Reality Blog: When Writing Is Part Of Your Identity… And What Happens When It’s Taken Away

female hands with pen writing on notebook on grass outside

She was sitting up in bed when I arrived. I was flustered and emotional. Who wouldn’t be after receiving the dreaded phone call, then a restless night’s sleep, followed by a three-hour drive?

She stopped me in my tracks.

Unaware of my presence, I stood in the doorway watching. I forgot about the hospital smells, those insidious smells of sanitizer and sickness that always seem so alien. Nurses flitted past, their movements hardly registering in my mind.

The frail old lady had an oxygen tube in her nose and tubes disappearing under a bandage into the back of her leathery left hand. Her hair was brushed and pulled back… neat and respectable even here in this sterile place of sickness.

Her face was furrowed with concentration. A pair of reading glasses perched precariously on her nose, her eyes focused on the notepad in front of her. In her right hand she held a black pen, lid carefully placed on top of the pen as always.

She was writing.

The old lady glanced up and saw me, breaking into a smile. The spell broken, I grinned and sauntered over. I hugged her gently, then kissed her lightly on the forehead.

“Hi Mum, how’s it going?”

She looked at me and smiled again, eyes slightly misty. She struggled to place her words in the correct order, but finally managed to say proudly, “Oh, I’m okay. I’m learning to write my name again.”

Then she added, “I’m practicing…” as if this was perfectly normal behavior for a person who had suffered a massive stroke less than 24 hours earlier.

I looked down at the notepad. Sure enough, she had written “My name is Margaret Murray.” dozens of times on the page. Ever the perfectionist, each line concluded with a full stop.

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Andrew Murray

Andrew Murray

Andrew has traded the daily grind for a life on the road. He loves the lure of Australia’s wide-open spaces, solitude and isolation. Andrew and his wife Peta are experienced remote travelers, living the simple life on the road. They travel, work and live in their 4x4 truck camper. Andrew plans to build his Money-Making Website Top Wire Traveller to the point where it provides a regular income... enough to sustain their lifestyle on the road.


  • Wow, really beautiful essay Andrew.

    I’ve been thinking about identity recently. I was listening to a podcast the other day about running (go figure 😉 ) and psychologist Stan Beecham was talking about how he coaches elite athletes and runners especially. Runners have a tendency to think of themselves primarily as runners. But he said he strongly warns them not to tie their identity up in running, because you never know what can happen and if you’ll be able to run your whole life. He suggested instead to build up an identity of being an athlete first, and a runner after that.

    It’s interesting to think of this in terms of writing, but I guess now’s a good time to do that. A member of my family member recently had a shocking physical trauma happen to him, and thankfully he’s alive and okay, if a little shaken. But it did make me remember how precious our time here is, and how we should never take anything for granted – our physical abilities, our mental abilities, our skills or careers.

    I suppose the only thing we can really identify as at the end of the day is human beings! And one way or another, we will find a way to communicate – if not through our words, then our actions, and if not our actions then at least our presence.

    • Thanks Rebekah. It’s an interesting point about athletes needing to identify as athletes rather than the particular niche they’re in.

      So many high achievers are completely lost when they can no longer perform in their particular field. I guess this is why so many athletes suffer mental health problems when their careers are over.

      A close relative of mine is a standout in his profession (the finance industry)… and has been for nearly 30 years. He is nearing retirement age but just can’t let go.

      I think he’s experiencing exactly the same issues as we see with professional athletes. He’s scared that without his profession, he’ll be nothing.

      It’s sad in a way. These people have so much to offer, but can’t imagine life without being in the spotlight.

      And you’re right, life’s too short and precious to waste on worrying about the small things.

  • Andrew, Your essay was so poignant, filled with your pride in and admiration for your mum while acknowledging the futility of her struggle to write as she once had. My dad had multiple strokes which took away his ability to make the music he loved. He ended up not able to speak either. I found that playing big band and mariachi recordings for him (the kinds of music he had made) brought what substituted for his smile to his face. He would even shake his hands to the beat if he really enjoyed it. It was so hard to watch this proud man endure it. I thought then of what I would do if placed in his situation. I think that I would ask for more “reading” material — even if that meant audiobooks instead of the print books I so love. And I would ask for more listening material — the big band standards, the liturgical music, and the pop and ballads, that I sing now. So that I could still get lost in what attracts me most about creating. I would find new ways to bathe in the things I love.
    And, I would try to be like my dad and your mum in never losing hope. A good friend of mine was electrocuted when we were 16. She spent months in a coma and doctors said she’d never wake up. She woke up, and they said she’d never regain the ability to speak, or to walk, and she’d never be “normal” again. But, one day, her mum took her in her arms and rocked her while singing a lullaby in Portuguese. Suddenly, my friend tried to talk! It turned out that she’d been hearing sounds in her mind for weeks, but nobody understood when she tried to use them to talk. Her mum unlocked that closed door for her. Portuguese had been her long ago first language, but she hadn’t spoken it in half a lifetime. Nobody thought she’d even remember it. From there, she progressed rapidly, becoming fluently bilingual within months. By age 19, if you didn’t know her story, you’d never have guessed that anything had ever been wrong. Miracles happen. They happen with hard work, grit and the determination that your mum showed. And the positive attitude my dad showed. So, that’s what I would try to do.
    Thanks, once again, for another thought provoking post, and a trip down memory lane Thanks for reminders that miracles that do happen, and that a positive attitude can make them possible.

    • Hi Tona, wow those are both inspiring stories. The human mind is truly extraordinary. I guess as you say, the secret is finding the right key to unlock the memories.

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