Back again …

It has been a VERY long time since I last wrote a blog post. Nearly a year. And the longer I left it, the harder it became to know what to write. But today I felt prompted to get over my silence and to simply start the process again.

Much has happened in the past 12 months. I had hoped that by now I’d be back teaching yoga and that there would be less of the burnout to report on and more of the bliss. But life is never completely straightforward. Sadly in June last year we had to say goodbye to my beloved canine companion, Rolo. Although she had been unwell for some time and her death was not unexpected, I was hit very hard by grief at her loss. This had a significant impact on my fatigue levels and I still miss her daily. Here’s a favourite photos of her which was taken on one of our last walks together.

Missing both Rolo and the sunshine, it has felt like a long, hard winter. But the return of the sun and longer days is helping with my energy levels and we have been busy at home preparing the garden for growing more vegetables. My husband never does thing by halves and we now have a VERY LARGE vegetable plot!

After an initial period of overwhelm I have decided to treat this year as a learning experiment and adventure and see what works and what doesn’t. A good thing really as I’ve already made a rookie error of not labelling my seedlings properly so may get some surprises on the plot!

As well as the work in the garden we have started up a small business “Bees in Our Community” to help local people get established as beekeepers. It’s my husband who does all the real work in this, but I’m in charge of his social media presence so have been having a bit of a crash course on all things bee-related.

As if all of this wasn’t enough to keep my interest going I’ve recently started an online writing course. I’m getting myself disciplined now to write most days and have been curious to see what is appearing on the page. One of the earliest pieces I wrote was a poem about CFS which I was very proud to have read out as the closing piece on a webinar for women with chronic illnesses. I have shared it below:

 

The Dark Gifts of CFS

You built me a cage
The bars made of fatigue, pain and loneliness.
I look out and I can see the life I once lived
Playing out in other people’s stories.

At first I wept
And railed against the injustice.
I tried to force the bars to bend
To give me space to escape.

Sometimes I’d slip through
And fly into the outer world.
In a frenzy of activity
I’d do what I used to do
And be who I used to be.

And then I’d return
Spent and empty.
I’d collapse on the cage floor
With no energy left at all
And nothing to do except wait and sleep.

From this perspective
I began to wonder.
Were they the bars of a prison
Or a sanctuary
To save me from myself?

My world is smaller now
But I have learned to savour its gifts.
My joys are of small things.
The opening of a bud.
The aroma of the bread I’m baking.
The myriad colours and shapes of passing clouds.
And my cats curling up with me to rest.

I am hoping this is a pause.
A hiatus.
An interval.
A breathing space.
A lull.

And that one day I may fly out once more
And be active in the busy world.
Part of the hubbub and hurly burly
Playing my role
But bringing with me the stillness
That I am learning
To carry
At my centre.

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?

img_3843Last 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 John O’Donahue 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!