I’m lying in a seriously comfy bed, it’s three in the morning and I am somewhere between extremely animated, to complete exhaustion. Or both. But I’m not ill, even though I’ve just been more sociable than I have been for months.
When I was 18 I hosted a dinner party for 12 people. At 19 I started the Ultimate Frisbee team at Chester University which also meant organising socials. At 22 I went with a group of about 15 people I’d never met before to New Zealand. At 26 I spoke to about 100 medical professionals about physical activity. And between 28 and 33 I arranged too many get togethers at work to count, from small groups to about 80 people including large group ‘walk and talks’. Don’t get me wrong; I was nervous about at least some of these! But I wouldn’t say I feared them until the last couple of years where chronic ill health has taken over much of my life.
In the past, my nerves have turned into excitement which got my through fear-inducing events. Job interviews perhaps being the exception. Since having chronic migraine, fear has become something I’ve needed to learn to live with. I’ve tried things like CBT but generally these therapists have been too geared towards people’s social anxiety. I’ve tried researching how I feel but when typing in health-related anxiety into search engines, I get results for hypochondriacs. The problem for me (and others, I’m sure) is that once I start feeling the fear of being ill, other anxieties seem to fill me up, like turning on a tap and it getting stuck so I can’t turn it off. Suddenly I’m drowning.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve had a lot of support from friends, one of whom has chronic migraine herself, on how best to manage this drowning feeling. I used to get it even when seeing just one other person, which I talked a bit about in Perfect Strangers. Meeting strangers has helped to some degree, plus living on a narrowboat or perhaps just the passage of time, it’s hard to tell. Just over a year ago my sister announced that her and her fella were getting married. Since then my fear of social occasions has fluctuated, with several cancelled engagements simply from that fear, and many more from the result of physical sickness which has meant my fear for the wedding was at times, pretty high.
There were so many people I was looking forward to seeing at the wedding; relatives and family friends I hadn’t seen for well over a year as well as my sister’s school friends and a few others who had entered my life at random intervals. Then there were all the new names to learn which, as sister of the bride, I had to at least attempt The amount of people was fear-inducing in itself, however much I was looking forward to seeing these folks. I’d put a few strategies into place, such as knowing the schedule and therefore understanding when I could go and lie down in the room which was at the venue (thankfully, and thanks to my Dad for paying for otherwise we’d be in the Premier Inn down the road…). I also sat in the ceremony, tucked away in a corner forcing myself to breathe calmly and take in my surroundings/
I had so many fears about this event ranging from feeling ill at the beginning of the day and therefore not enjoying it, to feeling ill part way through and not being present for key moments, as well as the fear I wouldn’t be able to help out as much as I would have liked. The last one was still true to some extent but I left feeling like there were a few small things I did and I couldn’t have asked my body for more than that. I kept repeating the phrase ‘I can’t believe I’m still here’ and my lasting memory is of laughing and talking so much that I almost felt like ‘old me’.
I might have been awake at 3am as a result but knowing I faced my fear, and not only survived but enjoyed myself made up for it. I’d take a sleepless night any day to have that result. I’m massively grateful to have this event to reconnect with loved ones and although I know another time things might be different, I’ll chalk this up as another smilestone and, as Ian Brown says, For Everything A Reason.
My sister also asked me to write a poem for the wedding ceremony which my Dad read. I’ll also credit Paul Simon’s ‘something so right’ for giving me initial inspiration.
To love for the days that feel the best
These picture-perfects, and all the rest
Together as equals, in plain sight
All the past days, mean you know it’s right
It’s not about waking each day, entwined
But what you know, with both heart and mind
The warm summer evenings and cool winter light
Today and all days, when you know it’s right
Skipping or slogging through life together
And knowing this together is, forever
The future you know will be more than alright
With all the tomorrows, when you know it’s right