This Thursday's guest on my Write Despite blog feature is Harlequin Mills and Boon author Louisa Heaton, who has had to overcome the debilitating effects of vertigo, which struck at exactly the wrong time in her writing career. Fortunately, Louisa didn't let it stop her from getting published. But I'll let her tell her own story.
What challenges have you had to overcome in order to write?
I've always written. Ever since I could hold a pen in my hands. And for many years it's been relatively easy. At least, the sitting down part. The writing part. The getting published part? That was harder. But the real challenge came three years ago when I was struck down by a mystery illness.
I'd been working at a private hospital. My job was to take people's blood, assist in minor surgeries, usually skin cancer removal, remove stitches, take patient's BP, that kind of thing. It was perfect research material for my Harlequin Mills and Boon Medical stories I was trying to write.
Then one morning I woke up, had breakfast, felt absolutely fine, but was suddenly struck by the most vicious bout of vertigo. The world was spinning so fast and I was hit by a wave of intense nausea, as I collapsed to the floor of my home. I couldn't open my eyes. I couldn't move. Every time I tried, it just made it worse. I couldn't call for help as I felt like I would throw up. Luckily, ten minutes after it began, my husband came into the room and found me.
We called the doctor and he diagnosed an acute ear infection. Said I would be better in a few days and he would write me a prescription for anti-nausea meds.
He was wrong.
How has this challenge affected your writing?
It took me nine days to walk straight after that first attack. The world seemed on an axis, the floor seemed tilted. I couldn't focus on anything that moved, as it made me dizzy. Just after I'd recover and think I was over it, another bout of vertigo would hit and I'd spend another week staggering around like a drunk. I got afraid to leave the house. I couldn't write. I couldn't read. Staring at a computer screen, scrolling up and down would set me off. It was impossible.
It was at this point that I got a request for a full manuscript from Mills and Boon. I'd only written three chapters and they wanted the rest. I had to make myself sit at a computer and I wrote 5k words a day. Often taking breaks to lay back on my bed groaning, my eyes covered, trying not to let the world spin. It was tough. I cried. I despaired, not knowing how I would get through it.
I needed to write. To read. These were the two things that I loved doing. I needed to find a way around this disability now that I was housebound anyway. I had an MRI and saw an ENT and a neurologist. They discovered I had MAV, migraine associated vertigo, only my migraines are silent. I have no pain, just bouts of vertigo. I got put on propranolol, to control the migraines, but it had the added side effect of lowering my BP to such an extent it would take me three or more hours in the morning, just to go from a lying, to a sitting, then standing, position! I ended up writing in small stints. Ten minutes here. Five there. But I got it done. I had to.
What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?
That I wouldn't be able to give my publishers a finished book. Nothing much was helping, so I decided to focus on the migraine part of my diagnosis. I decided to put myself on a migraine diet, avoiding trigger foods and I got almost 95% better! I was able to finish and because I'd completed one book, I then knew I could power through and do it again.
I still get dizzy, but the vertigo is mostly gone. I can write again, which is good, as I'm currently writing my sixth title with Mills and Boon medical.
I can't do book signings or go to author events because all that head movement, lights, people moving, just makes me really dizzy again. I've learned that I'm still set off by patterns and colours and movement in my visual field. I'd love to do an author talk, but I can't guarantee I'll stay upright whilst doing it.
But I can write! And read. And I even quilt and sew.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by challenges?
My advice to someone who is set back by a physical challenge is to research as much as you can. Find out what you can do. I got myself better and I live with a condition that two years ago was debilitating and made me lose my job. I even looked into dictation software in case I had to give up typing. If you have a passion, a need, then you find a way to make it happen. Become your own advocate. You might even find you know more than your doctors do! It happens.
If you want to write, then do it. Find a way. Even if you have to do it the Barbara Cartland way and get someone else to write down what you're saying! It might take time, it might be hard and you may stumble along the way, but there are always options. The one option I took, time and time again?
Never. Give. Up.
It's amazing what can be achieved.
Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something your're writing now.
I'm proud of everything I've written, because each title has been solid effort on my part to fight past a disabling condition. I'm proud that my books do well, despite the fact that I can't do book signings or author talks, or promote myself in that way. My favourite book is the one about to be released in March this year, One Life-Changing Night, is out this March and is available for pre-order here.
Thanks so much for your inspiring story, Louisa! I do hope your health continues to improve. Here are Louisa's links, so you can keep in touch with her.
Until next time!