Around this time 7 years ago, I was in A & E after a fall. Around this time 7 years ago, this was the last straw for my health after a string of viruses. Around this time 7 years ago, I didn’t take heed. I continued to push myself through the intensive Graduate Diploma in Law until my health deteriorated to the point where I just couldn’t push through any more. The diagnosis I eventually received, almost a year later, was Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Recently, I was experiencing the second virus since the start of the month when I found myself at the bottom of the stairs in the middle of the night. This was shortly followed by a trip to A & E because I couldn’t put any weight on my left foot. The pain was so excruciating on impact that I thought I was going to throw up and my left ankle and foot were badly swollen.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
~ George Santayana
As I was sat in the hospital’s A&E waiting room, it suddenly hit me that the situation was a near mirror image of 7 years ago to the day. What do they say about 7 years’ bad luck for breaking a mirror? I already suspected the cracking noise when I fell meant I’d broken my foot and I wasn’t prepared to break anything else that night. Instead I looked closely at what was being reflected back at me. It was time to face up to a few truths.
I’d been pushing myself lately, doing too much without enough inward reflection to connect with whether what I was actually doing felt intuitively right for me. I looked back to 7 years ago when my health was on the slippery slope downwards and I was struggling to cope. When after pushing through and breaking my coccyx on the way to my placement at a law firm, I didn’t stop and listen to what my inner voice had to say. Instead I got up and ‘got on with’ my conversion degree, like I was ‘supposed to’ and like I’d already done in the past. It didn’t last: My body shouted louder.
A lot of people have asked me how I broke my foot since I fell. None of them have asked why, and rightly so. (I’m armed with crutches right now, people.) I have asked myself why, but not in the way you might expect. Not, “why me?” That unproductive line of questioning leads downwards.
I remember when I first started getting ill, prior to the CFS diagnosis, that question did creep in more than once. But I knew that it was a bad question, because my brain was going to answer it by searching for evidence that I somehow ‘deserved’ it, or whatever other self-pitying thoughts might crop up in the small hours while I lay awake in pain. CFS certainly gave me the time to reflect, when I had the energy to. So I would ask a better form of the ‘why’ question, a more specific question: what has led me here?
This wasn’t an easy question to answer. It led to more questions, it allowed me to explore external influences, internal influences, what I had control over and that which I did not… It goes on. 7 years later and I’m peeling back another layer, following the deeper roots. What lesson(s) do I need to revisit to keep the past from repeating itself again? This time the answers come more easily and I’m more eager to listen.
I found a metaphor in my fall down the stairs. I didn’t fall from the top to the bottom. I got to the 3rd or 4th step from the bottom, which one is a blur, and I put my foot out as though I was touching the ground at the bottom of the stairs. This led to an impromptu meeting between me and the wall. I’d love to tell you this: That as my face then greeted the hallway carpet I had a grand epiphany. But in that moment, the only thing in my mind was expletives as colourful as the impending bruise on my foot. This came later: I missed out several steps and it was to my detriment. Literally. But as this thought went through my head I heard the figurative message.
Usually, I have great patience with others and yet, when it comes to myself, I can be most impatient. As someone who knows the importance of loving the self I see how it’s counter-productive to be impatient. But I have learned to be patient with being impatient, having spent years working on it and making much progress. Now I am following the roots deeper.
I feel like I know the steps to take, as I did that night on my trip to the bathroom (ahem), I’m just not taking them. As such, I’ve come up against a wall lately and it’s slowed me right down so I have no choice but to be patient. It’s too painful to be anything but. Although I’m normally unconsciously competent at taking the stairs, figuratively, there isn’t a conscious awareness of which steps to take. It’s something I need to look within for, patiently.