Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Remaining Sunlight

When I first started this blog, I wanted to find a way to tell my story and speak its harsh reality while still being sure to maintain a sense of hope and optimism. My primary focus, of course, was to raise awareness about how devastating and all-consuming ME/CFS can be, and to show that, though the name may be trivial, the disease most certainly is not.

However, I also wanted to emphasize that we are in no way defined by our illness. ME/CFS may ruthlessly prevent us from fulfilling many of our dreams, but it has clearly not taken away the dreams themselves. People with ME/CFS were once healthy, often extremely active individuals. We were going about our lives like everyone else when we just happened to fall ill -- typically quite suddenly from a viral infection, and certainly through no fault of our own. We desperately want to get well in order to have the privilege of once again living our lives to the fullest.

With these ideas as part of my focus, sometimes (particularly when I'm experiencing an acute crash) I wonder if I may give the impression I handle my illness and my circumstances with greater ease than I actually do.

ME/CFS is brutal. It defies description because it is so far beyond any normal experience of exhaustion or sickness. When faced with such a severe level of illness on a regular basis -- day after day, year after year -- one has no choice but to find a means through which to cope. Over time, I've learned to do this by focusing on the positive, maintaining my sense of humor, and looking within to seek out the small moments of grace. I resolved early on in this battle that I would not let ME/CFS destroy my spirit in the same way it had destroyed my body. And on most days, I do this quite well. My spirits remain strong, determined and hopeful.

However, as anyone would, I have a harder time during a setback. As I have previously stated, it can be quite a challenge to remain consistently optimistic when you feel so sick you can barely move. Not impossible, of course, but difficult.

I recently suffered another long-standing crash. This is my life in the last 14 years, and the nature of this unrelenting disease. Just when I feel like things are improving, I make one wrong move or reach too far, and I am back down again. It's like continuously taking a step forward and then falling a hundred steps back.

While my resolve holds firm, I have to be honest in saying this kind of life can test the extremes of one's endurance at times: the constant battle, the repeated setbacks despite your best intentions, the lack of answers, lack of treatment, the misunderstandings, and the countless downfalls from one wrong movement or one tiny misstep.

I once equated the experience of ME/CFS to what I imagine it would feel like, at least to some degree, to be in an abusive relationship.  However, I would presume that a child who gets brutally beaten every time he/she reaches for a cookie eventually learns to stop reaching for cookies, or to seek out other means so as to not get caught. But what if your abuser (ME/CFS) never, for even one second, leaves your side? And what if your cookie is washing your hair? What if you get beaten over and over again just for trying to get out of bed? For getting dressed? For speaking?

When punished so severely and repeatedly for such minor activity, I can't help but get discouraged. As my fellow ME/CFS blogging friend, Alexis, described in one of her recent posts, I too tend to go through stages. The first is anger and denial. After fourteen years and what has to be literally hundreds of setbacks, I am still shocked when it happens. Somehow, I continuously convince myself that each crash will be the last, and that things can only get better. And then I reach too far beyond that invisible line once more, and my health plummets yet again.

At its very worst, I have been barely able to move. I have had more days and nights that I care to recall where every breath felt agonizing; where I could feel the energy it takes just to swallow. The experience can be beyond brutal. "No," I think to myself when it first hits, "this is not happening to me again. I cannot face this yet again."

After awhile, I have no choice but to move into acceptance, and attempt to find new adjustments and changes to help lessen the severity and duration of the setback as best I can. Once the agony lifts even slightly, I am so relieved to be remotely functional again, to not be in almost intolerable physical distress all hours of the day, that I am able to find some grace in that, and thus return to a place of gratitude once more.

Things are thankfully a little better than when this crash first began, though I am still in the process of trying to bounce back. In light of the fluctuations in my health, as well as some possible upcoming activity that will no doubt require all my energy, I've decided to take a step back from blogging for a little while and try my best at taking my own advice and learning to be more patient with what is.

Blogging has been an amazing experience these last (almost two!) years, and I am so grateful for the improved cognition that has allowed me to participate in a bit more online activity. I feel especially blessed by all the amazing people I have met as a result, and the wonderful friendships I have been able to form. The many letters and comments I have received over the years have touched me deeply, and they inspire me to keep writing. However, at this time, I feel I need to focus more fully on my health. I will still be around here and there, just perhaps not as frequently for awhile.

For now, I will leave you with a few photos of some of my most recent bird visitors (click on the photos to enlarge them). No matter how bad things get for me in my small world, I am always so grateful for the song that exists in theirs. They remind me to keep singing even if my song must currently be silent, and to stay focused on what sunlight still remains to me.

Cooper's Hawk
(he was much bigger than he appears!)

Cooper's Hawk

Road Runner (beep beep)

Finch Singing

Finches Munching

Another Finch Munching

Mourning Dove and Goldfinches

House Finch Flying Above Goldfinches


Desert Cardinal

Gilded Flicker Woodpecker

"Hey, isn't it my turn yet?"

Two Finches Kissing

Finch at sunrise

Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn't people feel as free
to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?
--Rose Kennedy

Here's hoping there will soon be more sunlight for us all.