Recently, as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and swamped everything else, my day job and my writing world collided. As I work as an anaesthetist (or anesthesiologist, depending on where you live), I found myself preparing for work on the front line of this crisis. My email inbox was full of protocols and updates, my days were loaded with simulation training, and to top it all off, I couldn’t stop scrolling through Twitter and news sites. As a result, my anxiety ramped up and my writing brain shut down. For several weeks, until I settled into a new routine and found some sort of equilibrium, I couldn’t write a word. Unless you count anxious tweeting. I did plenty of that. One of those tweets caught the eye of a reporter, and I found myself doing an interview about the impact of the pandemic preparation on my family.
Fortunately, we have been lucky so far in Australia. Thanks to good public health policy and favourable geography, our caseload is manageable and our government is cautiously beginning to loosen the lockdown. The reprieve has given us time to increase supplies of PPE and expand our skills and capacity to deal with a future surge of cases if and when it may occur. And finally, as we reach this point of control, I am once again able to access my creative brain.
A conversation arose on Twitter following the above news article, in which I was asked whether I planned to write about my experiences at work. The short answer was no, but it did get me thinking about the power of writing about hardship and when you should, as Hemingway once said, ‘write hard and clear about what hurts’.
My best writing always comes from a seed of truth. Mining painful moments, reliving psychological distress, can produce powerful, honest writing which resonates with readers. But here’s the thing: I can’t seem to write about painful events in the moment. I need distance, because with distance comes clarity. With distance you can see the big picture and process emotions so that others can, hopefully, relate. The more painful the experience, the more distance I need.
At this time, I want to write about everything other than COVID-19. Right now, although we’re in a good place, so many parts of the world are suffering. So many people are dying. And we are so far from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t know if I will ever write about my experience with the pandemic, but if I do, it will happen some time in the future, when I’m good and ready.
How are you coping right now? Do you believe in writing what hurts?