I discovered Tristina Wright in a very unusual way. Let me rephrase, while it’s not unusual for me to find other writers via social media, it was strange for me to hear about her GoFundMe campaign before I became familiar with her work. Someone I follow and respect within the YA/Sci-Fi writing community had shared a link asking to help a bisexual author trying to bring diversity to Sci-Fi and YA. Her upcoming novel features a group of queer teens racing against the clock to save their cultures from extinction (click to preorder). Clicking the link to check out her work was a no-brainer for me, as I’ve openly campaigned for the support of out LGBTQ+ characters in fiction.
What I didn’t necessarily expect was that Tristina would be a fellow bisexual lady and chronic illness sufferer. The money a family friend was asking for was to help offset living and medical expenses. When I read more about her health issues, her experience with a grant program that ultimately denied her request for funding, and about her dedication to the writing craft I knew I HAD to speak to her for my creativity and chronic illness series. I’ve expanded the title to include diversity, creativity, and chronic illness because they are key parts of her life experience and passion.
Fox Emm: What drives you to write what you do? (Continuing to create when faced with chronic health issues is not easy) – What do you get out of creating? – What do you hope your writing does, or what would you like your writing to do?
Tristina Wright: The first three questions sort of combine for me so I’ll answer them together here. My writing gives me an outlet for all the stories in my head, but also a distraction from my every day. Writing allows me to keep my own schedule, which I can tailor to what my pain levels are on any given day. I’m unable to work a standard 9-5, M-F job because of my health. Writing, and being creative in general, gives me the ability to be productive, and show my kids that I’m strong no matter what might physically or mentally hold me back. I want them to see their mom as someone who kept going and kept writing and kept creating no matter how much it hurt or how bad things got.
FE: What were your favorite books growing up?
TW: So many. I was that stereotypical nerd with her nose buried in a book. I read everything I could get my hands on and wore my library card ragged. I was the one who ordered a ridiculous amount of books from the Scholastic order form. My favorites were anything pertaining to mythology – fiction or non, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew (and the crossovers), The Boxcar Children, A Wrinkle In Time, Narnia, Lord of the Rings, pretty much everything by HG Wells. I really loved science and biology journals, too. My parents had a nice set of them in their room and I’d often lay on the floor of their bedroom and pore over them, trying to figure out why I had to wear glasses or why my back hurt all the time or what puberty was.
FE: What would it have meant to you to have books like yours?
TW: I would’ve had to hide it, first off. I grew up in a very conservative household. Anything “not clean” was banned, which very much included queerness. But to have a book where teens openly and comfortably identified as bisexual would’ve been eye-opening for me. It might’ve saved years of confusion and guilt and depression. I wanted to claw out of my own skin when I realized I was attracted to girls too. I didn’t understand and thought I was wrong or bad.
As far as disability is concerned, it would’ve helped to see characters taking medication for mental illness. I might’ve sought help a lot sooner. It would’ve helped me to see characters with anxiety or chronic pain still saving the world right alongside dealing with their ailments. Maybe they weren’t the most conventional hero, but they were still a hero and so could I.
FE: Who do you hope to reach with your work?
TW: Queer teens, disabled teens, marginalized teens. Anyone who’s been sidelined in books. Anyone who’s always been relegated to the sidekick or the comic relief. Anyone who’s never seen themselves as the hero or the love interest.
(( Sidenote from Fox. If the above comment doesn’t bring a slight tear to your eye, you might be a robot.))
FE: So, about your illness, what health issues do you have that make writing difficult?
TW: + Degenerative Disc Disease
+ Physiological Tremor in both hands
+ Generalized Anxiety Disorder
FE: How do they hinder you?
TW: DDD basically means three discs in my lower back (lumbar region) are disintegrating at a fairly steady pace. This means the discs frequently slip out of alignment (i.e. my back goes out) and put pressure on the nerve bundles located along the spinal column. The nerve bundles along the spine connect to places all over the body. The ones around my problem areas go down the legs, which means I often have trouble walking and need to use a cane. This also means sitting at a desk can be difficult, some days impossible. I have to recline a lot. On a good day, I can nest on the couch at an angle with my laptop. On bad days I have to stay in bed and lay flat on my back, which means no typing.
The tremor means my hands tremble. It isn’t an essential tremor, which is good. But the physiological nature means that it’ll worsen with age. I can mostly control it with medication now, but some days are worse than others. Shaky hands mean writing by hand is difficult. It means detailed tasks like measuring, putting on makeup, helping my kids button their clothes, etc. are difficult, if not impossible. It also means parts of my hands are permanently weak, like the outside of my left hand, for example. A minor, but annoying, effect of this is that it’s hard to push the Z key on a keyboard. Not the end of the world but somewhat irritating when you can type fast.
The anxiety is trickier because so much of it is mental, but it can also manifest physically and/or exacerbate current physical symptoms. My tremor can worsen. My pain can heighten. If my blood pressure rises because of an anxiety attack, that can worsen the nerve irritation and make walking more difficult. So with the anxiety disorder (which is medicated), there isn’t any one hindrance I can point to but a number of different things and side effects that can happen.
FE: What is a typical day like for you?
TW: Lots of rest! I try to conserve energy as much as I can, which can be difficult with a four-year-old but she’s very great at getting things to color next to me on the couch or bringing a puzzle to the coffee table we can do together or picking out a movie she can watch while I write. My spouse does as many of the errands as he can, but on days that I can move around better, I try to tackle a grocery store trip or picking up our six-year-old from school. I’m very, very lucky to have someone who helps without hesitation.
I break things up into small pieces, depending on my pain levels and tremors. I’ll sit for a while and address emails or write something. Then I’ll get up and do a small chore – like a load of laundry or putting dishes in the dishwasher or wiping off the table. Then I’ll stretch if I can, maybe shower, then sit down again with a heating pad. Repeat.
FE: What keeps you going?
TW: My family. It sounds cliché but I want to make them proud of me. I don’t ever want to feel like I’m a burden to any of them. I feel guilty enough as it is not being able to work a job that pulls in a “normal” paycheck so I do everything in my power to ease my own conscience while still taking care of myself. Like I said, I’m lucky to have the spouse that I do but I don’t ever want to take his generosity and understanding for granted.
FE: What advice would you give other folks with similar health issues?
TW: Take care of you first. If you can find a doctor you trust and can afford, keep up with your regular appointments and be honest with them. Even if it feels like you’re complaining or it seems insignificant. Take your meds. Do something nice for yourself as often as you can. Paint your nails when your hands aren’t shaking. Buy some bath bombs for those mandatory tub soaks. Get a cane with a badass design. Forgive yourself the bad days and don’t push yourself. Rest.
FE: What would you like folks reading this to know about you, about your writing, or about your condition?
TW: I’m often scared about the future. While none of my conditions are life-threatening, they do affect my quality of life. And, with the current uncertainty surrounding our political climate and healthcare, things could get worse. But I draw strength from my family. From my kids. From my community. From my writing. I write stories with characters like me, with characters who aren’t like me. I want to give everyone the chance to be a hero, no matter what. I want to show the world that I deserve a happy ending too. That folks like me, that others with various chronic conditions and disabilities all deserve happy endings and heroes’ capes. That we are here and we’re scared and we’re strong.
That I’ll never stop fighting, even if it’s from flat on my back in bed while staring at the ceiling.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you Tristina Wright for sharing your experience and your writing goals with us. Especially after losing such a powerful voice in mental health advocacy with the recent passing of the late, great Carrie Fisher, it’s important that other writers continue to represent marginalized groups and those suffering with physical and mental illness with grace, dignity, and by giving them the power and agency they have so long deserved.