I was chatting to a dear old friend the other day about long term illness. He has a chronic illness and also experienced a period of acute burnout a few years ago. He said “I noticed that every time I said ‘I think I’ve turned a corner’ when someone asked me how I was, that I would inevitably end up falling down a hole again not long after. Eventually I realised there aren’t any corners.”
Nope. No corners. Recovery of any sort is a spiral, right? You just hope you’re on the upward trajectory. It doesn’t mean that you won’t ever face certain situations or feelings or setbacks again, but hopefully you’re one more turn up the spiral and just that little bit better equipped to deal with it.
I’m at one of those points again. I had been feeling really rather good. And now I’m not. I’m still knocked out by a full day’s work, and that both scares and frustrates me. I can do the actual work, but it takes me much longer and leaves me much more exhausted. The feelings then start to bubble about being a failure, being lazy, being a faker, you don’t have it as bad as so-and-so, what are you complaining about, you’re not even in lockdown you whinger, etc, etc. The you’re probably dying. Why not? thinking is back too.
But with each turn of the spiral, I can see that I have built just a little bit more strength and I have the energy to fight back against those thoughts. Hey — I can actually do the work now! It might tire me still, but I couldn’t even do the basics a few months ago. Progress! I can look at my face in the mirror and think No, dear one. You are not dying. Just go and do the thing and then you can have a rest.
But oh. The fatigue is so heavy. The fatigue and inexplicable sadness. I saw an episode of Grand Designs this week where a couple were restoring an old mill that had these massive millstones in the floor that they needed to remove. They couldn’t afford to get machinery in to dig the stones out, so the guy was hacking away at the dirt around them with a pickaxe. Eventually, he did have to get someone with machinery to help him lug the things out, but that wasn’t before a lot of back-breaking work to just unearth them. “I had no idea the millstones were so big and heavy,” he lamented (which is kind of funny, because isn’t that the point of millstones? But I digress). The fatigue and sadness sometimes feel like my own personal millstones that I underestimated the size and weight of. I guess the work I’m doing with my psychologist has been the chipping away at the dirt these things are buried in. Maybe the change in medication was the machinery? I think I’m stretching the metaphor a bit too much. But I am tired and sad from the depression and burnout, but also from the work I need to do to get better.
Please don’t lose patience with me. I’m trying. (I think there’s a Taylor Swift song in there)
I can only focus on the things I am grateful for, to remind me that there are things to keep my head up for. Time for another list.
THINGS I AM GRATEFUL FOR IN THE MIDST OF THIS FOG
- that I live in Tasmania
- that there is so much natural beauty around and it is so easy to get into nature
- that I live with someone who loves and cares for me
- my idiosyncratic cats and their purrs and tummy time
- friends who want to spend time with me
- that we have a new stove after over 7 months of being without one!
- that I can see progress in my recovery, even if slight
- that I am not in charge