Vol 4, Issue 2: The possibility of a relapse

It is a mid summer’s day and the sun is high in the sky. Voices travel from a near by public footpath through my half opened window. They are light and jovial in tone. The birds are singing chirpily. Their tunes journey through the sun kissed air air, merging with the season’s atypical scent. Perhaps freshly mown grass or a cutting of flowering rhododendron.  More voices arrive. They are more familiar this time, probably my parents’. The hum of day to day conversation slides into  the loud clatter that ceramic tea cups make against the wooden tables. I am a part of the scene but not fully involved. Not really. I am lying down, sprawled out on my bed, looking onto the the day but not participating in it. My thinning cotton T shirt is drawn over my eyes. My nostrils are exposed so the fabric won’t obstruct my already irregular breathing pattern. I am in need of this home-made eye mask as today I am particularly sensitive to light. 

Even this gentle, warming natural kind. If I weren’t so  ghostly,  I would be vampire like. As a writer, this kind of half-being half-seeing, observational role is not foreign to me.  But as a sufferer of chronic illness, the role is beginning to make demands that have surpassed the initial call to duty. I am surprised, I remember, at this stage and point in time, at the withered state of my physical health. My internal narrative is at best mournful and at worst whiny and self pitying. After all, I think to myself, only a few days before, I was swimming, walking and even being jovial(ish) at the pub with my friends in the Isle of Wight. At the time I thought it was unjust. Cruel, even, that I could be experiencing such a marked change in my energy levels. Now, I understand this intense period of activity to be a rather accurate prediction for imminent relapse.

I won’t bore you with the details of my own relapses. As you might guess, they aren’t pretty or particularly interesting for a curious passer by to witness. Think: time spent lying down. Then, more time spent lying down. Then perhaps some more. With the physical stasis, comes the mental restlessness. Things I was supposed to achieve mounting on to-do lists that will never be ticked off. Dates that were supposed to signify something  travelling on by unmarked. Streams of despairing texts piling up in my friends’ inboxes. Friends, who, despite being armoured with the best intentions, lack the powers of divination to meet or assuage the yearning demands of my personal ailments. Emojis and kind words are exchanged. Such digital attention provides some temporary relief before inevitably becoming triggering. ‘Just rest’, I am told to do, as though the thought had never occurred to me.  For someone who has been resting to some degree for the last ten months, it does feel a little like I’m a prisoner being told to just  ‘go back to prison’. Not that I’m degrading the response. I wouldn’t know what to say to myself either. Tired people are not always the most agreeable of companions. It makes sense. On some level, it is a practical suggestion. 

I am still not sure whether it’s technically possible to relapse from an illness you haven’t ever recovered from, but there you go. Here I am. I’m still here with my mixed up bundle of good days and bad days. Days where I can think a bit clearer and those where I can’t. Days where I can walk a bit further and those where I can’t.  Relapse isn’t all bad, despite it conjuring images of descent and disintegration that defy our capitalistic thought models  of perpetual growth. The prefix ‘re’ has an energetic quality that to it that plants seeds of promise. Aside from relapse, there is re-imagining, re-visiting, regeneration. I’ve learnt to redefine some of the terms that I once thought determined my illness. In reference to a previous piece  I wrote at an earlier stage in my recovery, I’ve learnt that although chronic means ‘long term’ it does not mean permanent or terminal. I’ve actually also learnt that it’s entirely possible and even probable that I don’t have an illness at all. Rather i’m experiencing a ‘dysregulated  nervous system’, which I have some power in me to influence. I’ve learnt new names for things and learnt it’s time to let go of others. I’ve learnt I’m not the only one who isn’t having an easy ride. Perhaps relapse, no matter how painful or tiring or unwanted, is not only a ’slip back’ as the latin root of the word suggests, but is a chance to hit refresh. It’s given me the opportunity to give those despairing texts a once over, to take a pause every so often and notice how I’m speaking to myself, how the language I’m using is structuring my experience and rippling out into bodily sensations. I’m trying not to react so quickly to whatever is present, to give my system the opportunity to respond differently. Perhaps, this time, for the better.  


Just for a moment, take a break
From the task of trying to figure things out  
The things that are sorted 
Will come and go, like all the other packages 
that arrive and pass through life.

The curtains in the living room are moving,
 Billowing inward and outward  
 Their scalloped edges, 
as they expand in and contract –

like the journey I make,  over thresholds,
 By the touch of a cold wind
 Unaware of folding inward or relapse,

Just this, carrying on. 
The parachuting mind moving out over of time –
 Living to vapour, living  vapour to rain. 
Pain turns to pleasure, pleasure to pain. 

Crossing a Threshold

And crossing a threshold,
Is a little less 
Like turning into someone new
and a little more like seeing yourself 
With so much love

That you couldn’t witness before –
And that is the
 Surest measurement I have for settlement:
This coming home
This falling back
Inside of yourself. 

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