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In Illness, Simply Getting Through Some Days Is An Achievement

20/09/2016 14:55 | Updated 21 September 2016

As input from the outside world began to quieten, and the initial intense period of connection and conversation calmed down. I was left with much more time to be on my own in my own company. Amy would be at work and I would be at home with lots of free time but not necessarily knowing what to do with myself. The official message was 'rest,' but that is as explicit as it is vague.

I, like many others, am probably conditioned to make the most of my time. Spare moments are seen as opportunities to achieve, grow and expand. I like being active and not 'wasting time.' Being ill changes this as productivity now involves being passive rather than active. Instead of waking up in the morning wondering 'what am I going to do today?' it becomes more a case of what am I 'not' going to do, or what am I unable to do? The approach flips itself around as life becomes similar to that of a negative of a photo. The picture remains the same, but the image is inverted.

Initially this rest is seen as a relief. I had had a busy rota for the last 4 months from hospital and worked some long shifts in that time. In truth I had probably been going at full speed since I started in August 2014 (if not before).

At university it was possible to create a life that included all of what I loved doing. As a student you are very much master of your own destiny in that as long as you get the work done, turn up to what is required and pass the exams there is not much else to fear.

Yet transitioning to a working life from the relative Neverneverland of University life is traditionally tough for good reason. Starting my first real job (as my friends liked to tease me) was going to a big change. From six fairly well-controlled years in the academic domain, I now had to be on time, bottom of the pile, and regularly function in scenarios of unbelievably high pressure and responsibility. In addition there arose the internal pressure of wanting to maintain a satisfying personal life outside of it all.

I have absolutely loved being a Junior Doctor so far. To be able to go to work and be a part of helping people is a tremendous privilege. However it is more exhausting than anything else I have done before. Doctoring is a job that justifiably requires the highest standards; anything else is not fair on those you look after. All Doctors deal with this in their own way, but I think it has the impact of making us want the most from our free time. We are strictly timetabled and occasionally work very unsociable hours meaning we frustratingly dip in and out of the lives of those closest to us. Trying to do it all soon becomes incredibly draining and nigh on impossible.

In the space that was opening up after my stroke I began to feel somewhat lost. One of the first things I did was put together a 'To Do list!' Trying to live an efficient life is both a blessing and a curse. Having pressure to always produce, create and further ourselves is ultimately grinding. If we look around us at the natural world, there is a seasonality of growth, decay and regrowth. Or, in the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estés, the 'Life, death, life cycle.' The world we inhabit is cyclical, involving periods of intense growth but then also periods of stillness and quiet.

Being ill in many ways is a type of enduring your own winter. Whether you like it or not; you cannot continue in the way that you would wish. Rather than bearing new fruit and displaying bright colours for others to enjoy, our leaves fall off and we are left barren and skeletal, until such a time that we may 'spring' again. Each illness (if it is to be recovered from) is unique and takes its own time; the body wants to heal itself but ultimately cannot be rushed.

However this is in direct opposition with our ego and sense of self. These do not fall away so easily. Instead our identity almost solidifies as we attempt to return to the person we knew and were comfortable with, before whatever disaster befell us. Here is where perhaps originates the pain of the process; that the person we currently are, is very much at odds with the person we want to be.

This was incredibly true of myself in that I found that I would make small breakthroughs, only then to feel that I had gone backwards later on. Some days I felt the old energy returning, others there was none. Some days there would be hope and others there was just the heavy fatigue and all its mischievous friends.

Letting old strengths and expectations fall away, even if temporarily, is so hard. We have an idea of ourselves that we want to maintain. As we go deeper into the experience it becomes less about having anything to show for our day but simply a case of surviving it.

However what is often said to distinguish humans from the animal world is that there is far more to being alive than simply survival. And this perhaps is one of the first major battles to accept in illness, that simply getting through some days, is enough.

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