On why I’m cancelling some events…

We have a saying in puppetry, that “if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing it right. Conversely, just because it hurts doesn’t mean that you are doing it right.”

When I did Little Shop of Horrors, there’s a point in the show where I had to lift a 125 lb puppet, at a time in my life when I weighed 127lbs, rest its fiberglass shell just above my knees and walk downstage. It left pressure bruises. It hurt.

On more than one occasion, I remarked to someone that if I experienced that level of pain without a reason that I would go straight to the emergency room. But the show must go on.

So…when I was experiencing back pain two weeks ago, it took me a while to figure out what was going on. We were setting up for the Writing Excuses cruise and the pain started as a knot in my back, about where I hold tension anyway. But the show must go on.

Then it felt like I had a misaligned rib, which I’ve had happen before. But the show must go on.

It hit a point where it hurt more than Little Shop, which caused me some concern, but movement didn’t make it worse so… the show must go on.

A week later, on the cruise, a rash erupted in a band around my right side. Thank heavens, my roommate recognized it immediately as shingles*. I went down to the sickbay, the doctor looked at it and said, “Yep. But why is it turning up now? It can’t be stress, you’re on vacation.”

I laughed.

I’ve been on the road more than I’ve been home. I was in the middle of twenty days of travel and hand been home for a single day before that, with only three days at home at the end. I was leading a workshop of 150 students.

He stopped me and said, “You have to slow down.”

So, I am. We’re canceling some events and nothing else goes on my calendar for next year. Because the show doesn’t actually have to go on.

And to reassure you, we caught the shingles early so it stayed pretty mild. I got the anti-virals. Yes, I’ll do the vaccine when this is cleared up to stave off a recurrence. If you see me, please don’t hug me. I’m in the super-sensitive skin phase right now, which means contact with my back feels somewhere between a sunburn and a cheesegrater.

As a note, having described it this way to a couple of people, I’ve also learned that my pain threshold is in a different place than many folks, because that doesn’t seem bad, just annoying. I voluntarily worked puppets that hurt worse than this on a daily basis. Which… actually may say more about life choices than anything else.

Anyway, here’s my question for you… what are you ignoring right now? And what’s the next act of self-care you’re going to do for yourself?

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21 Responses

  1. J. Thorne

    I hear that. I’m directing a play that’s 25 miles from my home, down a two-lane highway. I love the show. The commute is definitely a problem now. My joints started aching last night, so I’m throwing all my pain-cycle-breaking coping techniques at it. We open in nine days and run two weekends. The show must go on.

    After that I’m effing off to Disney for a week with friends. I might get myself a scooter. We shall see.

    You mentioned anti-virals…please tell me your pain is being managed as well. That’s the worst bit for my brother-in-law, the pain that comes with the outbreak.

    I had my special copy of THE CALCULATING STARS for all of like six minutes, and then I had to loan it out to someone who got starry-eyed when I explained the plot. But them’s the breaks when you have paper copies of what’s good, eh?

    Much love, always and forever.

  2. Carolyn Stein

    I am so glad you are taking care of yourself and reducing your events. I’ve worried about your pace. As to me, I’m re-examining my schedule. I look forward to November 6 when, one way or another, a large commitment will be done.

  3. A.J. Bobo

    Glad to hear that you’re taking care of yourself. Maybe I should finally go see the doctor about the pain in my wrist that’s been there on and off for 4+ months.

    On a side note, I’ve heard that people with red hair tend to have a much higher pain tolerance than other people. This is certainly true with my wife. Do you also need extra Novocaine at the dentist?

  4. Susan Bermudez

    I’m ignoring a job that, while it pays right about a living wage for the Midwest, isn’t letting me catch up on old debt, which looms over me.

    I’m ignoring a job that, when I get up in the morning, gives me that same stomachache that I got in 3rd grade, when I had the teacher who openly mocked her students and pitted them against each other, for her amusement.

    I’m ignoring a job that I’ve been in for nine years, because my last job went bankrupt, and at least this one is stable, even if I haven’t gotten a raise in four years, and with insurance and parking increasing every year, I’m being paid less per month than when I started.

    And I’ll keep ignoring it all, for the foreseeable future.

  5. S. J. Pajonas

    Oh no! I’m sorry to hear you got shingles! I hear it can be particularly nasty so I’m glad to hear you are already recovering and spending some time back at home.

    I’m ignoring a lot of the news about our country right now, in order to stay sane. It’s been a tough two weeks around here! Getting in some time knitting and reading instead of watching the news has been a great way to self-care.

  6. Heather McDougal

    Oh, damn. But it’s good you caught it, and good you’re working to deal with the underlying cause. Take care of yourself first and always, so you can go on doing the things you love.

    I’m ignoring the fact that my hearing is going away, and no one knows why. If I think about it too hard I might get really sick and depressed, so I’m going to all the doctor’s appointments and just… living with it.

    Let’s wish each other luck.

  7. Marie Brennan

    Oh, yikes. Definitely rest and take care of yourself.

    I’m . . . sort of ignoring pain in the arch of my right foot every time I stand up (it gets better after I’ve been up and about for a little while, but gets MUCH WORSE if I use my up and about time to walk long distances, so that’s obnoxious). Only classing this as “sort of ignoring” because I have an appointment to see a doctor about it; however the appointment isn’t until the 15th, so until then I just have to suck it up, because I haven’t yet found a mode of behavior that alleviates it.

    1. Tanya

      Marie Brennan — Plantar fasciitis? I’ve found shoe inserts help. Some days it goes away. Stretching the foot a little before getting up sometimes helps.

  8. Bill Housley

    Had shingles last year, but since I have allergies I thought that was what it was until it was too late to treat.

    BTW, after it’s over it’ll still be hypersensitive for a while.

    In answer to your ending question…I broke my ankle hiking with the Boy Scouts back in August and they won’t let me go to work. So I’m on disability leave sitting at home writing since my other self-care stuff (hiking, fishing, camping, you get the picture) aren’t allowed right now either.

  9. Kim May

    That sucks! I hope it clears up quickly.

    Right now I’m ignoring the arthritis pain in my hands that the pain pills and anti-inflammatories haven’t taken care of but that’s nothing new. I do that every day.

  10. mg

    Having fibromyalgia for the past 15+ years has taught me I have to pay attention and take care of myself (though I do work closer to full-time that would be optimal if I didn’t have to support myself). “The Spoon Theory” has become a widely used metaphor in the disability/chronic disease community on rationing one’s energy (spoons), and I find it very helpful. https://butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/

    That said, I need to find time to get my shingles and flu vaccines, and stop staying up so late reading your books! Feel better ASAP!

  11. Bill Weinberger

    So sorry to read about this. I hope you recover quickly. I had a light case of shingles many years ago and that was no fun. Maybe I should consider the vaccine, too. BTW, I enjoyed the heck out of the Lady Astronaut books and look forward to more stories in that history.

  12. Jessica

    I am 250+ days in to recovering from a fracture, double sprain, and 4 torn tendons. First surgeon wrote me off as a normal sprain. Recovery has been hard and intense, and I’m more exhausted than I care to admit.

    In mid-September I quit the freelance writing gig that I loved but was working in addition to my day job. I finally had to admit that I can’t work 60 hours a week and recover.

    Since then? I feel pretty darn good. I’m enjoying having my time back after 2 1/2 years and working on my own projects. Stress level is down and I’m feeling good.

    Take care of yourself, Mary! Sending you lots of healing vibes.

  13. Trey

    Wow.
    I knew women were tougher than men and you just proved it. I was at your signing at Murder by the Book last night and you didn’t give a clue to the difficulties you were having.
    Successful acting at a minimum.

    Anyway, please rest and get well – I loved the Glamourist Histories and hope to see more of your work.

  14. steve davidson

    Echoing Bill; I had shingles in the early 80s (no treatment once diagnosed, other than calomine lotion for the rash).

    It isn’t “so bad” – most of the time, but then it can flare up. And I still have one nerve cluster (nearly 40 years later) that likes to infrequently remind me – “hey! remember! we had the shingles!”.

    I think we could have a very interesting discussion about pain thresholds…

    I’d like to “slow down”, but I’m still in the middle of the “care giver wars”.

    I’m glad that you’re taking the advice – just don’t let it stress you out! 🙂

  15. Alyssa

    My mother had shingles when she was pregnant with me and it reoccurs every time her immune system is compromised. It’s so important to rest! I’m glad you’re talking about this after certain editors have tweeted that it’s the responsibility of authors to carry on working even if they’re on their deathbeds. The person is more important than the work, always, always, always.

  16. Nina Niskanen

    I’ve been ignoring this growing tension headache that more or less comes and goes and it’s very probably because I’ve been working constantly since at least June. Taking inspiration from you, I think I’m going to take the weekend and sleep full nights and nap in between whenever I feel like napping and do a lot of knitting.

  17. Jeff Schweer

    Sending express hugs. Full of wholesome intent and care with out the agony that touch will cause you right now. I’m glad you caught it early, I had an older friend have a full on attack and it wasn’t good.

    I just turned 60 and insisted that my primary care physician give the shingles vaccine and then the Pneumonia vaccine this year.
    Why take the chance and since I had chicken pox as I child, my chances are higher…
    What I’m trying to ignore is the undeniable signs that I will need a knee replacement soon. Not tomorrow but within 3 years if it doesn’t get worse faster that it is now

  18. Geoff Busbridge

    Thank you for writing this, Mary. We can all use the reminder that the show does not always have to go on. And we would all hate it if you did yourself any lasting damage just to make a few of use happy in the short run. Take care of yourself, please, and thank you for all that you do!

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