Write after sickness: Trying to shut Sick Girl up

Is writing therapeutic, or is it trapping my identity?

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Aly Lee is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

Chandler Collins | Cavalier Daily

Every writer is well acquainted with writer’s block, that seemingly indefinite period of time when the Great Muse feels like a distant fantasy. I could say I’m in a bit of writer’s block myself, but not for the usual reasons of exhaustion or apathy. For me, my muse is not too far away. In fact, she is far too close. 

Travel back with me to last semester — Dawson’s Row, around 2 p.m. on a Monday. I enter the quaint classroom for my fourth week of Intermediate Poetry Writing I with the incomparable Debra Nystrom. She greets us with a smile and instructs Group B to hand out their most recent poems. I timidly clutch my batch of pages neatly typed in Times New Roman and pass them around the circle of students for review. Meanwhile, a pile of papers lands in front of me. I scan the first lines of my classmate’s poems one by one, each beautifully describing common experiences of love and relationships.

My first line: “For five days my mother thought I was dead, / but never told me.” 

For the third week in a row, I found myself pegging my classmates with my Sick Girl muse, lines heavy with words like “needles,” “mourning” and “scars.” For the third week in a row, I read poem after poem of someone’s past or present love. So, for the third week in a row, I felt the slightest bit crummy that I had written yet another piece on life in a hospital, letting another chance to subtly brag about my love-life slip through my fingers. 

Even in the sixth week, the cycle continued — here’s a poem on my 13th MRI this year, a poem on the color of the bruises on my needle-punctured arms, on my existential thoughts in the doctor’s office. And what’s worse, I couldn’t seem to write anything different. I had this slightly irrational belief that the world would split if I suddenly sprung a non-Sick Girl poem on my classmates. A poem recounting the tragedies of my 16-year-old love affair? A poem about living in Africa? A poem about my immigrant parents and their many sacrifices? Simply impossible. They knew me as Sick Girl, so Sick Girl I must be. 

So all semester long, I wrote poems on being sick, and all semester long I wrote columns for The Cavalier Daily on being sick. Even when I tried branching out, I felt compelled to stick in at least one sentence from Sick Girl. I mean, how can I write about University basketball when I’ve had a stroke? I at least have to mention how basketball distracts me from my crumbling body, how the harrowing win over Texas Tech symbolizes my eventual win over illness, how Tony Bennett became my spiritual medicine … don’t I? 

In many ways, I have recovered. My symptoms are nearly negligible. I hardly think about what had happened. Yet when it comes to writing, I feel I can do nothing but write about being sick. It’s almost as if I would betray myself and my audience by shutting up Sick Girl. 

And honestly, this is what really scares me. Sickness has taken a lot from me — my sense of normalcy, my sense of goodness in the world, my self-confidence. But did it have to take away my writing? Writing has always been my safe place, my source of comfort and confidence. But lately, it’s starting to feel like a trap. Could I ever write a “Pride and Prejudice,” or will I always have to write “The Fault in Our Stars?” 

At the same time, I’m not sure I want to shut Sick Girl up. I know a not-so-small part of me wants to silence her because I don’t want the world to see my bruises. I’d much rather look clean and shiny. But who really wants to read about a girl who gets straight A’s, is never sick and always happy? This is the Life section after all, not Disney World. 

In the past few months, I’ve found myself voraciously gravitating to stories of sickness — whether it be in a novel, newspaper or a questionable backstory for a contestant on a reality show. I am grateful to those who share their tales of heartache, existential confusion and bodily pain. Though it hurts to see sickness in this world, I am relieved to know there are people out there who know what it’s like. And I’m confident that whether you’ve known sickness or not, you have probably known suffering in some way. In times of pain, there are some days you want Disney — a tangible reminder of childish joy. Other days, though, you just want to shut out the noise and have someone cry with you. 

Thus, it seems Sick Girl may stick around a little longer. As for me, I know I still need her. And for others, I hope she is what they need to make the world feel a little less lonely. 

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