Home / Blog Posts / Fatigue and the Black Dog / Diary of a Chronically Exhausted Vicar. Episode 48

Stay home, they said. Don’t see people, they said. Rest, they said.

So, business as usual, I thought.

Reader, business was anything but usual.

Diary of a chronically exhausted vicar image

I had just emerged from two weeks’ sick leave, staying home, not seeing people, resting. Not long before that, I’d had four weeks’ study leave, staying home, not seeing people, working hard. And that was hot on the heels of two weeks’ annual leave, staying in my sisters’ homes, not seeing many people, resting, and playing (with a very active 4 year old niece).

I’ll be ok with this situation of limited people contact, staying in my home, cracking on with things.

Three weeks in: I am not ok.

Miranda Hart has been posting what she calls ‘chatty rambles, or chambles’ on social media. One of her main topics of conversation is chronic illness, as she raises awareness of the situation of those who were in lockdown before this pandemic, and will remain in lockdown whenever it is finally over. Today, I watched a ‘chamble’ (included at the end of this post) in which Miranda read aloud from the blog of one who lives with Chronic Fatigue (or ME, as it’s more commonly known in some places). Naomi Whittingham, the author of the piece, is house-bound with the illness, requiring a wheelchair when she does manage to leave the house. (Read Naomi’s post here)

My chronic fatigue isn’t quite at that point. I have had short periods in which I have been housebound. I find being around people fairly exhausting fairly quickly. I am sometimes (this weekend, for example) in so much pain it is hard to move – the microwave turntable plate felt as heavy as a large box of them, as I wiped it clean this morning from yesterday’s tomato soup mishap, in order to defrost my English Muffin to toast it for breakfast.

At present, I cannot stand for long before feeling as though my legs will give way. Even sitting here typing is something close to agony, the muscles in my arms, legs, whole body, inflamed, aching, tight, uncomfortable.

Lying down brings hardly more relief. I cannot get comfortable, I cannot shake out the pain from my limbs and torso. I can sleep, thankfully, and there the pain doesn’t seem to reach me.

I am not ok, and that has come as something of a surprise.

In the last diary entry, I shared the rather large workload, which I and many of my colleagues serving communities of faith are experiencing. The logistics required to negotiate these circumstances are overwhelming:

  • caring for a community for whom we have pastoral responsibility, but with whom we cannot physically be, for their or our own vulnerable health, not to mention the government’s restrictions on gathering with others
  • guiding a community of faith through the deepest and most profound of seasons in our tradition while not being able to gather together, a central element of our way of being a community
  • learning and employing a raft of technologies for communication and to enable the aforementioned commemorations of the seasonal rituals
  • becoming the focal point for the community of faith in a new way, with more of the communication coming through you, more of the decision making being checked with you, than ever
  • carrying the concern for the community, hearing their fears, and reflecting back to the people a strength and vulnerability that encourages them to feel the hard emotions of this season

At first, I felt as though I was well equipped for all this, and carrying it well. I have been engaged in ministry online for over a decade, with this sarah tells stories gig, have been engaged in alternative forms of worship and church for longer, am used to hearing and reflecting stories, showing strength and vulnerability.
I am used to working at home, used to being alone, and I have the financial security of an unthreatened income

I honestly thought I would be ok.
I did not account for the immensity of this load.
And I did not anticipate the impact of the pandemic situation on me, personally, while I concentrated on guiding my people through it.

Naomi, the blogger whose words Miranda Hart was reading, talked about the way that, when you are debilitated by chronic illness, it can be incredibly hard to watch the world continue to move – you feel as though you are being left behind.
Then she noted the way that, now that everyone else (or nearly) has stopped, most of the population also housebound to a large extend, she misses that movement, the structure and rhythm of the days for the world around her, somehow still carrying her along.

In my sermon for tomorrow, I note how I am missing people. My illness has limited the amount of time I can spend in the company of others before it depletes my energy, but some time around other people is enlivening.
To meet face to face allows us to communicate with our bodies, and not only that, but to share our energy, feel each others’ emotions. Mediated by screens, we have to work so much harder to receive any of that from the others.
I read another article this week, in which the author (Jill Stark – read it here) was noting the impact of this social isolation on those who live alone. In Australia, our political leaders are encouraging us to stay home, get to know our families, enjoy their company. But a vast proportion of our population live alone, and we are being told NOT to be with our families. I live alone and in a different city to my family, I have no idea when I will see them again unmediated by a screen. I’m quite used to it, as I’ve lived far from them for over five years. Again, I thought I would be ok, because this situation is so like my normal life.

But it is not normal.

I am being quite strict with my self-isolation, to avoid my fragile immune system being exposed to The Virus.
I see other humans briefly when they drop the packages or my take away food on the doorstep. It’s not a meaningful encounter.
I talk regularly with the people in my normal daily life, but I’m not in their presence. I miss their presence.
I miss hugs. Usually, I have friends, my Canberra family, people in my congregation, to share hugs with me, shake hands or place them on each others’ shoulders. I miss the embodied connections with other humans.

I am being so strict about not seeing other people because I am afraid.

And I do not think I quite accounted for the impact of the fear. Friends suggest coming over, or invite me to their place, and I say no. Apart from the government directives to stay put unless absolutely necessary (how necessary is one’s mental and emotional wellbeing, one might ask?) – I am afraid.

This weekend I am in excruciating pain and discomfort, I am so tired I can hardly think straight (how coherent will this post be, I wonder?), and the tell-tale signs of burn out, such as a scratchy voice box, are present.
If my illness itself can lay me so low, I do not want to think of what the coronavirus might do to me.

I thought I would be ok, though, in isolation.

But I had not accounted for the fear, for the loss of the embodied connections (limited though they were), for the immense workload. I feel bound as in chains, even I, seemingly so well prepared for these circumstances.

And it has me wondering about others, the introverts who were delighting in the opportunity to retreat and isolate for example, or church leaders transposing presiding in the church with people to presiding before a camera for a dispersed audience: have they been surprised by how little this situation is, after all, business as usual? And what are we going to do with that?

Mirdana Hart’s ‘chamble’ as promised.