What happens when you run yourself in to the ground with work, stress and life? This is what I have been finding out and the results have been more educational and transformative than I could possibly have imagined…
One Wednesday in October 2014 after I suddenly started to feel run down, beat up and for some reason itchy, I was anticipating perhaps needing a day or two off work to recuperate. Months later I was still off, diagnosed with ‘fatigue’ by the doctors.
At first I found this a painful mental struggle: I fought back, thinking each night that if I felt okay at six the next morning I’d go back to work. I could barely concentrate on anything, but managed to function enough get through the days, albeit fairly miserably, at work and off work.
Not yet trusting my body, and listening to the doctors and everybody else (everybody seems to know the cure) I set about on a policy of doing whatever was suggested to me, including the following (not always simultaneously): Resting; Not resting, but getting back to work; Working part-time; Working full-time; Eating no red meat; Eating red meat; Drinking coconut water; Drinking more water; Eating spinach; Exercising; Anti-depressants; Mindfulness; Vitamins; Other supplements that boost energy; Taking a mystery potion every day; Not sleeping for more than eight hours at a time and so on etc.
All the advice was well-intentioned and gratefully received, but what I wasn’t doing, and what I now believe was the cause of my crash, was listening to the wisest teacher of all: my body.
My ego had been dictating terms for years. My ego was allied to my mind, that brutal ruler who would tell me: ‘you’re not doing enough’ – ‘Yes, take on that extra project’ – ‘Do the right thing’ – ‘This is what you should be doing’ – ‘If you keep suffering you’ll get there in the end.’ You just haven’t earned it yet baby. Sound familiar?
I was letting this mind-ego complex run my life, telling me that I could juggle, control and manipulate any and every situation.
Was I that far removed from my true nature? From the compassionate self that knows that what I am is enough already, that I don’t have to prove anything to anybody?
Well, my body wasn’t removed at all – how can it be? It shut down when I embarked on a restive period of moving flat and starting one full time and three part-time jobs, balancing all of these with childcare, relationships etc…
And after that initial phase of crash and burn, in which my ego’s defeat was initiated, and after trying earnestly and repeatedly to get back to good old work, I embarked upon a new approach:
I slept whenever my body ached, whenever I felt like it. And I carried on, allowing my body, my gut instinct, to dictate.
This meant relief from the grinding exhaustion. But something was still lacking. That something was my acceptance of what was, and what is. I still believed that I could control my health and my life.
So then, every day I made a point of acknowledging that I was powerless over my fatigue. And here is where I am so grateful: I came to believe that I burned out for a reason: to teach me to live according to my nature, to live in harmony with the world around me and end the illusion of control. To learn that the droning, punishing voice in my head is devilishly misleading. My mind is a useful tool, but if it is left in sole control, it causes chaos. ‘Once you achieve X, Y or Z, you’ll be happy’ it says ad nauseam.
I adapted to exhaustion with siestas, shorter days and less energy. I did it by enjoying the time I had and the exercise I could do. And I found that by looking after myself I became much more able to engage with others and enjoy life, which releases its own energies.
The seasons have come and gone, and as the cold nights draw in I’m reflecting on a year of chronic fatigue, or ME. I now take eight different supplements/vitamins every day (you pretty much have to work it out yourself), write and do other bits of work. I play football again and swim. I’ve started a course of acupuncture. I haven’t given up on leading an interesting life one bit.
I’m on a different journey now, one of acceptance and faith that illness, by leading me to pay attention to my body, could be the making of me. Fresh beginnings and a harmonious life are the fruits of my diligent acceptance.
Of course it’s not always easy – CFS is not something I would wish upon anyone, and I type this on the back of two days of frustration at the limits imposed by this illness. I fought back, refusing to accept my temporary limits and had to learn again that I have to be mindful of what my body is saying. By staying open to what my illness can teach me, it can be a blessing.