From the age of thirteen, until I developed Pulmonary Hypertension in my early thirties, I worked. Babysitting paid for my young teen wardrobe, selling cameras at Boots allowed me to fund my way through university, and teaching infant children taught me how joy and reward comes from making a difference.
So when I was suddenly unable to work at the age of thirty-two, it hit me hard. I missed it so much. The friendships, the routine, the responsibility. Having a place and a role in the school and village and little one’s lives. I missed having a reason to get up each day, missed feeling like I was doing something worthwhile, missed contributing. My daily purpose had been taken away. I was no longer needed. Lying on my sofa, unable to move from fatigue; I’d wonder what was the point of me now. I didn’t want to just be a taker, I wanted to give as well.
But I wasn’t well enough to even volunteer. Everything exhausted me. I couldn’t stand up, couldn’t sit upright for any length of time, and I suffered sensory overload in all but silent environments. I couldn’t chat for longer than ten minutes, couldn’t do any physical chores, and I suffered severe brain fog. And furthermore, my health was so up and down, so inconsistent, that I could never guarantee when I’d be well. I couldn’t look after myself, let alone help others. I couldn’t be a giver.
But then, in January 2015, nearly two years after first collapsing, I saw an advert in our village newsletter looking for helpers for the local hall committee. And nervously volunteered. 🙂 At the very first meeting, my confidence was at an all-time low. Red-faced and quiet and nervous; I was far from the confident teacher and world traveller of two years prior. My physical health was dictating and restricting my life wholly; and although I was desperate to be of help, I had limited self-belief that I could. I’d needed a rest day to stockpile enough energy to attend, I was exhausted by the five metre walk from scooter to hall door, and sitting upright was a mighty challenge. Whatsmore, I had barely enough breath to talk, found listening and focusing difficult, and my brain was a muddle. After that first meet I was full of doubt about whether I could meaningfully contribute.
But I could. 🙂 I persevered, and happily, for the past 7.5 years, I’ve been the booking clerk at our lovely village hall. Answering emails, collecting payments, updating the calendar, arguing with the WI! 😉 With no set days or times, and with most of my tasks online, I was able to find ways to overcome the obstacles created by my health. Fatigue could be reduced by lying down on the sofa to type; and sensory overload limited by only working for just short five or ten minute stints. Muddles from brain fog were reduced by note taking and triple checks, and I didn’t need to get washed or dressed! 😉 Plus I only attended meetings when I was well. Slowly, that red-faced and quiet voice inside, began to see that I could do the job. I could help still, I could be a giver still, I could contribute still. It was only a tiny role in society- but it was a role. I could be part of a team again. Gradually my shaky voice regained it’s self-confidence and self-belief. And I began piecing myself back together.
Amazingly, nowadays, with my physical and mental health much improved, I can sit up at my desk and work for as long as needed. I can concentrate and think and type without issue. I can attend most meetings, walk around the hall, and perch myself on the hard chairs for hours! I’m happy to chat and debate and take on extra tasks, plus other village helping roles too. And I’ve made friends. 🙂 After becoming ill, mere months after moving to our village, I hardly knew anyone initially. But that little job helped introduce me to, and integrate me into, our lovely village community. So many reasons to be thankful.
Last week, with our move to the Peaks hopefully imminent, I attended my final meeting. End of an era. And after the usual debates over the playground and curtains and car parking, my wonderful fellow trustees surprised Phil and I with goodbye drinks. The me that stood to sip and chat, was a world away from the one that answered the advert. I hope I can find another way to contribute in our new town. 🙂