It’s a marathon and not a sprint!

I couldn’t help giggling a little to myself when I wrote this title – those who know me well are probably aware that I’m not much of a runner either of sprints OR marathons.  And certainly not at the moment!  But the beauty of the phrase – however over used – is that it immediately conveys exactly what it is that I’m having to come to terms with day after day.   Moving towards more vibrant health and energy from a diagnosis of ME/CFS is a long and slow process which simply can’t be rushed.


The past month has brought this home to me very clearly.  My wonderful trip to New Zealand really helped to recharge my batteries.  I returned to the UK in January this year with a renewed energy and zest for living.  It was wonderful to reconnect with friends and family and to begin to look towards the future and make plans.   When I last updated my blog a month ago I talked about what was ready to come out of hibernation in my life, what was  blossoming and what parts were staying tightly furled and saying ‘too soon’.  I recognised that social activity was still really exhausting for me and that I needed to spend more time quietly and on my own.  And by and large I have followed my own advice – limiting my interactions with people when energy levels are low, and planning carefully for the times when I know that I’ll be in social settings.  I’ve even begun to learn how to sit quietly and allow others to do more of the talking – a very new concept for me!


But even with these changes in activity and behaviours I’m still not quite back to the energy levels I had when I first returned.  And that is where I really have to understand that moving towards recovery from ME/CFS is a slow process which doesn’t follow a straight line of progression.


Thankfully I have something other than running to help me understand this more clearly (!).  At the end of February I decided to join a slimming club to help me to lose weight.  I have for years been a little curvier than I felt comfortable with, but more importantly I recognised that my fatigue could only be improved by not having a lot of unnecessary extra weight to move around.  Anyone who has ever managed a sustained weight loss will recognise that it will really only succeed if you keep making choices that support the weight loss goal.   It’s the small decisions that you make day after day to opt for eating something healthy that begin to add up.  Little by little these choices begin to be seen as weight loss.


And I have begun to understand that the road towards increased energy and vitality is just like weight loss.  I can’t just do a few big resting sessions and hope that I’ll bound back to full health.  It is the choices that I make day after day that will make the big difference.  It is the commitment to myself and my health that ensure that every single day, without fail, I spend time in meditation,  I take a gentle walk in nature, I find settings that interest me to photograph, and I find things to be grateful for in my life.  It’s the choices I make day after day to take time to rest, to go to bed at a reasonable hour, to limit my time on the computer, to pace myself so that I don’t do too much in a day, and to limit the amount of time that I spend in social situations that will eventually show themselves as renewed energy and vitality.  And just like when losing weight there will be a time when an optimal food choice isn’t available – or you simply decide to eat that pudding and enjoy it, there are times when I push myself a little harder than might be wise so that I can enjoy a much awaited event.  And in the same way that the food choices might show themselves on the scale temporarily, but in the long term the balance of healthy decisions shows itself in healthy, sustainable weight loss, I am sure that the daily disciplines I work with will, in the long term show themselves in improved health and vitality.


It’s not always been easy – and I have had times when I’ve felt real frustration and sadness that once again I’m feeling fatigued.  But I’m staying hopeful and still making plans to slowly be able to return back to teaching specialised One to One and small group yoga sessions from my home yoga studio.  Next month I’m doing 4 days intensive training in Restorative Yoga to add to my skills and to prepare for a new way of teaching. It will be tiring for me at this stage of my recovery, and I’ll have to plan rests carefully around it, but I’m led to believe running a marathon is a bit hard too!

Blossoming into Spring?

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Last week on the first really sunny day we’ve had for what felt like a very long time I sat outside enjoying the sound of birdsong and the neighbours busy in their garden. I had taken several photos of blossom and spring buds when I had been walking my dog, Rolo, and I felt prompted to consider the following questions?

  • What in me is ready to come out of hibernation?
  • What is blossoming in my life?
  • Which parts are still tightly furled, saying “too soon?”

These questions are good ones to ask at any point, but felt particularly timely ones for me. I have been back at home now for just over two months after my wonderful break in New Zealand. Life moves on and I have been exploring how to reintegrate myself into life more fully, while still being mindful of the self care and pacing necessary to avoid the boom and bust nature of ME/CFS.

What in me is ready to come out of hibernation?

The first question felt relatively easy for me to answer. I stopped all yoga teaching in May 2016 and was very clear that this was the right decision for me to take. Not only did I not have the physical energy to run classes, but I also felt a real need to withdraw, to draw inwards – to literally hibernate – spending time in a dormant state. Over the past few weeks as the sap has been beginning to rise in nature around me, I have found myself beginnning to explore ideas about how I could come out of this state of hibernation myself and find new ways of coming back to my role as a yoga teacher.

Any illness or life event which like ME/CFS forces us to stop what we’ve been doing in our lives and to reflect deeply can also bring with it what are sometimes referred to as ‘dark gifts’ . I see these as byproducts of the situation or illness that could bring about positive changes. For me these include a radical reevaluation of many different aspects of my life to see how I can simplify, conserve my energy, or make my way of living more nurturing. But in addition, I believe that my experiences of the discomfort, frustration, bone-aching weariness and loneliness that is the nature of CFS has given me some immensely valuable material that I could usefully bring to a new way of teaching.

So – for the first time in many months it feels as if the teacher part of me is ready to begin to come out of hibernation. Following the example of nature I will be taking it very slowly – the seed of the idea has been germinated and over the coming months I will be preparing myself to slowly emerge and blossom into my new way of teaching. My vision is to teach small group and individual sessions from my beautiful home studio, specialising in gentle, relaxing and restorative yoga for those who are exhausted, burnt out, or simply in need of stopping the world for a while. Keeping it small I’ll be able to keep my own work & life in much better balance, but I will also be able to create the kind of sanctuary that I believe will encourage deep rest and renewal for my students.

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What is blossoming in my life?

A great deal has been blossoming in my life recently. Returning to England feeling well rested and content after my trip to New Zealand has ensured that I have, for the most part, been in a good place. I have been able to reconnect on a one to one basis with much-loved friends, enjoying their company and listening to their wisdom. I have begun a slow process of reclaiming my home and garden. Years of feeling tired and overwhelmed with life has meant that there has been a build of up ‘stuff’; but last month we cleared, redecorated and reclaimed the first (of many!) rooms and I am getting huge pleasure of sitting in my new, calm, ordered and beautiful dining room. So some new additions of calm and order have been blossoming. Storm Doris took a rather more dramatic approach in the garden, blowing over trees and fences, literally clearing away the dead wood – but I do believe it’s all part of the cleansing process and making way for new things and new ways of being.

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Which parts are still tightly furled, saying “too soon?”

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Despite all the areas of growth and blossoming, there are still some aspects of my life that are saying firmly “too soon!”. One of the most marked and difficult areas for me is that of socialising. Those who have been in my life for many years will know that I’m someone who has always thrived on playing to an audience. I’ve always been somebody to talks rather too much with perhaps a bit too much animation. And the difficulty is that old habits die hard. These familiar ways of behaving and interacting with others are easy to slip into – but I don’t have the energy to sustain them. Unfortunately, instead of venturing out and sitting quietly, I have found that simply being with a group of people seems to encourage my body to release adrenaline and I can find myself becoming highly animated and talkative. I often enjoy the process – feeling a sense of being ‘my old self’ but then when I return to quietness and stillness I recognise that I’ve been running on empty and I often crash. If it’s a one-off I can normally cope, but this past week has included a combination of a (joyful) family occasion and a few formal appointments as well as my wonderful weekly Creative Writing class. As the week wore on I was becoming more tired, but each time I attended one of these events I found myself becoming even more animated. And then I crashed. Exhausted. Unable to do the ‘normal’ things that I usually do in a day. Needing to rest. Not reading, not watching anything, just being still and quiet and riding the waves of frustration and sadness that once more I’m back feeling levels of fatigue I thought that I’d moved past. This, I know, is a feature of this illness and a clear message that I’ve

” …travelled too fast over false ground;” as

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John O’Donohue puts it so beautifully.

So this is where I am remaining tightly furled and saying “too soon” – the realms of social activity. I shall continue to do things – but limit my interactions to one to one conversations where possible and my engagements so that I have time to recover between one event and another.

And who knows, perhaps in time I will become the strong silent one in any group setting!

Life Continues – Back at home

It’s been just over a month since I returned home to the UK from my time in New Zealand. Leaving New Zealand was hard.  Those who have read my earlier blog posts will recall that I don’t like goodbyes (see here), and even though I was travelling back home to my own family, this wasn’t easy.  Saying goodbye to my sister and her family who had welcomed me so lovingly and wholeheartedly into the midst of their lives; saying goodbye to the warmth and sunshine of a Southern Hemisphere January; and perhaps the most unnerving aspect – saying goodbye to the time, space and freedom which I’d been gifted to cocoon myself in while away from the demands of everyday life.
Being back has taken some adjusting.  My family had seemed to cope wonderfully well without me – and this sparked a complex series of responses from me – from relief and pride through to a little bit of fear… was I really needed any more?  And if my role had changed – what should it be now?  And from there it didn’t take a huge leap to move to more existential questions:  “If I’m not a yoga teacher any more, and my roles as wife, mother and homemaker have changed … who am I?”.  So a couple of days back into the cold and cloudy January weather and I was dealing with big and challenging questions.  I don’t always opt for the easy path in life …Thankfully dogs are much simpler.  Rolo greeted me with great love and excitement and seemed to forgive me immediately for my lengthy absence.  We have quickly got back our routines and she unfailingly gives me unconditional love for which I’m so grateful.  Our cats, Terminator and Cedric surprised me by not showing any feline petulance: they were remarkably unphased by my absence and it has been wonderful to spend the cold evenings in front of the fire with one or other of them curled up on my lap purring.
My return back to Northwich has also given me the opportunity to reconnect with friends. And these friends are able to lift me out of my internal questioning and remind me of who I am. To welcome the return of an Alison who is (a little) more sure of herself, who is less exhausted and more vibrant than before my time away.  To reassure me that I have made good progress in dealing with the effects of ME/CFS but also to remind me that I need to be patient and to reintegrate myself into the busyness of life slowly and mindfully.
And this is what I have tried to do.  I know that there are many factors that I need to address to enable me to return to full, vibrant health – we are all multi-layered beings who need to look for balance and health in the emotional, mental and spiritual spheres as well as the physical.  And this continues to be my work.  Some of what I’m doing to help myself heal feels like hard work.  I’m continuing on the mammoth task of trying to simplify what we own and how we live.  I’m trying to declutter, to let go of “stuff” – which in a house that we’ve lived in for over 21 years and a mindset that has always liked to keep things “just in case” or for sentimental reasons,  this is going to be a long slow process.
I’m also trying to create and maintain a sense of spaciousness in my mind.  Daily meditation helps me let go of the constant inner dialogue and reconnect with the still, peaceful unchanging part that feels expansive and at ease.  And daily walks in nature allow me enjoy the physical freedom of wide open spaces and also a feeling of deep connection with beauty and transcendence.  I continue to take my phone camera out with me and derive enormous pleasure from the photos that I take which help to remind me of how very much there is to be grateful for each and every day.  And the cold weather, the clouds and the low sun of winter have come together to create many breathtakingly beautiful vistas which I have tried to photograph.
Little by little I’m learning new ways of being that will support recovery and vibrant health.  I’m trying to retrain my natural tendency to worry and to let go of feeling that the world will stop turning if I’m not taking responsibility for it.  This last week I was absolutely delighted to discover a new poem which given my particular tendency towards worry  I’m amazed I’ve never come across before. I am going to see if I can follow its wisdom from now onwards …

I Worried – Mary Oliver

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

Mary Oliver – Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

Here’s to singing in the morning x