Chad Grayson

How to keep going when things are falling apart

Things were going so well!

I set a goal this year of writing 350,000 words, thinking that would be a stretch, but it gave me a goal to aim for. Halfway through this year, I found myself writing much more than I had expected, increasing my production from 2000 words a day to 3000. This got me much closer to my goal, and on Oct 31, I reached 350, 592 words. I was ecstatic! I entertained the thought of taking the rest of the year off, but then decided not to, as I have a book I’d really like to finish.

So, I was celebrating that victory when my daughter called with some terrible news.

My six-month old grandson, Oliver, has been sick for a while with some sort of respiratory illness. They’ve ruled out all of the usual suspects–Covid, RSV–and did some more tests, eventually diagnosing him with bronchitis. But while they were doing those tests, they x-rayed his chest and found something else.

Oliver’s heart is enlarged.

This could be because of the infection, in which case it will go away on its own, or it could be something more serious. He’s being referred to a pediatric cardiologist from UC Davis who will do a more thorough evaluation, and hopefully we’ll know what we’re dealing with. I mean, this could be fatal.

I was not okay for several days after hearing this news. My asshole brain immediately went through all the worst-case scenarios.

I wish this were a story about me persevering and continuing to write through this. But it’s not. The question is, how do you keep going when you feel like the world is falling apart?

Short answer: sometimes you don’t.

I got nothing done the rest of that week. I spent time with my daughter, with Oliver, and with my other grandson, Axel (who’s four). I spent a lot of time googling what this exact medical problem could mean (don’t do that, is my advice. Googling this did NOT make me feel better). I made a daily to-do list, as usual, but accomplished very few things on it.

I spoke with some professionals about this and realized I was going to have to take control of my brain here, and stop my imagination from doing what it was doing to me. So, I practiced imagining more hopeful outcomes. And through the weekend, I started to calm down. On Monday, I started writing again.

The pain and fear haven’t gone away, but they feel more manageable. I’m no longer allowing them to stop me from doing what I need to do. I don’t do Oliver any good by panicking, or by stopping all of the forward progress I’ve made in my life over the past three years. But this was the result of a process, and I had to go through that process, so if I have any advice on how to deal with this situation it’s this: surrender to it for a little while. Feel your feelings. Don’t try to press on through it. Let yourself fall apart. You’ll be able to put yourself back together stronger later.

Oliver still hasn’t had his appointment with the cardiologist, so we’re still in the limbo of not knowing exactly what’s going to happen, but I find that I am doing better sitting in that uncertainty. And if we hear bad news, I’ll give myself a few days to collapse again.

Every day I give myself a productivity score based on how many things on my to-do list I get done. When I went to evaluate last week, I found a lot of things undone, so I extended grace to myself, and just drew an X through those days. They don’t count. I was busy processing some pretty powerful emotions. I don’t need to give myself a score for that.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this situation has definitely helped me put things in perspective. I don’t need to be obsessed with my word count every day. My books will get written, and released, on whatever schedule I need to write and release them. My productivity is not the most important thing.

So, if you pray, pray, if not send good thoughts Oliver’s way. He likely has a long struggle ahead of him, whatever his diagnosis turns out to be.   

Update: Oliver had his appointment with the cardiologist this morning. They did a more thorough ultrasound and another x-ray and reported that his heart has returned to normal size, so the enlargement must have been the result of an infection. They’re going to keep an eye on him, but for now he’s out of the woods. This was exactly what we were hoping for and we are very grateful.

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