Out of my depth.
Is this a channel too strong and too deep?
It has been a long, difficult winter. I've really struggled with sickness the last four months or so. Still's, colds, fatigue and now my second bout with COVID in three months has left me feeling pretty battered and bruised.
It reminds me of a summer vacation at the beach during my teenage years. My brother, cousin and I decided we would attempt to swim across a channel. The tide was strong that day and was heading out to sea. As a result, in order to reach the limited beach landing on the other side, you had to start further up the channel behind a headland. My brother was on the other side, acting as spotter. He yelled out 'Go, Go', so I dived into the water and started swimming as hard as I could. I cleared the headland and looked out to sea when I saw a large fishing boat heading up the channel. My heart raced. I started to panic. I couldn't turn around and the current was pulling me out to sea and toward the boat with haste.
I swam as hard as I could... the boat became larger and larger! I don't remember the next moments in any great detail, but I narrowly missed being hit. But the danger of the situation wasn't over. I still had to make it to the other side before the beach ran out. The powerful current was moving me out of the mouth of the channel. The beach was quickly running out.
Eventually I made it, likely in someways helped by the sheer adrenaline kick from almost being hit in the middle of the channel just moments before. When I got out of the water, I didn't say a word to anyone. I just walked past my brother and straight back to the apartment. Later I found out my brother was yelling 'no, no'. Not 'Go!' 'Go!'. An important lesson in not making assumptions on my part.
I felt powerless
This is a moment in my life where I felt totally powerless. The strength of that tide and the incoming boat meant you had one option, forwards. The situation didn't care if you didn't want to, or if you were tired or if it wasn't your day or how far you had already swam. I think I recall this situation, because in many ways, this is how I have felt the last few months. I feel fatigued, or foggy, or 'blah' most days and as a consequence I fall behind in things. Life is not a total mess, but it kind of feels like my life is being held together with duct tape. Then, because I'm feeling behind, I get anxious and stressed about trying to catch up. These feelings, and just being 'amped' all the time, affects the quality of my sleep. This unsurprising then compounds the fatigued. It feels like I'm back in that current being pulled out to sea. It doesn’t matter if you want a break, it will just keeps pulling.
So how do you get to the other side?
Being active is a circuit-breaker for me. It helps to clear my mind and reset my system. It wasn't until my diagnosis, when exercising-at-will was no longer an option, that I realised how much I relied on exercise to help me regulate my emotions. If fact, I remember when I was growing up I had a loop around our neighbourhood that was about 1.5km that I would run when I was feeling overwhelmed or stressed. I ran that loop mosts days... until my fitness started getting better and then I would need to run it twice. But even exercise is now a double-edged sword. Due to frequently being sick, and just general issues related to my Still's, exercise is sometimes inaccessible. Sometimes I can't exercise, but equally on the good days it can be so easy to over-exert myself and flare my body up. As a result of this, I have been trying to find other ways to help me process my thoughts, experiences and challenges. Encouraged by members of Running For Resilience who have turned to writing as a method of processing (Matt Breen's The R4R Rag, Ben Alexander's Struggling, Sam Wilson's Sobering Thoughts and Nick’s The Milkbar), I started writing a letter to Still's a few months ago.
A Letter to Still's
I've been looking over my shoulder, wondering when I will catch a glimpse of you. Terrified of your presence, your crippling demands, I've been running along this tight rope for too long. Each step is as precarious as the last; there is no place of rest from your pursuit. You're insidious, a mimic of a thousand faces. My head that once was held hopefully high now looks down at my bruised and swollen feet. My mind is trapped in a body you've ravaged - the elixir, your only-just sufferable cousin, Medication promises to demand its interest in the years to come. You've had me in your chokehold. I want out. I want the anxiety, the pain, and the lost dreams to be over. Just give me back. But such a request falls beyond your mercy.
I have always pushed through my problems, but you use my momentum against me. You punish the brave, relishing the fall from a step taken too far. Shattered like glass upon the ground my reflection is left unrecognisable. l reach out to pick up the delicate pieces of my life, but my heart tightens. Trembling, I hold the shards in my tightening hands as numbing pain shoots through my body. Your fire consumes my frail body.
For three months this was as far as I got. I knew I didn't want it end here. I didn't want to give in, but at that time I was plagued with confusion. I didn't know what the key was. I knew it was somewhere, it was waiting to be found. But tonight I think I am ready to finish my letter to Still's.
But deep within this body, that you have made my prison, an untouchable key is found... I know that I am loved.
For now I don't have all the answers. I don't know why I got sick, or why I've had to fight for six years already and why I just can't build any momentum. But I am coming to terms with the fact that I may never know, and that is okay. I may not know why the current flows in the direction that is does, or why it is so strong. I may not know how many more boats there will be. Sometimes I will misunderstand the directions given to me and go when I should stay, and stay when I should go. But despite all this, I appreciate that I am in the middle of this channel. It is not easy. It is scary. But all I can do is put my head down and take it one stroke at a time. But unlike that channel many summers ago, I am not alone in this fight. I am surround, supported and loved, and that is enough.