I spent last year in bed, with a relapse of chronic fatigue, from which I had believed I had completely recovered. If you ever get a chance to do that – and you probably will if you live long enough – rejoice, there is much pleasure to be found in extended rest. As well as anxiety, some terror, and bad FOMO. But since you (I) can get bored with misery, behind that was great politics, acres of books to read, films to watch, forums to observe, and thinking to do. Being ill, I thought principally about my illness, which I have packed around with myself for 30 years or so through New York, London, Bermuda and coastal British Columbia, where I found, finally, my health. I blame my mother. My matrilineal gifts are many, including among them long life, my mother and her aunt died at 96, their mother at 97, and a great aunt at 107. But illness or some kind of setting-aside-from-life was part of their lives too. They were Irish in origin, northern Irish, and a house still stands where 12 generations of them have lived and some still live. Somehow they hung on to home, no matter what.
I know the history of many lines in my family going back to 920 AD. But I wondered about those women in Ireland from the 1st to 10th century. Lots of long damp winters, where you stayed in by the fire and dozed all day, eating beans and, if you were lucky, bunnies. Probably not feeling completely well for months at a time. But through those long rests in a stone house in a cold country where freezing rain is the dominant weather feature, was born over 80 or 90 generations the longevity gene which I now carry.
We are or were all preoccupied with our health. When my grandmother went into the hospital at 97 for the last time, a small suitcase tipped and two dozen bottles of nutritional supplements rolled across the floor. “Was she always ill?” asked the nurse. My mother nodded. “Those old ladies go on forever,” she quipped to my mother, who too, carried suitcases of supplements when she traveled. As do I. I want to live to 105, reading and writing and shopping online to the very last day.
There is a genetic component to Chronic Fatigue/ME. No one really knows how it factors in, but it is mitochondrial, or female-based. Jennifer Brea, a sufferer like me, made a multi-award-winning film last year, called Unrest. It asks many questions, the answers to which may lead to a radical upswing in length of life.
I’ll be waiting. Possibly ill, but fully alive.