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Enjoying life in the slow lane

How many people have watched a male fly distract his chosen female with food in order to mate with her, and watched her repulsion of him increase in determination as the food runs out? Or seen a spider spin and respin its web as the days go by and the wind repeatedly destroys it? And how many people have wondered over a delicate koru unfurling to a beautiful fern frond over the course of several days? Whilst CFS/ME has taken away much of my former, more active, life, there are many unawaited joys that brighten the darkness of my days.

My condition is fairly severe, and the majority of my days are spent almost entirely flat on my back, with occasional excursions to the toilet, the kitchen or to sit for 20 minutes in the sun on the patio. This existence has taken away all of the activities that used to take me out into the natural world, such as tramping, swimming, kayaking or skiing, but it's also drawn me back to the fascinating world of my own back yard. Outside my bedroom window are two hanging baskets, one of some kind of weeping creeper and the other containing a native fern. Throughout the spring I've watched individual fronds on the fern appear and gradually grow and uncurl. A little miracle each time, and one that occurs at a pace I can deal with. This basket hangs near our side fence, and for many months I watched as a long-suffering spider spun webs between the basket and the fence, only to have them destroyed almost daily by the wind. Each one was a little different, and over time I learnt a lot about how it built its web, putting in main struts and then filling in the gaps with finer strands. Sadly the spider has given up now (or died?) and I miss it, but I'm grateful for the interest it brought into my life.

Most days I eat my lunch on our little patio, where I enjoy the sounds of birds, insects and cars that filter through to me. Since early spring the patio has been fringed with little egg cartons, cut-off milk bottles and other scrounged containers in which have been sprouting vegetable seedlings. I've discovered the joy of saving seed, planting it and watching it grow. I'm not often well enough to walk the three metres or so over the grass to the vegetable patch and plant them out, so at that point they become my husband's responsibility, but I can see them from my bedroom window and marvel at the huge plants that have grown from my tiny seeds. As I write I can see tomato plants, some over two metres tall and laden with fruit, each of which sprung from seeds barely 2mm across. Most of our vegies this year were grown from seedlings, but I've saved tomato, pea, bean and corn seeds for next year, as well as cape gooseberries, coriander and rocket. Very few people I know can take the time to grow from seed. They have to buy ready-to-plant seedlings on the day that they realise they have enough time to plant out, if they grow their own vegies at all. They miss out on the wonder of growth and the satisfaction of having done it all themselves - and to someone who can do very little herself, that sense of achievement is delightful!

Back in the spring I also enjoyed watching unexpected flowers spring up. This is our first year living where we do, so we had no idea what had been planted earlier. Whilst none of the anemones we had planted came up, the fresias that we'd sown were joined by some other delicate white flowering bulbs - maybe snow drops? - that a previous tenant must have planted. The corner of the garden right by my window was recently filled with beautiful rich purple cinerarias that had come up by themselves, and earlier today I was snacking on little tart wild strawberries that someone once planted along the edge of the patio. We even had a hippeastrum that recently got confused and, having already given us magnificent flowers back in the spring, in January decided to do it all over again! Fortunately that plant was in a pot so my husband could bring it inside and I was able to watch it grow all over again - at its peak lengthening by around an inch a day!

Other than the garden, other major 'life-savers' are the radio and cassette player. I struggle with both holding and concentrating on ordinary books, so I spend a lot of time listening to the radio or talking books. As the range of available talking books is much narrower than the range of regular books in any given library, and as I don't go to the library myself to select them but rely on other people to do this, I've listened to many books that I wouldn't normally have considered reading. In the process I've discovered some unexpected gems, including several delightful books about life as a school inspector in the Yorkshire dales by Gervaise Phynn, David Lodge's lovely story of a man learning in middle age to enjoy life ('Paradise News') and a joyfully Kiwi collection of short stories by Patricia Grace. It's wonderful to immerse myself in the world of a well-written book, and a bonus of talking books is that they're usually read by professional actors who really bring the stories to life. I've also found some unexpected 'company' in my often solitary existence through these books and was particularly moved by Terry Waite's 'Taken on Trust' as in his recollections of life in solitary confinement I heard echoes of my own current experience.

May you, too, enjoy the unexpected gifts that fall amongst the often-more-apparent hardships of CFS/ME!


March 2005