I am sitting in a field of dandelions, a field of resilience, and I am cautiously hopeful. I have my planner on my lap, and I realize that I have completed all but three things on my 2020 homesteading projects list. How was this possible? How was it possible when I had been so ill over the last six months?
My world became very small in the last six months; smaller than it normally is, smaller than even the pandemic made it. Half of my days were spent in pain, with headaches and fatigue and brain fog and sadness. Many nights I fell asleep in my husband’s lap on the couch, or went to bed immediately after putting my son in his, falling asleep fully dressed with the lights on. I was frightened that I was facing my mortality, only cautiously diagnosed and unable to be physically examined because of the pandemic.
I did my best to care for my family and friends, to not burden them with my problems, but nothing improved. I was told to eat better, drink more water, exercise, but how could I do any of those things if I could barely think enough to keep myself organized, if I could not stay awake if I didn’t need to be? Rare headache-free days were a blessing, where I did all I could to prepare for the next round of pain with meal preparation and cleaning.
Still, I could not keep up. I abandoned my standards for the cleanliness of my house. I did whatever minimum I had to do to keep things going. And yet, in six months I missed only a couple days of work, and only when the emotional burden of this problem became too much to bear. My paying work was the priority, because in such uncertain times (and having faced a layoff notice in January), I had to show that I was still valuable, still important, still needed. My volunteer work was ignored several times, causing catch up days and angry emails, but how could I explain this? How bad is a headache, really?
At Imbolc, three months in, I remembered (or perhaps, she reminded me) that Brighid herself suffered from chronic headaches, and she became my constant companion. She could not cure me, but she alleviated what she could, and I slept with her blessed cloth hanging on my bed. In sleep, there was no pain, and I slept well and deeply every night. As I considered the impact of cultural appropriation on my spiritual practice, I feared that Brighid’s presence in my life was wrong, that I was harming others by walking with her and loving her. What I feared more than this was losing her, she who had become my companion through this, and had been with me for many years besides. What would I do without her? She was always there when I needed her, and she held me throughout all of this.
Any time I reached out for her, she was there, a steady presence simply reminding me she was with me and she would help me hold on. I could not pray to her, or sing to her, or do anything that I normally would have liked to do; I was too tired, and my brain did not work in the same way. You can even see that here, in this writing — it is stilted, basic, without nuance and imagery. It is the best I can do for now, this slapping of words down on the page. I have not yet fully healed.
As the months went on, I finally got a specialist appointment, but had to wait yet another month to be seen. At this time, my spirit began to lose resilience, and I began to consider what would happen if this did not heal me. I began to prepare for a life of constant headaches, looking at what was important to me and what I wanted to keep in my life. I began to think about how to better structure my days, reading about chronic illnesses and their management. I put aside my dreams and my plans to focus instead on daily survival.
What would I keep, and what would I put aside? When I was severely depressed, I lived a very structured life of 5:30am wakeups and exercise, following a strict diet, and despite the regiment I was barely holding on some days. Is this what I was about to return to? I was ready to give up my priesthood, unable to contribute any writing, any thealogy, any liturgy. My thoughts of returning to weightlifting were put aside in favour of slow walks in the park. As much as I wanted to reconnect with someone special to me, I didn’t feel that I could give them the attention they deserved, and was ready to give that up, too. Days in the garden and the sunshine called to me, and I was ready to accept my small world.
And then, and then, and then. My new, kind and caring gynecologist took one look at my headache charts and turned my consult appointment into a procedure. There were complications, complications that explained why I had suffered so needlessly over the last six months. And again, I slept, but this time in renewed hope.
In the last two weeks, only a quarter of my time has been spent with headaches, instead of more than half, and nothing in the last week. I am no longer fatigued. I am cautiously making plans. I hesitate to call myself healed until my followup; until Brighid can work her magic on my tired body and soul, until I can grow in greenness with the Earth, in Hildegard’s viriditas.
As at every Bealtaine, I am reminded of viriditas in a way that I do not expect, and yet unsurprisingly it was the theme in the omen in last night’s Hearthkeepers’ Way New Moon rite. Please continue to have compassion for me, as I find myself again in a new, green, and open space; a world of cautious, hopeful expansion; illuminated in the light of the spring sun.