What do you do when the sun is shining and it’s warm – yes, warm! for the first time this year, and the breeze is pleasantly cool, and what you want to do more than anything else is to go for a walk, but you’re feeling as if your legs might not carry you much further than the garden gate. When your head feels fuzzy, on the edge of dizziness; when you ache and everything seems twice as difficult as it should, and your body is asking you to lie down. But outside, the sunshine! The way all the colours in the garden glow, and the shadows that are dappling the path – the blueness of the sky and the perfect whiteness of the puffy clouds – how can you possibly not go out and at least try to see how far you can go?
I went, and after 5 minutes I’d got about 100 yards into the park where the path turns away from the corner of the wood, where I stopped because I was too weary to walk another step. So I thought, hey-ho, I’ll stand here and draw whatever’s in front of me since I can’t do anything else but stand here and I’m not going to give in and sit down. I may not get up again. So I drew the small tree at the edge of the path, bare branches all twisty and striped with sunlight and shadows.
A weary, dreary drawing but it made me feel so much better that I managed to dawdle up the path to the end of the line of lime trees and a bit further, where I did sit down, on a bank that was until recently covered in crocuses and is now waiting for daffodils, and listened to bumble bees and watched children playing cricket on the lawn, before heaving myself up and retracing my steps.
I went slowly because I had no choice. This is what ME (or chronic fatigue syndrome) is like, the condition that I’ve had for so many years; exhaustion and malaise rise up out of nowhere and just when you’ve started to think you can function almost normally it’ll drain you of all energy and drag you under. Sometimes when it’s at its worse it stops me altogether, sometimes for days at a time. It’s frustrating, worrying and depressing, but at other times, on those rare days when not being able to do much doesn’t really matter, I can see a glimmer of something more positive and allow myself to simply be how I am, without railing against it or getting angry or scared. I do what I can, and make sure that I do some of the things that I really want to do, that I need to do, the things that make my soul sing.
On my way home I thought of creatures that habitually move slower than I do, like snails, and found myself enjoying the thought of moving at their pace. I found a ladybird going even more slowly than I was.
And then there are trees…
Medical opinion says that the only successful way to manage ME/CFS is by pacing – by doing only half of what you think you’re capable of. It’s certainly true that to recover from a relapse, pacing is essential, and it’s also true that persistently ignoring warning signs and carrying on regardless will inevitably lead to trouble, but there’s something dangerously negative about only ever doing half of what you think you can. It’s depressing. It eats away at the joy of things. It stops you from living adventurously, makes you question what you are, and fences you in. So if I really, really want to do something, I do it, whatever the cost. On days like this, with the sun shining and birds singing in every tree, with tiny leaves just beginning to appear on branches that have been bare for so long, I’m never going to stay indoors when every bone in my aching body is saying, “walk!” Even at a snail’s pace, off I go.