Swoop and soar

It’s been a long time. I thought I didn’t have anything to say but actually there was too much and I felt all muddled and lost, like I was in the middle of a confusing chapter. Now the pieces are all falling into place and I can see that this year has been all about reclaiming myself. I stopped breastfeeding Leona at the start of the year, I got therapy, Leona started preschool in September, I had my first nights away from her in October, I have been taking on new projects away from home, and I stopped taking my immunosuppressive medication. We also had covid in the middle of it all, so it’s been a journey!

Last winter, Leona and I were sick constantly; it was so draining. Then spring came around and I thought that we would catch a break, but we caught covid instead. It was rough. After a week of having a sore tummy and zero appetite, then a week of flu-like symptoms, Leona and I went outside for a walk and made it about 10 meters from the front door before getting breathless and heading back to bed. A few days later I decided my appetite was back but I didn’t have the energy to cook. We went out for dinner and Dave and I got food poisoning for two weeks! We were both pretty destroyed after that but it was non-stop with travel plans and parenting. So it was no wonder it took me so long to get well again. But I was so sick and tired of being so damn sick and tired over the last few years, I was determined to tough it out. No long covid for me thank you, I’ve had enough problems. By June I had to admit that things were not good for me, especially the fatigue, anxiety and my fuzzy eyesight. I reluctantly went back to the elimination-phase diet, started sleeping more and put everything else on hold. It was really hard for me to accept that I had to go back to square one. But that relapse taught me so many important lessons. Now I don’t feel in a hurry to add more to my diet, to come off my medication, to give up meditating, to get back to being busy. It will all come when the time is right.

The summer was spent travelling to weddings and visiting family and friends. Any time we did spend on our project was on the land. We weeded out brambles, harvested lots of berries and tended our trees and bushes. And as the months went by, I slowly began to feel a little better.

Throughout the summer we noticed that Leona had so much energy and a need to be out and about with other people, but we were struggling to find the time and energy to keep up with the input she needed. She stopped napping after turning 2 and slept 10 hours a night, so I never had any time off. I was exhausted just thinking about arranging multiple play-dates and outings every week. So we went to spend some afternoons at the local school to see how it was. She loved it! But she didn’t want to go without me… So that was our challenge in September, helping the transition whilst she got to know the teachers and kids. After a couple of weeks she started to enjoy it and it’s been a total game-changer. She only goes for five hours a day on weekdays, although amidst the holidays and sick days, she has only ever done one full week so far! We have a nice balance now and enjoy spending time together as well as our time apart.

Those five hours (four after drop-off and pick-up) on school day mornings go by pretty quick. But the extra autonomy and brain space has freed me up to take on other responsibilities in life. The community association that we’ve been talking about getting off the ground for years is finally getting started. It’s an umbrella association for community groups in the area, helping them get access to members, public buildings, funding and other resources. Two friends whose kids are grown and whose house is finished have taken on much of the admin that we didn’t have the time or experience for. Somehow I have ended up President of the association, giving talks and getting involved in building the structure of it. I knew it was a role that I was going to love, but when I took it on I was worried about having the energy to do it. Now I’ve got more energy, I’ve got my role and we have a great group of people bringing different skills. I’m absolutely loving being involved in it. It does take up more of my time than I bargained for, which I’m embracing but Dave hates because it’s time and energy that isn’t going into building the house!

I have also been working on a project at the house. It has been grumbling along in the background for over a year but is finally progressing since school started. I had an idea to put a mosaic up behind the wood-burning stove, not realising what a project I was taking on! Oh, I’ll just smash up some tiles and make a picture, I thought…. Hm. It has been so much more labour-intensive than I imagined! But I have enjoyed working on it more than I could have hoped.

I wanted a picture of a barn owl. Owls symbolise change and inner wisdom. It was the hoot of the barn owl that called us here that night we slept in a tent outside this house and decided to make it our own. This mosaic is a project that Dave and I have actually collaborated on – it’s been a delight to have our strengths come together on something. He hasn’t done any of the physical work but he has given me so much useful advice when I have asked for it, particularly with regard to proportion and colour, which I wasn’t expecting. One of my artist friends drew this gorgeous picture for me and then I’ve worked out how to translate that into mosaic form. I have learned so much – I have had to dig deep for patience, hone an eye for detail and learn when to go back and re-do something and when to let it be. Of course it’s not perfect, it’s my first mosaic. But the process is so valuable to me and I love how it is turning out. It feels like a physical representation of my personal journey – ever-so-slow, stop and start, but starting to be recognisable as something, maybe even something beautiful.

It’s quite fitting that I haven’t finished it before Christmas as I planned. The final two weeks I blanked out in the diary all turned out to be sick days. You’ll have to wait for the final picture in the new year – we can learn patience together.

And now I’m coming full circle back to my health to end today’s chapter on a very satisfying note. Last November (2021) I had my regular immunosuppressive treatment, which according to my neurologist’s plan was being gradually spaced out to be an annual treatment. I had a checkup in August when he was booking me in for my next treatment. “Erm,” I piped up “Actually I am planning to skip that one, see how I get on.” He’s a quiet, considerate sort of person and there was a long pause. He didn’t try to dissuade me, although he did make it clear that this was not a normal course of action. Once he was sure that I had made up my mind, he booked me for another checkup in October. When this happened, I was nowhere near convinced that I was ready to go drug-free. I was still feeling the effects of long covid, but I figured it was worth a go. I mean, I can always start taking it again.

Part of my post-covid recovery involved a new nutritional therapist who had me on high dose vitamin D. Over the next few months, this gave me my energy back in a way that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I felt like I needed to move – to exercise! I started going to a dance class and then something just shifted. I started feeling so energetic, my stiff muscles and sore joints felt better and I really felt totally cured. I wasn’t scared to come off the medication any more. Then, in typical Anna fashion, I spent a month over-doing it, not napping any more and feeling too wired to sleep well at night. I got tired again and felt quite upset about it. But this time I didn’t try to ignore it, I just started napping again and got back on track in a matter of days instead of months. Phew. So that gave me the confidence that I know how to look after myself as long as I stay tuned into my body.

I saw my neurologist in October without news. Then I had another check-up this month, and found out that my November bloodwork showed that my B-cells were back to normal levels again. I am officially off my medication! My heart jumped with excitement and soared with delight; I’m whole again.

So here we are at the end of another year, the house still isn’t anywhere near done, the vegetable garden is largely neglected and we haven’t started trying for a second child. So many of the things I expected from this year did not come to pass. But I’m working on an art project, I’m helping to run a community organisation and I am healthier than I have been in at least a decade. I am so deeply content with my life that everything we don’t yet have can wait. I am too busy enjoying the present moment.