Summer: swimming stronger
I swam ten minutes straight, strong and consistent backstroke on the tether. And I felt energised after, not worn out. Energised! Can you believe it? Me, who for the 18 months I’ve had a pool I’ve been able to swim four strokes of breast stroke and glide back for ten minutes at varying degrees of limited strength and consistency.
The pattern has been, breast stroke up, glide back, for ten minutes. Sit in one of the spa seats with the jets on for 20 minutes. And repeat. Though often, the second set of swimming has included floating, a considerable amount of floating, so tired and inflamed and aching were my muscles. Gently, I kept moving. Gradually, I began to move towards freedom from pain. So that now, the ten minutes breaststroke and gliding is stronger, more consistent, with a quick turn around at each end rather than a stop and a pause and a breath. I am aware of the strength in each stroke, in my arms, legs, torso. I don’t stay in the spa seat for the full 20 minutes the jets run, either, often turning them off after ten or 15 minutes, to get back to swimming. And when I am sitting in the seats, I’m not really still, my legs and arms always gentle moving through the water with delight at the sensation – actually, I’ve always not sat entirely still, but the movements don’t need to be so gentle now. There’s a delight, too, in the strength and freedom from pain in my muscles and sinews and bones.
That first energised ten minute backstroke swim may have been a milestone moment, but the momentum has been building for a while. This new freedom feels in some ways like a giant, sudden, leap forward, and taken with relative ease. This final step up to a significant goal, I reached by way of small, steady steps, and many of them backwards.
My language changed, reaching, passing this milestone, this moment. I began to say not, I live with Chronic Fatigue, but, I am recovering from Chronic Fatigue. And those words are only for others, using language that will help them understand. There’s a different way entirely that I am beginning to think about and name my reality for myself. When I understand and clarify it further, perhaps I’ll use different language to describe my experience for others, too.
The last time I wrote about this progress towards wellness, still writing in the Diary of a Chronically Exhausted Vicar, I was describing the improved sense of health and wellbeing I had begun to experience, the more sustained energy. That continues to improve, and I find myself better able to think, to concentrate; to be available for others; to juggle multiple tasks and deadlines; and to not feel weighed down with fatigue. My muscles don’t flare up with inflammation as they did; my walk is easier; my eyes brighter. I am more fully present wherever I am, and people notice, some glad and some a little discomfited at the adjustments we must make in how we relate. I am present in more places and spaces, and people are welcoming me with a desire to share the joy at this improved wellbeing.
Easter: new life bursting!
The milestone I’ve reached during this Easter season (or, during Lent, really), is sustained energy. The steps I have taken, mostly small, and one at a time, have established a rhythm to my days and weeks that sustains energy.
It’s been at least six long years living chronically fatigued. Living with a deep-seated, full body ache so painful I could hardly move some days. Living with unreliable memory, diminished capacity to think, a dullness and slowness. Living as an unreliable friend, not knowing when I would have to cancel, and always secretly hoping I could because going out, being with people, was exhausting.
For six months, through some significant challenges for our leadership team, I have sustained good, reliable energy. And because I was naturally taking on a full time load again these past three months, when I was technically now in placement at 80% of full time, we have restored me to a full time placement. There’s a financial justice in that. And, in the announcing of the return to full time, there’s a statement to the congregation that reflects what they see: their minister is in better health, and we can rejoice together.
Of course, my old temptation to see all the creative things I could do and want to do them all has returned with this good health! So the challenge, moving with the momentum built to and through these milestone moments, is to remain committed to the rhythms and practices that have got me to those milestones.
The slowing down for the Thursday and Saturday afternoons I had off while 80% will continue. And although I won’t necessarily need to stop entirely, I’ll take those times for reflection, meditation, contemplation, to restore my soul and retain connection with God.
Reductions in dairy and sugar intakes, two of myriad changes in my relationship with food, will continue – I can’t, and nor do I want to, go back to ice cream, however much I may be tempted, because I like how I feel without it. I am grateful for some tasty oat and nut milk alternatives, I have to say!
The hardest, I think, is that temptation to do all the things. I’m eclectic, so there are multiple conversations in which I could, and want to, participate. Scholarship in Biblical Studies and Homiletics; the practice of biblical storytelling; alternative forms of church community and alternative ways to lead; prayer and liturgy and worship. For many of these areas of interest, I have committed to short, and long term, contributions.
Overall, though, I feel a growing sense of calm, replacing a former urgency about needing to have my voice heard. I suppose I got used to participating less, while the fatigue limited my capacity. And so I let go of ego, at last. Perhaps this is also age, they say there’s a significant shift in your 40s. I find, at the moment, I am grateful for the ways in which my voice is sought and heard for these conversations. I find, also, I am not only accepting, but delighting, in being sought alongside others. I no longer feel, as I once, insecurely, did, that I am the only one who can speak about ‘story’, the only one who can craft creative liturgy; I’m no longer put out when someone else is asked. And I am no longer put out when I do not receive an invitation to speak (actually, I’ve learnt to be grateful for that, too).
Milestones. I’ve been building towards this one, this calm settling into my place, for a while, and I’m certain that the return to congregational ministry three and a half years ago has played a part in this. I’ve moved away from the competitive arena of academia; I’ve found publishers who want to include my work in their stables; I’ve found my place, embedded in community, where my eclectic gifts, and now thirty years of experience leading the church, are needed, and I am, at last, thriving.
Joyfully, I feel this momentum carrying me towards my community with the capacity to support and encourage others, and us together, to thrive.