I was reading this blog for ME awareness day, where “Signs” talks about the story in the media recently where a woman (Elisabeth) in Austria, was locked up in a cellar by her father, Josef Fritzl for 24 years, and how people find ways to survive under extreme suffering. It reminded me of Alan Johnston, the BBC reporter who was held captive for 114 days in Gaza. I saw a headline after his release and it really struck a chord with me. Like Signs, i am not comparing my life or how it is living with M.E. to being held hostage with an explosive belt strapped to me, of course not, but what he said about Freedom when he came out really made me think:
“You want to do everything at the same time, to read books and papers, go to the movies, go to the beach and sit in the sun, and eat and talk and all the rest of it” – Alan Johnston
Freedom, it seems to Alan, it just being able to do everyday things. When I read this list, I could not help but draw parallels to my own life, as these are all things that I cannot do (or greatly struggle with) sometimes. I cannot do some of these things for months at a time, maybe even 114 days…
Also, in interviews about his time in captivity he has talked about things that made it easier for him to cope, such as listening to the radio and hearing that people were trying to get him released and were thinking about him, and being allowed to watch football once. This is something that interests me as i have found great comfort and joy in small and simple things when at my worst. When life becomes very small and you feel cut off from the wider world, small things can take on a greater pleasure or significance than they otherwise would.
This also brings me to a post by Rachel yesterday called “one day i will…” where she thinks about all the things she wants to do one day (when she is free if this illness) that she is unable to do now and considers that that day may never come. This is something that everyone with a disabling health condition has to come to terms with, but for those of us with fluctuating conditions where there is no prognosis as such given to us, how do we think about the future?
I am often asked by doctors, occupational health, psychologists etc the same question: “How do you see the future?” I hate this question and am usually flippant in my reply these days, saying i have not got a crystal ball. The reason it is asked is, i think, to perhaps get an idea of my mental state, and also (definitely) to judge my motivation to get back to work, but it is not a question that can be answered simply. I am also asked if I get the same amount of pleasure, or joy, from things as i used to. This is something asked recently with ticky boxes on my CBT forms… but there is no box to tick for getting more pleasure from something. Sometimes when I have been able to do something that I have been trying to do for months it can provide such a sense of achievement and pleasure, far greater than it would have otherwise.
I am reminded of Rachel M and her photo for ME Awareness Day: Long Driveway where she describes how cut off from the world she can be and also her blog about meeting up with a friend: Big Day Out where she is so full of joy to have been able to go and meet up with someone and have such a nice time, and how it left her smiling for so long afterwards.
Lastly, I read “The Plague” by Albert Camus a while ago, which is a novel about a town in which an epidemic breaks out. The town gates are closed off and the inhabitants are trapped inside and no-one knows how long they will be there for and whether they will catch the disease. These people are trapped and living in fear and the book looks at how they respond to this situation. Some of them were just visiting the town and felt they should not be there at all, some of them are separated from loved ones and do not know when/if they will see them again. These sentences are taken from pages 67-68 (Penguin Books, 1960)
“…we returned to our prison-house, we had nothing left us but the past, and even if some of us were tempted to live in the future, they had speedily to abandon the idea… once they felt the wounds that the imagination inflicts on those who yield themselves to it…
…our townspeople very quickly desisted… of trying to figure out the probable duration of their exile. The reason was this. When the most pessimistic had fixed it at, say, six months; when they had drunk in advance the dregs of bitterness of those six black months, … and… straining all their remaining energy to endure valiantly the long ordeal of all those weeks and days… (something) would suggest that, after all, there was no reason why the epidemic shouldn’t last more than six months; why not a year, or even more?…
…Therefore they forced themselves never to think about the problematic day of escape, to cease looking to the future, and always to keep… their eyes fixed on the ground at their feet. But, naturally enough, this prudence… refusing to put up a fight were ill rewarded. For, while averting that revulsion which they found so unbearable, they also deprived themselves of those redeeming moments, frequent enough when all is told, when… they could forget about the plague.”
This, to me really sums up the tightrope we (with ME and others whose freedom is compromised) have to navigate when coping day to day and dealing with the uncertainty of the future.