Nature anchors me throughout chronic illness
I have a confession to make. For those who follow me on Instagram this might come as a surprise. It might look like I'm out in nature all the time, because that's pretty much my sole output on there. Actually, this is far from reality. Those are brief highlights, joyful, shining moments that stand out against a backdrop of pain, exhaustion and increasingly not leaving the house for days, even weeks. When I'm 'resting' I sometimes look back through photographs and videos from my rare ventures into nature, and I share them because they bring me joy and I hope they will to others.
I also post a lot from the garden, sometimes from my window. I am eternally grateful to have a garden to lie in sometimes, to ring the changes from lying in bed. I especially love lying there on the grass in the gathering dusk waiting for my bat friends, who I've grown really attached to. I imagine them flying off from our garden, wonder where they go, travel with them in my mind, a brief break from being in my own body. I think that's also why I connected so much to birds at the start of lockdown too, they were so much free-er than we humans were. At that time I was full of anxious energy and managed to get out a lot more but this has dwindled over time.
Like many aspects of our physical and mental health I see energy levels as a spectrum. I'm definitely at the (very) chilled end! This has actually proved useful in my work both with autistic children and as a therapist. I literally embody a calm stillness. Through bitter experience I have learned the necessity for regular self care and setting boundaries on my time and energy expenditure. I know what energises me and what depletes me, I increase the former and decrease the latter. Thankfully lockdown didn't deprive me of the biggest source of respite and revival - Nature.
The ancient woodland that I usually post from is quite literally across the road from my house, it couldn't get any closer. I'm so grateful to have that in London, it feels especially lucky at this time. If it was any further away I would have real trouble accessing it due to my decreasing energy levels. I have so much empathy for people who don't have access to natural space, for whatever reason.
Lockdown was many people's first experience of a pared down life, a shrunken territory that can be a norm for many of us living with chronic illness and disability. Limitations imposed by our own bodies and minds whether that's M.E., depression, social anxiety, agoraphobia..... Obviously there are other impacts of lockdown that are not so similar, for example not being able to hug a friend, or the massive financial impacts some of us have suffered. However, living with perpetual uncertainty is a thing when you're chronically ill. Whether that's the uncertainty of how you're going to feel day by day, hour by hour, making it impossible to plan. Or living with the uncertainty of not having a clear diagnoses, feeling disbelieved, doubting yourself. Social isolation is definitely a thing, cancelling plans with (hopefully understanding) friends because you're having a bad day is a thing, as is watching the world go by while it seems your life is on pause.
This has been my life on and off since I was 13. I have lived with these limitations to varying degrees over the years, imposed by my body and mind, but the natural world is my escape, my anchor, my resilience.
According to my mum I was ridiculously healthy as a young child, I certainly have no memories of childhood illness. Then at 13 I had glandular fever and pneumonia and everything changed. I struggled with debilitating fatigue until I was 24, being told by GP's and specialist consultants that they couldn't find anything wrong with me, that I simply had 'chronic fatigue' as it was then called, and this was my life, there was nothing they could offer.
At 24 I had life saving heart surgery completely out of the blue, and for a shining moment I thought that this was the answer, that now I would be free of the fatigue and could have 'normal' energy just like everyone else who I watched enviously whilst they did more in one day that I would manage in a week. I've found ways of coping with living at a 'normal' pace, maximising efficiency and knowing my limits. Yet this takes an enormous toll on me, requiring tonnes of effort just to be 'normal', my body never found it easy like other people seemed to. It was an odd kind of relief when the rest of the world slowed down to meet me the past few months. There have been various diagnoses and probable causes, my heart tumour being a major culprit. Yet I keep circling back to this state, it seems like this is my body's default setting, which is frustrating, depressing and quite frankly infuriating. It can become a vicious cycle because not having the energy to live the life I want and being in chronic pain (which is exhausting in itself), which can send me into a spiral of depression which depletes my energy and motivation further.
As Covid19 swept the globe I realised that I didn't trust my body and this fear of the very vessel that gives me existence was radically impacting my response to the very real risk that was suddenly everywhere. So, throughout lockdown I have been working on a new relationship with my body, trying to trust it, to appreciate it. After all it's got me this far, despite all the challenges thrown at it, or that it's thrown at me, of which there have been many including an 8cm tumor in my heart! Nature is helping me with this, holding me within something bigger than my individual self. When I am in nature I immerse myself in the life energy of the universe via connection to the trees, my skin touching their bark-skin, my roots delving with their roots, the wind blowing through us and the sunlight warming our skin and leaves, nourishing, sustaining us in this interwoven web of BEing.
Whenever I finally get out into nature I dive in fully, relishing it and cherishing those precious moments. I try to always remind myself how lucky I am to be alive, which is especially poignant given that I almost died back in 2007 before I had my heart surgery. There's nothing like a brush with mortality to make you embrace life. I try to live wholeheartedly, not holding back. As I open myself I feel the living energy of the animate earth flow through me and I no longer feel stagnant and stuck.
Offering these nature connection sessions has been a lifeline and a revelation. Beforehand, I often worry how on earth I will manage it, when it feels too exhausting even to speak, but something magical always happens. During and afterward for several hours I feel transformed - flowing, energised and uplifted. The magic must be due to sharing what I love, sharing joy and gratitude with others, connecting from a heart space and incorporating all my passions into one beautiful creative, nature-based, heart-centred offering has been life-changing.
I thank everyone who has participated so far and I hope to connect with those of you who haven't at some point soon. I'm in this primarily for our collective wellbeing and the wellbeing of our life support system planet earth, but the realisation that this also extends to my own wellbeing is fascinating. I suppose when you put something joyous out into the world it can rebounds back on you, something like that. I feel proud of myself for attempting to do all this despite the challenges presented by my health and by lockdown. It was a big step. It was brave. It was bold. I feel blessed and excited about where this journey will lead. I hope you might come along for the ride with me!