Can’t earn it

Advent 3

I want to give you an update on my health, and some really deep thoughts that I’ve had about it. I’ll start with a potted history and bring you up to date with where I am now. Then will come the deep thoughts 🙂

In 2016 I decided that I was really sick of feeling tired all the time and I was going to look into my health in a big way and get things going well. I checked for intolerances (and found salicylates) and allergies (sulphites), I went to a specialist about my sinuses and dealt with them so that they are generally clear. And I still wasn’t feeling that much better.

My wonderful and awesome GP decided to give me a whole slew of blood tests and we found that my thyroid was overactive. That put a whole new machine into operation. A run of specialist appointments and a medication that brought it under control. And I went from dragging myself through each day, hardly able to move, feeling stressed and burnt out and fatigued and awful to feeling pretty much normal.

I was excited to be feeling well again. I was told that the thyroid usually settles itself down after a couple of months and then I’d be OK. But my thyroid didn’t settle. It remained slightly overactive even after eighteen months. It was time to do something definitive.

The definitive option we decided on was radioactive iodine therapy. There was a chance with this therapy that we could kill off the thyroid gland just enough but not too much. No more overactivity but it wouldn’t be under active either. And I could have the correct amount of thyroid hormone in my blood stream without any medications.

So we did that back in June of this year. When I went to the specialist afterwards she was confident that we’d done what we needed to do. Everything would be good. A couple more blood tests to check levels and then only one test needed each year to keep a check on things.

All good, right? Turns out, not so much.

Over the last few months, very gradually, I’ve been feeling worse and worse. My energy has gone down. My weight has gone up. And it’s all been very gradual. I’ve been a bit like that frog in the pot of slowly boiling water.

I tried to do something about how I felt. I kept exercising. Hoping that exercise would speed up my metabolism, and build my fitness, and help me out. I listened to uplifting music and read uplifting books to help with the dullness and the depression I was feeling. I prayed and I made sure I rested once a week and I paced myself to keep within my energy levels. I found jobs that I could do to keep the businesses moving forward even though I wasn’t feeling energetic, and I put systems in place so that I wouldn’t forget the important things that I needed to do. But I kept feeling worse.

My biggest fear was that I’d have the last blood test, go to the doctor and be told, ‘your thyroid levels are low, but not low enough for medication, you just need to try harder.’ So instead of getting a blood test, I just tried harder and harder.

Finally the blood test day turned up. I joked with the pathologist that I’d be finished with this one. That this would be my last test for a year. I was all good.

I was seriously in denial. I don’t know how I could have even thought I was good. But I did. I thought that this low energy level was how life was going to be. And that I should be grateful for it.

The next day my specialist rang in a panic. She told me that I had almost no thyroid hormone left in my body. That she was seriously worried about my brain function. That I shouldn’t drive a car. That she didn’t know how I was standing upright. And she faxed a prescription through to the pharmacy closest to me so I could start taking medication straight away. I was to come and see her the next morning so she could get me on some faster acting stuff as well.

If you want detail, I had no measurable T3 and very, very little T4. And my TSH which should be lower than 4 was at 98. I was quite literally slowing to a stop.

When I took my first fast acting T3 tablet it was like giving a drooping plant water. My body lapped it up. Within half an hour I felt human again. The headache I didn’t really know I had, left. My brain cleared. My eyes could see better. My muscles worked again. My sore throat was no longer sore. I could walk, I could dance, I felt like singing. I suddenly knew how sick I had been.

And how foolish I had been to think I could fix this problem by myself.

My body needed T3. No amount of exercise, diet, or rest would have been able to fix that. My thyroid gland is dead, it is not making what I need. And without T3 I was also dying.

Once I was given what I needed, I immediately came back to life.

Now, you all know I’m a Christian, and this situation is the best illustration I have for what I believe about salvation.

We might think that we can work our way into being good people. That we can somehow build up to being good enough for God. So we do good things, we go the extra mile, we treat people as we’d like to be treated. And all of these things are good things.

But if we keep doing that we will wear ourselves out, and believe me, we will die. Because good works are not what our souls need. “Spirituality” is not what our souls need. We can’t do it for ourselves. We do not have the capacity to bridge this gap, to solve this problem. And it doesn’t matter how hard we try, we will die trying.

We need Jesus. He has paid the price for us to get us to God. He is the righteousness we can’t get for ourselves. He is our spiritual T3.

With Jesus we will live.

Without Jesus we will die.

It’s as simple, and as difficult as that.

It’s not that our good works are bad. They are good. But they are not what we need. And they will never be enough.

If you are a Christian like me, then praise God with me that Jesus has bridged the gap and given us what we need.

If you are not, let me tell you, God loves you. He wants you to know him. And he’s given his all to give you all that you need to get to him. You will die without him, you won’t die if you depend on him. Feel free to ask me about it. I’d love to tell you.

Or get yourself along to a church this Christmas. You will give any Christian the best Christmas present in the world by asking them about Jesus.

So where am I now? I’m at the beginning of another long process. My thyroid levels will stabilise over the next couple of years. I will be taking thyroid hormone for the rest of my life and right now I’m very happy with that outcome. It will mean that my levels stay just right – not too high, and not too low. I’ve tried both, I don’t like either. I want some stability now and this is the way to get it.

And I look forward to what I’ll be able to do fitness-wise, business-wise, life-wise with a body that’s working like it should. I’m excited. It’s lovely to have energy again.

A blessed and happy Christmas to you all.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

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Overwhelm

Well, it finally happened, and it only took two and a half months. But for the first time since I went freelance I have got too busy working for myself and this weekend I found myself suffering from overwhelm.

The deadline for a big client is drawing closer and the work is increasing in panic, it was newsletter week last week for my fiction business, I’m leading church this Sunday, I’m trying to get a podcast off the ground and that means (gasp) inviting people for interviews, I know that next week a full day is taken up travelling to Launceston with Moz and while I’ve arranged that and I’m looking forward to it, Friday of this week came so quickly I didn’t even see it coming and having a four-day week for all the work next week is frankly quite scary. Not to mention all the wonderful events that I could attend (and possibly even should attend) like the People’s Library exhibition, my friend’s band gig, the Tamar Valley Writers Festival, and the author talks at my local library…

On Friday afternoon I was exhausted and I was worried. I decided that I’d have to work on the client job on the weekend. There was no way I could get everything done. The Sabbath, the rest I usually have once a week, it would just have to be put off.

On Saturday I woke up near tears.

I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t face anything. It was all too hard.

There is only one thing to do at this point. I needed a day off.

I needed to trust God that he’d take care of deadlines, that he’d look after the speed at which my businesses grows, that he had it all in hand.

And this overwhelm and tiredness wasn’t going to be solved by just any day off. There was no way I could go with a just-do-the-housework day off, or a lets-go-out-somewhere day off. I needed a real and total rest.

The weather was in my favour. It was blowing a gale and raining sideways. It was the perfect day for sitting in front of the fire and reading.

So that’s what I did. I made a fire, I found a library book about shepherding in the Yorkshire Dales that required very little emotional energy, and I sat. Later in the day as I felt better I read some of The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard and thought deep and prayerful thoughts. Then I wrote some silly poetry exercises about what I wanted to eat, and what I could hear and see outside the window. Later I watched some TV. There was a little Facebook in all that too.

Late in the afternoon we had to head down to church to set up for Sunday but that meant that I got out of the house for a short walk and that in itself was good for me.

Soup and toast for dinner and a really mindless movie topped off the day.

I found I was much more able to face things Sunday morning. The list didn’t seem so big or difficult. My energy levels had increased. I could cope again.

I am learning to budget my time so I don’t get so overwhelmed in the first place. That’s obviously the place I want to be. But I’m also learning that when I am feeling overwhelmed, sometimes I need to chuck it all and sit for a while in faith that the world will keep turning without me.

I love a quote from The Messies Manual by Sandra Felton: ‘When I works, I works hard, and when I sits, I sits loose.’ Saturday was a day for sitting loose and now I am refreshed and able to work hard again.

I know you’ve heard this sermon from me before. I’ve written a book about it, for crying out loud. I wish I could learn it so deeply that I didn’t have to relearn every few months. But for now, I’m just letting you know, I’ve learned it again.

A day off is a necessary part of every week, no matter how busy I am. I hope you can also find this rhythm of rest and work in your own life.

A bad word

Should

I really should…

I don’t want to but I should…

The way it works for me is this:

“I really want to sit down and do some writing. But before I do, I should wash the dishes, and put a load of washing on. And I really should ring that person, pay those bills, organise that drawer.”

By the time I get through my shoulds I have no energy left to write, and no idea what it was that I wanted to write about.

You’ll notice that the list of shoulds is full of worthy and worthwhile activities. They are all good things to do. You don’t usually think, “I should lie on the couch all afternoon and watch movies.” That’s a whole different type of procrastination. No, the shoulds are all good things that really should be done.

When I was trying to do everything just because I should I was trying to do too much. I had things on my list that were not suited to me and that didn’t fit into my schedule. It was too hard.

I had an escape when things were too hard. I have used it since my childhood. When I couldn’t cope with my list of things to do, when life became overwhelming, when it was all too much, I would get sick.

I wouldn’t fake being sick. I wasn’t trying to please anyone except the internal task master in my head. No, I would actually become sick – temperature, sore throat, runny nose, swollen glands, I need to stay in bed for a couple of days, I’m sick kind of sick.

Let me tell you, this is not a good strategy. It is bad for your body for starters. It’s a bit like jumping out of a 10th storey window just to get away from the jobs on your desk. And what if things become overwhelming because you are at the start of an exciting project – something you really want to do? You shoot yourself in the foot over and over again.

I realised in my twenties that something had to change. Actually, I was being interviewed for a volunteer position at church and a wise lady asked me, “What do you do when the wheels really fall off?”

That’s when I realised what my strategy was. I replied, “That’s easy, I get sick.”

And she told me in no uncertain terms that getting sick wasn’t a reasonable strategy. I needed to find another one.

I guess that was the start of my learning to say no journey.

I used to use the word should as a catch all and it was derailing all the important but non-urgent things that I really wanted to do.

In the end my husband, Moz, gave me a way to work around it.

Should became a bad word, a word that I was no longer allowed to use. I had to think about a replacement word. I had to think about why I was stressing about the task. Why it had got onto the should list in the first place. What was it that I actually thought about the task.

“I should do the washing up first,” could turn into “If I get the washing up done, my house will look cleaner and I’ll be able to concentrate better.”

“I should ring that person,” might become “I’m feeling guilty that I haven’t contacted that person in ages.”

The first task would stay on the to do list, the second would move towards the bottom of the list.

Sometimes, I would find, when I really got down to it, that the task was only on the list because I was afraid my pride would be hurt if someone worked out that I wasn’t doing it. That’s not a good enough reason to do anything. If the reason is “I should give money to that charity because my friend who is on the board would not like me if I didn’t,” or “I have to go to that concert because everyone else is going,” that task needs to leave the list immediately.

I have found that the simple strategy of replacing the word should with another word or phrase has helped me to keep my to do list shorter and to reduce the stress in my life. Maybe you can try it.

How about you? Do you have simple strategies that help with the overwhelm of life? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42

What are you saying “yes” to?

Rocks in a jar

Life is full of possibilities.

If you read any self-help book, any blog on entrepreneurship, any cornflakes packet, you will see that you have to trim down those possibilities. You cannot do everything. You cannot have it all. At least, not all at once.

And it’s hard work to figure out what to say yes to. At least it was for me.

I tend to think that other people’s ideas are better than mine, that they’ve thought it through more, that they know what’s going on more than I do.

So when someone asks me to do something, I tend to say yes.

But doing what everyone else tells you to do is exhausting. You just cannot fit it all in. At some point, some decisions have to be made. And as you are the only one living your specific life with your specific burdens and challenges and your specific energy levels, you are the one that needs to make the decisions about what your life holds.

You know the analogy with the jar and the rocks, pebbles, sand, and water? I have always had trouble with that analogy. Putting sharp, angry rocks in a glass jar? What happens if you push too hard and the jar breaks? It took me a while to get past that but I saw a video the other day with some ping-pong balls instead of the rocks, beads instead of the pebbles, and then sand, and then beer. And that helped.

So, just in case you are one of the three people in the western world who have not heard this analogy, this is how it works:

The jar is your life. The ping-pong balls are the big things in your life. You need to put the ping-pong balls in first: family, friends, health care, time with God. The beads are the slightly smaller but still important things: your job, house, car, looking after those. The sand is everything else. The small stuff: surfing Facebook, watching TV, that sort of stuff. The beer is just to remind you that even if your life is full, you can still have a beer with friends (I’m not so sure about that last part, I’ve definitely had times where life was so full that a beer with friends would have pushed me over the edge, but maybe that’s just me).

It took me a while to understand something about this whole example (and I may be the only one who has trouble with this) but the thing is not to just state that the important things are ping-pong balls, but to schedule time to allow these ping-pong ball things to happen. Not to just say to yourself, “family is one of my top priorities” but to actually map out in your calendar that four nights a week you are not doing anything other than spending time with your family, that Saturday afternoon is for a family car trip, and that Sunday all the family will be going to church and eating lunch together afterwards. Schedule time for the important things first, then put in time for the less important things, and let the sand take care of itself.

Ok, so this is a helpful place to start, but for me I still had difficulty with it – what are my ping-pong balls? What exactly are the important things?

I started on this saying no journey because of two things: I was sick and tired of always feeling sick and tired, and I had decided I wanted to make time to write. I needed to clear my schedule so that I could exercise, and make and eat healthy food, and rest, and I needed to clear my schedule so that I could follow my dream and write a book.

Now, cutting down my TV viewing, and my social media time was a good start. (Notice I didn’t say cutting out, just cutting down – some relaxation is important). But it wasn’t enough.

If I kept saying yes to party-plan parties, all the church activities, dinner with everyone, social events, work opportunities and so on, I would have neither the time nor the energy to write anything. I needed some way to divine what belonged in the ‘important’ category.

I made a mind-map. You can tell how serious this is by the fact that I made a mind-map. I hate them. Lists are my thing. But I tried a few lists and they didn’t quite work, so the mind-map seemed the way to go this time.

The segments of my mind-map were: Family, church, work, health, and writing. In each one of those segments I included the things I thought were important. My feeling was that if something didn’t fit into one of those segments then it was sand.

Here’s a new thing that I learned. In the Family section along with the cooking, washing, budgeting and shopping, I also included ‘emotional energy for my family’s needs’ and ‘Saturday adventures’. I realised that I needed to put down-time in the ping-pong ball section if I was to live the life I wanted.

The other thing for me was defining the writing as a section on its own. As its own collection of ping-pong balls.

Writing is my dream, and it is my ‘thing’. It took me a long time to figure that out. Just so as you know, I’m in my mid-forties now, and I think I may have finally found the thing I love to do. I have tried many different hobbies – art, craft, exercise, maths, science, music, dance – none of them filled the gap in my life the way that writing has done. I’m hopeful now that I have found the passion of my life.

I read this amazing book called The Art of Slow Writing Louise De Salvo that described the lives and loves of many different authors throughout history. As I read it I found that I related to oh, just about every category. I remember telling my friend that I wanted to write a book, but doesn’t everyone? She said no, not everyone wants to write a book, and that maybe I should give it a try.

So I did give it a try, and I enjoyed it immensely. I enjoy the process and I enjoy the outcome.

However, in my mind my writing can be less important that any other important thing that anyone else would want me to do. You see I don’t know that I am ever going to be a successful author. In order to become a writer, I need time to practice. Time to write books that will never be seen by another human being. Time to fail. Time to learn the craft. And I have had difficulty allowing myself that time because my (maybe never seen or used by another human being) stuff just didn’t seem as important as anyone else’s (already out there and doing good) stuff.

I needed to change that. To change my mindset.

I’ve found some books really helpful to me in letting me know that it was ok to follow my dream. One is The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeuerst. She does a wonderful job of explaining that there is a job that only you can do, and that you should spend your time doing it. That it is right to say no to some opportunities if it stops you from doing the one thing that you should be doing.

Jon Acuff in his book Quitter says that if you figure out what your dream is, then you will spend less time doing the things you like, and more doing the things you love. I really like the idea of filling my life with things I love, things that I am meant to do. The idea of me giving to the world a gift that only I can give, living a life with meaning and purpose.

When you have that shining orb in front of you, that reason for living, then it is easier to throw off those things that ‘hinder and so easily entangle’ and to ‘run with perseverance the race set before you’. To run my own race. To reach my own goal. To give the thing I give the best. To live my best life. For all of that, I needed to learn to say no. Otherwise I am like a ‘wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind’ insecure, unsure, exhausted, and going nowhere.

The good book says, “each of you should carry your own load”. God has given you a load to carry. He has made you “to do good works which He planned beforehand for you to do”. It’s worth asking Him what he made you to do, thinking it through, finding out what your special shiny ping-pong ball is.

So, step one towards saying no: figure out what you’re saying yes to. Know your dream. Write your vision statement.

I have learned that dreams and goals are different. Where a goal is a short term, achievable stepping stone towards your dream,  your dream, according to Kristine Kathryn Rusch, is a big, unachievable, shining city on a hill that you are moving towards. A dream gives you purpose. Jenny Baxter agrees. She says in her blog Treasuring Mothers that your dream needs to be big enough that you can’t achieve it on your own. You need a dream that is big enough that you are dependent on God to come through for you to make it happen. Your dream is your hope and purpose – the thing God put you on the earth to accomplish.

That’s the thing that will allow you to say no, and help you figure out when to say yes. Cherish your dream, value it, invest in it, give it your all. And make sure that you don’t let all the sand eat away the time that belongs to the ping-pong ball of your dream.

Have you found out what your shiny ping-pong ball is? Do you agree that knowing what to say yes to is the first step to saying no? Have any of you lovely readers ever tried applying the ping-pong ball method to your lives?  How did it go?

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42

If you would like to hear more about my writing journey as it comes to the pointy end with my first novel (a cosy mystery), please drop me a line on rijamos@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. The newsletters are more writing focussed – what I’m doing with my writing, and what I’m reading myself. I look forward to hearing from you.

Temptations (part 1)

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My biggest temptation when beginning this blog series was to list all the things I was doing at the beginning of the saying no process so that you would recognise just how busy I was. I wanted to list my job, my home duties, the care that I was taking for various people. I want you to see that I was Super Woman, that I had it all, that I was trying to do it all, that there was good reason for my near mental breakdown, for my near burnout. I wanted to justify to you my need to say no. Like it is some sort of competition: I’m so much busier than you are, when I go to work I have to walk sixteen miles through the snow, barefoot, uphill both ways, and so on.

Of course, the risk was that listing all my jobs would make you  say, “is that all? I have twice as much to get through as her. What is she whinging about? Talk about first world problems.”

One of the things I have learned this year is that I don’t need to justify to anyone why I have to say no. I really did need to start saying no though.

Here’s a quote from my journal at the end of 2016:

I am still deeply emotionally fatigued. I am having trouble making decisions or forcing myself to do things that I don’t really want to do. I am feeling ready to have whole days alone right now. And yet I’ve booked coffees fro the next three days and I need more bookings to have coffee with Ruth and Jane. I think it’s possible that one coffee a day with someone won’t wreck me. But it’s hard to tell, when you are bone weary. All I want to do is sit in bed and read and write and look out at the rain.

I’d love to write a blog post but I don’t have the energy. I really want to write my novel, but no energy. I want to clean the kitchen and get groceries and do office paperwork and so on but all I really want to do is sit here in bed and write and read and sleep.

That was a journal entry in the middle of my holidays. You can hear that I needed more of a break but I wasn’t allowing myself to have it. Whatever it was that I was filling my time with, it was too much for me. Things were out of whack and I knew it. I needed to learn how to say no.

Tiredness was something I knew very well. Bone-weariness was my old friend. I am now in my forties and I had decided at the end of 2015 that I needed to improve my heath to get rid of this overwhelming tiredness. I guess that was the 2016 project.

I worked on my diet – trying to find intolerances that would mean I wasn’t getting the correct nutritional value from my food. That helped a bit, I found some things that were doing me damage and I eliminated them from my diet.

I also cut down on sugar dramatically, changing my tastes so that I didn’t crave the sugar in the coffee, the sugary treats, the constant sweets to get me through the day. That changed things too – the ups and downs of blood sugar were evened out and I wasn’t getting the mid-afternoon crashes that I had before.

I dealt with some women’s issues and sorted them and got rid of the monthly energy crisis that was being caused by them. That was great. I cannot say how much better I feel from that.

Then I went to the doctor to investigate a constantly ticking eye and severe fatigue and found that I had Graves disease – an overactive thyroid. Treatment for that meant that my legs no longer felt like they were made of concrete. That it was actually possible to get the energy to do things again. It was incredible the change it made. If you’re feeling bone weary, get your thyroid checked. It could really help.

But after all that I still felt tired.

It became embarrassing to go and see my thyroid specialist. She would say each time, “How are you feeling?” and I would say, “Tired. So tired.” And she would say, “Well, your hormone levels are great so it’s not the thyroid.”

And I would think, “Damn.”

It’s not that I wanted to be sick. But it was great to be able to blame the thyroid for the tiredness, to blame something out of my control, outside of myself. To be able to take a pill and feel better. But now I was taking the pill and still feeling bad, I knew that the change in my life had to come from me.

I had to simplify my life. I had to build in margin. I had to figure out what it was I wanted to spend my limited energy on. I had to make some difficult decisions.

I had to learn how to say no.

How about you? Are you feeling the same way? Feeling the constant overwhelm, the constant pull and tug to do the things you know you should do? Feeling that all the things on your list are completely overwhelming? Or is there some health problem that you needed to get fixed in order to get your energy levels up?

I would love to hear about it in the comments.

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some new art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42

Quitting

Today I quit one of my jobs. It’s been a long process – the process of quitting this job has lasted over a year.

The job involved working after-hours as a tutor in a small business that tutors primary and high school students in literacy and maths. It’s an excellent business, the tutors do excellent work, and it’s something I totally, whole-heartedly believe in. There is also a huge need for tutors – there is always a waiting list for the business. And tutoring is something I can do. I know enough maths and science to tutor people through high school and beyond, and I could probably do english at a pinch.

All of the above is what made quitting this job so very hard to do. But I’m pretty sure that quitting this job was right.

And before you ask, it’s not about the money.

It’s about the tired.

You read a lot on the internet about how being busy is a sickness of our age. How when you ask people how they are, they answer, “busy” and they wear it as a badge of pride.

I am done with being busy. I don’t want to spend my days stressed because I can’t fit everything in. Or at least, I want to be busy with things I love, rather than things I ‘should do’ or ‘would be good at’ or things that are an answer to a great need but not a good fit for me.

I want to be free enough to be there for people when they need me. I want to have enough energy to give to my children when they need to talk, and to have that important coffee with a friend, or a new friend that I’ve just met, and to hear their problems and to help out.

I also want time to read, to think, to write, to follow my dreams.

I am a writer, I want to be an author. In my head that means publishing books, yes books plural, though I’ll use the term author after one book is published, don’t worry. I am finding that the writing process is hard work. It requires a functioning brain. It requires energy. It is not something I can squeeze in to my life in the free evenings, or for half an hour on the weekends.

For me, writing a novel requires (at the very least) working a little on it every day in the morning, and then giving it more time over the weekends. It also requires me to make sure I am healthy, that I eat well, sleep well, and exercise, so that I don’t wake up feeling foggy and unable to think. And that requires me to evaluate every single activity I undertake because I can’t do all the worthy things that come my way and still write a book.

And, you know, that’s hard. Because right now, I have no evidence beyond this blog that writing is something I can do. I am investing hours, days, in something that may not pay off. I am also spending time learning the business of writing, and it is common knowledge that the vast majority of writers in Australia earn about $10,000 from their writing each year so I may never make a living from my dream. I am very unlikely to make big dollars.

The process of investing in my writing is making me re-think all my ideas about success. I have never been one to judge success by the size of someone’s income, but I have definitely judged success by the number of people reached and helped. If you use that analysis to weigh up my writing against the tutoring job I just quit then I am moving in the wrong direction.

Or I am taking a huge leap of faith.

I also feel incredibly selfish. If someone suggested that they would pay me to sit in my little den and write all day, every day, I would jump at the chance. Writing is my happy place. It’s what I love to do. So turning down a worthy job like tutoring, stopping helping children so that I can sit in my happy place more, that’s selfish, isn’t it?

But maybe it isn’t. Maybe God made me with this inclination to shut the world out and think deeply and write about my thoughts. Maybe sitting alone in my lounge room and tapping on a keyboard is how he wants me to spend my time. Maybe it’s not my job to solve everyone’s problems but just to do the best job I can at what I love.

Or maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Only God knows what will come of my writing. At the moment I’m going to keep going and trust him with the outcome. And keep working my other day job.

If anyone wants to pay me to write though – you know where to contact me!

If you enjoyed this post and would like to hear more about my writing journey as it comes to the pointy end with my first novel (a cosy mystery), please drop me a line on rijamos@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. I’ll still be writing posts on this blog but the newsletters will be more writing focussed – what I’m doing with my writing, and what I’m reading myself. I look forward to hearing from you.

The writing

Someone asked me the other day, ‘are you still writing?’

Yes. Yes I am still writing.

I thought I’d tell you all the story (so far) of my story.

I started writing a novel in 2014. I knew at that point that I wanted to write, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write but I knew I wanted to write something. The first attempt was incredibly schmaltzy, really hopelessly dreadful. And I didn’t finish it.

I had a chat to my super talented writer friend (STWF), what was I to do? She recommended a process called ‘The Snowflake Method’ which was a plotting method where you start with one sentence that encapsulates the plot. You take the sentence and expand it to a paragraph, then a page. Then you write the plot from the point of view of each of the characters, and then you expand again to four pages and so on.

So I worked that method and in the end I had a number of headings for scenes, a timeline, a whole heap of characters, and a story. A murder mystery. And I worked to fill in the blanks.

I was writing at night at that point. I would work, come home and do dinner, go for a walk (sometimes), and around 9-ish I would sit down to write 500 words. I found this stage fairly easy (at least when compared to what came after). It was a bit like reading a story, but it was a story coming from me. I wrote the first draft of my first novel, and nearly finished the first draft of my second.

I had trouble finishing the first draft of my second novel. I realised that the guy I had thought would be my perpetrator just wouldn’t have done it. He didn’t have the nerve to do the job. At least not the way it was planned. The character had come alive and told me that it just wasn’t going to work. That was an exciting moment. I had heard that characters come alive like that, and to have it happen to me – I felt like a real writer.

But I had to put that all on ice. November 2015 I decided to do NaNoWriMo. For the month of November I wrote 2000 words every day. I wrote a background book. The idea was firstly to see if I could put that much effort into writing, and secondly, to get to know my characters better. The most memorable moment of that month was when the mother of my main character died. I cried, no, I bawled. It was really sad. So incredibly sad. Which is hilarious because I created her to die. The whole point of this woman was that she would die and give my main character some motivation to change her life. But still, it was heartbreaking when she actually died. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. *Sniff, sniff*

I found that I could, definitely, write 50,000 words in a month. But that it was exhausting. But everything was exhausting towards the end of 2015.

After NaNoWriMo I went back to my first novel. It was time to take the first draft out, read it again, and do some serious editing. Ah, editing was harder than just writing the stuff. I had to be able to think, not just vomit words onto the page. I wasn’t able to edit at 9 in the evening. Everyone who knows me, knows that I’m pretty useless after 930pm (see the Pumpkin Time blog). The problem was, when would I be able to edit? I cut my working hours down so that I could take a whole day (Fridays) to work on my writing. I hoped to see great things. What I saw was exhaustion.

Turns out, I was sick. I had Graves disease, an overactive thyroid. There was a reason for my exhaustion. It wasn’t great, but it was treatable.

Throughout 2016 I kept slowly working at the novel but I didn’t feel like I got very far at all. It was slow going. And while I was dealing with my Graves disease and getting better, I picked up another day’s work in my day job and the novel felt like it was slipping away. But I finished my fourth draft and gave it to my STWF to read.

The whole month of July I didn’t write at all. I gave myself a month off and spent it reading craft books.

My STWF gave me feedback. She was encouraging, super encouraging, but she also said ‘this is draft 4 of a 7-draft book’. Oh how right she was.

After my big break from writing I picked up my book again and looked at it with fresh eyes. I confess, it was a pretty low moment. My book was boring. At least the beginning was. I think if you picked it up to read it, you’d put it down fairly quickly. By the middle the pace picked up. By the end it was good (with a few plot holes) but you don’t get readers by writing a book that’s great by the time you get to the middle. The beginning has to hook people, draw them in. My beginning put you to sleep.

More editing. Actually, editing is a really misleading term. I needed to rewrite. Throw out thousands of words and start again.

For the whole of August and September 2016 I worked on the first scene. I know the dates because I keep a special journal all about my writing.  When I write, I start by writing in the journal, writing about my life, what’s going on, and what I’m going to write about. Then I write the novel, then I write about what I wrote in the novel (though I don’t always do that last step). It’s great to keep the record, I can write down plot points or ideas, and I also clear my head before writing. The journal idea wasn’t my own, I found it is a book called The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo – a book I’d recommend to any beginning writer.

The beginning of December I read another book called ‘Get It Done’ by Sam Bennett. The main message I took from that book is to work fifteen minutes a day, first thing, on my project. She calls it your fifteen minutes of fame. And since December that has been my aim – to work fifteen minutes a day before anything else, on my novel. I have made sure I’m in at work early, I put a timer on my phone and I write, or rewrite, or edit for fifteen minutes. The timer goes off, I close Scrivener, and I get on with my day. Occasionally I manage another fifteen minute block or a bit more, but mostly it’s just fifteen minutes a day.

The book is being transformed, slowly, in fifteen minute increments.

So yes, I am still writing. And I hope that soon (you know, in the next year or so) I’ll be putting a finished novel out there for my beta readers to read. And getting it edited by a professional editor, and finding a book cover designer, and once all that’s come together, then it will be time for the really scary step – putting it out there for the world to read. I truly believe it’s becoming a great s

tory, an encouraging and fun cozy read that many people will enjoy. So I’ll keep working on it.

Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath, turns out writing a novel (even a short one) takes a long, long time.

Table and plan
A special writing weekend – working on draft 4

Dr Google and I

Well, it’s been a few months. It must be time to discuss my health again.

Last week I went to the doctor to discuss, well, I wasn’t really sure what I needed to discuss. I needed a specialist repeat referral for my nose issues (nasal polyps) and I also just generally felt like things weren’t quite right. I had had a ticking eye for about, oh I don’t know, maybe four months. Yes, pretty much straight. And I was tired. Still. Despite changing my diet and everything. There were other fairly vague things too – headaches, other ticking muscles, those sort of things. I hate to call them symptoms, they were too small and too vague and I wondered if I was just making it all up.

The doc said that I should go and get a blood test to check mineral levels for the ticking eye and ‘while we’re making a hole in your arm’ to just generally check everything. ‘All the over forty stuff’. Great, I thought, an old people blood test.

I had to fast breakfast. They were checking my sugar levels. I hate fasting. It’s one of those spiritual disciplines I’ve never got into. But I managed and they made that hole in my arm and then I bought a coffee and a croissant, and feeling all Parisian I got on with my day.

The next day was a rather huge teaching day. Students in a lab all day.  During my lunch break I received a phone call from the doctors surgery. I had abnormal thyroid levels, the nurse told me, and the doctor wanted to see me next week.

I was floored. Totally. I had been so sure that nothing was wrong, and then to be told that I had a thyroid problem was totally out of left field.

At the end of the day I went home and Dr Google and I went to work. I looked up all the thyroid symptoms and decided that as I was tired all the time and wore five layers in the cold and  had a bit of a slower bowel than most and had been putting on weight all year I had to be hypothoridic. Hypo means low levels. Symptoms of low thyroid levels include constipation, lethargy, depression, cold sensitivity, and weight gain.

I talked to a few people about it. ‘I must have low levels’ I said. ‘It’s the only thing that makes sense’. I had almost a week before seeing the doctor and I worked myself into quite a state. I got to the point where I decided that the worst thing I could be told is that nothing was wrong. I was so hopeful that fixing these ‘low levels’ would fix all my problems.

I found that the treatment for hypothyroidism is taking hormone tablets and that no surgery would be needed. I thought this could be the silver bullet – making me slimmer, more energetic, and more easily able to get through my day.

‘Am I too excited?’ I wrote in my journal, ‘What if nothing changes?’

I bet you can tell what happened next.

When I finally got to the doctor after almost a week of stressing she told me that I had hyperthyroidism. High levels of thyroid hormone. Dr Google and I got it completely wrong.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include anxiety and a need to keep on going, to keep moving. I can see that so clearly as I look back over my journal entries.

I wrote things like:

It’s 930 am and … I haven’t done the budget yet. I haven’t done much at all. I just put the shirts on to wash and I’ve written a list and eaten breakfast and read the bible and chatted to Moz.

It’s now after lunch and I’ve realised that I need to live in the moment. You see, the doc may or may not have an answer that will improve my life but today I need to live for today. Today I am tired, I have a headache and a sore throat. … I can’t sit here in dreamland planning what my life is going to be like. I don’t even know if the blood test said that my levels were high or low.

So today I’ll continue to potter around. Might watch more TV, might read, might sleep. Recovery is the name of the game. … I ‘m pretty pleased though – I’ve done most of the washing, a little grocery shopping, cleaned the kitchen.

So instead of depression, anxiety. Instead of lethargy, exhaustion. Then there’s increased appetite (which for most people is coupled with weight loss but I seem to be one of the lucky 10% who gain weight instead). The body just generally speeds up and there’s a little risk of death by heart attack – I’m glad I finally listened to the messages my body was trying to tell me.

Still, there is no great drama. I take a nasty drug (that could do horrible things to me but I’ve decided it won’t) and in a few weeks or months I’ll probably start feeling better! The thyroid hormones are so important to body function that the body stores them just in case you start running low. So I need to use up some of the stores before I start to come good.

But I think I’m already feeling the effects of having this dealt with. The anxiety has started to drop. I’ve become more able to relax when I’m relaxing, and I felt a heap more energetic during my work days last week.

I have also become aware of some symptoms that I managed to completely overlook before. My heart pounds regularly like I’ve been running up a hill, but without the hill. I had just ignored that before. There are other things too – I can bore you with the details in a private message if you like!

I’m glad that I have the thyroid to blame for my lack of mindfulness. And I am so glad that I got checked out. And so grateful that I live in a place where I can get easy access to proper treatment.

It took a bit of processing, like about five days of constant processing, to get to this point of acceptance but I just want to say to you all, if you think you and Dr Google make a great team, maybe you should try chatting to your GP as well 🙂

Onwards and upwards.