I’m ill. Not a normal sneezy feverish thing or an obvious bout of simple vomiting, but a really odd and deeply annoying exhaustion. A total weak dizziness that feels like some leech is literally sucking the life out of me, through my lungs and chest, where it also feels like someone is crushing my ribcage and squashing me into the ground. There is a great deal of trembling and breathlessness, accompanied by an irritating spaced outness and general fog about the brain.
Its been 5 days now, each one started with some defiance to go to work and get stuff done that quickly concluded in defeat as I got sent home to curl up gratefully under the duvet for the type of sleep that grabs you firmly by the face and takes you straight into a depth of dreamscape full of fantastical and frightening adventure, from which you awake breathless and trembling all over again.
The doctor said it’s probably a virus, just take some rest and come back next week if it persists. Clever Uncle Google says it’s probably Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and there’s no cure. I know I shouldn’t take Uncle Google seriously but I am beginning to wonder if there will be an end to this awful exhaustion. I have slept around twelve hours a day, in two or three shifts, and lovely people have been round with flowers, medicine, magazines and meals, for which I am incredibly grateful and unfairly fortunate.
The thing is, I am worried that I have somehow created the illness myself. It is real, that’s for sure, the breathlessness and dizziness are actual things, the ability to sleep like a rock at the first contact with a pillow – several times a day – is real, the tight pressure in the chest is a definite thing. The inability to manage basic physical tasks like turning a tap on, picking up laundry or walking to the shops without needing some recovery time is unquestionable. But there is a lovely little silver lining to all this, a side effect that is massively beneficial, which I consider might be the goal of a potentially self inflicted subconscious piece of self destruction.
The Food and River Festival, the biggest annual event of my job, is in five days. The approach of the event usually heralds a few weeks of anxiety, complete sleepless worry, sporadic bursts of tears and bitchy swearing amid a level of panicky stress that takes another few weeks after the event to recover from.
And right now, I just don’t care. While my energy level has dipped to a place where I can barely summon the strength to make a cup of tea, my brain power has dipped fantastically with it, such that my usual hyperactive super vigilant brain full of racing thoughts has slowed to a pace that can just about cope with the complex business of boiling a kettle, and doesn’t even attempt to contemplate the necessity of planning the staff rota for the event, compiling the hygiene certificates of the stall holders or writing the press release I need to get out to the local press in the preceding week.
I also can’t see the point. Why have I always taken it so seriously? Its just a field full of people selling food. Why is this such an important job? Why is this worth weeks and weeks of my time and stress? And so many other peoples? It’s just a nice event, with an inordinately immense amount of admin to make it happen. For one day. The fierce motivation to do an amazing job, to make sure everyone has a great day and that people are pleased with my work, has utterly disappeared. I can’t remember what it’s like to care what people think of me anymore, and I’m sure that used to be quite important to me.
This bizarre calmness and general indifference to the Food and River Festival is so unusual and uncharacteristic for my usually franticly busy and constantly worried mind that I wonder if the almost complete shut down of my body and mind in the week before the event is my subconscious attempt to protect myself from the usual stress at the first sign of anxiety creeping in again this year.
In which case it will last for the next 6 days. If I still feel like this at the event on Sunday I will be unable to do much more than sit on a chair and weakly instruct our team of awesome volunteers on what to do. But really if those things don’t happen who cares. If the cooking demo chef doesn’t have the right equipment then, well, he wont be able to show everyone how to cook pasta a la carbonara. And then what? People might say oh that wasn’t very well organised. And they will walk away and carry on their happy lives. It really doesn’t matter. If the chilli contestants’ vomit isn’t cleared up instantly then, well, people will step around it for the rest of the day. None of the events of the day actually matter really, the stallholders need to make a living and they’ll do that just fine, and by Sunday night, as the rubbish is cleared up and the stalls are trundling away, everyone will look at each other and wonder, again, why we put so much work into such an unimportant event.
What is important, I realise as I lie for hours on my sofa with a brain so stilled from work being so removed, is the serious business of my own existence and the fact that I was put on this earth for more genuine and beautiful and meaningful things than fields full of food.
The constant chatter of work and worry with its tangly chaos of tasks and people and responsibilities has just shut up. And finally, in this dizzy but peaceful place, my heart is heard. And my heart says hello again. Don’t you remember all your dreams and plans and loves that you discovered with such beautiful clear purpose of on the beaches of Colombia 6 months ago?
And although I have not the energy to pursue them yet, I remember them, I hear my heart again, and when the flipping festival is over next week and my health has returned, thank you very much, I will resume pursuing them.
So, if my bizarre illness is a subliminal self preservatory attempt to create a complete indifference to the festival, then it has worked. If it has the more noble duty of reminding me that I have a heartful of far more meaningful things to think about, then I thank it for its wisdom and promise to pay attention.
If it is just a badly timed virus then, lovely to meet you, can you go now please.