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I was planning on writing a thorough review of the book How To Be Sick by Toni Bernhard, but I am taking advice and guidance from Michael Nobbs in his new ebook Sustainable Creativity and I am keeping my tasks simple and manageable. If I write a short review I can get it done today and have a sense of achievement, rather than not finding the energy for days/weeks and having the task hanging over me. He also encourages us to not care if something is not perfect, allowing us to get on with our day. This review will not be well honed but I hope it will be good enough. I am not even going upstairs to find the book to refresh my memory before I start!

In How To Be Sick, Toni combines the experiences and challenges that chronically ill people face day-to-day with Buddhist teachings in a very effective and seemingly effortless way. It does not feel like the chronic life is being forced to fit into a paradigm, it is as if these two things were meant to be thought about together.

I found that I did resist buying this book, despite the good reviews. As someone with very longstanding ME/CFS  I have become wary of self-help advice. Often it is forced onto us, inappropriate, claiming to cure, patronising, making assumptions about us and so on. Or we seek it out ourselves and get “self-help fatigue” on top of the illness itself as we work so hard to challenge ourselves, examine ourselves and change ourselves and just end up twisted in knots feeling no better, calmer, stronger or healthier. We then feel a failure and I for one no longer take part in these activities. I suspect I am not alone. Who, when chronically ill, has the energy to keep constantly looking at themselves in such an intense manner?

So against this backdrop, Toni has bravely approached the problem in a new way. It really does feel so refreshing and when I actually picked up the book and started reading I felt no resistance. It is written in an easy to understand, absorbing, humourous way (I laughed out loud at a bit about Sarah Palin!). Most importantly she takes us on her personal journey and explains how difficult she still finds some of the practices, rather than saying she has reached some level of perfection (enlightenment!) and therefore effortlessly copes with all day-to-day stresses and restrictions on her freedom. Of course she doesn’t, she is only human, and that approach allows us all to have a go, Buddhist or not.

It is really refreshing to read the examples she gives as I had also found myself in these exact same situations. Perhaps it is because Toni has ME/CFS and POTS as I do, that our experiences are so similar, but I expect that actually the experiences of chronically ill people are more universal, regardless of our specific conditions, than we realise. Which begs the question: Why is our experience so marginalised and misunderstood, even by people whose job it is so see us regularly, ie medical professionals? (See previous posts for where this issue is coming from for me!)

I have occasionally done Mindfulness of Breathing meditations over the years, in phases. I first started before I became ill when a monk came onto campus once a week when I was at university to do a guided meditation. I found very powerful and energising at the time. While it is harder to do in a body which is constantly uncomfortable and without your own monk to guide you (!), I have found that being guided by a recording is also good. The book made me see this practice in a new way and I feel encouraged to keep doing it and getting more and more from it.

Lastly I would like to say that even if you know nothing about Buddhism, this book is very accessible. It has sparked an interest in me to look at it further, especially the specific concepts that Toni works with in the book. (Michael Nobbs actually posted a link on his website to Audio Dharma and a talk about Embracing Imperfection, which echoed some ideas from Toni’s book. I just went to find the link to post here and see that Toni has done her own recording on the site! Small world.) 

What really felt encouraging for me was that although I had not heard of many of the Buddhist ideas in the book, I found that I could relate to the practices. I realised I have been doing some of them by myself. For example, I do enjoy the joy of others more than I perhaps did at the start of my illness, even when I cannot participate in the source of that joy (although there are some people with which this is easier to do, than with others who make no acknowledgement of your own situation! I still have work to be done.). It is nice to feel that you have made some progress yourself inadvertently just by living with illness so long.

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Well it’s been a rollercoaster of a week, but I have emerged fairly unscathed. I have surprised myself actually!

On Sunday, we went out to a concert (yes, again! Second of the year – get me! I know!). It was Frazey Ford and her band. The venue was wheelchair accessible, although it was not that easy as space was tight to get around as it was an old building. The good thing was how small the venue was in terms of audience, it was nice and cozy. I was really unsure if I would make it and the run-up was not good. I did make it, though I was in quite a lot of pain during the concert despite the painkillers and was constantly writhing about. I am sure the percussive sounds my joints were making added something to the music. I really enjoyed it and I actually love her album “Obadiah” even more than I already did as I heard lyrics I had not previously noticed (she does not always sing so clearly, not a criticism, just a fact) and also I am remembering her singing it in person now when I listen to the CD. Her voice is just amazing and we were front row (wheelchair is good for that).

 I am left in particular with some lyrics from Gospel Song going through my mind, which I find very calming and take me out of my body quite nicely: “Oh, beautiful clouds, I’ve been sailing through. Oh golden clouds, I’ve been sailing through you.” Check it out for yourself!

On a musical note, I just got Antony and the Johnsons new album “Swanlights” and I love that too though I have not listened to it many times yet. I am enjoying music more these days, though I can only tolerate certain things. It is so good, as for a while I really could not bear music at all due to my neurological problems. I am even listening to it really quietly now as I type. This is a big deal for me as I find it hard to think straight when there is music on, or tv, or any noise. It is nice to challenge myself occasionally!

Another good thing that has happened this week is that despite the difficult appointment on Monday (the day after the concert) and the fairly drastic emotional response I had to it (plus the usual payback from doing two things in a row) I managed to go for a walk with my partner in the woods along the road from our house on Wednesday. I was in the wheelchair and it felt good and did not make me feel any worse. In fact it was a great stress-buster and we were both smiling despite the greyness of the day. Well, my partner says she was smiling, but I cannot see her when we are walking. I took a few pictures along the way. They are taken with my phone, so not brilliant pictures and it was a cloudy day but I just wanted to remember it and maybe you will enjoy getting a flavour of it.

This one is of me with the apples we scrumped!

Another good thing, somehow among all the stuff I have been doing, my more erratic than usual sleep pattern and feeling quite bad at times I have managed to read How To Be Sick by Toni Bernhard. I have really enjoyed it. It is the first book I have read on my Kindle, which I think made it easier. I might write a bit more of a review soon.

ME/CFS Awareness

ME/CFS Awareness

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