Monday 13 May 2019

On Being Ill

Being ill is strange, whole weeks pass by in a blur; it goes from Christmas to suddenly Spring and the seeds are all growing and time has passed and is passing by and I just sit here and read endless books and stitch and make nourishing meals and wait to be well again.

A month passes, then 3 and then 6. All that time! Time is such a luxury, one that is rarely afforded us in such large and uninterrupted slices and here I am with the greatest gift of all: big delicious slices of endless time. I can fill these chunks of time between visits to nurses, hospitals and doctors with whatever I want. It is absurd! If only I didn’t feel so exhausted, and ill!

It is hard to grapple with all this time and all this uncertainty. I, and I suppose why would I have, had never really contemplated what people do when they get ill. I had never pondered in my former well life what it might feel like to be scared and sad but also have hours upon hours of a day, a week, a month to fill.

I start slowly. In moments I am not in pain. I begin with decoupaging a wardrobe, this takes me 3 days and I feel exhausted by the end but happy because I’ve achieved something for the first time in months. I take up embroidery and slowly learn new stitches. I plant a medicinal herb garden filled with things to help me and others with common ailments. I imagine myself helping other people feel well when I can get through a day without having to have a nap. On days were I feel really appalling (there are quite a few of these) I do sudoku or gaze at trees in the garden and think about very little and try and not feel too guilty about things. I put a postcard by my bed that says ‘Don’t Try to Achieve Too Much’ and that makes me feel a bit better about being ill. It is very hard to not feel completely useless as an ill person. My grandfather phones and asks ‘Has Lally being doing anything at all?’

I drag the needle in and out of the canvas. In and out. Chain, stem, feather stitch and French knots I’ve mastered them all.  Somewhere in amongst the pain and tears I run a conference and it goes quite well. I barely remember writing the emails.  I feel a bit insane quite a lot of the time. When I think about normal life I sob, it feels so alien. People keep saying this will be a distant memory soon. A nurse tells me that ‘by hook or by crook we’ll get you mended’. It is hard to imagine how this will happen.

On days I’m feeling stronger I take walks to towns I used to be familiar with. My body walks through them as my mind swirls somewhere else. I have a panic attack in Marks & Spencer’s and then I have one in a garden centre. I am lost and I just want to sit down because I am tired.  Nowhere ever has seats and when they do people frown at you for using them because young people aren’t meant to be ill and in public.

I feel guilty for not helping my mum carry the shopping. My arms are limp and when I pick things up my chest feels like it might split.

I go to an acupuncturist. She assures me I will be an easy case and that I’ll be well very soon. I have to stop eating dairy, sugar, meat and raw food.

Some friends have a moving in party, an acquaintance asks ‘have you been doing anything at all whilst you’ve been ill?’ People have conversations around me, I try to look interested whilst also thinking I’d really like to sit down. I look over the buffet table and find there is nothing I can eat.

Next I make sauerkraut. I pack it into a crock and wait. A week later there is a thin layer of mould across the surface. I despair. Google tells me it’s saveable. I pile it into a new jar. It leaks across the counter top.

Somewhere at the beginning of all this pain my mum and I made kimchi. We spent a day preparing and researching and then we chopped and rubbed and packed cabbage into the crock. It smelt terrible and only got worse. We chucked one batch and packed the less offensive pot into jars and gifted it to friends.

People’s expectations of me seem to have lowered since I’ve been ill. They don’t seem to believe I am capable of being or doing very much at all. It’s confusing at times because inside I feel like I am being braver and therefore more functional than I’ve ever been before. It’s hard to convey that. Illness does not equate to functionality, ill people are not allowed to engage in life and if they do they should be quiet about being ill. People have begun to look on with pity. I don’t think you’re meant to be ill for more than a month, it’s hard for people to sustain sympathy.

I continue stitching.

I am so used to being ill that it is now my new normal. The primroses are abundant this year. A yellow velvet carpet spreads across the lawn and this year tiny violets too. I set to work crystallising them for the Easter Simnel cake. Another festive season in which to be ill! Another dinner table to cry at.

I plant 6 little winter squash seeds. I sing them a song to help them grow big and strong. I try to imagine that when they are fully grown I will be better and that I will roast one and laugh about the strange time ‘last year’.

‘This will never heal like this! You have a sinus’. The surgeon says I have to have another operation. It feels odd to feel happy at this news but when validation has felt so distant it is a relief. I can hear people’s surprise as I tell them. I had been written off as a delicate flower that had wilted.

A bout of warm weather, my squash seedlings are germinated in under a week. They grow two inches in three days. I shed a tear when I look at them. I feel so much joy knowing I  am responsible for their wellbeing. I will do everything in my power to keep when healthy because I cannot do that for myself despite my best efforts.

And here I am now. Still ill but with resolution in sight. It is amazing to me that 6 months have passed and that I have filled them. I’ve filled them with all the things an ill person can do. I have wept, and stitched, and read, and planted, and cooked, and slept. I have filled all these days and weeks and months. I have learnt new skills and made new recipes and 6 months from now I will be eating winter squash and being well.

1 comment:

  1. Sending lots and lots of love and gentle hugs to you brave beautiful Lally who despite this horrible experience you have put on your lippy, smiled your stunning smile and been amazingly brave. I don't think you let us know quite how poorly you've been. I truly hope you feel better and stronger with each day. Summer is on her way with her soothing ray's of warmth and light to help heal you mind and body. Your Penryn friends are always just a phone call or message away and always here for you. Hope to see you soon Jx