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Unblocking Writer's Block

Updated: Jul 8, 2021

So often writers complain that they’ve lost their inspiration to write. They don’t feel creative. The white page just stares at them, and their eyes and brain just stare back. Their creative storehouse feels empty. This is writer’s block, and experts have offered all kinds of remedies for overcoming it, such as:

· taking a walk

· working on another piece of writing

· reading a book or listening to music

· making a list of topics of interests

The idea is to engage a part of the brain not associated with writing until creativity returns.This type of writer's block is associated with more mental, emotional, and spiritual droughts. However, there’s another type of writer’s block which I have encountered that they don’t talk about. Nothing can kill my muses as effectively as physical pain. I was so busy trying to find cures for my pain, I couldn’t write.

And the research bares out my making this connection between physical pain and writing. Harvard professor Yiheng Tu maintains that the medial prefrontal cortex (MPC) is the part of the brain that is associated with chronic low back pain. In addition, according to another neuroscientist Heather Berlin (Mount Sinai Hospital, NY), when we are in a creative state, we activate the same part of the brain associated with pain, the MPC. When I put the two studies together, it seems to me as though pain causes a tug of war in the brain. Pain vs creativity. And for me, my chronic back pain was winning the battle.

Previous to this, I had never sat so much in my life. Even when I taught, I stood up. I moved from one part of the classroom to the other, from one student to the other, one group to the other.

In early retirement, I found ways to stay on my feet. I walked to the subway (often had to stand in a crowded train). I walked from East 101 Street to West 135th Street (Schomburg Library). from 102nd Street and Lexington to 79th Street (another library). On a sunny day, in New York City, nothing makes me feel more rejuvenated than a good walk.

Well, all that walking went out the window during COVID. I found myself sitting more. Although Michelle Obama recognized we needed to move in 2010 with her Let’s Move campaign, I was still sitting. Members of my church have been imploring people to move with Saturday morning exercise classes and, periodically, one friend posts the miles she moved that day. I should have known better than to sit so much.

One friend said, “Margo, don’t you know that sitting is the new cancer?” I hadn’t heard that until she mentioned it. Then I looked it up. Sure enough, Dr. James Levine, a researcher with the Mayo Clinic came out with the metaphor. An article about the study provides all the data to support that sitting increases diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It increases blood clots, fatty acids, and even death.

Some have questioned Levine’s equating sitting with cancer, however. Dr. Boyle, an epidemiologist also involved in the sitting study, said, "equating the risk of sitting with smoking is clearly unwarranted and misleading, and only serves to trivialize the risks associated with smoking." And I don’t know how the analogy helps any reader who might be fighting cancer, and what about people who can’t walk? The analogy has its limitations.

I will say this: pain has a way of re-introducing you to parts of your body you took for granted. Since so many people had put their doctor's appointments on the back burner during COVID, I would have had to wait over a month for an appointment. I chose the next best thing: a chiropractor. My daughters have been singing their praises for years.

My first visit was all assessment, paper and movement. What hurts? When? Let’s get an image. On the second visit, he showed me the x-rays and shared what he saw. He showed me other diagrams of healthy and diseased spines and discussed the work needed on my lower vertebrae. I sat through a mini-lesson and learned what I already knew: sitting had exacerbated back problems I already had.

My treatment began on the chiropractic’s grey, cushioned table where I lay face down. He activated a lever, and I felt my legs gently being tugged away from my hips. I thought that I should be taller after that maneuver, but I remained the same 5’ 4”. Then he manipulated another lever, and my mid-section comfortably dropped about ¼ inch to ½ inch. I can still feel the vibrations and hear the heavy sound of the clanging metal. A massage gun diffused any slight aches that remained and any doubts about whether the process was actually working for me. I rose from the table pain free––at least temporarily.

Feeling taller, I worked at improving flexibility on the Precore stretching machine. I sat with my knees partially bent, inserted my wrists into cloth cuffs, held immovable handlebars, and pulled the sliding seat backward. This movement stretched my lower back muscles, ligaments and vertebrae. I had five other stretches to complete. I found it hard to believe that sitting caused all this pain. I thought about all those heavy grocery bags and books over the years-- even my children and grandchildren. But If I had to do it all over again, I’d still carry the children.

On the same machine, I bent my leg in a right angle (or as much of one as I could) and placed my ankle on the opposite leg to complete the piriformis stretch and pulled and held for twenty seconds. This is probably the hardest procedure. I’m always glad to get off this machine.

The cate-cow stretch, the easiest of all, is my ticket out of the office.

I’ve also decided to explore the value of a few other back-saving strategies, such as:

1. Standing up and stretching every twenty minutes.

2. Investing in an ergomomic chair

3. Maybe not sitting at all when I write and purchasing a standing desk instead

After five appointments with the chiropractor, my back has improved. My medial prefrontal cortex has been freed up, and I've been walking for long distances.

If you have a better method for freeing a writer's mind of back pain fog, feel free to share it. I appreciate your comments. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page. Oh. and feel free to share the article.

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