A couple of tweets in my timelime over the past few days have reminded me of my experiences in the Lake District in 2005 and 2006. @pmphillips recently climbed Scafell Pike with a group of friends, in weather similar to me (see my picture below); and @Tanya_Marlow has recorded a video on Jesus’ incarnation in which she talks about climbing a mountain: the exhilaration of success, then the payback in disability.
In October 2004 I had a viral infection, and when I got back to work people told me how tired I looked. That was the beginning of my experience of M.E., although it wasn’t confirmed for another two years, and not even considered for about a year. I was up and down for a while, with what seemed to be recurring infections, and in the spring of 2005 I had difficulty walking: only ten minutes at my (then) usual pace, or about thirty minutes walking slowly, before I had to stop.
This was very worrying, because in May I was due to go on a short walking holiday in the Lake District with a group of friends. Hill walking was one of the things I really used to enjoy, even though I was always one of the slowest in the group, especially on the uphill sections; it’s one of the first things I would do if I am cured. Yet I seriously thought of pulling out of this trip.
However, things seemed to improve, and I set myself a series of increasingly longer walks, which went OK, so I was able to join the trip. Our main target was Scafell Pike, but the day we set off was overcast, and later rained quite heavily. We were soaked literally to the skin, even through waterproof clothes and boots. Of the five who set off, only two of us made it to the summit: myself and the one who is the best walker in the group. We took each other’s picture; this is me:
Apart from being wet through, I had no ill effects other than the normal muscle pains I would expect from such a walk, and through the summer of 2005 everything still seemed to be all right. I started to believe the doctor who had said this was just an infection that was slow to clear, and that all it needed was time.
In the autumn of 2005, though, the symptoms started again, and it was now that I began to wonder if this was M.E. I read up about this illness, and found out about levels of severity and the fluctuating symptoms. My GP agreed with the possibility, and said he would refer me to a consultant to confirm it – although this didn’t happen until after my first episode of passing out in March 2006 (as I posted about here).
So with a renewal of symptoms, and even with new ones, I did what in hindsight was probably not a good decision: I joined the lads on our second trip to the Lake District. This time was not as successful for me. One day we did a long walk but with very little climbing; I had to finish it by bus. The next day the rest of the group went up Helvellyn, along Striding Edge; I stayed behind.
I sometimes wonder if I had known more about ME in the early days, if I had rested more then, maybe taken some time off work, and certainly if I had not gone walking, whether I would have made a much better recovery, for example still being able to work today. And while I am proud of my achievement in climbing Scafell Pike in 2005, I don’t really have anything but regrets to show for the 2006 adventure.
Except … perhaps it was this that made me start to take my illness seriously. This is a poem called “Left Behind” that I wrote while not climbing Helvellyn:
If only I’d waited and hadn’t been greedy,
Things might have been different today.
I might have been out doing just what I came for;
Instead I am having to pay.
I wanted to do things that really I couldn’t;
My pride got the better of me.
It’s time that I started to be realistic
And face things with true honesty.
It’s all about balance and saving resources,
For energy’s hard to replace;
I need to accept that my body has limits,
And not care about saving face.
And so I am sitting while others are doing;
I’ve chosen to be left behind
Away from temptation to push myself further,
Pretending I don’t really mind.
Perhaps there’s a lesson it’s time I was learning
For making the best of my time,
Rejoicing sincerely in others’ successes,
And knowing they can’t all be mine.