Home / Blog Posts / Fatigue and the Black Dog / Diary of a Chronically Exhausted Vicar. Episode 30

In recent Diary entries, I have moved from sorrow at what I was losing to the chronic fatigue, through taking significant steps forward into greater wellbeing, even while sometimes seemingly stepping momentarily backwards. In the past six weeks, I have felt a palpable shift in the experience of this illness, a settling into healthy rhythms, a peace, joy, gratitude even, for where, and how, I am.

Diary of a chronically exhausted vicar image

Over dinner this week, a friend from Adelaide who has been reading the Diary observed this shift in the way in which I am writing about it. I have moved, in her observation, from resenting the illness and wanting to throw it far, far away, to acceptance, negotiating how the illness and I will live well while together while it is with me.

The next morning, in my regular session with my professional supervisor, I said, I don’t think there is any one thing I want to talk about: can I do a bit of a dump of all the things, and see what emerges? After I had dumped, and we had discussed, my supervisor asked me what image I could see from all that: I saw me, sitting beside a deep, still lake, with my community behind me.

I am sitting, and I am to some extent withdrawn, still, resting. I was intrigued, pleased, to find that this fills me with joy, not resentment. I am grateful to my illness for creating the opportunity for a contemplative way of living and being. Even as I continue to move towards improved health, and the greater energy that will bring, I do not want to use that energy for frantic busyness. I want, actually, to remain somewhat still.

Early Morning at a Lake Stock Footage Video (100% Royalty-free) 2375765 | Shutterstock

The sky is clear. Oh, how I have longed for a clear sky, for clarity of thought, for the capacity to reflect and learn and contemplate. The mist, even heavy fogs, continue to descend from time to time, and to be perfectly honest, sometimes that is frustrating; sometimes, however, it is strangely welcome. I find I appreciate my solitude, and even the immersion in complete rest.

That, in this picture, I sit beside water is telling, for that yearning to be in the water I felt, and to which I paid attention, has led to the most healing of my current practices. I continue to swim most days, and to sit and float, in the warm water and feel myself healed, restored to movement and strength, re-energised.

The lake is deep. I am growing in a new understanding of my own depth, and slowly turning my attention to the Divine depth as more than instinctive, urgent, hanging on, and more intentional connection for the growth and nurture of my soulful self.

The people are there. As the image came to me in response to my supervisor’s invitation, I didn’t see the people immediately. But they are there, and I am grateful for their presence. We had talked about a number of people-moments that I’d mentioned in my ‘dump’ of all the current things.
While home with family for a week recently, I had become aware of a sense of loneliness about my life in Canberra, because the fatigue isolates me. It is always intense family time in Adelaide, and it never gets easier to leave them. This time while in Adelaide, I was able to connect with a couple of friends, which I don’t usually do, so immersed in family and/or recovery from fatigue have I been on recent visits. The hour or so with each of them fed my soul not only because they expressed their witness of and care for me in my illness, but I was able to be present with and for them in their stories. Back in Canberra, I have connected again with one of the new friends I have made here, for dinner and a Jane Austen DVD, and am making plans to spend time again with another; I have also had dinner with another friend visiting from Adelaide.
I am reconnecting, and the opportunities are emerging. I had this expectation when I moved to Canberra that I would join this group and that group, and make myself busy with building networks here, as I had done when new to Edinburgh. I was disappointed for a while at not having the capacity to develop those networks here. But now, I seem to have a peace and a confidence that connections will emerge, as I emerge slowly and gently from isolation, as I reach out from my still place of attentiveness with a deeper ability to be present. I will not rush about, however. I will trust, and I will wait.
My supervisor and I also talked about people moments within my ministry role, some difficult and challenging, some precious and life-giving. Putting them there between us and examining them, we saw that opportunities to be present for people through my role are emerging, because, again, of the stillness I am cultivating.
Because of, and not in spite of, my withdrawal, I am better equipped to be present with others. I am receiving from my withdrawal gifts of perspective, clarity, understanding the big picture within which the small issues are woven. I am learning to listen better, and to speak less, but more directly. The confidence with which I meet interpersonal tensions is surprising, when I look at it, but I am glad of it.
I had talked with my supervisor in previous sessions of a feeling of inadequacy because I was not rushing to every hospital bedside – and so felt perhaps I was not ‘doing’ pastoral care well enough. I can see that I, both because of who I am, and because of how I need to approach ministry with this illness, do pastoral care my own way, and it is effective. Colleagues trust me to refer folk for conversations when they are on holidays; congregation members thank me for the way I lead our community gatherings in words and presence, making a welcome for all; scared, frustrated, searching, vulnerable people tell me they feel safe with me, and know their stories are heard by me. Opportunities to offer care to people emerge as I move through the community gently, and I am trusting that where I am, I am attentive and present for my people.
It is not lost on me, either, the wonderful paradox that my presence with people is deeper and more effective because I am spending more time alone …

Alone, by a deep, blue, lake in a thriving green wilderness, present for the people who surround me, I am healthy, I am grateful, I know peace and I know joy.
This is indeed a new season with the chronic exhaustion; I have hope that here begins a season of emergent, gentle, thriving. At last.