I met a work colleague for lunch today — we see each other every quarter or so for a chat and something of a mutual check-in. She’s the only person with ME that I’ve ever really talked to. I’ve always avoided fellow-sufferers. Too ill or too painfully brave to be with easily.
She’s been doing some work with a physio and a chiro recently as part of her rehabilitation therapy and we talked about how much tension we hold in our bodies from being chronically exhausted and literally holding ourselves upright for many years. She is clearly experiencing some sense of lightening and energy from this work as her body learns new ways of being. She dabbles with a bit of yoga too, on and off, but she reports such muscular weakness and soreness that she’s too scared for more yet. It’ll come to her, I think. She’s building herself up slowly. It’s a little painful to watch, but also quite wonderful.
We talked about lost past ambitions and new current passions. We talked about her poetry and about my yoga. She too was diagnosed when she was mid-teens and like me experienced a lot of misguided help from family, friends, and teachers. Like me she’s now in the midst of re-figuring out what life is, what she is capable of, and the choices she now has. Unlike me she has counselling and physical therapy organized for her during the past few years.
She told me I was her inspiration, that I was as fit and healthy as she wanted to be one day. And that she knew she could get there, because I could. Always honest, I told her some of my difficulties. Past trial and error experiments with physical activity in the pool and the gym, finding out the hard way what I could do and not do. Now the frustrations and dis-ease I often feel on the mat: the voices in my head that tell me I shouldn’t be there, that my body doesn’t deserve these beautiful shapes, the fears that my muscles won’t respond, that any exertion will leave me in bed for weeks. And yet I come back anyway time after time, day after day, gently testing and finding something that feels so right I know it’s a good and precious thing — even if on any one day the experience can feel altogether too much.
She laughed at me, but seriously and with compassion in her eyes. She told me that I deserved this more than anyone. I’d worked for it and waited for it, taken small steps over many years; that I feel it all so deeply because of that, and that this really was a gift, a well of experience to draw upon. She told me to be proud of myself, all the work I’ve done on my own to figure out what’s needed, to regain strength, to rebuild myself, to become who I am now.
She told me I was her inspiration. But really she inspired me with her gentle but insistent encouragement that I see myself as full of strength not weakness. She’s inspired me to turn the narrative around, to start again now from this middle place of the present, aware of the past and hopeful for the future, but without the burden of reliving the one or controlling the other. Past imperfect, future conditional.
She’s right: I am amazing, I am proud of all I’ve achieved and how far I’ve travelled, and I richly deserve whatever joys I find now, whatever crazy shapes my body wants to make. It’s all here for me now.
I will think of her when I roll out my mat this week. Her unique understanding and empathy really heartened me today. Sometimes it’s good to know someone’s got your back. Of course I’d feel more support if I told more people of how things have been for me, but I don’t want to do that, to read the disbelief, or worse the unbearable sympathy, in peoples eyes. So I have to accept consequently it’s a bit of a lonely road I’m on. This meeting with a fellow-traveller inspired us both. We can walk on now, knowing we’re not so alone.
And through some beautiful serendipity today one of my teachers sent to me this poem which kind of says it all:
You suppose you are the trouble
But you are the cure
You suppose you are the lock on the door
But you are the key that opens it
It’s too bad that you want to be someone else
You don’t see your own face, your own beauty
Yet, no face is more beautiful than yours.