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Oh, how I miss being here and writing. And what I was writing about. It’s ‘only’ been about 5 months since I posted here, but it feels like a hundred years. I miss being immersed in the whole screenwriting learning experience. Learning about film in general actually. But most of all, the writing. And even the actual screenwriting, even though I haven’t done much of it yet. One of the reasons I started writing this blog, this journal, was also to keep myself writing in general. Writing is something I really miss when I don’t get to do it regularly. It’s like eating, almost like breathing even. It helps me to process my thoughts, figure things out, put things in perspective. When I don’t write or can’t write for a long time, I clog up. It’s a relaxant as well. Running has a similar effect on me, which unfortunately I am also unable to do right now. I am not in the best shape at the moment or as someone phrased it ‘not at my full strength’, and haven’t been for quite some time. And the past few months that rose to new heights, or should I say plummeted to new lows, due to some extreme external stress-factors that needed tackling, and affected everything in the process. Don’t you hate it when that happens?
To make a very long story short: I’ve been dealing with unexplained pain in my ribcage for almost 3 years, which after endless examinations during the first one and a half year and finding no real cause or damage, eventually got labelled as ‘chronic pain’. Fortunately, I then got referred to a great program at a rehabilitation centre, specialized in pain rehabilitation and helping you gain understanding what chronic pain actually is (an increased sensitivity of the central nervous system, also known as Central Sensitisation), what its oh-so-important relation is to physical chronic stress, what its consequences are (and why you feel tired all the time, have problems with concentration, and storing and retrieving information, amongst a whole lot of other things) and helping you get into a good balance again between rest and activity and gain some control again over your life that has turned into a ravished warzone.
It took me a long time, as happens with most chronic pain patients, to accept that this chronic pain was actually what was going on and ‘nothing more’. And most of all, your current limitations because of it. This last thing was and sometimes still is the most frustrating for me. I am so used to stretching my boundaries, my limits, that being forced to say ‘no, this is enough for today’, is still the hardest thing. Especially when you feel a tiny bit better, and you do tend to do more then, with the inevitable result that the next 5 days, you feel like crap again and struggle to get even little things done. Graded activity is the key here. Building up slowly and in small steps. No matter how you feel, good or bad. This way your body will get a chance to build up within its current limitations, without aggravating or alarming your stress-response system again, that is the main goal. Creating a predictable environment, which eliminates sudden stress factors. Elements from Florence Nightingale’s Notes On Nursing (1859) still apply today and not just in a hospital or raising your children, but we grownups benefit from it as well, and not just when we are sick: rest, cleanliness and regularity. In other words: a good balance between rest and activity, a tidy, clean environment, and predictable structure in your schedule. I never paid so much attention to this, until I discovered its overwhelming proof in my own rehabilitation.
And one of the key things in tackling this, apart from Florence Nightingale’s elements, is distraction, and doing things that are not only nice to do, and bad-stress-free, but also have a sense of purpose. And for me focusing on storytelling, through the DIY film school and the screenwriting in particular, was a perfect distraction, both fun and purposeful. And perfect for the amount of time I was capable to put in, namely, not that much per day. And the Immersion Screenwriting Course perhaps the most perfect one in it all, because of its structured and predictable nature, helping me not to overdo things per day, as ordered by the teacher. Even my coach at the rehabilitation centre welcomed this structured, and more importantly, limited activity, since that is something many chronic pain patients struggle with, to find a good balance within their limitations. But, as I discovered, reading screenplays, making synopses and even reverse screenwriting is on a whole other level than coming up with your own story all together, which requires a whole lot more of your memory and imagination than the other parts of the course. Plus, my condition had not reached its lowest level yet, which I didn’t know. I’m not saying that my chronic pain and its consequences are the reason that that last part hasn’t gotten off the ground yet up until now, but the more I gain understanding of this condition over the past year, the more I now see how much is actually affected. And how that cannot be underestimated.
Without going too much into detail about those extreme external stress-factors over the past few months, they actually also resulted in something very good and beneficial for my condition. I was forced to take more rest, incl. short naps during the day, which are really helping to replenish my depleted energy reserves, also apply even more structure and above all, it resulted in really sticking up for myself and my chances for recovery and really listening to my body’s signals. Which also taught me something great about storytelling and the characters in them. When the stakes are raised, really raised and a character is really pushed into a corner, to his/her limits and what they need is really threatened, the true, primal self will stand up and will fight for its survival. There is no better, more powerful motivation than that. I was actually in awe and happily surprised when that happened. It felt like someone outside of myself, or better yet, the deepest, truest, most protective part of me, my inner warrior, stood up behind me in full armour, sword and all, and actually took over, because I couldn’t. It felt like one of those characters in movies, when one person is too weak or small to defend itself, and then your big Vin Diesel friend stands up beside you and comes to your aid. Don’t mess with her. It truly was a moment I will not forget, and at the same time such a valuable lesson for storytelling.
But unfortunately, as a result of the heightened stress-levels, my hippocampus, that part of your brain dealing with concentration and memory, amongst other things, was also affected much, much more, leaving only a handful of employees there handling incoming and outgoing information, well, that’s what I compare it with. Can you picture it? Normally there are millions of them in a dense network of roads and bridges throughout this storage facility, so when information is requested, it takes hardly any time for it to come to the door. But now, with so few left, they’re like: “Sure, we can go and try to get that kind of information for you, but it will take a few days, if we can reach it at all at the moment, because most of the roads and bridges in here have collapsed. Plus, we’re not build for long distances. We, and therefore you, will be wiped out by the time we get back with that information, if we can reach it”. Something like that. At least, that is how it feels. So, I was forced to also lay aside this script for now, at least working actively on it. And with that, also the deadline of getting it done soon.
So, what am I doing then in the meantime, apart from the extra needed rest and so on? Well, for one, I keep watching movies in the genre I want to write in, and these are mostly at home, on Netflix or TV. Sort of like immersion. I’m not taking notes, I just watch them, let whatever is in them trickle in. And also I keep talking to my friend about this planned story, despite there being that sort of lockdown on my hippocampus for new and inspired information, imagination. Although there are fewer pathways, there are still some, so information does get in and out, be it much less and much slower, but just like in the saying ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’, one step is more than no step, right? And, something completely unrelated to storytelling, but in a way it actually is related, and as another form of doing something nice and purposeful, I decided to start knitting a patched blanket. Each patch is 20×20 cm, 80 rows, and the blanket is going to be about 140×200 cm, so about 70 patches in total. And I only knit 5 rows a day, because on top of everything else, I also developed repetitive strain injury in my right arm recently, because of having to do too much over the past few months, and now limiting my activities with it. Meaning each patch will take me 16 days, and the whole blanket about 3 years to make. In the past, this might have put me off, but perhaps it symbolizes the biggest and most important lesson of and in this all, that yes, it might take time, much more time than you anticipated, but eventually you will get there. And in 3 years, when my blanket is done, hopefully, I will be glad that I kept working on it daily, no matter how few rows. And not working on it, because it takes so long to finish, doesn’t get you anywhere. So, every day I knit a little and every day I see the patch growing; no matter how slow, it is growing. And every 16 days, a new patch is done. I just starting knitting the 5th. And that is also how I look at my condition, my situation getting better. I don’t look for giant leaps anymore, as I did in the beginning, and had many setbacks, because I tried too hard to go beyond what I could do, and still do sometimes. Or am forced to, like these past months, and the reason why both trying to write the screenplay and also keeping up with this blog had come to a screeching halt. Trying to learn how to swim in stormy weather is already difficult, but having to put everything you learned into practice when those storms turn into hurricanes, like the last couple of months, is almost impossible. Or as my rehabilitation doctor said ‘the big bad world throwing many obstacles at me and now stalling my recovery’.
I had, and have to give my recovery priority. But I’m not discouraged. I now know and have to keep reminding myself that it is little by little, and a bit more little when storms turn into hurricanes, so my pace is even slower then. But I don’t dictate my recovery, Florence Nightingale’s elements do. And I better obey them. And I know, when I do, I do see progress, no matter how little. And when I don’t, I see and feel, harshly, setbacks, that take a very long time to get over again. One of the things I hated the most to let go off in these bad months, was keeping up with this blog. I wanted to keep up with it, because it keeps me close to what really gives me energy and purpose, and therefore aids my recovery, but the pressure of having to write on time wasn’t helping me. And writing about this topic very difficult, as you can imagine. So, it has taken me some time to get back here, also with the other posts about the beginning of the year, but I’m glad that I have now, because I really felt I needed to explain my MIA, it is after all part of this journey too.
Despite not knowing where this journey will end up and at what pace, I am still hopeful about it. Because from underneath all the rubble in this ravished warzone, especially after the hurricanes, my love for this art is stubbornly pushing its way up again, as nature does. And as it does, I will try to nourish it as much as I can, so that not only I, but it also has a fighting chance again. And as part of that, I look forward (read: hope) to be writing about that writing-part of this journey again more soon, but if it takes some time, at least you know its reasons. And who knows what lessons and inspirations from them will rub off on the story itself. Because, just as stories are equipment for living, so is life an inspiration for stories. Whatever we go through.
(Btw. If you yourself are dealing with chronic pain or know someone who does, and haven’t gained so much knowledge about this condition yet, I highly recommend you do. It will not only lower your (and their) frustration that comes from not knowing what is actually going on and its consequences as a result, but being in the know gets those all important stress-levels that are heightened, down as well. It is a vital part of a possible recovery. And of course getting in touch with adequate professionals as well, who have this knowledge.)