When I was a small child my brother and I would argue with my mum that listening to the radio was not tiring. We couldn’t recognise that she was being honest when on certain occasions she claimed to be too tired to listen to music while driving the car. In addition to my brother and me, my mum at that time cared for 14 horses on our stud farm, kept a clean and tidy home and produced two servings of dinner as my father got home too late for us all to eat together.
I’m no stranger to feeling tired. At 18 I caught a virus that it took me over four years to recover from. ME or Post Viral Fatigue is devastating. It’s a level of exhaustion where at your worst you can’t read or focus on a television program. You lie in bed struggling to make coherent sentences from a sluggish brain to speak through a mouth where every movement tires the jaw. I can appreciate why Lynn Gilderdale wished to end her own life. My own experience left me with a profound gratitude that my own case hadn’t been worse and that I recovered in a relatively short period. ME is an illness however, the tired I feel now is not.
I’ve worked fairly solidly throughout my twenties but have been completely unprepared for a 40 hour week with an hour’s commuting each day. Sitting with your laptop on the sofa in thick socks isn’t true work. Taking a walk and stopping for a coffee to clear your head isn’t true work. Feeling a bit tired and watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy then making an early start on the risotto you fancy for tea is not true work. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t have a nicer place of employment; I start at ten so I miss the morning traffic, I drive out along country roads to a small town to an office in a listed building where the gardener makes pots of fresh coffee, I then work in a small office at a job I love, before leaving at six and once again missing the traffic. But from half past nine to half past six I am doing something and lunch is rarely more than ten minutes snatched to heat and eat a bowl of soup.
One night last week I got home, changed and headed over to my boyfriends flat. I started cooking without sitting down because I feared I wouldn’t be able to get up again. He always puts music on for me; that night I requested silence. I could cook. I wasn’t unhealthily tired in a post viral way but I was exhausted. I was happy to cook the meal I’d promised but music was one thing too much.
The weekend that followed began around 7am each day as my boyfriend's youngest announced his waking via the baby monitor. Of course, the rent I pay on my own flat entitles me to weekends with as much sleep as I could possibly desire but then I don't live to work and the weekend is the time I have to really be myself, the woman I only truly became acquainted with while sitting on the floor playing whatever game caught the children’s imaginations that week. I was delighted to make toast on Sunday; pressing my stamp into pieces of bread to reveal 'I love you' messages in dark brown detail for my guys.
Just like my mother, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I love my life right now but I'm tired. I was close to not appreciating all that I have when I read a statement by Joshua Ferris in the Observer magazine; 'As far as I'm concerned, writing a book is the most preposterous thing a person can do. Because it's so all-consuming. Even a mediocre writer has done something really difficult. You can dismiss a book as a bad book, but you can't dismiss the achievement as a bad achievement.' This relates to so many things, perhaps I'm not a great academic but I have written 100,000 words of academic text and while it may not change the world, my PhD thesis will earn me my doctorate. I may make a terrible stepmother to my boyfriend's kids but I will be there and I'm patient and interested in them and the things they say and no matter what happens I'm on their side unconditionally. Considering that my ME once meant I was nearly bedridden for a number of months, that I'm living the life I am is an achievement.
My exhaustion is temporary. Just like starting school, starting ones career is tiring stuff but we adapt and get used to it. What is important is that we note the victories and enjoy our time. I have never believed that our school days are the happiest of our lives; I’m a far happier adult than I ever was a teenager but the sentiment is right. A life busy with work and family and friends is wonderful when written down like that. Lest I harbour overly fond memories of 2009, I was unsure what direction my life was going in. Now I have a career path and it is good to stop, take stock and feel grateful for this point in my life where I’m on my path but it could still lead anywhere.
Still, despite the fact it’s only 9pm, I think I’m going to turn in. This column is the last thing on today’s to-do list.