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Writing and our health

I know many of us here, both contributing authors and readers, have experienced difficulty writing when our health has deteriorated for one reason or another.  I’ve recently experienced that in a new way, one that I’m still working through.

Back in November, I suffered a heart attack (my second, if we’re counting).  Treatment was successful, and I recovered quickly.  However, I’ve had to go onto anticoagulant medication for a year, to prevent any blood clots forming around the stent that was put into my heart.  The cardiologist first prescribed Brilinta, which had absolutely horrendous side effects – severe shortness of breath, dizziness, and others.  After a few weeks, I went back to see him and insisted on a change.  He prescribed Plavix, which is working much better for me.

Unfortunately, I take a number of other medications to treat the results of a serious injury almost two decades ago, that left me with permanent nerve damage and other complications.  Adding an anticoagulant to the mix appears to have sent my muse into a tailspin.  I’m finding it very difficult to write fiction.  The creative spark is muffled, to say the least, and sometimes extinguished altogether.  I can still produce fiction, but its standard is generally not up to the mark I’ve set for myself.  I suspect the problem will continue until I can get off the anticoagulant medication and back to my “regular” medications alone.

Of course, I’m still able to produce non-fiction.  I write up to three blog articles every day, and one daily at weekends.  I’m also working on a non-fiction book about preparing for problems and disasters, something where I’ve had a great deal of experience on two continents (for example, see “Lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005“).  I hope I’ll have it ready within two to three months.  Nevertheless, the “fiction drought” is frustrating, and it’s certainly cutting into my income.  I’m taking other steps to address that.

So, I thought I’d put the question to our readers here.  Have you found that your state of health, and/or the medications you take or have taken, have affected your ability to write creatively?  If so, please tell us about it in Comments, and also how you managed to overcome the problem (assuming you have).  We can all learn from each other’s experiences, and perhaps be forewarned of potential issues before we start taking a new medication.

16 Comments
  1. Reziac #

    Always make sure thyroid is completely normal *before* treating anything else, by doing the FULL battery of tests. You’d be amazed how once thyroid is truly normalized (mostly meaning FreeT3 levels; never go by TSH) so many problems go away without further treatment: brain fog, hypertension, chronic fatigue, heart conditions, breathing disorders, migraines, diabetes II, dementia, eating disorders (obesity is a co-symptom, not a cause, but it can also manifest as anorexia), IBS, sleep disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, eczema/psoriasis, infertility… just to name a few. (Also implicated in diabetes I, MS, and some cancers.) And 80% of people over age 50 have some degree of hypothyroidism at the tissue level.

    Thyroid affects *everything*… unfortunately so broadly and variably that most doctors never make the connection, but it’s very clear if you read enough of the literature. Probably half of all chronic disorders, and 90% of what we think of as “symptoms of aging” are actually due to thyroid dysfunction. The good news is that if treated within ten years or so, these symptoms are almost entirely reversible. (If it goes on long enough, and progresses to Hashimoto’s, it can also cause hyperparathyroidism — which has the same symptoms, but =if= a tumor has developed, needs separate treatment. Osteoporosis is a symptom here, not a different issue.)

    Been there, done that, got a whole closet full of T-shirts. And have fired five doctors because they would not look beyond TSH (which test would have buried me a decade ago, as would treating with LT4 alone.)

    Start here:

    Click to access TSHWrongtree.pdf

    Bye-bye, brain fog.

    April 10, 2020
    • Peter Grant #

      Reziac, you have GOT to stop ascribing everything to the thyroid! You’re like a broken record on the subject, and it’s seriously annoying. You’re doing yourself no favors, and probably losing friends, by harping incessantly on the subject. Enough already!

      April 10, 2020
      • Reziac #

        I’ve read thousands of articles from the literature (meaning official medical journals, not nutjob crap), very broadly on the subject, and my background is biochemistry, so it’s not a foreign tongue. Over time it formed a very clear picture (read for yourself. One of the cites in the PDF leads to 128 pages of cites.) Yeah, it’s not “everything” but it does *affect* everything. In particular anything else in the endocrine system, and every aspect of metabolism.

        And the friends I’ve lost to the subject… died from one or another of those co-symptoms. I had 20 years of misery because “you’re not overweight, so it can’t be your thyroid.” We could have lost SAH to it.

        I would hope none of you die from it, but I wouldn’t bet on that.

        Okay then. You don’t want to know; I won’t tell you.

        April 10, 2020
  2. Reziac #

    BTW, just in case you think this isn’t serious… low thyroid KILLS. It takes 15 years to do so, but it will get you every time. Remember how back before we could effectively treat all those co-symptoms, most people expected to die soon after age 65? Yeah, that. Yet this is perhaps the most neglected of all health issues. A few examples:

    A pathologist noted that HALF of all fatal cardiac incidents were in fact due to low T3 (“flabby heart syndrome”) but that this will never be researched, because you can’t ethically inflict/fail to treat a known fatal condition just so you can study it.

    In an aged-care facility, at autopsy 28% had significant goiter, indicating undiagnosed severe thyroid problems.

    A shrink found that he could instantly cure 90% of his bipolar cases by putting them on T3. (IOW, they had undiagnosed Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.)

    I note an exact parallel between typical hypothyroid symptoms and CV19 risk factors.

    Yes, I can go on all day; why do you ask??

    A non-exhaustive list:
    https://hypothyroidmom.com/300-hypothyroidism-symptoms-yes-really/

    April 10, 2020
    • My grandmother nearly died before they got her hypothyroidism diagnosed and got her on thyroid pills. I have no clear memory of it, but my dad said (when I was having my own struggle with it) that the doctors were trying to pull a whole bunch of different things back in line, but as soon as they’d get one thing right, something else would go back out of whack. Finally someone noticed the pattern of symptoms and got her a thyroid test. Once she got treatment, she didn’t have any more trouble and lived another two decades in good health.

      Her thyroid slip-slid into loss of function over some time with nobody realizing there was a problem. My mother’s just Up And Quit, right after I was born. That’s why she got diagnosed and treated as quickly as she did. Mine seemed to come on suddenly, right after my husband’s knee operation, and got truly awful during Con+Alt+Delete 2018, but looking back, I think some of my knee problems that started in March of 2018 were the early symptoms rather than arthritis, which also runs in my family.

      April 10, 2020
      • Reziac #

        Your grandmother’s case is exactly why I rant about this early and often, and utterly typical of why it is so seldom diagnosed. Would you rather take one pill and have everything work, or take a dozen meds that need constant adjustment and produce a plethora of side effects, because you’re painting the ceiling while the foundation slowly sinks into the mud??

        Autoimmune diseases tend to run in packs. Some may be chicken-and-egg (ie. one sets off the other, which then takes off like a rocket) but generally if you first treat the thyroid, the rest will settle down somewhat, or even disappear.

        And the bonus is… hypothyroid treatment is 100% normal biochemistry, so what you take for it does not mess up anything else.

        April 13, 2020
  3. Allergy meds just flat turn off the words for me. It takes a few days off them to get back to writing. And then there’s the more ordinary brain fog. Low carb fixes that, I just can’t stand it for very long. Now experimenting with intermittent fasting.

    April 10, 2020
  4. I know that hypothyroidism made it almost impossible to write. The ideas were coming, but I just couldn’t turn them into narrative prose that anyone would want to read. It didn’t help that my hands were also cramping so that writing became physically painful. I’d scratch out notes every day, when I wasn’t falling asleep sitting up, but no actual prose. Even after I was on thyroid pills and my energy was coming back for physical tasks, it took months to get my groove back on actual prose, as opposed to notes on eight or ten different ‘verses I may actually get around to writing some day.

    April 10, 2020
  5. Mary #

    Metformin can interfere with absorbing certain vitamins. Always the ones where you can’t get supplements except in the 10 times the RDA at the smallest. . . but better than nothing.

    Remember that supplements CAN be dangerous. In particular, since zinc is touted for COVID-19, that over about 40 mg can interfere with copper absorption. (Only zinc supplement at my grocery store? 50 mg a pill. Megadosers are CRAZY.)

    April 10, 2020
  6. Anxiety is the word killer for me. March was a bad month for the book, and for the Phantom Soapbox. I was flipping out.

    People have heard me talk for years about the herb Holy Basil and L-Theanine (an amino acid found in green tea) taken in combination to make the world less annoying. It works.

    Anecdotally, it seems to work really well for your nervous Northern European/Scots red heads, the kind that tend to lose their shit over minor frustrations. There is no -science- to back this, I’ve just seen a lot of pissy red-heads do well with it. Other people too, obviously, but red-heads in particular. It seems to turn down the berserker a bit, so things that are only annoying don’t make you need to kill somebody.

    For those who live where it is legal, CBD oils of the appropriate cannabis strain can work well for anxiety and that inflammation pain a lot of us seem to get when we hit 55. For people with heavy-duty anxiety/PTSD the THC lets them sleep at night and reduces the nightmares.

    Note that 90% of cannabis patients are over 55, they use cannabis oils and other preparations to consume it, almost nobody smokes it except some pain or PTSD patients to handle breakthrough of symptoms. Average dose is very low, much lower than smoking it.

    I -speculate- that cannabis and the cannabinoid receptors of the body are a pretty good match for reducing a lot of the overproduction of inflammation we get as the body ages and the crud builds up in various places. Long term anxiety, particularly the existential sort that doesn’t have a particular cause, can build up a lot of crud.

    Broadly the science so far seems to be that 1/3 of patients get really good pain/anxiety reduction, 1/3 get some reduction if the doc fiddles with getting the strain just right, and the final third doesn’t see much reduction if any. That would tend to argue that the final third has things wrong with them that cannabis and the cannabinoid receptor system doesn’t affect.

    This is not an exhortation to run out and buy weed, because that most likely won’t work. Its a complicated business. Get thyself to a licensed physician that specializes in prescribing cannabis, and let them figure it out. If it works, great. If not, nothing lost.

    Final caution, cannabis does not -fix- anything that we know of right now. It just makes you feel better. Those people out there claiming it cures cancer are along the same lines as the ones claiming Elvis is still alive. On the bright side, even heavy, heavy pot heads can stop cold turkey (like they do when they go to jail, for example) and all that happens to them is their original symptoms return. There’s no withdrawal like what you see with opioids that anyone has been able to demonstrate at this point.

    April 10, 2020
    • And if you are in the US, cannabis is still illegal at the federal level. (And if you have a family history of psychosis, please, please think more than twice about weed. Some of the other compounds in the plant seem to trigger psychotic breaks in people.)

      April 10, 2020
      • TheOtherSean #

        Federal law – interesting thing. I heard that it includes provisions that guarantees freedom of religion, the right to assemble, reserve to Congress the right to regulate interstate commerce, and reserves powers not granted by the Constitution to the state governments.

        April 10, 2020
      • Having a proper prescription from a physician who practices as a -specialist- in cannabis is key. Experimentation is potentially dangerous. We don’t “experiment” with blood pressure meds, right? This is what doctors are for.

        And yes, family history of mental illness is a big caution flag for cannabis applications. We do not tempt the fates, my friends.

        April 11, 2020
      • Reziac #

        Acquaintance in Portland, who works somewhere in that circle of cop-and-paramedic, has a slew of horror stories about the new extra-strong weed. Apparently one symptom of that psychotic break is that the affected person cuts off protruding body parts (fingers and ears seem to be preferred targets).

        April 13, 2020
  7. Sleep apnea was my bugaboo for quite some time. It took about six months to get tested, get the results and finally get a machine. Once I did, my life pretty much changed. Before, I was lucky to get 700 words written a day. I was constantly falling asleep at the keyboard or just too numb to function. Now I can get at least 2,000 words a day even with all of my squirrel-brain distractions.

    April 10, 2020
  8. Blake Smith #

    Writing while on prednisone is fun. I’ll leave it to you to determine how sarcastic I’m being. But, my first week on it (low dose), I turned out a horror story that got some really interesting comments, along the lines of, “That’s disgusting!” “Are you okay?” and the like.
    Thankfully, that’s over. With any luck, and perhaps some divine intervention, I’ll never have to deal with the dread pred ever again.

    April 11, 2020

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