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(Or answering email or responding to IM requests or to comments or been on Twitter or read many blogs.)
Like almost every writer I know, I have a number of chronic—though not particularly bad1—injuries, that were caused by (or flare up when) I spend a lot of time at my computer. Sitting at a computer for long hours is not good for your body. Which is why so many writers, receptionists, data processors, computer programmers etc etc2 have repetitive strain injuries, headaches, chronic back and neck problems, shooting pains in the arms and hands and so on and so forth.3
Like many of you, I frequently spend more than fourteen hours a day at my computer.4 A recent injury (not sitting-at-computer related) has made that impossible. In order for my injury to heal I have had to drastically reduce my time at the computer, which forced me to prioritise what I do there:
Here’s what most days since the injury have looked like:
I no longer spend more than four hours on the computer. If the pain flares before four hours I stop. Four hours is not long so my novel gets my top priority. Many days writing my novel is the only thing I do at the computer. Ironically, I’ve written more in the last month than in the previous six. The book’s going well and I’m loving it. Bless, this injury!5 I have not once gotten past no. 4 on my list. So that is why you have not heard from me.
The acute injury is improving, slowly but surely.6 However, I have decided to stick to the current regime at least until the injury is completely healed and maybe longer because I have experienced less pain with my other chronic injuries as well.
In fact, February has seen me increase the amount of walking I do every day, I’ve taken up Pilates7, and I’ve upped the amount of time I spend at the gym.8 Injury aside, I feel better than I have in a long, long time. I’ve been reading way more books and manga as well.9
Because of this injury I’m fitter than I was, more flexible and, best of all, getting more writing and reading done. All good, right?
Not exactly. The reduced computer time has meant that I have not been communicating regularly with many of my close friends. I’m massively behind on email. I no longer IM.10 I feel like I’m losing touch with my online communities, which may sound trivial, but as Varian pointed out last week that sense of community is very important. It’s a large part of why I blog in the first place. Not blogging and responding to your comments has been difficult.
In fact, that is why this post. I don’t much like whingeing about my health here.11 Boring! But I couldn’t really think of any other way to let people know that even when I’m not responding I’m thinking about them. I feel especially bad about all the lovely fan mail I’m not answering.12 Several of the letters people have written me about Liar and have reduced me to tears.13 Thank you.
Thank you also to all my guest bloggers. You’ve kept this blog alive with entertaining, moving, informative, funny, wonderful posts. Bless you all. And thank you readers for supporting the blog in my absence. I’ve been so delighted to see the continued volume of traffic and comments. Yay!
One last thing: I know a fair number of you are in your teens and twenties and spending a vast amount of time at computers.14 If you’re not already taking care of your body now’s the time to get into good habits. Take frequent breaks, have an ergonomic set up,15 mouse with both hands16, take up yoga/pilates/tai chi/some kind of something that’s all about putting you in touch with the muscles in your body,17 drink gallons of water,18 stay as fit as you can, go outdoors etc etc.
You only get one body. Trust me, it will turn on you if you don’t treat it right.19
Update: You all need to read this beautiful, moving post by Tessa Kum about her struggles with RSI.
Posted by Justine at 21:15, 28 February 2010 under Bloggery/Internetty Stuff, Excuses, RSI, Whingeing, Writing life | 35 Comments »
Dave H Says:
Get well soon! We miss you, and we’ll be here when you get back!
February 28th, 2010 at 9:44 PM
Two of my friends have gotten RSIs and I, and one of my friends, have gotten really bad headaches from spending to much time one the computer. We are all young.
sara z. Says:
Have missed you on The Twitter, but good for you for taking care of yourself. I’ve done some Pilates (on those torture device/reformer things) when my back was killing me and it helps so much. Also have had RSI in the past and it sucks/blows but is only healed by rest. Also have experienced phenomenon of something health-related and negative (hello, diabetes) actually leading me to feel/be healthier than ever.
Do you think in the long run, even when all better, you might continue your reduced hours? (don’t answer that if it doesn’t fit into your computer time!)
February 28th, 2010 at 9:46 PM
Rebecca (allreb) Says:
Yikes, I’m very sorry to hear about your injury, and very empathetic. I had to do three months of physical therapy for my wrists last year; it’s no fun at all. (But my posture improved mightily, at least.)
Stephanie Leary Says:
Oh, noes! I’m glad the exercise is working. I love pilates and yoga. I’m struggling with the too-much-computer stuff too. I had my first RSI injury at 19: cysts on the back of my wrist. My grandmother used to get them from teaching piano!
February 28th, 2010 at 9:57 PM
Julia Rios Says:
Thank you for the update. I’d hoped it wasn’t something too awful keeping you away. Glad to hear you’re basically okay, and still getting writing work done.
February 28th, 2010 at 10:03 PM
Eep. I’m glad you’re getting better. I’m just starting to get little problems since I sit in an office all day and then sit in class all night and spend most of my free time also sitting at the computer. Agh. If only ergonomic desk chairs weren’t so INSANELY EXPENSIVE. Anyway, thanks for going to the trouble of getting guest bloggers together while you’re gone! They are all awesome.
February 28th, 2010 at 10:19 PM
Glad to hear things are (mostly) okay. Looking forward to hearing more about the next book! ^.^
February 28th, 2010 at 10:22 PM
Oy! (A) I hope you continue to improve! (B) Thank you for putting this information out there. At the ripe old age of 24, I’m already beginning to experience a lot of RSIs (maybe because I’ve been writing since I was 9? and I grew up in a computer-obsessed generation?) and I was worried it was just me. In a strange way, it’s good to know I’m not alone, although I certainly don’t wish pain on anyone else. But what’s even better is knowing that there are things I can and should do to prevent it from getting worse.
Again, thank you, and I truly hope you recover quickly and smoothly!
February 28th, 2010 at 10:26 PM
No worries, you don’t even need to apologize for not blogging! We all miss you but first priority is your own health and happiness I really like Pilates and Yoga but I don’t always have time to workout. When I’m not doing a sport and only blogging, I neglect physical activity but I’m going to try and fit in more excercise and type with a straight back (I don’t use a mouse so that’s good I think?) Thanks for sharing and get well in the time that you need!
February 28th, 2010 at 11:24 PM
I hope you do get better, I like reading your blogs,but not at the expense of your health. The guest posts were really cool and I’ve found a lot more blog reading material for my day through it.
I just finished Liar yesterday and I thought the book was amazing.
March 1st, 2010 at 1:41 AM
I totally hear you! I suffered from RSI when writing my first novel. Got so bad, I had to ask my wife to type it in after carefully scratching it out by hand. Bless her! Ended up getting surgery and it’s better. But I am uber careful now. So, yes, to all your fans, take care of your bodies. Glad you’re feeling a bit better, Justine.
March 1st, 2010 at 3:45 AM
It’s good to have you back – it’s bad to know things haven’t been easy. Take care!
Pilates rocks. I was diagnosed with such bad RSI that I was told I’d not be able to lift my hands above my head without pain, ever. Pilates took care of the worst of it – it also taught me enough about movement so I can speak to martial artists and understand what they’re saying. I still have to prioritise my computer time (I only IM one person in the whole universe, and even then we schedule meetings, I play exactly one computer game) nearly 20 years on, and do special stretches and stuff. It’s not a path anyone should go down, if they’ve got a choice.
I’m glad to hear you’re coming out of it. And yes, your guests were all cool.
March 1st, 2010 at 7:31 AM
Although I’ve loved the guest posts, I’ve missed you a lot! Hope you get better-and where can I send you fanmail, because I LOVED LOVED LOVED Liar!
March 1st, 2010 at 10:05 AM
I’ve missed your wonderful posts (even though you did a great job finding awesometacular guest bloggers), but of course your health is the most important thing! Take care & feel better!
March 1st, 2010 at 10:24 AM
Shveta Thakrar Says:
So glad that you’re getting better, Justine, although I know what you mean about losing touch. Finding that balance is hard!
Now that spring’s coming, I plan to start walking outside, working out again, and generally just spending less time at the computer. I feel all stiff, and my back hurts!
March 1st, 2010 at 10:45 AM
Wow… we’re going through a very similar thing. I’m 28, and I never thought my hands would just give out–but clearly I just haven’t been taking good enough care of myself during writing fests/IM binges for the last decade, because out of nowhere my hands just decided they weren’t going to play nice anymore. Which has been challenging to say the least.
I wish you a swift recovery!
March 1st, 2010 at 11:07 AM
Sorry to hear it Justine and glad you’re repairing. I recently found that if I move a lot of the social media to the iphone (blog reading, facebook, twitter) I get a better range of motion, but yes I am still one surprise neck turn away from paralysis and I can’t wait till the streets are clear enough to bike/walk again.
March 1st, 2010 at 11:13 AM
Feel better, Justine!
March 1st, 2010 at 11:33 AM
I’m glad to hear that there’s nothing seriously wrong with you, and also glad to hear that you’re making the best of a bad situation. I hope you get well soon!
On the things you’ve suggested, I can say that I’m a huge supporter of the ergonomic setup idea. I have a laptop and for ages just typed using that on my desk without anything else. After a while I started getting really bad pains in both my hands and my arms, and the muscles in my shoulders started getting really painfully tense. Then I bought myself a laptop stand, a keyboard and a mouse and they were honestly some of the best investments I’ve ever made. I still probably use the computer too much and as a result get a few pains every now and then, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be.
I’m thinking I might try the mousing with both hand things too. Even though I’ve got all the aforementioned setup stuff I still have problems with my middle finger from all the scroll-wheeling I do.
March 1st, 2010 at 11:36 AM
David Engelstad Says:
I was diagnosed last year with peripheral neuropathy, which means that I’m even more susceptible to RSIs. May day job is second level computer support and the novel is in process, so I needed to figure out a way to keep working without damaging the wrists.
What I did was relearn typing using the Dvorak keyboard layout. It was hard at first. I was very fast under the QWERTY layout and my job depended on typing. But I’ve gotten most of the speed back and the improved layout means less chance of injury. All modern computers have the Dvorak layout that you can switch to, and there are stickers you can get to re-label the keys.
March 1st, 2010 at 1:58 PM
I’ve missed you! I hope you get well soon!
March 1st, 2010 at 3:13 PM
Pam Adams Says:
Eek- I’m glad that you’re doing the right things to get well. My exercise routine is currently the opposite. Foot problems mean no cardio (even on a bike, the weird shoe gets in the way) and no lower-body. I can do all the upper body and abs (ouch) that I want, however. I’m even starting to miss the elliptical.
March 1st, 2010 at 3:24 PM
I will now inform y’all what will happen if you don’t pay attention to Justine’s advice and spend some time away from the computer. You will, like me, wake periodically in the night with a numb or aching arm. (In my case, the left arm, leading me to freak out like the hypochondriac I am.) You may eventually get referred to an awesome physical therapist via your doctor, and she will have you do all kinds of neck and arm exercises in order to get your spine back to happy. One day she will also make the horrifying discovery and prescribe the fate that any lover of books fears: No more reading in the bed or bathtub.
Yeup. This happened to me. Now keep in mind, I am not forbidden from reading altogether. The therapist knew that reading was part of my quality of life and helped me devise ergonomic ways to read….ways that don’t involve scrunching my neck vertebrae. (I sit in a big armchair with a good light, and have pillows piled on my lap to get the book to a height where I don’t feel like I have to lean forward.)
I also schedule a “spinal break” every hour and a half. It’s even in my Outlook calendar at work. When I play WoW, I schedule spinal breaks. I do neck exercises (google “cervical retraction neck”) and hand/wrist exercises. I have footrests at both my work and home desks. I’ve got a lumbar support pillow for my lower back. And….I know this will really freak out a lot of people….I no longer sleep on my sides or stomach. Instead I have a single memory foam pillow for my head and sleep flat on my back. (If I don’t do this, I have pinched nerves, RSI, and perhaps arthritis issues to look forward to.)
Justine’s advice is very good, and I recommend taking it now as a preventative, because trust me, getting back on the road to recovery gets waaaay harder later.
March 1st, 2010 at 4:16 PM
Joanna Penn Says:
Hi Justine, this is a really important subject! I am an IT consultant so spend 10 hours a day at the day job on a computer, and before/after work as well as weekends I blog and write, so like you, spend most of my time at a computer. There is also evidence now that every hour of sedentary time increases your risk of obesity and health related problems!
one article that looks at this topic is ‘the stand up office desk’ by Yaro Starak http://www.entrepreneurs-journey.com/tag/stand-up-office-desk/
Yaro is a pro blogger so needed a way to work standing up – brilliant! a concept I am trying out myself.
Thanks for the post, Joanna
March 1st, 2010 at 5:08 PM
I’m sorry to hear about your injury, but glad to hear that you’re on the mend. It’s so true about the computer-related injuries: I’m a student and book-reviewer (and most of my friends are students, journalists and otherwise-computery people) and we all have the same problems – sore arms/hands/wrists/necks/backs/fingers, RSI-related issues and so on.
If you have to work at a computer, there’s not much you can do about it, but there are, as you say, a few small things that can make life better, such as yoga/tai chi/pilates, taking regular breaks, swapping the mouse from hand to hand, having a good desk and chair (and keeping your laptop on a stand so that it’s at head height) that will lessen any computer-related problems slightly. Thanks for posting this!
March 1st, 2010 at 5:46 PM
Walter Jon Williams Says:
Justine, I’m glad you’re back in the game.
Just about all carpal tunnel injuries can be fixed more or less instantly by ditching the mouse and getting a trackball.
The motion demanded by a mouse is unnatural and stresses muscle fibers and nerves. The motion required by a trackball is far more natural. It would be better if the trackball were on top of a joystick, but for some reason they don’t make those.
For some reason no one ever believes me when I tell them about the virtues of the trackball. This is because people are freaking stupid.
The one smart person who actually followed my advice was a writer who was so incapacitated that he’d stopped typing altogether and was forced to buy dictation software. Upon getting a trackball, he immediately— and I mean IMMEDIATELY— returned to his normal 500,000-words-per-year rate. And on a cheap QWERTY keyboard, too.
I don’t know why office managers don’t insist that every employee be equipped with a trackball. It would save a lot of insurance bills.
(Well, I do know the answer to that one. Office managers are stupid.)
So if you have RSI in your mousing wrist, and you don’t want me to call you an idiot and laugh at your pain— WHICH I AM DOING RIGHT NOW, AT THIS VERY MINUTE— you will get a trackball.
March 1st, 2010 at 6:29 PM
Maureen Johnson Says:
Without you, I just walk in circles. PLEASE COME BACK SOON. I AM SO DIZZY.
March 1st, 2010 at 7:48 PM
I’m glad you’ve been doing pilates! I’ve learned a lot about my spine from studying belly dance, which draws a lot from pilates and yoga. Knowing why a certain area of your back is hurting and how to correct that problem has done wonders from me.
I’m sorry things got so bad you had to temporarily abandon your communities. I hope your injury slowly goes away, so you and your muscles can get on with your life!
March 2nd, 2010 at 5:54 AM
Thanks for giving me a wake-up call. Oh – and for reminding me that there’s a very real ‘human bean’ on the other end of this blogpost.
Old injuries do come back to haunt you… I’m mindful of it – I haven’t hammered my body half as bad as some of those I served with in uniform, but I’ve done things I look back on and wonder how in hell I did it.
Worse still I now do silly things like – oh… you know – type hunched over sitting on the couch
All I can say is it’s time you hang up your spandex suit and mask. That rock and roll wrestling will kill ya! Never mind all those adoring fans – they’ll read your books eventually! Besides – it’s just murder on your knees…
Get better Justine… I’ve ‘only just’ tripped over your world mate. I’m really looking forward to more…
… but no pressure – right?!
March 2nd, 2010 at 10:17 AM
Kate Forsyth Says:
Justine, I’ve had the same battle – its so frustrating, isn’t it? I’ve tried a voice recognition software called Dragon Speak Naturally which I found helped a little. And I try writing long-hand in bed too. I hope you get better soon!
March 10th, 2010 at 7:34 PM
Emma B Says:
I had a bout of RSI in my early twenties, courtesy of some soul-crushing hours writing code. I switched to using a trackball, and remapped some keys on my keyboard (I’m a heavy vi user, and the constant whacking of ESC did most of the damage). I also spent some time learning keyboard shortcuts.
Moving the monitor way back on my workspace, and elevating it, helped a lot too — it’s at face level when I’m sitting straight, which reduces the temptation to hunch. I also moved the keyboard way back, and my desk height allows me to rest my entire forearms on the surface with my wrists in a neutral position. That also helps me maintain a naturally erect position without thinking much about it.
March 19th, 2010 at 1:36 PM
Justine – I was shocked to find out that the reason I have pain radiating into my hands and muscle weakness and ouch and augh turned out that I have osteoarthritis in my cervical spine. And my symptoms started when I was 34 (2 years ago). And yes, in addition to the genetic propensity for it (dad and aunt both have it in the same exact spot), I too spend every day in front of the computer, or driving or whatever. Head-forward position, slouch at the desk, you name it. It sucks. I’ve begun doing yoga for pain management, because I can in my case. I wouldn’t know what to do if the source of the pain were my hands themselves. I’d feel like they’d betrayed me.
But I will say this: I’ve always been waiting for the day my hands gave out, because of some psychic I spoke to on a lark, who warned me to take care of my hands, back when I was 15 years old. She said I would have trouble with my hands later in life. Weird, no?
March 30th, 2010 at 6:07 PM
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