Thursday, January 22, 2015

Diagnosis: Over-Advised-Itis

My doctor sat at a small tidy desk tucked in the corner of the cold exam room, lightly tapping one foot on the floor to the same rhythm I jostled one leg crossed over the other. When I had called the clinic a few hours earlier, a nurse said she'd clear the schedule for me to come in right away. In fact, she insisted. That should have been a clue, but surely whatever this condition was, it wasn’t . . . serious. 

I swallowed a lump in my throat, just like heroines in novels do when they are in the throes of distress, and completed my list of symptoms.

“. . . confusion, forgetfulness, blurry vision, indecision, lethargy, nail biting, a compulsion to watch Murder She Wrote reruns, a longing to be Anne Tyler someday but not now, the occasional delusion that Anne Lamott is my personal friend, obsessing on Anne of Green Gables, my all-time favorite book, because I can do that without actually reading it for the four hundredth time, and not even trying to deny that I apparently have a thing for literary Annes."

I paused before adding, "Also, for a writer, I'm not actually writing anything much.”

“How long has this been going on?” The doctor's voice was controlled, flat, yet tinged with a hint of accusation as she turned to my record on her laptop. It seemed she did not want to look me in the eye. What? Did she think I had brought this on myself?

“I started noticing something was wrong a few months ago. It got worse right after I attended a writer’s conference. Then I started subscribing to more blogs with writing encouragement, reading more author newsletters and blogs and pages, I favorited and tweeted and . . . and it seemed as though . . ." I choked up. I was beginning to see a connection I did not want to admit.

"Can you just tell me, please, what’s wrong?” 

The doctor took off her glasses, set them on her desk, and took both my clammy hands in hers. She had apparently decided to be kind, mustering every bit of her chair-side manner for this. I was scared.

“You have Over-Advised-Itis, specifically the type most often seen in writers. OAI4W, as we call it, has been around for a long time. After all, writers have been writing about writing and reading about writing and advising one another for many years. But in the last couple of decades, with social media . . . well, you can imagine. The risk of exposure to OAI4W today is well beyond anything we in the medical field anticipated."  She coughed. "Of course, we had hoped most writers would use restraint."

So far I wasn’t feeling any better.

“Tell me, how many writers conferences do you attend?”

“Just one a year.” I didn’t want to confess I was seriously considering two.

“Good. Now, how many blogs about writing have you subscribed to? How many books on writing have you read? How many author blogs and pages and accounts do you follow? Be honest. I need to know so I can correctly diagnosis the severity of your case and develop a treatment plan.”

I told her how many blogs, how many books and newsletters, how many Facebook pages, how many Twitter accounts. I blushed; she blanched.

“This is serious, but I have seen worse, and I think we've caught it early. You have to cut back, especially on social media influences. Your symptoms will eventually dissipate, but it will take time and hard work to break free enough so you can function normally as a writer again. I want to see you again in two weeks, but here's the contact information for an OAI4W Anonymous group. You’ve got to get this under control before you go completely over to the dark side. If that happens, we won't be able to do anything more for you.”

“The dark side? You mean . . . never write again?” She nodded.

I stood, took the referral, thanked her, gathered my things, and left the building without even checking to see if my insurance would cover follow-up visits for OAI4W. As I walked out into the late afternoon sunshine, I was grateful for an early diagnosis. 

“As God is my witness,” I said to no one in particular in my best Scarlett O’Hara voice, “I will write again.”     

Do you have any confessions to make? Do you allow yourself to be over advised?

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