#SATurday: Writing in Shackles

#SATurday: Writing in Shackles

I recently found out I have early-onset carpal tunnel syndrome. I wasn’t even sure if that was a rare disorder for a female 23-year-old. Apparently, it is. I honestly don’t know much about it at all, but I am definitely learning. Being told I have to wear wrist splints for 6 weeks was my first lesson. As I’m writing this, I have successfully failed my first attempted night with my sleep shackles. Sort of. One is off so I can write. Across my desk, the other waits with open arms – or fasteners.

I have to confess that up until recently I always thought writing was the exception to the once-you-get-old-you-can’t-do-that-anymore rule. Unlike sports.

When I was 19, I worked in a small Mexican joint called Los Cabos, which I guess means I worked in the Midwest “capes”. I actually find that quite suiting since the air conditioning broke that summer, causing two hostesses to faint from the heat. But there was one coworker I remember quite vividly. He was a year older than me, working as a waiter until he could “figure things out”. I wasn’t sure what he meant until our boss allowed us to wear shorts (due to that pesky AC), and I saw his secret. It was impossible not to. I asked him about his overly intense knee brace.

As it turned out, the guy had a full ride scholarship to play football at one of those fancy universities I won’t bother naming. On the first day of practice – during the very first day he was living his dream – everything changed. He blew his knee out, and the scholarship was revoked. No more school. No more football. No more knee. But he could be a waiter.

I’m not judging waiters. I’m not. I worked in a restaurant for four years, after all. But the idea of dedicating 20+ years to your passion – in this case, football – and losing it from one injury has always (and deeply) disturbed me.

That was why I found extra comfort in my passion for writing. It was injury-free, practically safe. Potential insanity was my only concern. Not physical pain.


In my naïve head, I truly believed the only way I would lose writing was if something bizarre (and probably horrible and tragic) happened to my hands – a car wreck severed my fingers, a cancer consumed my veins, a disease peeled off my skin, etc. You get the picture.

I’m not sure why I thought this. Correction: I’m not sure why I let myself believe this. My late mother had rheumatoid arthritis, nerve damage, and Reynard’s Disease – all of which affected her daily hand functions – but she always had perfect nails. They always looked nice. Maybe that’s why some of her health problems never truly sank in. She appeared physically able – most of the time – to 11-year-old me anyway. But now – in this moment – I wonder what it would be like if she were still alive. I wonder if she would say anything to me about carpal tunnel. Maybe she could deliver some comfort by explaining how she overcame her daily pain, but I suppose she eventually succumbed to her pain instead of overcoming it, and I believe that’s why I might be entirely too disturbed by something – apparently – so regular. In argument, blowing out your knee is common, too, and so is losing your dream.

I don’t think I have lost my dream, but I feel for those who have.

If writing were a crime, wrist splints would be shackles and carpal tunnel would be the punishment of jail. Six weeks is my current sentence – but at least it’s only a lifestyle change, an adjustment, per se. And even I know my dramatics will subside if they haven’t already. Writing calms me. The pen allows me to breathe free air. And when I’m done writing this out, I will put my wrist splints back on as splints – not shackles – and I’ll take them off in the morning so I can write again. But until then, I feel for that waiter with the blown out knee and that girl who wasn’t tall enough to be a stewardess and that colorblind kid who only wanted to be a pilot in the Air Force.

I hope you found another dream to live,

~SAT on #SATurday

55 thoughts on “#SATurday: Writing in Shackles

    1. Thank you! I truly appreciate it. I am feeling very positive about this whole situation because of how nice it is to hear from others about it, too – especially when I am unable to talk to my mother and others.

  1. I have Raynauds Disease and a few other linked things and though it was a shocker to be officially diagnosed a few years back it did explain a hell of a lot of things I struggled with and got problems with. It’s a pain and there’s nothing much anyone can do but me, lifestyle and diet and suchlike, and it also affects my writing sometimes. I keep getting my regime of looking after it wrong but mostly am learning to get on, although I’ll never become an Antarctic explorer!

  2. Poor girl I hope you get better quick Im recovering from back surgery and cant sit for long typing its frustrating! good luck with your recovery and I hope it is swift.

    1. Thank you! I hope you recover quickly from your back surgery. Mine isn’t so much recovery but preventative measures, if that makes sense. Already feeling a lot of relief with my arm and wrist pain as well as overall blood flow and feeling in my hands, so that’s been great! Again, I am sending well wishes your way. Thank you for your thoughts. :]

    1. Thank you for your encouragement! I plan to enjoy every part of the journey, even the difficult moments, but I know speaking with others (like you) has allowed a lot of peace to find its way in. Thank you for commenting.

  3. There are programmes that covert speech to writing. I know the cost might be an issue … but you want to be writing when your 80, it might be worth the investment. So long as you have a brain that can get from one end of a sentence to the other, you can write.

    1. I actually have Dragon Speak! So, I’ll probably start using that a lot more. The change as a whole doesn’t bother me so much. I know I can adjust. But I wanted to write about how I feel for those who weren’t able to.

  4. I just wanted to point out two things:
    1. Windows 7 and 8 have a lot of voice functions already built in, you could check if you could already dictate your writing, at least the first draft.
    2. A while back, there was a writing excuses podcast (http://www.writingexcuses.com/2014/04/06/writing-excuses-9-15-becoming-a-writerfull-disclosure/) about health problems from being a writer. They had a few things about the “dangers” of writing.
    Wish you all the best!

    1. Yeah! I actually watched a video of what they do after that was explained. Hopefully, the braces help prevent that for awhile, but I hear it’s not too bad. Gave up the tennis awhile ago! I actually mention my short time in tennis in a post two weeks from now. (I write them about two weeks in advance).

  5. I was born with a congenital birth defect on my hands and had corrective surgery when i was a baby, and again every consecutive year until i was eighteen, as my hands outgrew the skin grafts. The doctors told me I’m high risk for arthritis and, as fate would have it, i fell in love with the written word at an early age and decided i wanted to be a writer. I haven’t developed arthritis yet, but i value every day that i have the use of my fingers, knowing that one day i will wake up and begin to feel the beginning of that pain in my knuckles and realize that it’s only going to get worse. I don’t like using voice processing software, but I’m glad that it’s there to use when my preferred mediums cease being a viable option. I actually enjoy the physical act of writing (via pen, pencil or keyboard) and i will miss it when it is inevitably taken from me. I say all this to communicate how much i empathize with your blogpost and your current situation. My hands may not be shackled yet, but when the shackles kick in, i wont be able to take them off. My thoughts are with you and i hope you make a swift recovery 🙂

    1. Oh, wow! Thank you for sharing your story! I really appreciate it. I’m with you on the voice processing software. Despite owning it already, I’m not a big fan of it, and I find a lot of comfort in the act of writing itself. The amount of gibberish I’ve written just to write greatly exceeds the comprehensible paragraphs I share with everyone, but it’s nice to be able to just to physically write sometimes. I’m also trying to learn to enjoy taking it easy. :]
      Thank you for reading and commenting,

  6. First off, get well soon. Pain of all sorts sucks. Now, maybe this is my personal experience shaping me into who I am today, but I’ve been taught to enjoy pain. I remember being told “Pain is the only way for sure to know you are alive.”

    This is way easier said than done but I found that in mentally forcing yourself to enjoy pain, you being to accept it, and work through it.

    The way I see it this is just another obstacle, one of many that life will throw your way to keep you down. It happens. It’s the course of our journey on this mortal coil. One of the greatest life lessons I learnt – one which served me well as a writer – is that you have 2 choices: Bitch and whine, or suck it up and channel that into something useful.
    I’m glad to see you’re working through it – this is just another challenge and if your beat at it enough times it will go down.

  7. Ouch. Hope you get better soon. My wife ended up getting early onset Carpal Tunnel at 25 and had to use a brace to get through her job for a while. She’s more careful with her hand/wrist posture on the computer now and hasn’t had to use the brace in years, so it can be handled.

    I used to have that same thought about writing being a ‘safe’ career that can go for my entire life. Then I realized one of my grandparents had arthritis in their fingers. I also have a wrist that hurts every now and then. Those days I usually have to ice it or only do notebook work with my good hand. Figure it’s just another obstacle to get around.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story and your wife’s story! I’m positive it won’t cause me too many problems. In the past two weeks, the braces have already been helping, so I’m actually rather relieved since the pain has subsided some. It’s nice to see others who have overcome the obstacle. :]

      1. It’s probably more common than we realize. Hopefully by the time we’re older, they have programs that can help overcome hand injuries. I know they have some, but a fantasy author using a voice recognition program is a comedy act.

  8. I’ve worn my brace on and off for years – an adult lifetime spent working at jobs that required daily computer useage. Add in the so many hours I’d spend writing and you get one tired wrist. No stress, as it’s a minor pain, minor inconvenience and hasn’t stopped me from putting words to page :-).

    1. That is fantastic! Good to know. So far, I only had to take two weeks off from handwriting and cut down my computer time, but since using the braces, everything has been much better. It’s nice to hear the story of someone who got through it. :]

  9. Sorry to hear about your issues. Sounds like you’re dealing with it positively. Let the braces inspire your next story: prison, slavery, erotica, weapons platform, bowling, whatever. Best of luck forging ahead.

  10. A couple of years ago I was diagnosed with mild carpal tunnel in both wrists. Worse in my right than in my left. The doctor recommended wearing the wrist splints at night, which I did for a while. Turns out we do some pretty weird things with our hands and wrists while we sleep, bending them into all sorts of weird shapes and that creates problems if you have carpal tunnel or might be predisposed towards it because of your daily activities. So, I wore the splints at night for a while. At some point, I had a steroid shot for my right wrist. It’s not like the pain was incredible, but there were certain things I couldn’t do and I was noticing a lot of weakness in both wrists. One of the key symptoms for me is that my grip weakened significantly. Like I couldn’t grip the cap on a new bottle strong enough to be able to open it. The steroid shot really helped. A lot. And it lasted for at least six months before I started to notice some of the symptoms returning. The thing is I haven’t worn the splints for a long time, haven’t gone back for a shot, and I seem to be doing okay. Even when it was at its worst, it didn’t affect my typing. It really affected more those things that required grip strength. Like opening a bottle and … bowling. I started going bowling with a friend every once in a while and I had to stop that. I haven’t tried it again for over a year. I hope you find some comfort for it and that it doesn’t interfere with your writing. There’s always dictation. 😉

    1. It’s funny you mention opening a bottle. I was having that struggle (more so than normal) and a strong pain when I started doing that, and that’s one of the ways I found out I was having issues. The wrist splints seem to be helping so far. A lot, actually. I have been cutting down on computer time a bit, but things have been much better since I wrote this! (I write posts about two weeks in advance). It hasn’t interfered with writing too much. I guess you could say it conveniently happened during a writing break. Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s very encouraging.

  11. As you’ve just told me, and I’ve just learnt, carpul tunnel is rare for a 23 year old but you have to admit; we live in a tech world where we’re constantly and straining by using our hands and wrists (texting, writing, driving) etc. so it wouldn’t surprise me if in 20/30years time, people getting this in their 20s is no longer a rare thing. But I’m (and I’m sure you are) glad that it’s been found soon so you can work on medicine and exercises and stuff to help it.

    1. That is a great point! I hadn’t considered that, but now that you’ve said it, I would have to agree. We do use technology more than ever, and it probably won’t be so rare in the future. According to what I heard, it’s normal when you hit about 30, so I’m only seven years behind or so. I’m hoping the braces make it subside a lot, and so far, they have helped tremendously. Never stopped my writing. :]

      1. If it does get to point where you HAVE to stop writing for a time; just invest in a recorder =] or get someone to type the words for you ^_^ But hopefully it will rarely get to that, if at all ^_^

  12. I have a friend who is a professional cellist. She had problems with carpal tunnel during graduate school and ended up needing surgery just so she could continue playing. I don’t know if that’s an option in your case, but she hasn’t had any problems with it since she healed from the surgery. Before surgery she was doing a lot of physical therapy to keep her going, which could also be helpful.

    1. I’m hoping to avoid the surgery situation – at least for a couple decades – but I did watch a video to see what it looked like, and I have a friend who has gotten it before. It’s nice to hear of another case of someone getting out of surgery all better. Thank you for sharing. :]

  13. Obviously I’m not doctor, but I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel at 23 as well — due not to writing so much as the massive data-entry component of my day job at the time. It healed with time and physiotherapy, even though I could only wear the splints after work and while sleeping. A couple of years after that I broke several bones in my right hand (my writing hand) in a mountain biking accident. Again, time, splints and physio. Every body is different, but the need to write is persistent. You’ll heal. At 37, I find I have to practice yoga a few times a week to keep my tightening tendons and ligaments from slowing me down — hand supported standing poses for my wrists and fingers — but there are worse things. 🙂 Good luck with everything. Hopefully you’ll be shackle-free soon.

    1. Oh! Yoga. I will have to look into that. I already use a few yoga things to help with sitting at a desk all day, but I didn’t think about using it to help with my hands. Thank you for sharing your story, too! It’s very encouraging. :]

  14. I know how you feel… my doctor called mine writers cramp… I was having wrist pain and sever swelling in my hands to the point it was hard to use them… I probably should wear braces when I sleep because I have the habit of clenching my hands and twisting them in as far as my wrists will go which means I wake up with the hurting a lot and having to stretch them out… I do have to wear my braces though on occasion… and no I’m not a doctor… but if you hold your hands the way you should while typing and all shouldn’t that help relieve you of the symptoms… which I found was one thing about the braces were they held my hands up where they were supposed to be… also I got those little Chinese health exercise balls that are supposed to help with dexterity in your hands and get the blood flowing or whatever and they actually do help some… but good luck with it all… I know how much it sucks and it seems yours is worse than mine… but just keep plugging on and never give up on your writing…

  15. I hope you get better soon! My grandmother had carpal tunnel and that stuff is no joke. To be honest, I was always worried that I would lose my writing if I went blind (which is a possibility since I keep getting knocked in the head and exposed to acidic chemicals). Luckily, I think my co-writer could step in and become my full-time typist if it came to that. For now, focus on getting well and just remember – if there’s a will, there’s a way. 🙂

  16. I hope you recover quickly. I think writing is something you can do whatever your health though, because there are some great dictation softwares available (though the good ones have to be paid for). I was offered access to one when I was doing a university course but haven’t really had much problems with my hands and arms so didn’t use it.

  17. I have Carpel Tunnel. I have had it for several years now and it hasn’t stopped me. I can’t hand write as much as I used to because it starts to hurt pretty bad. But I can still type up a storm. I usually end the day in a brace and I have to sleep with a brace because my hand will go numb at night.

    Just recently I lost feeling in two fingers and my thumb. It eventually came back, but it was because I changed jobs and wasn’t straining my wrist as much. Good luck with yours. Some days you just have to live with the pain.

  18. Good luck! I was diagnosed with the same thing in my early 20s thanks to doing summer work as an archaeologist. It was tough dealing with the pain but I eventually learned to love the brace. They were wonderful at night because numb fingers and painful wrists would keep me up without them. I eventually healed and still write, but I do have to take it easy some days. I read on those days.

  19. I hit something similar myself recently. Over the summer I started selling chainmail jewellery (which I’d already been making for years) and found it was actually quite successful. I was starting to think it might be something I could turn into an actual job, but after keeping up with it for 6 months I just don’t think I can produce the volume of jewellery necessary because it’s quite a strain on my wrists. Some of the pieces can have as many as 500 chain links, which all have to be woven into place one at a time by hand. No matter how much you enjoy something, you’ve got to put your health first.

    I hope you recover well, and don’t need the braces again. You might want to look into non-QWERTY keyboard layouts if you haven’t already. I switched to Dvorak years ago and it requires much less in the way of finger acrobatics.

  20. Bad carpal tunnel runs in my family, and I’ve always thought of it as something I’d get when I was “old.” A few months ago, right around my 24th birthday, it hurt to move my right hand really badly, and I was informed by both my fiancee and my boss that it was almost definitely carpal tunnel — completely different from the way my mom always described hers. My immediate reaction was “but I’m not old enough to have those kinds of problems.” And none of my coworkers around my age do. Hell, for that matter, none of my coworkers who are about to retire do either. So I thought everyone was insane.

    Then it occurred to me that I go home from work, where I sit on a computer all day, to my computer at home, where I write, blog, do homework, and so on. None of my coworkers do that, at any age.

    Soooo … Yeah, I feel your pain. I’ve basically been alternating a week with a brace to a week without the brace. The only reason I really took it off this last time is because the itchiness from always having it on was way worse than the pain with it off.

    Best of luck — my grandmother has STRONGLY suggested surgery to my mom, so if yours is really bad it might be worth considering. Apparently it was one of the best decisions she ever made.

    ~Liza @ Classy Cat Books

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