chronic fatigue, chronic illness, ehlers-danlos syndrome, existential crisis, heart failure, managing chronic illness, personal
Excuse the mouthful of a title, I’m too tired to think of a clever one.
I’ve spent most of the last week in bed, alternating between silently cursing at my body, crying self-pityingly into my emotional support plush toys, and (mostly) sleeping. Post-exertion fatigue hit me like a truck after I dared to go out for a moderately ambitious date day on Saturday. Then yesterday the rage and anger finally settled, self care mode switched on, and I made a series of very small, achievable goals – the last of which was to write this blog post, some of which I’ve been meaning to expand on for quite a while.
These fatigue crashes have been more and more severe since 2014. Although I’ve never been “well”, at least since I was in my tweens, I can pinpoint the day Things Got Much Worse. February 14th 2014, the day I moved across London, once again hopping from one parent to the other (somewhat easier when they’re in the same city, let alone the same continent). That move, although aided by my dad and my then-partner, precipitated a catastrophic crash – whether from emotional or physical stress I couldn’t say, but it was this which led a GP to prescribe me painkillers for the first time, and refer me to the UCLH Hypermobility Clinic for assessment and diagnosis. Since then I have lost count of the crashes, but the pattern is always the same: I never quite manage to regain the ground I’ve lost before the next one comes.
Thinking about that, the ground lost and not made up, has made me philosophise this week in between the sleeping and gradually dissipating rage. What am I fighting with myself for? I never had health, I just had a genetically-cursed body trying desperately to keep up with those of its peers, constantly wondering why I found everything so damn difficult when no one else seemed to. I spent 15 years thinking I was just unfit, or that eventually my body and mind would align and reconcile with what was expected of them. I think this could be called internalised ableism, no thanks to the doctors who told me these things. “Everyone gets aches and pains sometimes” turned into honestly believing until I was in my mid-20s that everyone was in pain constantly because that was my reality. From a young age I was constantly trying to attain something that I couldn’t reach, but didn’t know I had no chance of gaining – a body that was not disabled, that did not hurt, that did not inexplicably need so much more rest than others. Similarly, I cannot fight to regain health I didn’t have to begin with. My body does not need me to be angry with it – that is energy I could be spending elsewhere – it needs comfort, rest, and patience, no matter how hard it is to give it those things when I feel it is betraying me.
Of course, reconciliation with an oppositional body is only one aspect. The rage and tears of the last week were not only from frustration with my body, but pent up from years of watching my life pass before my eyes un-lived. I have always been a late starter. I walked very late (although I was a precocious reader, go figure). I did my GCSEs a year late thanks to moving countries. I did my A-Levels in my early 20s, because my late teens were a nightmare, and subsequently started university late. Of course, I also graduated a year after I was supposed to because of my health. I am reconciled with being permanently behind other people in their early 30s; what I struggle with is feeling like all I am doing with my life is sitting and watching the days pass. I used to have dreams I felt I could achieve despite as-yet-unnamed pain and fatigue issues – to travel more, work abroad, continue teaching English, continue with photography on a professional level. I’ve written before about the pain of not even being able to write posts like this one, of the fear that I won’t even be able to connect my random strings of thought together in a meaningful way one day, or any day again. Brain Kittens refers playfully to my legendary distractibility; added fatigue makes the ability to keep a train of thought going far far harder. But even when I have slightly more ability than I do at the moment, I still get a nagging feeling that there’s something more I could be doing right now, something to set myself up for the future, just in case things get better. Just in case. In the last six months I’ve bookmarked disability internship schemes, evening postgrad journalism courses, BSL classes, activism bootcamps, but the reality is the same: I cannot throw money away for something I won’t realistically be able to manage, or that I would make myself seriously ill attempting to keep up with. When I can reliably get somewhere once a week, when I can make all my medical appointments in a month, when I can go out two, even three, days in a row without having to rest at home for a week afterwards, that is when I can look at these exciting things.
The truth is, though, I don’t know if I will ever get to that point. I’m waiting for a miracle that might not happen. However nauseatingly positive* it sounds, to avoid falling into complete existential despair, I have to cling onto that little shred of hope that one day things might get better. That one day I will be – just a bit, but enough – better.
[*Nothing wrong with being positive, of course, but I’m snarking mildly at the ill-girl tropes here.]