So much of life seems to be about balance, in finding the middle ground between two opposing extremes. Rarely is it good for us to go to one extreme at the expense of its opposite. In Buddhism they call it ‘The Middle Way’, and it’s the route we must to take to reach enlightenment (not that I would know much about that).
It isn’t healthy for us to be on our own all the time, nor to be constantly surrounded by lots of people, but rather to find something in between. Both planning and spontaneity have their place, but one without any of the other is unlikely to make someone happy. In Buddhism they say that we should neither completely indulge ourselves in pleasures, nor should we neglect our needs. Come to think of it, I have a feeling I even wrote about this somewhere a little while ago.
What does it have to do with chronic fatigue?
A little while back, when I was a wee university student something unexpectedly clicked one year, and entirely transformed my trajectory. I was given a book written by a crazy and brilliant man called Alastair Humphreys. Alastair decided that he was going to be the first man to cycle round the entire planet. Well, he did it, and then he wrote a number of books about it – including one reflecting on what he had learned from those four years on the bike, which is the book I was given. I was inspired not so much by his feat (I love cycling, but not that much) but by his attitude. There was an unspoken theme to his words, which is that life is short, and that we shouldn’t allow fear to come between us and our dreams of living life to the fullest. Emblazoned across the front of the book was his motto: ‘Got a dream? Live it.’
I think at that point I decided I was going to go travelling and live abroad (dreams I’d had for a long while), and also to grasp any other opportunities that came my way, even – and especially – if it meant confronting fears. Long story short, those next eighteen months as a student (and the professional years that followed when I graduated, including the time out travelling) blew me away. I had no idea life could be so rich, that I could experience so much and connect with people so deeply. I would wake up almost every day excited about what was to come, which I didn’t even know was possible, and I was living my dreams. The high was indescribable and I flourished in both my personal and professional life. I largely put this down to this go-getter attitude that I had adopted.
It doesn’t take a huge amount of imagination to see how this approach could lead to burnout and chronic fatigue. I hardly ever slowed down, and I didn’t place a whole lot of value on patience. If something wasn’t happening fast enough, then I just opted to chuck more resources at it. It’s fair to say that this caused quite a bit of friction on occasion, particularly in work.
Chronic fatigue requires a whole different to mindset in order to get better, and a whole lot of patience – you know, like that Take That song where they seem to be wondering around a post-apocalyptic Earth with their microphone stands? Yeah, you do. Having an intense, grasp-every-moment attitude when you have M.E. is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.
It was a difficult shift to make, but over time I’ve learned to be more patient. I’ve realised that when an opportunity comes knocking, and you know you’re not ready for it for whatever reason, it’s ok to let it go. Maybe it will still be there in the future or if it’s not, you can make something else work. Maybe it won’t even be the right thing for you anymore. If your intuition says no, you’ve got to listen to it, even if you know you’ll feel like you’ve missed out. And given the situation I’ve been in, my intuition has said no (or at least ‘wait’) to a whole lot of things I would ordinarily have jumped at.
As my energy and health continue to improve I find these two attitudes – the ‘make the most of every moment’ attitude and the one which urges patience coming into conflict. There are certain situations I find myself in where I really want to do something, and I get that buzz out of the idea of doing whatever it is, yet I hear a voice telling me to wait and slow down.
An easy example is blogging. After I wrote the first post on here, I then wound up writing a bunch of others but didn’t post them. I really wanted to, especially as the weeks wore on, but intuitively I knew that there were other things coming up that I needed my energy for, so I just had to trust that when the time was right I would start posting again. I’ve never liked just chucking a blog or article out there and then forgetting about it; I like to make sure I’ve got the time/energy to hear people’s thoughts if they share them and to discuss with them.
I’ve definitely not found that balance yet, and I still find it difficult at times to judge when to go for an opportunity, and when to be more patient. After eighteen months of largely watching life move on without me, the desire to get out there and really live again can be overwhelming. Allowing that to take me over though would only lead to exhaustion and a setback in getting back to full health, which is ultimately what matters the most to me. At the moment I’d love to be getting on my bike more, or finding someone to do music with (in the four months that have passed since I wrote this…I actually have found someone to play music with). But I’ve only recently moved out and it’s been a busy time with other things, so I need to remain patient. I trust that those things will come, in time.
All the meanwhile I’m learning and understanding when to wait, and when to jump. For these eighteen months I’ve been unwell I’ve done mostly the former, and for years before that it was almost exclusively the latter. Living in a way where both have their place and compliment each other is a mystery to me at the moment, but I’m enjoying that journey.
Like Alastair said, if you’ve got a dream go and live it. But bear in mind that dreams can take a while to realise, and sometimes if you chase them too hard with too little patience, then they only elude further.
By the way, I finally figured out how to add a ‘subscribe’ option, for those of you who want to read more….stuff when I next post in about four months’ time (the last one was August…). This has got to be the least well-organised and most poorly thought-out writing I’ve ever done. But I guess that’s kind of the point.
Anyway, keep scrolling down and you’ll find a bright, red ‘Follow’ button. Tempting, isn’t it? I won’t tell anyone.