“My name is Peri Pakroo and I live at 512 E. Fox Dale Court.” These were the first words that tumbled out of me to my bewildered cousin Parisha after falling and hitting my head (hard) in the ladies’ locker room of the Fox Point pool when I was about 10 or 11. At the time, I had seen a lot of after-school specials and TV movies about amnesia, and the thought that a head injury could make me forget who I was and everything about my life had (apparently) really gotten under my skin. So when my wet foot slipped off that painted wood bench we had been jumping on and I went crashing down, head slamming into concrete, my first reaction was to blurt out this weird confirmation that I’m OK, I know where I live, and that I’m still me.
I’m usually reminded of this story when Parisha teases me about it (which she likes to do, a lot). But it flooded back to me in vivid detail recently as I’ve found myself feeling a little stunned by some life events crashing around me, and needing to remind myself exactly who I am to make sure I’m still intact. Life has been hitting me on the head a bit harder lately, and more often than I’m used to, and I’m smack in the middle of figuring out how to deal with it: emotionally, professionally and creatively.
Sure, challenges are great for learning and personal growth, but what if you’re trying to create in the moment and you haven’t had time to process what you’re going through? What if it’s just too damn heavy to deal with creatively? That’s what I’ve been grappling with.
So let me explain as briefly as I can the main challenge that dropped like a boulder in my path. Out of the blue last June, I noticed my 6-year-old daughter’s eyes seemed yellowish, and it turned out to be hepatitis. She had virtually no symptoms, but blood tests showed her liver was extremely inflamed. The kicker is that she tested negative for all known causes of hepatitis: all the “letter” viruses, A, B, C, etc., and any markers of autoimmune hepatitis. All negative.
Today, nearly 10 months later, she is on medication and much improved, but continues to have concerning test results with various blood cell counts. We are fortunate to have been able to seek out the best docs in the country (I’m eternally grateful for our team at Cincinnati Children’s hospital) but they still don’t know what is causing her symptoms. They have seen cases like it before, but do not fully understand the mechanisms behind it. So while most similar cases have resolved with positive outcomes, no one can promise us what her outcome will be.
Needless to say, it’s all been quite stressful, and I’ve had to get really focused about stress management. I’ve learned a lot about that, but I’ll save that for a future post. For now, I want to share a few things I’ve learned about dealing with crisis when trying to be open and honest with creative work.
For me, my daughter’s health issues have been absolute murder on my writing. Just a few months before it all started, I decided to focus on blogging regularly (like, 3-5 times a week) as a way of tiptoeing back into fuller-time work after a few years of focusing on our two babies/kids. I started posting daily in March 2012 and it was great! It had been years since I’d written so regularly and it really helped me get back into my work mindset, which focused on writing books about self-employment, small business and nonprofits, and occasionally working with clients.
Like many new bloggers, I found it a real challenge to find my comfort zone with how personal to be in my blog. When advising clients and friends, I’ve always said just to relax and figure it out as they go. The “right” amount of personal info to include is different for everyone. Some bloggers are incredibly self-revealing (Exhibit A: Penelope Trunk, who not only Tweeted about her miscarriage while having it in the middle of board meeting, but posted photos of bruises her husband gave her during a fight). Others stick to the business at hand (Exhibit B: Seth Godin, who writes highly perceptive and emotionally intuitive advice about branding and marketing, while revealing practically nothing of his personal life).
So I didn’t let myself fret too much over this public/private tension as I knew I’d just find my comfort zone over time. Sure enough, I did. Within a week or two of daily blogging it felt natural and I felt I was hitting my stride. I found my way into sharing stories about stuff I’d struggled with in the context of advice about being self-employed, without feeling creepy or overexposed or that I’d hit the point of TMI. I really felt I was on a great track.
Then came the fucking hepatitis. And I got stuck. Really stuck.
The thing is, getting comfortable with sharing some personal feelings and struggles is one thing, while sharing what we all were going through related to my daughter’s medical condition was a whole other beast.
I’m no shrink, but I can tell you fear is a major culprit here. Fear is a huge reason we don’t share things; don’t open ourselves up; don’t reveal our weaknesses and vulnerabilities and mistakes. We fear others will think we’re stupid or ugly or dysfunctional or all other kinds of fucked up. I consider myself a pretty brave person emotionally, but even so, it took concentrated effort for me to start blogging about even minor personal stuff. Once I found my voice and comfort zone, it felt great, but it definitely took some work.
But the fear I experienced (and, at times, continue to) over my daughter’s health was a different, much colder and deeper fear. It paralyzed me. I couldn’t write about it. And since my blog was all about what I was going through in the moment, I couldn’t write anything else either. To write about other stuff and not mention what was going on with my daughter felt like a big lie. So I was stuck.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Well you’re writing about it now, so you’re not stuck anymore!” You’d be partially right. I feel a little like I’ve been knocked in the head and am now coming to.
Even though the medical adventure isn’t over, enough time has passed that I’m getting a little perspective and feeling like myself again. I started to break the ice a couple months ago when I felt the need to explain my absence on my self-employment/small business blog. Writing about it even in just these patchy posts is definitely helping me get my shoulder under the boulder and start pushing it out of my way.
I’ve also been playing a lot of music which has been a huge asset to my mental health. Partly by chance and partly by design, I’ve played several shows with a few different bands in the last few months, and I felt none of the stuck-ness that has plagued my writing. In fact playing music has been completely liberating and I’ve never enjoyed it more. But, it’s also true that I haven’t written any new songs since this whole saga started, so there again, the writing aspect of my creative life has had a rope around its neck. I hope the songwriting will loosen up soon too.
Next week my daughter and I are going back to Cincinnati for follow-up biopsies. I feel stress and fear rearing their heads, but it’s more familiar now and I have better skills to cope. I now know this medical adventure will likely be a journey of at least many months, and I’ve adjusted my mental picture for a long haul. I will likely get knocked in the head again, and I may end up a little punch-drunk. The best I can hope for is that I can keep getting up and that I’ll remember who I am, the people I love and the work I do.
Peri Pakroo is the founder, Publisher & Editor of Pyragraph.