Living Well to Write Well When Feeling @%$#-y

Illness is part of wellness, and strikes all of us on occasion. If only we could choose the timing…

If only we could choose the timing.

I caught a nasty bug last week, while up against a tight deadline. Like many writers, I have multiple work-streams and projects ongoing. The assignment plunked down like an elephant on that pile.

Some years ago, I would have worked my butt off, eaten low-cal foods and hit the gym while sick. I’m so glad I’ve learned since then. I now appreciate the fact that food fuels the body and brain, and that during sickness, it needs ample glucose. Since we only have one source of glucose (carbohydrates), eating enough (if possible) and at regular time intervals is vital. So is rest, since glucose also fuels activity. While enduring illness or injury, our glucose should fuel recovery instead.

Rather than fight the virus with stubborn ignorance, I hit the pause button. For the first day, I barely moved from the sofa—sans laptop—other than to grab food and such. The next day, fueled up with rest and nourishment, I completed the assignment. While it may not have been my greatest work, it turned out significantly better than it would have, practicing my former habits.

Back-flat on the sofa afterward, I couldn’t help but marvel at the way our brains and bodies work. They not only respond to self-nurturing, but help and heal themselves—given the proper TLC. (I don’t know about you, but that seems super power-esque to me.)

The experience reminded me of a few things. First, the work we do as writers takes a lot of energy. Second, the healthy habits needed to overcome illness promote writing health (sharp brain function, productivity and creativity) as well. And third, we can’t starve away illnesses, regardless of what old adages say.

If you’re feeling under-the-weather, or simply bogged down by the pressures of a hectic life, you may find the following tips useful. They’re far from revolutionary, but guess what. They work! 😉 If you’re like me, you can use the occasional reminder.

Living Well to Write Well When Feeling &%^#-y

1. Try to get enough sleep. I can hear some of you groaning. This isn’t my strong suit, either. But sharp thinking and creativity are some of the first things to go when we’re sleep deprived. The key, I feel, is trying to stick to a healthy sleep routine, and allowing time for our brain and body to decompress before bed. (This means turning off light-up everythings.) A positive sleep environment—dark and comfortable—also helps.

2. Eat well. In general, this means eating balanced meals and snacks at reasonable time intervals, and emphasizing whole, natural foods. Remember, the brain needs more carbohydrates than any other nutrient. Rather than skimp on carbs, emphasize healthy sources, such as whole grains, vegetables and fruit. Lean protein sources, like fish and legumes, and essential fat sources, such as nuts and seeds, promote positive brain function in other ways. We should also limit processed and low-nutrient food and avoid dieting; both can damage our work and wellness.

3. Balance rest with activity. When we’re ill, easing up on all activity is important. If you’re up against a deadline or have other obstacles tinkering with your rest, short breaks are better than none. Ask for more time or for help. (We may seem super-human, but…) Even when we aren’t sick, working our typing fingers into the grindstone 24/7 does little to help our work quality or health. When we’re well enough, routine exercise is important.

4. Breathe. Stress and illness can cause our bodies to tense up, disrupting breathing. Regardless of ailments, we women often suck our bellies in, attempting to appear thinner. This makes proper breathing near impossible. Pausing to inhale and exhale slowly—using our diaphragm, not our chest or shoulders—can help reduce stress, increase energy levels and enhance healing. Breathing exercises can also help.

5. Seek support. As writers, many of us are used to going it alone. We not only run the ship, but build it, clean it, repair it, renovate it, market it, Tweet about it and—you get the picture. Learning to rely on others and cutting ourselves some slack may not come naturally, but it can be lifesaving, particularly when we’re down and out. There’s no shame in asking, and plentiful reward in self-care.

Do you work or rest your way through illness? Which of these tips have you mastered? Which are works-in-progress? Happy to put on my nutritionist cap if you have food-related questions. (Yep, I love you that much!)

Leave a comment


  1. Doing cardio when I have a low to medium grade head cold has always made me feel better, as if I am sweating the toxins causing my illness out of me. Is that actually not the case? Am I doing more harm by exercising when sick?

    • There is some truth in that, Steve. Exercise is generally okay if your symptoms are all above the neck—congestion, sneezing, etc. I, and my docs, suggest lowering the intensity of your workouts, for the sake of reserving energy (glucose). Over-doing it can cause the cold to last longer. Rest, without exercise, is particularly important when we have chest and digestive symptoms. Hope that helps!

  2. I always wrote my way through illness. One month after open-heart surgery I was working again. Something about an idle mind… 🙂

    • There’s definite truth there! Anyone who champions through all of that ROCKS. 🙂

      I’ve been working in my mind more, during these sick days. I can feel stories and projects percolating. Hopefully it’ll all pay off.

  3. Yes indeed August, If only.

    It’s ‘Murphys’ Law’ that whenever you HAVE to do something, such as you’ve described, that you will become unwell. It’s WORSE, if you have ‘deadlines’ that need to be met.

    There would also have been a time when I was younger than I am now, where I would also have tried ‘plugging away’ & doing the things that you mentioned, but it’s a different story now as I have matured. OMG, I’m making myself sound like I’m a bottle of Wine lol.

    I will be following your advice from this Post as of now, & making sure that I have enough ‘Petrol’ in my ‘Tank’, for when I am feeling unwell, I can assure you.

    When I am unwell, I simply CAN’T do anything, & I come to a COMPLETE halt. It normally takes me a week or so, to get back to normal. This is probably due to the fact that I have been a Wheelchair User since Birth.

    Yes, BOTH The Human Brain & The Human Body are EQUALLY fascinating when you consider what they are capable of. Also, I agree with you when you say that you MUST eat when unwell.

    When I am unwell, whether it’s physical or my Depression that I suffer from, there is NOWHERE where I am happier, except in my Bed. Thank You also for your ‘Eat Well’ & ‘Balancing Rest With Activity’ advice.

    Re what you say about breathing & about women ‘sucking their bodies in’, Would you happen to know what it is that us Guys do please?. I will try your ‘Breathing’ & ‘Seek Support’ advice out for the future too.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful note! I love the petrol/tank metaphor, and am glad to hear that you plan to keep your tank loaded. Some guys suck their bellies in as well. One exercise that works is lying on the floor with a hand on your abdomen. When you inhale in, your abdominal area should inflate, pushing your hand upward. Your chest should remain still, and your breath, pretty soundless. Hope that helps!

  4. I used to work my way through illness. The whole mentality behind that now leaves me shaking my head at the madness of it. When I get sick now, which is a rare thing, I rest both body and mind, and add in more Reiki self-practice.

  5. This could be written for me. I don’t get enough of any of these because of everything on my plate. I know I should pull back and take care of me, but I have the kids/family with all their needs and schedules. I would disappear from social media to take care of me properly. Where is that balance? It’s a tough line to walk when publishers want to see you with an online presence. As a result I find myself working slower through all of the tasks before me. I have done less and less lately, though. You’ve probably noticed.

  6. Excellent advice, thanks for the reminder.

  7. Ugh! I’ve been there for the last three weeks. It always happens when we overdo it and assume we’re super human. One of the things I’ve learnt (still learning) is how to pace myself. And to say N.O. Social networking/promo can make you crazy. The next stage of crazy is when we add our readers into the mix. If we’re not writing the next three books then we’ll disappoint readers, so I try to keep the reader at the front of everything I do. Funnily enough when readers love something, that’s an added pressure too. Who’d have thought it?

    Great post!

    • 3 weeks?!? Aw. You’re so right about the crazy-making nature of promotional work amidst all else.
      Our responsibilities are ever-expanding…

      Hope you feel better soon, CC! For your readers’ sake, and especially yours.

  8. Hope you’re feeling better, August. I like your advice. I don’t like to mess with the sleep one. When I’m deprived of that I don’t feel human anymore, just a lizard brain in a slow moving body! 🙂

  9. I have that nasty cold now.. have had it for 4 days and have not been very productive. My brain is in a fog, my eyes are itchy and I am tired! Ugghhh….. I did a bit of work, and I am using the time to read.

  10. Thank you for the post, August. There’s a lot of good information I can learn from. Many blessings and much love to you.

  11. Kourtney Heintz

     /  April 9, 2013

    My parents are amazed by my ability to take to my bed for 2-3 days of sleeping and resting with the occasional meal. I’ve learned if I push onward I just get sicker. I’d rather lose a couple days of productivity than a week or two. Great work listening to your body and still getting things done. 🙂

    • I’m amazed, too! 🙂 I’ve learned the hard way that skipping those rest days doesn’t help anything.

      • Kourtney Heintz

         /  April 14, 2013

        I think it’s part of our culture too. Taking a sick day at the office meant you were a pansy. I’m okay with being a super pansy when it comes to my health. 😉

  12. SO happy you’re on the mend, August. I think the two bits of advice I don’t follow when I’m ill are “eating healthy” and “exercising.” Lots of sleep? No problem.

    I indulge in what I call brain-dead activities when I don’t feel well. Perhaps because I set my own deadlines at this point in my career? I make a horrid boss. On the food front, think comfort food. Mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, fluffy tummy fat cell feeders.

    Inside my head, there’s a whine. But, I’m siiiiiiick!

    Thankfully, I’m generally healthy and rarely down-for-the-count. Great advice.

    Now, go sleeeeeep. Breathe. Heal. I’m counting on you being at your rockin’ healthy best at DFWcon. WOOT!

    • Great point about brain-dead activities. (Ha! Love the name.) And sick days can be wonderful times for comfort foods, especially when our appetite’s low.

      Aw. I SO wish I could be at DFW, but I’ll be in Oklahoma for another con. Hope you all have a blast! I’ll be there in spirit.

      • I thought for sure, for sure, for sure you’d be there, August. Maybe we could put together a WANAseeAugust posse and drive to Oklahoma.

        Where will you be? Have Mapsco. Do travel.

  13. What a timely post! Whatever this brain sucking/eating disease I’ve gotten is, I want it gone. Well, since getting it, I’ve taken measures in my life that I’m sure needed to be taken long ago. I’ve stripped coffee completely from my diet (we broke up a few years ago and have been on-again off-again for since. Coffee makes me physically ill, not a good thing), soda (diet and zero calorie ~ you don’t even have to tell me how bad these were for me, I know!), and I’ve been re-reading my clean eating books. I figure there is no time like the present to strip away the gunk from my trunk and get myself leaner and meaner. It hasn’t been fun, nor do I expect it to be easy, but I’ll get there eventually. Listing to the right all the way. But that’s due more to the inner ear imbalance than to any uneven weight distribution. 🙂

    Now, we need to talk about DFWCon ~ Gloria’s going to be there? What?!?!?! O.M.G. Life just got WAY better. WOOT! Indeed.

    • Aw. I hate that you have it, too! I swear everyone in CA’s affected. Glad you’re resting up and taking the time to study ways to keep your body happy and healthy. Anything I can do to support, you’d better say the word!

      Bummed that I won’t be with the WANA gang in Texas. Can’t wait to hear about it!

    • I know you have dibs on the Pink Wig, Tameri.

      I’m thinking Cobalt Blue with a matching boa from my Amish Erotics wardrobe. You like?

      • Totally like! Boa’s give me hives, so I’ll stick to the wig and tiara. We’ll look smashing, darling! I wish August was coming. Boo. Hiss.

  14. Hi August, Apologies for my late reply. :(.

    Thank You. Yes indeed I do plan to keep my ‘petrol – tank’ filled. :). Huge apologies from me again here, because I’ve just realised that I should be referring to it as Gasoline. ;(.|

    I see, Thank you for the Abdominal Exercise advice, MUCH Appreciated. I WILL give it a try. :).

  15. Exercise? While sick? LOL. The rest of your advice, I’m right there with you. I’m like Gloria and indulge in brain-dead activities when I’m under the weather. I usually double my normal water intake with the mindset it helps flush the sick away…

    Glad you’re feeling better!

    • Thanks, Raelyn! Trust me, I’m staying put! My activities have been writing one article, eating and resting. 😉 I absolutely agree that our bodies need rest, and those fluids when we’re sick.

  16. Glad you’re feeling better, August!

    I have to say that I’m surprised to read what you had to say about glucose. The only thing I knew about it, I discovered when my dad was sick…and in that case it was negative all the way.

    How many carbs should people be eating? Truth be told, I tend to feel better if I follow a diet that restricts carbs. Not entirely, but if I have more than 30 – 40 grams for a meal or snack, within an hour I’ll have what I call a carb crash. I get so tired I can barely function. Though I do have to admit that not all carbs are created equal. Bread products, baked goods, pastas tend to cause the worst reaction. Now that I’ve had to give up gluten, I find it’s not quite as bad, but it’s still a big enough problem that it annoys the heck out of me. It probably explains why I feel better on a lower carb diet.

    So anyway, I’m just curious to know how many carbs normal people should be eating…and if my reaction to them is totally weird. 🙂

    • Sounds like you’re pretty sugar sensitive, Kristy. In general, a healthy diet consists of 45 to 65 percent carbohydrates, which translates into 225 to 325 grams, within a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet. Most should derive from healthy sources, and balancing them with other foods, rich in protein and/or healthy fat, is particularly important if you’re prone to blood sugar issues. Making sure the carbs you do eat are fiber-rich can help a ton. Glad you’ve discovered what works for you, and what doesn’t. 🙂

      • Thanks, August! Sugar sensitive? I’d have never guessed that, because I can pop a handful of Hershey’s Kisses and I don’t react to those at all…or even ice cream. It’s just the things like baked goods and pasta. But wow! That many carbs? Every day?

      • Could also be merely a gluten issue for you, Kristy. It can take a while for the body to adjust to a GF diet. And yes, that many carbs! Important for everything from moods and energy levels to sleep abilities. But again, we’re all a bit different. If what you’re doing works well, keep at it! 🙂

  17. Except for the stroke things, I wonder if I am not in the best shape I have ever been in overall. I mean, my weight is stable, my diet is sound, and I am told my color is better than ever. Still troubles; no volleyball, running, or long work days in my future, but I feel decent and am happy…hmm

  18. Catherine Johnson

     /  April 10, 2013

    Great post, August! Sorry you’ve been poorly. I had something similar a couple of weeks ago, it knocks the stuffing out of you. Thanks for all the tips.

  19. Just to let you know August, My name is Kevin, but I MUCH PREFER being called ‘Kev’. 🙂

  20. I’m glad that you are ‘on the mend’ too August. 😉

  21. I’m currently working my way through a bellman shift, but I find it next-to-impossible to write while sick. Isn’t that funny?

  22. Raani York

     /  April 16, 2013

    Hi August! Another blog post full of GREAT advice. Thank God I had to learn how to deal with sickness since I’m little.
    I usually quit working as soon as I get a fever.
    I can work through a cold – but as soon as backaches and headaches hit me, I reduce.
    Having a fever usually means to me that kind of hanging in my mattress, grasping for fresh air, drinking as much as I can and sleep, sleep, sleeeeeeep….
    I normally don’t feel like eating with high degree fever – I do feel like a glowing brick for about three days. As it goes down I re-start eating – but very slowly and then go back to bed.
    Sleeping it off helps.
    I need to try these breathing exercises though… which might eventually be a little hard to try with a 17 pound cat on my belly. LOL
    Thanks for sharing your good advice August!!!

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