Writing and Illness, an Essay by Victoria A. Brownworth

One of my publishers, Victoria A. Brownworth (of Tiny Satchel Press) has written a devastatingly beautiful essay about Writing and Illness.  An excerpt:

In November 2011, I nearly died. One lung had ceased to function, the other wasn’t doing so well. My heart, damaged by a congenital cardiomyopathy just discovered a few years ago and unfixable, was beating wildly in an attempt to counterbalance the lack of oxygen.

On the way to the hospital I knew I was dying–you do feel it–and I was terrified, begging my wife, who was driving us in the middle of the night, not to let me die.


It isn’t the thought of being dead that scares you. It’s that you’re not ready. You have so much more to do, because we are all lazy, we writers, even my friend Greg Herren who writes more than anyone I’ve ever known, or my old friend Tee Corinne, herself dead from cancer too soon, who was always doing some new project. We are lazy because we always think there’s more time.

Except so often, there is not. Three months after nearly dying, after waking up every night in the ICU drenched in sweat from fever and my imperiled lungs and the drug cocktail that made me feel sick in a different way, I have been writing as much as I can. But it is not enough–it’s not enough for the ideas in my head and it is not enough for me and it is not enough for whatever time is ticking away from me.

Pain wears me down, exhausting me. And my body works against me, over and over, all the time. Breathing treatments take time–an hour here, an hour there. Medications make me sleepy or dizzy or just unfocused. Insomnia plagues me, because pain is worse at night and so I always feel tired, unrested. I lie in the dark trying to sleep, while lists of things I want to do form and re-form in my head. A friend who died a few months ago haunts my dreams and reminds me that death is never very far away: inevitable death is the prompt that should keep us looking back over our shoulder at life.

I sit on my bed, cross-legged, hunched over the computer for hours at a time, but I’m an inveterate and omnivorous reader and time can fly as I read and read and write not nearly enough.

I have daily correspondences–the wonder of the Internet–with two writer friends. We talk every day about writing and I know that’s good for me, because I am a recluse. Like O’Connor, I rarely leave the house. I go out to teach and to doctors and hospitals. But there are days at a time when I cannot even go outside, let alone “somewhere.”

You can read the rest of the essay here.

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