Instinct, Illness and Finding Your Way

23/01/2015 11:13 GMT | Updated 25/03/2015 09:59 GMT


Sometimes I wonder how exactly we navigate this world. By structures that sometimes crumble, by whatever road maps we're meant to follow, via family, friends, work and relationships, via absolute randomness. Then, sometimes, our road maps fail; we hit turnings we never saw coming and we have to let go of any preconceived notions of how things are meant to be. What then?

As a child, I believed my life for map was already laid out. I grew up in middle class suburbia. After school, I'd go to university. At university, I would work hard. A good degree would lead to work in the City (journalism or publishing). It'd be competitive and the ultimate aim would be a great salary. I'd marry a man, have a big wedding. Buy a house. Raise some children. Whatever else was wrong in my life in childhood (and there was a lot wrong), I clung to these ambitions. These were my aspirations and conditioning; my framework. I was going to be Normal.

Somewhere between childhood and my teenage years, I realised something: I wasn't straight. Eventual marriage to a man began to look less likely. Later I'd realise that my queerness was fine, great, even, but it'd take a while. Still, there was uni for which to aim, so I worked and worked. Aged seventeen, I went to visit universities. I visited Edinburgh and my heart leapt up: I felt right there. Then I visited another uni, a huge campus one; one which ran a particularly high profile course. That place didn't feel right. Later, I picked that campus uni...for the course. In the act of choosing, I disregarded myself. That course never felt right.

Aged seventeen, it never occurred to me to listen to my inner guidance; to that nebulous, knowing place in a person that says: "Yes, this is right", that is sometimes a physical tug, more feeling than thought. I went to uni and my life map tore. I got depressed. I suspended my studies twice. Instead of studying I found myself in therapy for the depression. Instead of shooting for grades, I came out as queer, I dated women and finally, I went off travelling alone. It was all necessary and entirely not what I'd been expecting.

By the time my depression was no longer all-consuming, I began temping in London offices. Wearing suits felt like bad costumes. Then, one morning, I woke and my legs gave way beneath me. I developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I didn't go back to uni. My life map dissolved. This life I'd constructed: hard work at uni, then whiling away my days in offices, clubs and parties and London - none of it worked for me. Finally, my body ceased to function in any familiar way.

Probably at least the first year of my illness was framed in denial; me fighting myself. I'd get better, I told myself, and quickly. This wasn't happening. The umpteenth doctor would give me treatment that healed me. None of this happened. I was ill and I was exhausted and when healing began to come, it came slowly - not one steady straight line to recovery, but ups, downs, better, worse; erratic flow.

Illness, as the familiar fell away, took me - eventually - deep into instinct. Into hearing my needs, dialogue with my body, into - finally - trying to really inhabit my skin: less pace, more simply being, into places I'd never expected. Sometimes illness was excruciating, but in illness, I began to make changes and what's more: some of those changes felt entirely right. My twenties were spent writing, healing, following unexpected directions. I often felt as though I was groping in the darkness, nothing left but to trust, trust, as best as I could in something; in myself.

For me, illness has often been a guide, or rather: the drive for wellness has: for me to be more whole; to not abandon myself. A difficult, tricksy guide. You're not allowed to go backwards in life. Sometimes you try, but as you change, the places in you once fitted are no longer comfortable. So, I find myself perpetually 'on the road', sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally, trying to stay atune to my own feelings, longings and wisdom, to mesh it to the world around me. Learning hasn't taken the shape I thought it would. This is best.