Early morning musings

I like it when I wake up slowly in the morning with no urgent need to get up. I pull out my earplugs and lie still, relaxed, listening to the birds, tuning into the weather. Maybe I stretch a little, then settle again to enjoy just being there poised between sleep and waking. Thoughts drift in and out of my mind; mostly prosaic (what day is it?) and sometimes profound.

Today I found myself thinking back to imagery I conjured up in my early days of psychotherapy, thirty-odd years ago. At the time I felt, for various reasons, utterly lost and broken. I visualised myself as a mess of runny jelly separated from the shell that had given me shape and support. Without my shell I was vulnerable, formless and scared witless.

At the time we played around with ideas of trying to firm up the jelly so it didn’t need a hard shell to protect it, but somehow it never really resolved into an image that felt completely satisfactory. I’d forgotten all about it until this morning when I suddenly had the revelation that we should have focused on making the shell resilient rather than toughening the jelly!

For some reason that thought cheered me no end. It’s not as if I’ve consciously given much, if any, thought to an unresolved piece of imagery during the last thirty years, but it was still an “Ah ha!” moment, as if some small piece of mental jigsaw had finally slotted into place. It felt profound, though after pondering it on and off throughout the day I’m not sure why.

Is it a sign confirming that I’m now reasonably emotionally resilient? Or is it a nudge to look at some other issue in a different way? A reminder that you need both container and contents to make a whole? Or just one of those random pieces of mental flotsam that washes up in a half-awake mind?

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Convalescence is work

When I had my last spell of better energy at the beginning of the year I was wildly over-optimistic about what I could achieve. I increased my activity level too much and too fast, leading to a horrible crash that lasted most of February. It was a reminder that I need to find a steadier, more sustainable pace of recovery.

This time round I’ve been more realistic about my capabilities, so when my hot flushes resumed last week to wreak havoc with my sleep, I was better prepared for the necessary slow-down. I’m not happy about the situation, but a slow-down is better than a full-stop.

A couple of articles have really helped me cope with the set-back. First, ME/CFS Self-help Guru’s post about the challenges of managing improvement and then Toni Bernhard’s article How Chronic Pain and Illness Fan the Flames of Uncertainty in Psychology Today. Thank you both for your wise words.

The thought that’s been in my mind lately is that “convalescence is work”. In the digital age we view so many things in binary terms. When applied to health it’s tempting, but too simplistic, to see yourself as either well or ill. This is especially true for chronic conditions which fluctuate and are riven with uncertainty.

In my mind “wellness” pretty much means “able to earn my living by working at a job” and illness means being unable to work. So every time I feel an improvement in my health I start thinking about finding ways to earn my living. Which is pretty stupid really when I still can’t reliably manage the business of day-to-day living!

So, for now, I have to think of convalescence as my work. The pay is uncertain, as is the duration and nature of the tasks involved, but it’s the most important thing for me to be focused on right now. I need to work out how to convalesce effectively in a constantly changing and somewhat insecure environment.

I’ve started making a list of things I need to be able to do reliably and without adverse effects on my health before I even think about work in terms of job, career, self employment etc. Although in some ways it’s a dispiriting reminder of how far I have to go, I hope it will be useful as a benchmark for measuring my progress.

And because everyone needs regular time off from work to refresh mind and spirit, I’ll be including leisure activities on my list. On Tuesday I spent a very happy hour watching the tide come in on Goring beach.

wave splash

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A turn for the better

A happy conjunction of better weather, a respite from hot flushes and a foul bout of IBS that made me reform my diet (again) has perked me up no end over the last two or three weeks. Looking back a month to my plea for more, I feel that I have been granted it, though not exactly in the way that I envisaged.

I’ve done very little of my creative writing and certainly haven’t been doing any daily creative exercises, but I have been gardening! As much and as often as I can, which has turned out to be quite a lot thanks to the fact that I’ve been getting a reasonable amount of fairly good quality sleep. It has been wonderful to see tangible progress in the garden and to feel the benefits of outdoor exercise in spring sunshine.

Even the fact that it’s taken me a good two weeks to do what I would once have done in a weekend hasn’t dampened my pleasure in my achievements. They may be small by “normal” standards, but they are big in my current state of health. I’m so grateful for the circumstances that have made my feel that me plea for more was granted. My weight has gone down a bit too, so I have joy in less as well!

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Joan’s hyacinths

Every autumn my friend and former neighbour Joan used to plant numerous pots and bowls with hyacinth bulbs to give as Christmas gifts. After the flowers faded I’d re-plant mine in the garden where they reappear every year. Joan died at the age of 81 on 16th February this year and the sweetly scented flowers are a happy reminder of the times we spent together.

One of the great joys of gardening is sharing things we’ve grown with other people. I love propagating cuttings, saving seeds and finding new homes for the surplus. I also love the memories attached to the many plants in my garden that were given to me. I hope that when I too am dead and gone my friends will look at plants I gave them and remember me fondly.

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Spring fever

The weather has changed for the better over the last few days and my priorities have changed too. I want to be outside as much as possible, doing a little work in the garden, chatting to my neighbours over the fence, sitting watching the birds and enjoying going shopping without wearing a coat.

The air smells wonderful, full of sweet freshness. Everywhere I look there are early flowers and fresh green shoots. Buds are beginning to break, the grass is growing and an occasional bumble bee buzzes by. The birdsong is cheerful, the evenings lighter and life feels full of promise.

I feel as though I’m unfolding again, the gloom that enveloped me in February has sloughed off and I’m making wildly optimistic plans for the garden. Writing no longer seems important. I refuse to feel guilty about slacking off so soon after I got going with it again. Things change and that’s OK.

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OK, sulk over

Not long after posting my gripe about twenty minutes a day not being enough for my creative ambitions I was shuffling through my quotes folder and found this:

“If you write a half-hour a day, it makes a lot of writing year by year.”
Gertrude Stein

Combined with Michael and Amanda’s gentle reminders that little and often is worth it (despite the frustrations) the quotation gave me the kick I needed to get over myself and restart my memoir-writing. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I’d already written over 13,000 words and had a working outline, so it wasn’t as difficult as starting from scratch. We’ll ignore the fact that I created the project in 2011 and didn’t touch it at all for most of last year.

It’s been so long since I last attempted any creative writing that what I produced during the first few days was pretty dire. My years of authoring technical documents have left their mark. Nevertheless I’ve fired up Scrivener more days than not over the last couple of weeks and the cogs in my brain are beginning to turn. I’ve written another 2,500 words or so and I’m beginning to turn out a few sentences that don’t make me want to curl up and die when I re-read them the next day.

I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep up the momentum, but for now it’s good to have a project to focus on. I try to write a bit most days or at least do a bit of editing. When I don’t feel up to writing, there are loads of things to research on the internet and old photos and documents to scan onto the computer for reference. I’ve got a couple of how-to books from the library, an ever-growing list of useful links and a huge pile of other people’s memoirs to read…

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A better dream

Another “house” dream last night. This time I was moving into a new house – a big and beautiful place with many rooms and interesting features (I particularly liked the “pantry” annexe off the kitchen with its massive old pine dresser). I was to share the house with other people, but this time I was very much In Charge.

In one scene I heard loud music coming from the conservatory – band practise! The band were friends of one of my new housemates and I requested an immediate cessation of noise. They complied without complaint. I wandered around the house making plans for alterations, room use and redecoration. Someone was cooking a meal at a big Aga-type stove in the kitchen. I tasted the soup and gave directions about serving the food.

It was much nicer waking up from that than the party invasion nightmare! So, will it come true too? Not literally, I shouldn’t think, but maybe it signals a shift from feeling utterly powerless to more powerful in my life. Time will tell – on the face of it nothing has changed this week to make me feel more positive about the future. In fact, with news of a elderly friend’s death and another friend having tests to see if her cancer is spreading, plus various domestic irritations and my own health issues, there’s plenty of weight on the negative side.

On the plus side: daffodils, snowdrops and crocus flowering in the garden; a thoughtful care package in the post from a friend and other kindnesses; the noisy neighbours have been out a bit more; the weather has been been better; I’ve managed to do a bit of creative writing most days; the optician has agreed to change the lenses in my new sunglasses because I don’t like the colour free of charge; I’m sleeping a teeny bit better. And last night I had a cheering dream…

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