Thursday, 15 January 2015

Identity Crisis

When I succumbed to acute and severe M.E there were a lot of changes in my life, some of which were sudden and un-ignorable, and others which crept up on me slowly from behind. Some of them were caused by others, some were changes directed by me. Some were unavoidable, some were conscious choices. Some changes filled me with the grief of frustration and loss, and others swept me up like a breath of fresh, morning air. 

The problem is, when you are in deep like I am, you can't just choose the nice changes or the ones that make you feel good. In fact, change happens all the time, to everyone, and you cannot resist the changes thrust upon you any more than you can choose to be well again. However, when change happens so suddenly and thoroughly, adapting and growing with it seems to be the only way forward.

The change which has been most difficult for me to adapt to has been losing my sense of identity. Indeed I've written about it on this blog before; the sense of 'Louise-ness' that I long to cling onto.

The biggest identity-busters have been...

1. I became 'Sick'

.......and felt unwell constantly. Hospital and the doctor's surgery are now my home-from-home. I could no longer do all of the things I used to do. I couldn't play in my orchestra. I couldn't jump in my car and go anywhere. I couldn't socialise with my friends except for in quiet, short bursts as it made me too poorly. I couldn't go shopping, eat out, go and see a film, make dinner, sit and watch telly, listen to music, walk. I couldn't dressed in nice clothes as I had to be comfy.   I lost my independence and had to ask for and accept help. DIY became ASETDI (Ask Someone Else To Do It).

2. I became 'Disabled'

I had to use a walking stick, which became elbow crutches and finally a wheelchair. I no longer walked beside my companions but sat in front of them. I felt like I had somehow become a lesser version of myself, a broken version. The faulty version. People were waiting for me to 'get back to normal'. I was waiting for me to get back to normal. 

3. I became 'Unable to Work'

I was a Super-teacher. I loved my job. I am starting to cry as I write this. I have not accepted my inability to do to job I love quite as much as I might let on. I was good at it. I loved the pupils and parents, the school inspectors told me I was 'Excellent' (a loaded term in educational assessment!). But most of all I LOVED spending my days surrounded by children, and friends will tell you that since qualifying I had always described it as a privilege to do the job I do. Did. Past tense. 

I identified myself as a professional. A full-time worker. I read research. I kept up with developments in education. I paid into a pension. I contributed to a mortgage. I wore smart clothes during the day! I talked about work with colleagues and teaching friends. I met friends for coffee on the way home, I was glad to put my feet up at the end of a long day and feel the satisfaction of a hard day's work.

What would I talk about? This was who I was. 

Except it wasn't. 

Life went on and along the way I gained some more Louise-ness.

I used money which my friends clubbed together and gave me for my 30th birthday to fund a starter course in Mindfulness, which turned out to be the best gift I could ever have been given. I learned how to be happy within myself, regardless of circumstances. I learned  how to accept my body as it is now without wishing for it to be different. I learned to live my life in the present moment without wishing to be better or cured. I would never have found this path if I had not fallen ill. 

In fact if I could chose being well and not having mindfulness or being sick and having it, I would chose to be sick. Crazy, eh?

I started to write, draw, paint, knit, crochet, garden, think outside the box, care more about people and focus on the good. I found out who my real friends were and concentrated my energies on them. I increased my circle of online friends and now send and receive beautiful letters and gifts. I rediscovered my creativity and had time to nurture it. I spent a lot of time with myself and gave myself a right-good-talking-to. I discovered my identity was made of more than my job, my health and my able-bodied-ness. I discovered that you could make up your own words as long as you put dashes inbetween. And I got pretty damn good at ASETDI.

I am still professional, even though I no longer have a profession. I still read research, even if it is about the right plant types for clay soil instead of advances in teaching pedagogy.  I still talk to my friends, even if it is no longer about teaching but about life. I can still meet friends for coffee, even if it is only when I'm well enough and if they take me and bring me home. I still wear smart clothes during the day..... ok... I'm lying.... I dress almost exclusively in PJs or clothes that look as much like PJs without being actual PJs that I can possibly get away with! But you get the point.....

Identity is a lot of things. But mostly it is me. And I am more me than I have ever been before. And do you know what? It's not actually that bad. 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Anniversary blues

So it's coming up to my birthday, a time which signifies being with the ones I love, pressies and maybe even a cake or two. It also signifies something else though, something which looms larger than any present could. It signifies my anniversary of being acutely ill. Three years will have passed, meaning that I am entering the fourth year of my new life. 

I can't really think of a single thing I'd like for my birthday. Oh, that's a lie, I'd like new make up and a subscription to Gardener's World. But it's just not about presents anymore, I'd be happy if I never received another present in my life, if only I could feel better. 

Yes it's true, I'm having an uncharacteristically blue time of it. Maybe it's the January Blues, the Birthday Blues or the Anniversary Blues... or all three put together. Maybe it's the not-being-able-to-do-the-job-you-love Blues, or the constantly-having-to-put-a-brave-face-on-it-when-you're-terrified Blues, or simply the spending-too-much-time-on-your-own blues. 

At times like this, when everything just feels so out of control, it helps me to focus on what I can control. 

I can control the isolation by chatting online, phoning someone or inviting people to see me. I can't control the fact that I am unable to work, but I can work on acceptance of the situation through my mindfulness practice. I can think of all the other things I've had time to do since stopping work. I can focus on what lovely times I had over Christmas and New Year, and not on the symptoms hanging over me and making me pay.

Oh, and I can have a big shout into my pillow until I'm too exhausted to move any more and slump into it and have a big sleep. I always feel better after that. 

Most of all, I can remember that it has been a particularly bad week and that it won't always be so bad. Tomorrow is another day.