This is another post about CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). You should know that it is a good sign when I write about this illness, since when I am in relapse I will do anything to take my mind off it.
I\’ve been thinking lately about how strongly contact with people–or the lack of it–affects my symptoms. On the one hand, when I am not feeling well, nothing tires me more than the human presence. And not all human presences affect me in the same way. I have learned through experience that, regardless of the degree of affection I may feel for them, certain people wear me out, while others don\’t.
I cannot say that all high-energy people fatigue me, since I find some of them stimulating and revitalizing. Other intense individuals, however, make me feel as if the very marrow is being sucked out of my bones. Nor are all quiet people restful and salutary. I can enjoy quiet/interesting for hours, but the most exhausting encounters are those with quiet/boring, probably because I feel obligated to provide all the fuel for the conversation.
When I am at my worst, the only presences I can tolerate are my spouse–and my dogs.
On the other hand, nothing is more crucial to my mental (and likely also my physical) health than contact with people. Isolation has a depressing effect even on those in the pink of condition. How much more so, then, on people whose illness features depression as one of its foremost symptoms. So I find myself in the curious position of simultaneously desiring human contact, and avoiding it.
The trick is to achieve a balance between social activity and solitude. Sometimes I perform amazing feats of calibration–say, lunch out, then a nap, and a phone conversation in the evening. But both lunch and dinner out on the same day usually spells disaster the next morning.
It would be easier if the planet\’s inhabitants existed solely to attend to my needs. That not being the case, my friends\’ schedules and obligations as well as their feelings and preferences complicate my attempts to calibrate my exposure to society.
For the most part, however, I manage pretty well. For one thing, I am now in the fortunate position not to have to confront co-workers on a daily basis. For another, I am comfortable with a degree of solitude that many would find intolerable (that\’s why I live in Vermont). And I have understanding and flexible friends.
I am just coming out of a period of extraordinary (for me) levels of human contact: a week in the midst of my descendants followed by an explosion of year-end celebrations. And yet here I am, sitting by the fire, writing about it, seemingly none the worse for all the fun. Does it–could it–mean I\’m getting better?
I have learned, over the last fifteen years, not to attach to these resurgences. I have read my Buddhist books, and know that I should enjoy these good periods, while at the same time accepting that, like everything else in life, they are transitory.
This is one of the reasons I write about this otherwise boring, disgusting illness: because it distills the conflicts and dilemmas that all humans have to face. The need to balance social life and contemplation, activity and rest. The need to accept that we are more than the sum of our accomplishments. The need to realize that nothing–not the good times nor the bad–lasts forever. And that, while suffering is inescapable, happiness is not out of the question.