Birds swirl high on thermals above, sky-free, wind-soaring. I watch and relax my eyes, following one, then another, and drifting in my thoughts as those carefree wings circle on feathers lighter than air.
I’m drawn back to a theme that’s been running at the back of my mind on a loop for a while. The idea of thirds. There is something of a completeness about the number 3. Points on a solid triangle.
I hope that a life of 100 years is achievable, bar health issues, accidents, and nuclear war. And if that happens, then so be it. But 100 years, split into 3. A beginning, a middle, and not so much an end, as a winding down. Or a ramping up, depending on how you see it.
I am 34 now, and it was a struggle to put a finger on this feeling that niggled at the edges of consciousness, insistent, a tiny breeze that began to blow harder, bringing with it a change, as if of seasons. It seemed like an internalised version of that first scent of summer on the air, hailing that shift around the circle.
My first third. A child, curious and free. A teen, angry at the world. A twenty-something, running on empty. Early thirties, a slowing, a shifting. A new scent on the breeze. A new vista opening ahead.
I truly feel an ending. It is time to leave past projects behind. I have taken learning from lessons I never realised were teaching me at the time. A deeper feeling, telling me it’s time now to shift gears. Healing, renewal, letting go of that which no longer serves me and making peace with the fact that I changed. I changed so many times. In this first third, how many people have I been?
It’s hard to find the words to describe what I feel. A small melancholy, but the balance tipped over by a more youthful excitement. All those years searching for a ‘meaning’, a path, hang-ups and feeling down. Finally reaching that place of true exhaustion – the impact of caring so much about how I look, about how people see me, a place where finally, the energy to continue caring just ran out. And in its place grew acceptance.
I think I had to truly run myself down, to reach this small rebirth. And acceptance is a lighter feeling, as I let go of that first third and wander quietly into the second. And so now, I shout my truths aloud, and relish in the echo of my voice, a strong voice, a celebration. My truths form sounds in the air, and now I smile instead of shun. Heavier than I was, I celebrate myself by wearing loud colours, patterned prints, and not hiding away any more. My hair is wild and frizzy and curly, and I no longer straighten it into submission, instead I dye it wild orange and pink and run about in sunsets. I have depression, and cfs, and I am more than comfortable talking about them both. I follow a druid path, love a stone circle, and will talk about trees until the leaves fall down. I love guinea pigs, watching clouds, glittery eyeshadow, drum n’ bass. I don’t want children and I’m very happy with that. A fire, a guitar, and a craft beer is my perfect night. I want to write and create, to run in the sea and live on a hill. I’ve been a sleek professional. I’ve been a wild-haired rebel.
And as those birds ride higher, spiralling and falling, I imagine the turning of life, the passage of time, the tick from one third into the next. My eyes close against the sky and I fall forward, into the continuing spiral, flying and looping onward, alongside the free.
Last September, I went back to university. I applied and was a little stunned when I was accepted onto the course. And, true to form, I spent the intermediate months working myself into a frantic ball of worry. By the time term came around, I was adamant I wasn’t going.
But go, I did. I walked tentatively into the room, sat on an empty chair, looking at people in groups, and people like me, by themselves and wondering. I talked to people. I made new friends. And so far, it’s changed my world.
My bubble started and ended at retail management, via a few words, a little blog, a sadly-defunct personal training career, and a whole lotta worry. I thought my mind was open. I thought I saw where I could go. But those beliefs were limiting my world view, and I didn’t even know it.
I graduated at 21, back in those halcyon days where the extent of worry was how many blue WKD’s I’d drunk the night before. Now, at 34, returning to uni was daunting. I’d not so much as looked at anything remotely ‘academic’ in the intervening time. Getting a student card? Being one of the ‘older’ people on the course? STATISTICS?
But I have surprised myself. I love the course. Love it. Even though I haven’t grown out of the whole ‘do the essay the day before it’s due in” thing (I just work better that way!) I’m actually doing ok, so far. I even understand some of the numbers part, which is rather surprising. I did an exam, and didn’t just write my name and walk out, which was how I previously tackled them.
So, what’s my point? I think it’s that people change, you change, I change, we all change. I am a very different person to that frustrated 21-year-old, bored with forced writing and looking harshly into a corporate future. At 34, I thought I was settled in a life of comfort, easiness. A part-time job with it’s own challenges, but also a strange sort of comforting familiarity. And I stagnated, and fell down, down, down. In that small bubble, my thoughts circled in the stale air. University was a pin that popped that rainbow film and opened my eyes to new colours.
I didn’t know myself, even though I thought I did. Familiarity and an easy life – I had it made, my thoughts told me this was what I was destined for. I wrote about it at length, right here on this blog. And then, unexpectedly, I found a new breath of air. I found a challenge and found myself thriving. I found a new self.
A self that thrives on a new level of conversation. A brain that likes to be challenged. A person who is considering continuing to study further, for interest, for passion, for fulfillment. It’s a little weird. But I like it.
I have to remember that it’s OK to rest. Crazy weeks, emotional battlegrounds – giving, giving, and feeling myself drain. I know it was too much, yet still I continued. And this space, a space that I’d filled with plans, took its chance and made me stop.
Essays sit unfinished, deadlines drawing closer. Books pile up to read in a tower that seems more precarious by the day. Washing up piles too, glaring accusingly from the worktop. Mess clutters my mind further, but I cannot even get that far. Thinking tires me. Words tire me. I even feel that breathing tires me.
I fight it, as I always do, for the first day, but as time slips on I give in, letting go of the guilt, putting the growing to-do list to one side for now.
Life with CFS is a game of daring. I know myself more now – the baseline, the stretch, the realisation of what’s coming, looking back from a place way too far over that base. So it hit me full force, as I knew was coming. 3 days on and I wait, and recharge, and slowly, slowly, climb back up to level ground.
Winter, I greet thee;
Voice of the North carried
in howling winds.
The crackle of ice
freezes white bones, and lays
my eyes down to darkest black.
Winter, I greet thee;
Air thin as rainbow glass,
light glinting as water trapped in snow so fine.
Spirit of the North travels
in the rip of branches,
piercing my lungs, as all
lay down to sleep.
Winter, I greet thee;
As death mists over glittering fields.
Soul of the North lies silent in darkest night
as feather, fur and skin await,
breathing ice into the blue.
The last leaf falls, gently
and we strain to hear its landing.
Studying isn’t a forte of mine. So I write melodramatic posts about it instead.
I’d sacked off the place I was supposed to be, choosing excuses and time instead, facetiously to work, but really to stare at a screen and daydream. I pushed words out laboriously through my fingers, gazed at long, empty words of studies, highlighted pink to make me feel as if I understood. That throb of things to be done had set up days ago deep behind my eyeballs.
The thump of a drum echoed through speakers, melodies of autumn, that sort of blanket that stretched tantalisingly around. I shook my head, shuffled papers, turned a page without seeing anything.
A holly tree shone red and green outside the window. A leaf fell slowly to the ground. A second took an eternity to tick on.
I drafted a resignation to work, devoid of explanation, crammed with platitudes. I wrote and deleted another line of essay. A door bangs. A breath sighs. We were all waiting.
I ate biscuits for lunch with the same longanimity that pervaded the day. Grey clouds lolloped in over far, dying fields and covered the sky with monotony. Another line dressed in neon pink. Another page turned. Another vacant stare at graphs. At tables. At references of people infinitely more productive than I.
And hours I sat, as the beats fell around my deaf ears and words ran to rivulets in my eyes.
The wind rips through Birch branches outside, bringing twigs clattering onto the conservatory roof. Inside a fluffy fleece, I snuggle deeper into the chair, still in that hot-chocolate-glow that lingers after a long, piping hot bath. The old Bush stereo crackles Schubert in the background, as an unseen draught sends yellow flames flickering from beeswax.
For once, I don’t mind the pitch blackness of the early evenings. Instead, this inky night seems comforting, wrapping around the sandstone walls, telling the house that winter is coming once more.
It’s around this time that I’m drawn to contemplate and plan. October brings my year to a close – it feels natural to me to reflect on the months past at this time, as golden leaves float from trees and the earth settles down to sleep.
I cast twelve months backwards in my mind’s eye, and play forwards slowly, month by month. I see the ways I changed and the ways I stayed constant. I re-read my plans that I put to paper 365 days ago, and feel quite well – some achieved, some left by the wayside.
I build upon these, now looking forward to the next twelve months. And as the evening ticks on by, I pull my fleece a little closer and plan, and dream, and scheme into the night.