What do you first imagine when I say the word “bravery”?
The image that comes to my mind is of a person running into a burning building to save a child. Or perhaps somebody standing up on a bus and speaking out against racism. It is usually an act of doing.
In the midst of this culture that cries “Yolo!” (You only live once!) and glorifies busyness, I'm guiltier than most of trying to pack in as much doing as possible into my life. I used to silently scoff when people said they did 'nothing much' on their weekends, when I'd rafted a wild river, mulched the garden, explored a few kilometers of new trails on my mountain bike, been to a party, attended a meeting and written a grant application for our local food co-op.
And so, it is a big challenge to face up to all the non-doing that chronic fatigue has brought this year. And I have come to realise bravery it can take.
- The sibling, or warring country who doesn't retaliate in conflict.
- The quitting smoker who resists the addiction time and time again, hundreds of times a day.
- The counsellor who listens and gives space to what somebody needs to say rather than pushing in with their own advice or agenda.
- The parent who doesn't interfere and allows their child the freedom to hurt themselves and learn.
- The sick or injured athlete who postpones their desires and waits until they are properly healed to dive back into training.
My small example, that inspired this line of thought, was that I chose not to go away to a lovely little place on the East Coast this weekend.
At the moment I stay at home and rest most of the time. Only it was harder to do so this weekend, because the option to do otherwise was so nearly achievable. I almost could have gone. It wasn't a bushwalk or a sea kayak or even a walk down the street, which are all pretty laughable propositions at the moment. It was to a peaceful cottage, where somebody else could have driven, others could've cooked and I could have rested.
Except it was three and half hours drive away. Three and a half hours of sitting upright, swaying and bracing with the corners, seeing the world rush by at high speed, and feeling the temptation to participate in alert car conversation with more than one person at a time.
But how I wanted to go! Not to be able to jump into the freezing, exhilarating ocean. Not even to be able to walk on the beach – I was open to that being too far for me. But just to leave my house, and to hear the waves and to smell the ocean. And to be around others. (Even if my fatigued state make hard to interact with more than one or two people at a time at the moment.). It can be lonely having chronic fatigue.
I got “FOMO”. The fear of missing out. And anxiety about feeling stagnated from spending another weekend at home with only my own company, again. The temptation of a fresh, sweet coastal breeze and fresh company wafted past my nostrils and tugged at my heart.
But on Thursday I was exhausted. I decided not to go. It was too far. I knew I could have pushed myself and gone, but I also knew that was attached to the very real possibility of a major energy crash, further setting back my recovery.
And that was when I recognised the bravery of discipline. I told myself that if I save energy now, it will go towards to healing in the long run. That might not be true, but I choose to believe that right now. Pushing myself sure hasn't helped, so far.
I texted my decision to my friend.
And I thought, sarcastically, that people pay to go away for silent meditation retreats, to sit with themselves and all their shit, with no distractions, for 10 days and more! And I get to hang out with myself, without distractions, for yet another weekend, FOR FREE! LUCKY lucky me! Huh!
I almost changed my mind on Friday as I was feeling a bit better. I even composed a list of what to bring. But then I lay down and let the fatigue catch up with me again. I closed my eyes. I didn't get up to pack.
I guess, in the long run I hope to be be grateful for this opportunity to lean into the hard stuff. That's where the learning happens, they say.
And perhaps it wasn't the actual trip I was craving, but the feeling. The feeling of freshness, into my very slow life.
Its Sunday night now. I had a fine weekend. It wasn't very exhilarating, or interesting. But it was fine. I rested a lot. I helped my good friend write a job application. I ate lots of cream cheese and I had nice conversations with some friends over the Internet. I watched some quality comedy on ABC Iview while crocheting a beanie.
On Saturday there was some lovely warm, light rain. I opened my window during the night and awoke to a gentle breeze wafting in. I went and lay in the scrappy, weedy bush out the back of my house. I listened to spring-time chattering of the wrens, robins and rosellas. I watched a beam of afternoon sunlight cut through the clouds that were hugging the mountain, and highlight the wings of a small swarm of hovering insects. I breathed in the sweetness and the freshness of the damp soil.
It is okay, not to go anywhere or do anything. It is possible to feel joy, even. I think I even felt it. Its free and available, when I sit still and pay attention.
My weekend was fine. Things are okay. And I am not exhausted and sick-feeling now. Thanks to discipline. Thanks to the freshness of the rain. And thanks to the bravery of nondoing.