ME Again

You’ll wonder whatever has happened to me; it’s been an age since I posted this frequently to the blog, but it’s nothing more than a little writerly frustration. Something like the second post I wrote here, back in 2006, was about Thoreau, whose lifestyle was fascinating me. Thoreau declared that he needed ‘wide margins’ to his day, empty spaces in which he could find himself and process experience and, back in 2006, about five months into my extended leave from work with ME, I wholeheartedly agreed with him. My wide margins to my day almost met in the middle. Things have changed a lot since then, not least that I’m back in work at the university now, but last week I realized that my need for wide margins hasn’t exactly left me.

It’s always my reading habits that let me know something’s up. Since I’ve been blogging it’s been usual for me to have a few books I’m reading at once. I never used to do this, but now I like the freedom of choice afforded by stacking up a novel, some non-fiction, a classic. Two or maybe three books is comfortable for me, but when I start to pile in more my reading becomes fragmented, nothing gets finished, the pleasure of choice diminishes and the sense of wading through text with no end in sight takes its place. At the beginning of last week, I had books I was reading about motherhood, books I was reading for my academic work, books I was reading for challenges, books I was reading because I wanted to… and by that point I was feeling hassled and harried. Never a good sign for a would-be-ex-chronic fatigue sufferer.

Crunch day for me was Tuesday. In the morning I had to take my son to the chiropodist. Not a big deal, but it’s amazing how long these things take, when you factor in the journey to his school to pick him up, the journey across town, the appointment. As most of you know, I am extremely squeamish, so I spent the appointment trying to read my book (naturally) while the chiropodist was working. She was a young and extremely pretty woman, so I kept quiet and let my son do all the talking – he needs the practice right now. Happily things have obviously moved on in the foot world since I had veruccas at the age of eleven or so. I remember vividly the doctor saying to me ‘Think nice thoughts’ before removing them, slowly and unanethetized, with a scalpel. I was afraid it might be worse having to watch it being done to someone else – honestly the things people never warn you about before you get pregnant. Anyhow, the treatment was not gory, no one fainted, even if some of us felt a little tense, and we went home for lunch.  Then I had a full afternoon of seeing students. I’m enjoying the new learning support job at the university; I really like working with students and it’s a great pleasure to watch them improving and gaining in confidence. It’s funny how I’d run a mile from the hospital casualty ward, but intellectual ER is fun and intriguing. However, the job is beginning to grow. Last term not many people knew about me and my workload was manageable, but by Tuesday last week I’d already had seven new students apply for help. I was looking at my timetable and wondering how I’d fit them all in, and what sort of judgement of Solomon I’d attempt if I couldn’t. As it is, I’m seeing them back to back now, no time to write up notes or prepare. Still, it was a good afternoon’s work, and I was home shortly before five, although by now I was feeling tired. That evening I had t’ai chi class, which I began attending last week. It starts at seven, which means eating by six; going without food to a two-hour class is simply not an option for me. I had time to send a few emails for work, and then it was down to the kitchen to get our meal ready, leaving my husband’s in the oven. By the time I got to t’ai chi I was in a seriously bad mood. I hate it when my day concertinas up, when there’s no point to stop, take a breath, take a break. I did class and it was okay. I felt cold all the time and kept wishing I were at home, being quiet and calm. When I finally did get home, I had a brief chat with my husband and son and then all I was fit for was bed.

And so, inevitably, Wednesday I was tired. And not the kind of tired that most people mean when they say tired, but chronic fatigued. It would be easier if another name for it existed to prevent healthy people from associating it with the slightly dreary and inattentive feeling of normal tiredness, a state it’s perfectly possible to drag around with you on an average day. At least after all this time, I no longer freak now when I feel this way. I have my strategies, and mostly they work. But prime among them is thinking about those wide margins of Thoreau’s and realizing that I need them still, not just to bracket the day, but to cushion the events within it. When I’ve been seeing a lot of people, I need time to process all the emotions I’ve absorbed from them. When I’ve been doing something taxing, like anxiously waiting for something unpleasant to befall my son’s toes, I need spaciousness and quiet afterwards, to balance myself out. For a long time, I’ve felt just plain wrong in needing these things, as if I were a defective human being, someone born without carapace or defences, without useful, helpful indifference to combat all mildly worrying situations, and often still I will wince for myself and my lack of resilience. But I suppose I do accept more that I simply am that way, and that I’ll have to live with it.

And so I thought about all the books piled up beside my bed. If I were just working, that would be one thing. But I’m currently trying to write an academic chapter on magic realism and experiment with commercial non-fiction to produce something about motherhood. I feel the weight of this work at the moment. I saw my academic publisher about ten days ago and he was encouraging me as nicely as he could to finish the book out of sheer uncertainty for the future of the publishing house. Not that he thinks anything will necessarily happen, just that every publisher doesn’t know what to expect in the current climate. I’d been trying to scale up the work I was doing, but I find academic writing with its complex, analytic creativity needs the widest margins of all. I realized with some regret that I would have to hold off writing that chapter until the vacation comes, economic uncertainty or not. The motherhood chapter is easier in some ways as I’m not ready to write that yet – I just need lots of practice in general writing. And so, I decided that the best thing to do was to blog more, which requires the smallest margins of all, leaves most of the day free for work and rest, and feels like the easiest, most playful forum I have. And so here I am, just trying to reconnect with writing as pleasure, not as obligation, necessity or a skill I have yet to master.

Curiously enough, my search engine terms on the blog started sending me subliminal messages during the week. On the weekend I noticed two sentences, each clearly a quotation, one saying ‘Dearest, i feel sure i am going mad…’ whilst the other declared ‘i feel so tired and uninspired at the’. On Tuesday the message came ‘what art can i do?’ On Wednesday ‘how can i remain positive and keep doing’. By Thursday I was intrigued to find out whether I had appeased the gods of the search engines sufficiently with my decisions, and I checked the list in trepidation. I wasn’t disappointed. The message read ‘i think i can stretch to that’. Well, that’s a relief, then.

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15 thoughts on “ME Again

  1. So glad the search engine hath spake. Isn’t it odd how blogging can be such a fabulous release? It might be extreme to say I couldn’t live without it, but it certainly provides a wonderful outlet.

    Man, those wide margins … I fantasise about them. Hope they return to you soon.

  2. As a gardener I know that everything grows if you let it and plenty even if you try to stop it. Always keep your weeding tools ready is my advice – and use them! On the other hand and in the contradictory way human desire always has, let the blog flow. It does you good and it does us good too. Hope it all stays together for you. I like the idea of search engine prophecy – is that why one computer language is called Delphi?

  3. And not the kind of tired that most people mean when they say tired, but chronic fatigued. It would be easier if another name for it existed to prevent healthy people from associating it with the slightly dreary and inattentive feeling of normal tiredness, a state it’s perfectly possible to drag around with you on an average day.

    The distinction you draw here strikes me as near-identical to the distinction between feeling depressed about something and having depression. I’ve often thought that our vocabulary around chronic illnesses links them too closely to everyday variations in physical and emotional states based on a passing surface resemblance alone.

  4. Is your chronic fatigue worse at certain times of the year or does it just depend on how many things you have going? I think normal fatigue is lousy, so I can’t beging to imagine what you have to go through. At least you have a nice little stack of books to reach for. Isn’t it nice being able to choose depending on your mood?

  5. Those wide margins make me think of a wide Karoo sky, which is comforting and inspirational at the same time. Good luck with all the writing. Sounds like your old friend fatigue is subtly telling you something again. But I know from your previous posts that what that message is exactly is rather complicated!

  6. You put into words so beautifully the way I so often feel…not the ME, but the lack of defenses for the regular world. So many people I know right now are struggling, and I am trying to be present for them, but it is making my heart hurt. I, too, need those wide margins and it does make me feel badly for needing them. But I think it is time to accept that that is the kind of person I am, and give myself the time. Thanks so much for putting into words the emotions I can’t ever verbalize, and take good care of yourself, litlove. The world can often be much too with us, I think…

  7. I don’t have ME, but I feel I can relate to what you go through at times like these. I need those wide margins, too. When I get overscheduled, I feel terrible. I hate that out-of-control feeling that comes with it–I usually try to control my schedule, but so often the world encroaches and demands are made on me anyway. Sometimes I get migraines, and it often happens when many triggers occur at once. When you’re getting a migraine, you often have a warning signal hours or even days beforehand. For me that warning signal is a sort of out-of-body strange feeling that I can’t really describe, and still, years on, takes me by surprise. Anyway, sometimes I feel frustratingly like a delicate flower because I feel I have to protect myself from so much of the world, and I absolutely hate that about myself! Thanks for the post–thanks for making me feel less alone in the world at times like this!

  8. I think those wide margins are pretty essential to the gestation period of any creative endeavour, Litlove, be it academic, commercial or whimsical. Once again I am struck by the tight compression of your day; having fled academia the second I submitted my thesis, this post brought it all flooding back. Maybe the university environment encourages the mad juggler within, but I soon found I wasn’t right for the circus. It turns out I need open skies, not big tops – wide margins, as you say. How do you prioritise all these many and varied demands on your time? I don’t know how you do it, but I doff my cap (floppy, of course!).

  9. I love the search engine prophet — that is a sign of the times, if ever I’ve seen one.

    I am a wide-margin person also, to such an extent that I simply can’t imagine cohabitating with other people and surviving it. Too much pushing of those margins and I end up in a state such as the one you describe, for which the only acceptable words are “I’m tired today” but those words have the unspoken subtext “I think I’m going to die — no really, I think that’s what’s going to happen.”

  10. I’m another one who needs wide margins, although I’m not a chronic fatigue sufferer and I have no idea what that kind of tiredness feels like. But my God do I need time to process things! Teaching is a great job, but after class, I need to stop speaking for a while. I have colleagues who happily take on all kinds of extra teaching to earn more money, and I just couldn’t do it. I do hope you find some balance and are able to get the quiet time you need. We’ll enjoy the fruits of your frequent blog posting in the meantime!

  11. I am just wondering how things are in Litlove land today. Heavy snow, shoes being thrown at Chinese Premiers – there’s some serious stuff going down in your part of the world ;-)

  12. Lilian – I couldn’t agree more. The margins are where all the really important stuff happens! Although it’s easy to forget that. Charlotte – blogging is extraordinarily good at soaking up all the excess and the uncertainty. I don’t know what I would do without it! And here’s to those wide margins, like big, open prairies, for both of us. Bookboxed – lol! That mention of Delphi was extremely entertaining. And the gardening analogy was very poignant. I like that thought, and will dwell on it. Harvestbird – well isn’t that the truth! I think you are so right in what you say about vocabulary. Too many words – depression, fatigue, love, are stretched beyond all meaning by experience. It’s about time we had some new words, as those experiences keep expanding. Danielle – it is definitely more of a drag in winter, and much better, usually, in the spring and summer. The dying of the light in the autumn is a particularly bad spot, often. But you are so right to say that those books help. Reading is unquestionably the best therapy I know. Pete – aargghh, yes, the message is all too complex. But it’s best to try and listen before it simplifies into: Stop. Although sometimes I wonder whether fatigue itself isn’t an illness of complexity, and that the more simple one can keep life, the easier it becomes to live healthily. Nice image of the Karoo sky; I like that. Courtney – I find it so very comforting to come across another porous soul. A therapist I once met told me he thought porous people ought to consider themselves beings from another planet, so different were they to the usual run of humans. It’s a nice, restorative sort of thought, and different to the usual guilt. Hang onto your borderlines and keep an eye on the margins. We can’t help others or manage ourselves without them. Gentle Reader – it makes me feel so much better reading your comment, as it helps me a lot to think blogging friends like you know exactly what it is to feel this way. I can really sympathise with the migraines and imagine exactly what you mean. Chronic fatigue is often preceded by attempts at dissociation, as a kind of feeble defence to keep the world out for a bit. Funnily enough, I often refer to myself as a hothouse flower, and not in a good way. But we should stick together and encourage each other to take that time and space. It’s not negotiable, really. Doctordi – trust me, I do nothing, absolutely nothing these days compared to what I used to do and to what my colleagues still do. I don’t honestly know how others survive. I like your attitude (and your circus analogies!) as you express an entitlement to take what you need that is very liberating and self-affirming. David – I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry reading your words as they express so exquisitely how that tiredness feels. Cohabiting is okay if you have the right people. Living with a man and a fourteen year old boy is very peaceful – they don’t speak to me that much or ask a great deal of emotional investment from me. :) Dorothy – isn’t teaching just extraordinarily demanding in that way? I couldn’t agree more. I did used to take on all the extra teaching, and I stand as a terrible warning for what can happen. :) Pete – oh I know, it’s been most strange. We had a snow day yesterday – on the basis of about two inches of snow which makes the rest of the world scoff, but surprise is relative. My son was bitterly disappointed this morning to find it had mostly melted and he had to go back to school!

  13. Oh Litlove, you and my husband are two peas in the fatigue pod. He’ll collapse into bed at night and wonder why he is so tired and I’ll say, well what did you do today? And he will recited a long list. I will ask, and when did you rest? And he will say half an hour at lunch, there was no more time. And I will say, well there you are, that’s why you are so tired. You need to plan downtime. He will say, oh. And then completely neglect to have any downtime the next day and we replay the conversation all over again. I think I should record it sometime to save us both the effort :)

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