Writing Injury

When I turned 40, my husband surprised me with a three-night trip to Mexico. The relaxation benefits of the trip extended far beyond our actual time away. Whenever I needed a mini-break in the weeks leading up to our departure, I would sit back and scroll through the resort website, fantasize about lying by the pool, peruse the list of activities and imagine scuba diving, swimming with dolphins. Lots and lots of lounging. Like many young parents today, Jason and I juggling a lot of balls—family, careers, volunteer work. We don’t get away often. This felt like just the right tonic.

Here’s what really happened:

I went from sitting at my desk (for long periods of time), to sitting cramped on a long plane ride. When we got to the resort, I decided to use the gym. Five km on the elliptical later and proud of myself, I was off to a good start.

And then the next morning I couldn’t stand up straight.

My back had gone into spasm. Happy 40th birthday to me. How much more cliché could you get—throwing your back when you hit middle age? I did lots of yoga, massage, more sitting around and ignoring the discomfort so we could enjoy our getaway. But there were no long romantic walks on the beach—unless romantic is not being able to look your husband in the eye because you’re so hunched over.

By the time we landed back home, Jason had to order a wheelchair for me because I couldn’t manage the walk from the gate to the luggage area. I couldn’t stand without my legs buckling. I saw my doctor the next day and she said it was nothing serious—just a muscle spasm that needed to settle down on its own. But my bigger concern was why did this happen?

My chiropractor broke the news to me after a quick evaluation (really, he didn’t need long to see what was going on here…). I had a workplace injury, so to speak. My sedentary writing life was causing my body to break down.

See, I sit. A lot. I imagine many of you do too. My ideal working space is my L-shaped desk, a writing notebook and laptop, a little tealight lit for inspiration (had to drop that habit after I nearly burnt my house down…). And lots and lots of sitting in my rolly chair, one position, hours on end, hunched over, working my brain but really, no other muscles.

My chiropractor helped me make some changes to my work habits, as has a friend who is training in Restorative Movement. I’m learning to move more as I write and I’m experimenting with positions. Here’s what’s working for me so far:

  1. I got a standing desk. It’s not fancy. I bought it over Amazon (similar to this one) for about $55. I got into the habit of standing when I needed to type and sitting when hand writing.
  1. Sitting on the floor: I’m experimenting with my daughter’s beanbag chair, and a bolster. Sitting low to the floor means lots of squatting, which is good for the glut muscles – muscles I was previously ignoring while sitting comfy in my desk chair. I shift a lot more when I’m sitting on the ground. Still working on getting my laptop at a comfortable height for my neck. It’s all a work in progress.
  2. Stretches: a lot of my lower back problems had nothing to do with my lower back, but instead with tightness in the muscles and joints in my legs, feet and hips. I now have these half-moon foam boards for stretching out my calves when I’m standing. I stretch my toes by putting my fingers in between them when sitting and watching Netflix. I stretch my feet by rolling them over these little balls. My sedentary writing life has meant that expanding my mind, has resulted in tightening my muscles.

I don’t ever want to go back to the pain I had last year. So I listen a lot to my body. I don’t ignore twinges. I make connections between aches in my hips and discomfort in my lower back. I keep looking for ways to redesign my writing routine so that my body can stay as healthy as my creative mind.