothing like that has helped. I've been to eye doctors and they say to keep my eyes wetter, but this worse to make things much worse. Sadly, the crap is also affecting the skin surrounding the eyes, make it red and painful. I had some itching around my body, but eliminating bread and almost all wheat (no cookies either) has removed that particular agony. I am now using a little bit of castor oil on my eye lids at night, and while not curing anything, the discharge is reduced by about 50%. Nobody knows what it is, and all tests reveal NO bugs, bacteria, or viruses growing in my eyes. Even more interesting, if I get a real cold, with sniffles, sneezing, etc., the eye discharge stops.

Sorry to bore you all with this, but it was just too coincidental and I had to respond to this aspect of Pecman's post.

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All good thoughts on writers' block, Pecman.

Writing every day is recommended by several writers. Don't expect all the output to be publishable quality, but that isn't the point. The point is to write, and the discipline of doing so daily helps.

As for the allergy, MOVE. You won't find a more propitious time to buy than now. And if you can afford it, rent your current place. There is a scarcity of rental properties in LA, so it should rent out almost immediately. That way, you can wait till properties appreciate again before selling it. But geting out of there has to be at the very top of your list.

C

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From personal experience I initially thought about stress and tension with your symptoms, Pecman and Trab.

It is not always the stress and tension that is the direct cause of the symptoms, but they can cause a weakening of the body's defence systems to a point where the allergies flair up if you are exposed to the triggers. If in good health your body just reacts and you don't even notice anything.

Believe me I know your first reaction will be to dismiss the above, but it should be seen as an indication of associative problems rather causal.

I suffered for 30 years from intermittent attacks of lethargy during which I developed all sorts of other symptoms not too dissimilar from yours, and my doctors told me to change my lifestyle. What the hell does that actually mean?

I became depressed which, of course, only made things worse.

Finally they discovered that I had an arrhythmic heartbeat and that was at the root of the problem. It was aggravated by stress and tension in my work place, but the symptoms only manifested themselves when I wound down in the safety of my home. I hunted for all sorts of causes including the dust mite.

Now I am not saying you have a heartbeat problem, but you may have an underlying physical problem which makes you sensitive to the allergies combined with work related stress.

These things are much more common and under-diagnosed than is admitted by the medical profession.

That's my thoughts. Five cents please. :icon_geek:

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Well, considering that I'm retired, and most of my activity is here on AD, or chatting on YIM with you, Des, that stress position better not be for real. I'd hate to de-stress by moving away from AD. :icon_geek:

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Yeah, but you worried me anyway, talking about mysterious allergies, retiring, confining your entertainment to AD, and playing with Des.

It's that latter one that's serious. He reels you in. Be very, very careful.

I think it's the shiny dome. He knows how to tip his head, and the glint off the ceiling lamps hypnotizes.

Well, there has to be some reason he's doing so much better than I am.

C

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For almost two years now, I've had this incredible green yellow discharge in my eyes, that turns to a nasty crusty stuff if not removed. Cleaning my eyes with any fluid, like artificial tears, or anti-biotic eye drops just makes things worse.

Yeah, that's very similar to what I have. Basically, it's a version of blepharitis. I figured out the same thing you did: eyedrops typically make it worse. If I just flush out the eyes with water and keep the area around my eyes very clean, I'm OK for a few hours at a time. Some days (like today), I have almost no symptoms at all; other days, I'm in agony every 20 minutes. Not good.

The eye doc explained that what we think of as tears are actually made up of several different kinds of fluid. Part of it is like a saline solution, to keep the eyes moist; part is more of a sticky fluid like mucus, to keep the eye lubricated. Apparently, there's a lot going on in there. If one of the glands malfunctions, you wind up getting these crusty deposits in your eye, and it feels exactly like sand or grit, which is painful as hell.

Another symptom for me is that staring at bright monitors starts to get blurry after awhile. That's made typing a real pain in the ass (or a pain in the eyes, in my case). The best thing that's helped me so far is just cold water and a moist cloth or tissue, and I can usually keep it under control for awhile. I try to use prescription Restasis eyedrops once a day, and usually that helps a little bit. It doesn't work if I'm already suffering, though.

This is on top of a whole bunch of things that aren't killing me, but do make me miserable. I'm just glad it ain't cancer or something like that. The asthma has gotten real bad on occasion, and it's baffling, because I exercise frequently and have never smoked in my life.

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As for the allergy, MOVE. You won't find a more propitious time to buy than now. And if you can afford it, rent your current place.

Naaa, we're in debt up to our (aching) eyeballs on this place. We owe far more on it than we can get for it now. We've considered just walking away from the house, but we gots nowhere to go. If I wind up quitting my job and changing careers, we'll almost have to bail, but we're months away from that for now. (If we all get laid off at work, which is a possibility due to the ongoing actors' semi-strike in LA, then my decision will have been made for me.) Nobody could afford the rent on this place, because our mortgage is pretty high at the moment. Times are tough, and the economy sucks, if you've been reading the papers.

The house is definitely killing me, no question. I actually have been reading an allergy book titled My House Is Killing Me, but there's no real solutions in sight yet.

This isn't a purely psychological or psychosomatic situation, since three doctors did detect an "abnormally high" amount of allergens in my blood, and that's something that can't be faked. A book I later checked out on asthma specifically said that patients with high LGE levels will develop asthma, and boy, were they right.

I had some major blow-ups with my partner over this, since it took three doctors before he believed that I actually had this weird illness. Like I say, I'm taking it day by day, but no question, we gotta get outta this place... if it's the last thing we ever do! (Great classic rock song by The Animals, from the summer of 1965.)

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I keep thinking we might have a breakthrough and discover the real cause of my illness, and then just get rid of that, rather than having to move. But we're beginning to think that maybe there's more than one cause. My symptoms are worse at certain times of day -- especially at dawn -- which is a weird factor.

For now, I'm determined to fight this thing. I'm exercising more at the gym, and I've moved to a small room in my house (I refer to it as my "jail cell"), and I try to stay in there 95% of the time. It seems the less I move around in the rest of the house, the fewer symptoms I encounter.

I'm still working on my novel, and I'm slowly working my way through it -- both it and the allergies.

BTW, I'll have to post some emails I've gotten from writer Rick Beck. When I think I got troubles, I think of what Rick goes through: he's legally blind, but if he magnifies his monitor by about 500%, he can just make out enough text to be able to write a couple of hours a day. Rick's overcome incredible obstacles to keep writing, and compared to him, my struggles are tiddlywinks.

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Pecman and Trab;

Its funny, here we are having health discussions on a writing forum, but I, too, have gone through something related. I developed hives and a number of medicine allergies all at once. Not the small minor hives like everyone gets on occasion, no, I had to get these huge blotchy things that itched like crazy. At the same time, I developed an allergy to an entire class of pain relievers. I can no longer take any NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like motrin, asprin, aleve, or indomethicin. They make my face blow up and my throat constrict, making breathing a tough problem. Of course, I found out about this the hard way, and had to go to the emergency room for an epinephrine shot.

They did all the allergen tests and said the only thing I was allergic to was the evil peanut (which I already knew about) and the specific meds I already mentioned. Despite this, my blood work was exhibiting an out of whack immune response, which was never fully identified. They put me on two different types of antihistamine, Allegra and Tagamet, and I took them at very high levels for the best part of the last three years to control the symptoms. My system has finally settled back down, and I'm off the Tagamet completely, and am only taking one-half an allegra pill (down from two) per day. While I still have no explanation from the medical community on why this happened, I suspect that as we age, our body chemistry changes slightly, but that's my opinion, not a proven scientific fact. As Des pointed out, it could also be related to stress, something most folks have been entirely too familiar with for far too long.

I guess I'm writing to say I understand the lethargy, loss of drive, and depression that can come with the onset of any chronic medical condition. I've experienced pretty much the same reactions to my medical issues, since they seem to hit you like a series of rapid gut punches: gout, allergies, diabetes, and the annoying lifestyle changes that go with those conditions are enough to depress anyone. In my case it made me face something I'd always pushed to the background: my own mortality, a scary thing to contemplate. Those kind of feelings led me down a pretty dark spiral for awhile, and while through it at this point, it still threatens to drag me back under once in a while.

I have more good than bad days though, and in most respects things are looking up. Now if only I could find a stress free job that pays me a million a month, I'd have it made! :wink:

I wish I had a solution to offer you, but it seems some of these things just have to burn themselves out, and we're just stuck dealing with them until they do. In the meantime, keep us posted and vent when you feel the need...it always helped me!

Best Wishes;

Rick

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Thanks, Rick. I know my sister is sure that much of this is because of reactions to genetically modified foods we are ingesting, and that the body simply cannot process them properly. While I pooh pooh her ideas, it is noticeable that I function much better when limiting my food intake to basics, like boiled eggs, pure meat (as opposed to hamburger), and home grown vegetables. Start to mix in other stuff, and I rapidly go downhill. BTW, I carry an epipen, just in case of real trouble. I recommend you do the same, if you've got a severe allergy.

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I guess I'm writing to say I understand the lethargy, loss of drive, and depression that can come with the onset of any chronic medical condition.

Yeah, that pretty much covers it. It took me more than six months to realize that I had three different problems: the itchy legs, the stinging eyes, and gasping for breath.

It also started giving me something resembling anxiety attacks, were I'd slowly start to freak out over time, which is really scary. I never had anything like this before, so it was bewildering to experience.

I'm on a low dosage of Xanax right now (just taking a half dose before bedtime), and that's helping quite a bit. I still go through highs and lows, but for the first time in a year, I feel like my problems are at least manageable.

Given the immense economic problems the country is going through right now, plus stuff like Hurricane Ike, it just reminds me there are bigger things to worry about than my little ailments. I'm not ashamed to admit there was about a 3-month period earlier this year when I was actually thinking about doing myself in, since between my health problems, work problems, and money concerns, it seemed like there was no way out. My partner talked me off the ledge, and for now, I'm just taking it day by day.

Depression is a real problem for many writers. Most biographies of Edgar Allen Poe indicate that he was a chronic sufferer, and others, like Oscar Wilde, were clearly manic-depressives. I'm not even fit to sharpen their pencils, but I can see where depression can really engulf creativity to the point where you just can't get anything done. It helps to know there's other people out there who have problems just as bad or worse, and it also helps to have friends to lean on.

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BTW, I carry an epipen, just in case of real trouble. I recommend you do the same, if you've got a severe allergy.

I had never heard of these until one was featured in the 2-hour pilot episode of Fringe on Fox-TV. Unfortunately, it was part of a plot where all 300 passengers wound up with all the tissue on their bodies disintegrating, but it was still an interesting little factoid they dropped into the episode.

Great show, BTW. I watch very little TV, but this year, Fringe, Terminator and (soon) Heroes all are thoroughly entertaining shows that I find the time to watch. BTW, word is the star of Terminator is a Friend of Dorothy. He certainly wears more eye makeup than any teenager I ever saw. :wink:

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