I lost a handful of friends after my Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) diagnosis. No warnings, no bad blood, just like that. Silence was present where relationships once stood. ME is a multi-system disorder and is commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I would ask myself if I’d done something wrong, that maybe they didn’t know what to do. And yet, as I’d lie there night after night struggling to cope in a body that couldn’t function, the morsels left of my pride clung to me like armour. I stopped myself from reaching out or saying anything. I just accepted what was, and if I was to blame, then so be it.
Fast forward to today and I’m in this un-clichéd situation where self-care is of the utmost importance. The NHS says there is no cure, and there is an overwhelming lack of investment and support. And yet, scores of patients around the world have experienced recovery and I aim to be one of them. No stress, a strict diet and plenty of rest is my life for the foreseeable future.
“Coping with pain around friends and family can be a burden full of tears”
So, what is self-care and how come it sounds so naff? It’s the buzzword for being “in touch with yourself”. Although hyper-feminine associations include images of face masks and a spa day Groupon, self-care as a medical requirement can also mean using a heart rate tracker, or apps that chart your migraines.
Some might see self-care as just a dolled-up way to mask selfish behaviours. But it’s all relative – the complexities of our lives, needs, and relationships can’t be described, let alone cured with beauty products.
But lately I have been distant and often find, in between beating myself up about it, that I keep coming back to the idea of self-care and friendships. It’s tough being 24-years-old and feeling like there actually has been a murder on the dance floor, and that poor murdered soul was you. Coping with pain around friends and family can be a burden full of tears, as well as requiring the highest capacity of your true self.
You begin to lose sympathy for the feelings and worries of others, especially those taking their well being for granted. When you’re on the outside looking in, through a windowpane of extreme fatigue, people and social norms start to look weird and totally exhausting.
“There’s unconscious criticism placed on women who want to have control over their relationships”
I’ve always been a friendship mascot. I like what I think it should stand for: loyalty, fun, support, adventure, honesty. But I’m only now realising that if I’m not capable of all of those things right now, then it’s okay to give my relationships breathing room. It’s not my fault I’m feeling distant. I can’t have fun in the club right now, and I don’t have the energy to invest in other people’s problems.
I think there’s unconscious criticism placed on women who want to have control over their relationships. It is as if we should somehow just passively let things go whilst nonchalantly watching and smiling. We give up our power too freely, and often to people that don’t need it or deserve it. It’s okay to have standards, and to admit when you, yourself, can’t meet them.
Most of us feel guilty when friendships fade or we finally decide they aren’t working for us. In this way self-care becomes telling someone you need space, that you may not trust them anymore and haven’t been as happy. It involves saying out loud that you’re just too busy, or too tired, right now – and you hope they understand.
“Assuming everything is set in stone stops us from accessing the freedom of making choices”
Self-care is making an effort to own your feelings, communicate your unhappiness, and occasionally silence works, too. Silence can be productive, and, if it works for you, then that is all that matters until you have the energy to move on or make amends. Life is easier when you give yourself more time and less pressure.
I think the best thing I’ve learnt from sickness is that there is no permanence to relationships or feelings. Assuming everything is set in stone stops us from accessing the freedom of making choices, or allowing time to heal and guide you. Let go of the fear of judgment and the fear that there’s no going back. Life is more than just forwards and backwards; sometimes taking yourself off track for a walk through the woods can be just as productive.