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.
It’s spring and some days I have to chain myself to my desk. The broom is calling you see, and not a witches’ broom either – though witches’ brooms must have been made with the stuff I routinely slaughter. It’s stiff and green and tough as steel wire and this month, the bright ghastly yellow flowers surround the house – 150 meters away, but nonetheless, it will go to seed in a month, and then all the earth – scraped bare by the construction crew – will be colonized.
So I got out with my loppers, rubber boots, and long sleeves and start work. It is the best exercise ever. Better than downhill skiing – ok not quite. Galloping a horse across a field – that’s more fun I admit, but I no longer risk death. But most things – the gym, hiking, swimming – cutting broom trump broom. Within fifteen minutes I’m breathing hard and sweating and here’s the thing – I don’t want to stop. It’s too satisfying, it’s fun, it’s time travel back to when our ancestors cleared farmland – I used to think how miserable that must have been. Now I know they were all high as kites the whole damn time.
I’ve been clearing broom for 12 years now on and off. It is the most aggressive invasive species out here and it flourishes wherever land has been disturbed and then allowed to go fallow – the best argument ever against our metastatic conservation urge. All local shrubs and flowers are crowded out – the nootka rose, the camas lily, the chocolate orchid – gone.
Here’s the thing: I arrived in the country, hollowed out from 20 years in big big cities, frail, exhausted, often bedridden with flu or a persistent cold. Broom gave me back my health. Working outside cured me. I can hike straight up a mountain now, or run five miles (with breaks) and I never get sick for more than a day. Destroying that shrub on my 28, then after the (green) subdivision, 16.5 acres has given me another 40 years of brutal health. Now, I must go because if I do four hours of phone interviews, I can have two in my broom patch.