The healing power of books....

     On July 3rd, my next book Once Upon a Slime (written by the hilarious Andy Maxwell) makes it's slimy debut, and I couldn't be more excited. This book is hilarious. And it has a granny. For those of you who follow my work, you know I have a love of drawing a good granny, so this just made the book that much sweeter.

     But what I didn't realize when I signed up for this project was just how important Once Upon a Slime was going to be for my own recovery. This book was a therapeutic tool that helped me get through some tough times. And with the debut just around the corner, I found it fitting to open up about my journey with the hope that it helps others who need a little lifting up.
    Shortly after handing in my first pass of rough sketches for Andy's book, I noticed my one hand felt sore. I shrugged it off, slapped on a carpal tunnel wrist band , and thought nothing of it.  I had overworked my hand before from many a marathon drawing session, and figured this was just a repeat of what I'd been through before. But within an hour, the pain quickly spread up my arm and repeated itself on my other arm.  By that evening, both arms had gone paralyzed and I panicked big time.  Minutes before the symptoms started, I had actually said to my husband ,"I think this year is going to be my year work-wise. The kids are teenagers now,  things are in a good place at home, and some great projects are on the horizon. This is going to be the best year EVER!" and then BAM! Little did I know that night what a roller coaster of a ride I was about to get on.
    Within hours, I was thrust from excitedly drawing hours every day to being completely paralyzed from the elbows down, and couldn't do a thing for myself. My husband had to brush my teeth, get me dressed....everything. It was devastating and scary. And we didn't know what the heck it was.  A few months later, after many a hospital visit and test, I finally had the diagnosis I desperately needed.  I honestly had no idea "Rheumatoid Arthritis" could be this intense, especially since the word "arthritis" made me think of an elderly relative with an old arthritic knee. An Uncle Larry kind of thing....even though I don't have an Uncle named Larry. But you know what I mean.  I had no idea that it was a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect more than just your joints. It can damage your skin, eyes, lungs, heart and blood vessels... your immune system basically attacks your own body's tissues. I was sleeping A LOT, hurting everywhere, and just feeling plain old awful. It was the first time in my life I ever felt truly ILL.  I was no longer the Sam I knew, and had no interest in getting to know this new person I had become. I was miserable. 
    It took (and still is) a long time to find the right medicine /lifestyle change to bring me the relief I needed to return to a functioning state of being, and this is where the book therapy comes in. My editor and director at Little Brown Books for Young Readers were absolutely amazing (and so was my agent. I can not tell you how much she championed for me, supported me and just basically became my rock through all of this). They gave me time to heal, and let me return to the book when I was ready. After about four months, my mental state was losing it from not being able to draw. I had to start making marks on paper for my own well-being, and so began the task of tackling the final art for Once Upon a Slime. Every stroke was painful, and often met with long breaks after just a few strokes. But in that moment I discovered something so powerful....while painful, this book was helping me heal emotionally. I had moments where the days started out defeated in a puddle of tears, but while I drew a dapper Wolf stealing a basket of Granny's goodies, I burst out laughing. And not just a chuckle, but a guttural, howling, deep and cathartic laugh.
     I was crying because it hurt to draw Granny's glasses, but was laughing at the same time because the scene was just so darn funny. I left that first session feeling much better and saw how books can be healing for not just the reader but the maker as well.  For the next several months I spent my days in a dance of tears and laughter, and I honestly don't think I could have pulled through that fog without Andy's hilarious text.
     Seeing the hard copy for the first time will be a huge moment for me. To know that I was able to accomplish something during a painful time means so much to me and makes me feel stronger than I ever thought possible.
    It's been two years since my diagnosis. I still have bad weeks here and there, and I've had to adjust how I work, but all is good. Really. I have learned to accept this new norm, and in my good weeks I enjoy every minute and appreciate them in a way I never have before.  For those of you out there going through some tough times, please know that you can get through it. It may be a long bumpy road, but you can get there.  If you need to draw a Granny getting slimed, go for it and have a good laugh.  And if drawing isn't your thing, don't fret. Papa Bear is happy to get slimed for your amusement. Just make sure you laugh really hard. He is sacrificing a good jacket for your well-being.


Popular Posts