001. How it all started

Updated: May 24, 2021

I have always been a writer at heart. In high school I wrote a short story called The Prophecy for my English Language homework. It was the first piece of homework I enjoyed so thoroughly, that I kept going back to revise it, even after I had handed it in. This was an early turning point.

In my mid-twenties, I spent three years writing a 100,000 word science-fiction novel which, while containing some decent ideas, was full of waffle and poorly written. This was fine because I never intended to publish it. It felt cathartic to get it out of my brain and onto the page. It is a long, hard slog writing a novel in the small gaps of free time life allows you, but I loved every second I was writing (although I can't say the same about editing). After that, the responsibilities of life intensified and writing took a back seat.

I am sure things would have continued in the same vein until, one day, I was struck down by a mystery ailment which changed everything.

It was September 2020 when I first started feeling unwell. We were on the last day of our holiday in Bala, North Wales, and preparing to return to the daily grind. I woke up that morning feeling groggy, like I was hungover, although I had only had a glass of wine the night before. What ensued was two weeks of the most profound agony I have ever experienced. Searing, relentless pain in my ear, jaw and eye, all localised to the left side of my head.

During those weeks, I would pump myself full of powerful painkillers and sleep during the day. At night, when the painkillers had worn off, I would lie awake, grinding my teeth in pain, sometimes resorting to crawling around on the floor, because staying still was unbearable.

I was in and out of hospital, given more drugs, and had a full suite of blood tests. When they came back clean, I had MRI, CAT and EKG scans and an audio assessment. Everything came back inconclusive. I saw a few specialists who couldn't put their finger on it. As time passed, the painful side of the illness subsided, but it left me with tinnitus in my left ear, extreme fatigue and balance issues. I was also a stone lighter than I had been 2 weeks earlier.

I work in construction, for our family business, building small residential developments in North West England. My role within the company is such that working from home wasn't an option, not that I was in any fit state to concentrate. As a result, it forced me, for the first time in my life, to take time off work on long-term sick leave.

Eventually I was diagnosed with a vestibular disorder, although the cause was, and continues to be, unknown. The specialists prescribed me various drugs, including anti-epilepsy medicine designed to suppress abnormal brain activity. When this didn't work I tried mindfulness, meditation and even went as far as visiting a hyperbaric chamber, but nothing worked.

I must admit, I rue how wasteful I was with my spare time during those days but I was certain that the doctors would soon crack my problem and I'd be going back to work as normal. But the problem went on and on. I figured out that as long as I kept my head still, things felt relatively normal (apart from the constant ringing in my left ear) so, in order to pass the time, I decided to focus all my energy on the hobby I love above all others, writing.

At the time, I was feeling a little miserable about the prospect of facing a long-term, if not permanent, illness which was so debilitating. But writing was something which I could do without discomfort. It enabled me to forget my troubles both physically and psychologically. Before long, I started to feel like I was doing what I was meant to be doing.

I started off writing about a topic which I am passionate about, Fantasy Premier League (FPL), a game I have been playing for 17 years. Suddenly I found all those years of experience falling effortlessly onto the page. Meanwhile new ideas were popping into my head from all different directions. I started getting ideas for children's books, action/adventure novels, a 7-part adult fantasy series. Sometimes just random character names, or book titles, with no context at all. I realised all this stuff had been building up in my sub-conscious with no outlet and was now flooding out. For the first time, I was properly writing.

My wife and I had many discussions regarding the future, should my medical issue turn out to be a long term issue (which was looking increasingly likely) and what this would mean for us financially. Looking for a new job in the middle of a global pandemic, unable to drive, or walk up a flight of stairs without my head wobbling all over the place, was not a prospect I was particularly excited about.

I skirted around the idea of making a living from writing, but we both felt that this was a pipe dream. We believed only a tiny minority of people can actually earn a decent wage from writing and they are the ultra-talented, ultra-connected or ultra-fortunate. It was disheartening because I felt like I had one outstretched little finger on pursuing my dream, but knew that reality would inevitably get in the way.

Then I was bought two books which changed everything. The first was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. If you haven't read it, it's a very down to earth, honest and funny book, full of great stories and practical advice for writers. The second was a booked called How to Make a Living with your Writing by Joanna Penn.

Reading the latter was a deeply profound moment for me because, not only is it an excellent book which left me feeling positive about pursuing a career in writing, but my wife bought it for me. This simple gesture was her way of giving me permission to take a chance and pursue my dream. My illness could become a gift. I could become one of those few lucky people out there, who gets paid for doing the thing they love most.

Once you give yourself permission to be a writer, your whole perspective changes. The door is open and you are free to walk through it, even if the world on the other side is scary and unfamiliar.

Now I have taken one step across that threshold. I don't know where it will lead, and I know it will be difficult, but it is the beginning of an exciting adventure.

If you are interested in where it leads, then please subscribe to this blog and come along with me on the journey.

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