Patience is a Virtue

by Claire

patienceI have never seen the virtue in patience. As a child, the only virtue I could see in having patience was the ability to not annoy the adults with insistences or pleas to ‘hurry up’ because ‘I want it now’. Later I could see no virtue to patience at all. I was a well-educated, capable person with a moderate amount of disposable income; as long as my desire was reasonable, I saw no reason not to have exactly what I wanted. Having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was quite a learning curve and I had to learn to balance what I wanted to do with what I was capable of doing. As this is less of a balancing act than it is a straitjacket I had to face bitter disappointment as I realised that no amount of hard work or money would get me what I wanted. Slowly I have become aware that my coping mechanism to deal with this disappointment is not very healthy. If I can’t have something, I will simply stop wanting it. If I want to get out of the house because I am going crazy, but can’t because I can’t walk further than the bathroom, then I stop wanting to. I put it out of my mind. If, like today, I want to do the laundry (because I am nearly out of undies) but I can’t, because the weather is ridiculously hot and I am saving my energy to cook dinner, then I just give up and stop wanting to. This is easy when it’s laundry, not so easy when it’s the ability to have a job.

In many ways ceasing the desire for things I can’t have is very handy. Yes, there is grief, but then the pain of not having what I want just goes away. During the worst CFS, when there were so many things that I couldn’t do or have, dealing with disappointment in this way protected me from a lot of pain. It stopped me from feeling incredibly bitter and angry and helped me focus on the things I could still do. But dealing with my limitations in this way – by just ‘giving up’ was denying important aspects of myself that were clamouring for expression. And every time I gave up, let go or turned away, it felt like a little part of me died.

Now that I live on the coast, my fatigue-increasing allergies will be minimised and I will get better. So many of the things I previously put into the ‘impossible’ basket are shimmering on the horizon. And I can’t wait. Every day of the last three weeks has been a painful list of things I can’t do yet. By now, I seriously expected to be surfing in the morning and then spending a productive day neatening the house and looking for part-time work, perhaps a rest in the afternoon and then in the evenings I could join a choir and a book club. I am a natural optimist, but this was bordering on insane, even for me. I am improving, let me state that. This is a success, but the improvement is so incrementally small that for the first two weeks I thought it wasn’t working and that I’d moved all this way for nothing. It doesn’t help that every day I have been here I have overdone it. It’s a mark of how much better I am that I haven’t collapsed. Instead, I am going through cycles of three days of ‘recovery’ and a few days of moderate activity. Moving house is incredibly stressful and the several heatwaves have not helped. Then there’s also my body to be considered; ever since December ‘12 I have been slowly deteriorating – the walk on the beach in Fairhaven last December was the first time I have walked properly since July ’13. In my weak state, any activity will be twice as hard as it used to be, and it is showing; the soles of my feet hurt from standing up so often. My calves are deliciously sore from all the additional exercise they are getting (from daily activities, I do not exercise beyond my regular yoga session yet). I feel like I just can’t help myself; I have been in prison for too long and I can’t stop myself from doing the basic things like going food shopping, walking on the beach or cooking. Finally I have realised that I am hampering my own progress by constantly biting off more than I can chew. I need to build up my strength in a sustainable manner. I need to go back to my ‘every day’ approach, where I only do things if I can manage to do them every day. I need to continue to manage myself; naps in the afternoon, daily meditation session, resting after activities like doing the dishes or dressing for the day. I need to get back into my sleep/wake routine. I still need to take care of myself.

Now I understand what patience is – the ability to want something; really, passionately want it, but still be able to control yourself. Not giving up hope, not grasping futilely, not getting angry or frustrated, but calmly accepting your desire and working towards it when you can. My recovery is not going to be the miracle return to full strength in a fortnight that I had hoped for, but I will recover. I will just have to be patient.

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