Finally, things are starting to stabilise. Rather than having no energy at all, I have a teensy bit of energy, which lets me do about one thing requiring exertion per day, unless I am having a Particularly Bad Day, in which case no things are done.
That’s much better than being able to do one thing per week, though.
The doctors have said I can try doing a bit of exercise again, and as someone who normally swims every day, the fact that they recommended swimming was highly pleasing.
Yesterday I spent some time ploughing up and down the lanes at my local pool and rediscovering this excellent feeling:
The swimming was, of course, veeeerryyy slooowwww, with big gaps between each length (I don’t normally rest between lengths. Rest is for pussies. Or, as I’m currently discovering, healthy people whose internal organs don’t feel the need to rebel and try to kill them.) But it was so good to be back in the water.
Now that I have my brain back and can go outside sometimes, and even eat a few small things without throwing them up again, the temptation is of course to try to do everything again. But surprisingly, that temptation isn’t actually very strong. I’m enjoying my time being freer, and more contemplative, and less dictated by the demands of society.
Some extracts from my diary sum it up well, I think:
I believe I have made peace with my current situation, for now at least. (Can peace be made temporarily? Can peace only be made temporarily?) I am trying to listen to the slowed-down rhythm of my body and to obey its requests. It’s quite nice to be able to do this, actually, and although one would be forgiven for thinking I do so anyway as a freelancer, that would be an incorrect assumption.
Usually I am dictated by the whims of my clients and the demands of my projects. If America wants a call at five o’clock in the morning, then a call they shall get. If travel is necessary, with all its extraneous demands such as jet lag and increased working hours and racing around at breakneck speed to get things done, then that is what shall happen. If a deadline is looming and a project must be completed on time, then the coffee shall be downed, black, thick and bitter, and done the project shall be. And so on.
This illness, however, is reminding me that such things are flexible, and ultimately under my own command. Travel plans can be postponed. Deadlines can be delayed. Clients can stay a bit later at the office and call you later in the day, or just send an email instead.
I wonder if this whole thing is not making me a bit spoilt.
As a kid – and especially as a teenager – life was so uncertain that I felt I had to grasp every opportunity that came my way, and to live as fully as I could whenever I got the chance.
When I nearly died in my late teens, and then was told I probably wouldn’t live as long as other people, it once again reiterated the importance of living as myself and doing things I cared about.
Now that is happening again; I am reevaluating my priorities based on enforced houseboundness.
Perhaps it’s not a bad thing to be seriously ill from time to time. Perhaps I even need it.
There are some lessons I need to learn more than once. Some things I am sure I have learned once, taken on board, and then never had to learn again. This is particularly the case, I think, with academic learning; and also with what I’m going to call ‘reflex learning’, like when you discover boiling water is hot and thus learn not to pour it on your hand.
But then there’s another type of learning, which I am going to call ‘emotional learning’, and it is this with which I struggle. Not in the sense of feeling sad or despondent about it, but in the sense of not being able to retain the information over a long period of time even if in the original moment of teaching I felt I understood it – much like a student who believes he is following along in a maths lesson, but when he gets home cannot do the exercises.
At the moment I am learning a lesson, and once again it is one I have learned before.
I am learning that I do not need much in order to survive.
I am learning that I love philosophy, and that it fulfils me in a way nothing else does.
I am learning how much I love being alone.
I am learning that running many businesses and working a lot may be fun, but it is not fulfilling.
I am learning that I love being quiet.
I am learning that living in some sense by the rhythms of the natural world, and of my own body, is important to me.
I am not sure whether the lesson will ‘take’ this time, or if it will keep getting buried under piles of money and bucketloads of emails, and all those reams of work-related things that seem so very important when I am trapped inside them.
It is only when I step outside of all this – by force, not by choice – that I remember who I am and where I stand in the world. I begin to live by my body’s natural rhythms again, because life is no longer dictated by clients’ calendars and seemingly urgent deadlines that – it turns out – are in fact not urgent at all.
I also live by my body’s rhythms because when it is this ill it does not give me a choice. Normally I would keep pushing on if I was tired, swim an extra five laps even if my arms hurt, meet my friends for dinner even if I’m not feeling sociable or hungry. But now I don’t have those choices. If my body is tired, I have to sleep; if it is achy, I have a bath, because the pain is not a dull background throb which I can ignore, but a burning sensation thrusting itself into the foreground.
In some ways, of course, this means that life in my current state is hardly easy. But it also means that I have the opportunity to reconnect with who I am – to look beyond the hustle and bustle of the universal and through to the individual, to subjectivity – and for that, at least, I am grateful.
So that’s where I’m at this week. A positive week, on the whole.
The Reading List
- Works of Love by Søren Kierkegaard – Kierkegaard is my favourite philosopher and one of my favourite writers. We share several personality traits and I agree with him on almost everything. When I got my brain back last week, I decided this was the perfect time to revisit one of his works – one I haven’t read as often as some of his others. It was, predictably, excellent.
- Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and a Radical New Way to Make a Difference by William MacAskill – a friend gave me this to read, and it was interesting. I didn’t agree with everything it said, but I did find it useful. It’s a sort of practical guide to living your life in a way that actually makes a positive difference to the world, from the guy who runs 80,000 hours. Definitely worth a look if you’re into practical ethics.
- I Met Lucky People by Yaron Matras – an interesting book by a gadjo (non-Romani) academic who has spent time with many different Romani communities, and has been studying the Romani people for most of his adult life. It would make a good introduction for anyone who doesn’t know much about Romani history, culture and ways of living.
- Blood Sisters by Jane Corry – a crime fiction novel about three girls who are involved in a terrible accident on the way to school one day – or was it an accident? *cue dramatic music*
- How to Be Alone by Sara Maitland – continuing my quest to read lots of people’s reflections on solitude, I picked up this book from the library in one of my forays into the outside world and nearly put it down again when I discovered it’s part of Alain de Botton’s School of Life series. As you’d expect of something made in de Botton’s style, it is academically unrigorous and not particularly thought-provoking, but Maitland does have a couple of interesting things to say about the nature of solitude. I wouldn’t exactly recommend it, though: there are far better works out there.
Other Things That Happened This Week
The book is finished! It’s been submitted to the editor for final tweaks, and then all being well it should be published in August.