By Katie Lewis
That’s what my fortune cookie said when I cracked it open. Like most people, when we got fortune cookies, I was expecting to laugh. Maybe even twist the fortune with a certain prepositional phrase. Instead, a message sits on my desk, a daily reminder of how far I’ve come in the last 19 months.
Calamity at its Finest
On March 19, 2020, I was diagnosed with Covid-19. The TL;DR version of the story is that I contracted Covid-19 and then developed Long Haul Covid complications. I’m not alone. The most recent studies show almost 37% of confirmed Covid patients have sought treatment for symptoms directly related to the virus. That’s one in every three COVID patients. The scary thought is the CDC believes the actual number of COVID cases is TEN TIMES the reported numbers.
Editor’s Note: For those of you think who don’t know anyone who has had severe COVID, you now know two.
I had to leave my job due to crushing fatigue and brain fog, among other symptoms. These symptoms persisted for months until, finally, I was referred to a neurologist in October of 2020. It was only after that referral that I started to become a functional human being again.
I’m not telling you this for the sake of sympathy. I’m telling you this because, in all that time, I couldn’t write. There were so many things I wanted to say, but it was hard enough just to exist. Though I burned to write, the words simply wouldn’t come. I felt like I’d lost a limb. The inability to string a coherent sentence together was maddening.
“The nature of life is a mess, chaotic, exquisitely beautiful, excruciatingly painful, immensely joy-filled, and unpredictable.”Debra Moffitt
And then, like a switch had been flipped, after my neurologist referral, it all came back. The following month, I successfully completed NaNoWriMo. The month after that, I wrote almost as much again. Then again, and again, until now, nearly a full year later, I just haven’t stopped. Writing is my full-time job now. It’s all I do. I’ve never been happier, and the strangest thing about it is that I never would have had the courage to chase my dreams if not for a global pandemic.
Trauma Energizes Writers
My eagerness to write after getting sick is actually nothing new in the world of literature. Over and over throughout history, we can trace bursts of creativity following large-scale traumatic events. Most of my favorite Mark Twain short stories critique the wars he lived through, such as The War Prayer. Likewise, the Modernist movement was born from World War I as authors like Virginia Woolf explored its socioeconomic impact.
A century later, it remains to be seen if we’ll experience the same dramatic tonal shift following the pandemic. One thing remains true, however. Writers of all backgrounds often reflect the world around them. So, I’ll be interested to see what kinds of mirrors the novels of the next decade will hold up to the world.
Personally, I feel my experiences have unlocked something within me. Those months spent as an invalid, permanently exhausted and unable to produce anything, were sobering. Indeed, there were times where I wondered if my life was essentially over at the age of 30.
My mind goes to the poetry written on the battlefield. The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, or Two Fusiliers by Robert Graves. I don’t mean I’ve been writing about illness or the other tensions of the pandemic all this time. I feel that, as a writer, I’m compelled to put something on the page or drown in my own emotions. Writing is my life raft.
A Wild Change
No one needs to be told that this pandemic represents a very clear “before and after” point in time. I cheekily refer to anything before January 2020 as being “in the before times.” Living through that type of divide gives a person two options: return to the way things were or change. I chose to change myself, but it was only afterward that I realized the choice was a decade in the making.
Ten years ago, at my first post-college job, a coworker gave me a book. It was Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. The book is a memoir of how Strayed attempted to solo hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail (with no hiking experience) in the face of overwhelming grief and loss.
While Strayed’s book is about hiking, not writing, I still feel a connection to it. When her life was turned upside down, Strayed took the opportunity to do something entirely out of the ordinary. She decided to redefine herself.
I’ve striven to do the same thing. Having gotten so sick, my pandemic experience is more extensive than lock-downs and mask mandates. Being so ill for so long made me re-evaluate what I really want to do with the limited time on this earth. Strayed decided to reset her life by leaving society for the solitude of the forest. Meanwhile, I decided to leave the safety net of the corporate world for the life of a self-published author.
If Calamity is the touchstone of a brave mind, then I hope we all come out of this braver than we’ve ever been. Write that screenplay. Query that debut novel. Show your friends your folder of poems. Let us all nurture meaning and enthusiasm out of crisis the way, so many authors before us have.