It was 3 AM. I had been sitting at my desk for 6 hours. Writing. Five thousand words in total.
I closed my laptop, stretched my back, feeling myself emerge slowly from the depths of my mind, and walked towards the bathroom to begin my night routine.
Writing to me always seems like diving. I have to endure great pressure, going deep beneath the surface of my mind, into murky, night-black waters, in order to uncover my truest thoughts.
Water splashing. Toothbrush against my teeth. The silence of the night.
Tomorrow, I would go to class at 9 AM with my premade sandwich for breakfast. After that, I would have lunch, also premade, at the library while reading for the next classes. At 5 PM I would walk home the long way to get some exercise. Then I would cook dinner and the next day’s meals as soon as I got home. I might listen to music or an audiobook, or perhaps watch a movie, while cooking. Cutting garlic. Eating. Doing the dishes. Showering. And at 9 PM sharp, I would be sitting at my desk. Writing. Night diving.
As boring as it may seem, this schedule gave me enough sleep, a healthy diet, an effective study plan, and most importantly, the freedom to write.
Back in Vietnam, I struggled greatly in order to maintain a full-time job along with writing. I skipped meals a lot and sometimes pulled all-nighters. Yet I had never been able to sit and write productively. I had high hopes that studying literature abroad would give me the chance to write properly. But I was hospitalised for hyperthyroidism a day before boarding the plane to Glasgow.
The condition itself was not deathly but it had gotten severe, leading up to a “thyroid storm,” which could have killed me. I was aware of my unhealthy lifestyle, but never truly grasped the severity of it until then. It wasn’t just writing I needed to put effort into; I needed a better lifestyle. With that determination, a pack of medication, and some residual symptoms, I flew to Glasgow.
These were not enough for me to adapt to a new environment, however. I was four weeks late for class because of my hospitalisation. And handling that amount of reading, along with all the paperwork to get myself settled in the country, worsened my illness. There were so many things on my small plate that it broke. I got broken.
I failed a class. And the day I found out, my thyroid acted up.
I hadn’t changed a bit. I still skipped meals, pulled all-nighters, yet I gained nothing. I had written nothing of substance, nothing to the standard I wanted, not a single word of my novel.
While lying silently on the floor of my room, sinking slowly into the darkness, letting it nibble my limbs and mental health, I realised: although writing was – and is – my favourite thing in the world, living with it had not been easy.
It was a simple fact. But I kept telling myself that I could handle everything all at once. Had I accepted it earlier, I could have confessed to my professor instead of letting my grade go downhill. I could have acknowledged that my late start meant falling behind rather than trying to catch up. I could have asked for help with all the administrative procedures instead of fumbling alone.
I didn’t need to do more. I just need to do right.
I came up with a strict diet and exercise plan to battle my hyperthyroidism. And so, for two weeks after that, I tried doing my reading during the daytime, while writing at night. Assigning specific timeframes to each activity helped me work productively, with studying, writing and leisure activities not being allowed to overlap. Demanding as it was, by the end of week three, I was able to read for four hours in the afternoon and write from 9 PM to midnight.
There were days I could follow through and days I couldn’t. Days when I felt incredibly energised and days I couldn’t get out of bed. Sometimes I felt extremely blessed. Sometimes dejected and outcast. Anger. Joy. Frustration. Pride. I fluctuated. Couldn’t tell the difference between suffering and writing, writing and meaning, suffering and meaning. But the routine kept me focused, consistent, and going. Until one day, I noticed it had seeped into my skin and become a habit. It took time to submerge to that level, and time to emerge back to reality, with each step of my routine pushing me upward.
A diver never dives without preparation. They need to do the training, the breathing patterns so that even under great pressure, they can move with the currents. And everything must be ready so that nothing can ruin the precious moment they are in the water. In the depth of the mind. The depth of the night. When feelings can take shape, flowing in words, from my vein to the white pages in front of me.