I arrived at Anahata only just about able to walk between the buildings. If I was standing up and having a conversation with someone I would have to sit down after less than a minute...wherever I was. I rolled around on the floor quite a bit, pretending I was just...well, really relaxed.
I'm in a yoga retreat with a wide deck, perched high on a mountaintop pile of granite and quartz, surrounded by forests, sheep and the sea far below on three sides. I'm half an hour's drive up a steep gravel track, not too far from a town in Golden Bay called Takaka. The weather is September-like. Bright, sunny days with nights that need hot fires and hot water bottles. Sometimes everything is lost in cool mountain mist or drizzle. Whatever the weather, it often passes.
This place spoke to me the moment I found it online many months ago. It's off grid, very poor mobile connectivity (the site is deliberately device free), the food is delicious and mostly comes fresh out of the garden. There is a fairly relaxed ashram environment. Everyone else wakes up for yoga at 5.30am. I tried. Even lying in the class imagining doing it all uses up too much juice too soon in the day for now. I lie in bed instead and watch the sunrise. There's silence from 8.30pm until 8.30am. I love that, on a practical level it simply allows you to get a bit of inner space while someone hands you a bowl of breakfast. People are fun and caring here, it certainly my isn't too earnest - but there is a dedication to rest, meditation and making the place work as a community.
I'm doing the things that helped stick me back together last time - the physio advice to cut back on activity to a minimum (for now), more steady rest and a Chinese mushroom I spent a few months researching called Cordyceps. I am heading in the direction of getting better again. I don't know if it's the air, the amazing water from deep out of the rock, the gentle daily discipline, the tiny bits of restorative yoga and meditation. The day here is centred around calming down the body's sympathetic nervous system, not least a deep relaxation of the conscious mind called Yoga Nidra. (Yup, I found a place where they meditate lying down at 12pm everyday). It's probably a combination of all of those things.
Something is shifting.
Early days but moving around has absolutely become less of an issue the last two weeks. I found myself chasing a ditsy sheep back to the right side of a fence and was fine. I popped into town for the day and drove someone's 4x4 back up the vertiginous track. Completely fine. I don't know what my limits are exactly, but the whole point is to not push far enough to find out. I've been monitoring my steps and all I know for sure is that I can do a lot more without getting that horrible feeling of burning up.
It's wonderful here but I'm not suggesting it has been easy. Even if I did have all my mobility there's nothing like being somewhere close to paradise to realise that happiness is rarely a complete given to the human mind. And also, while I was dreaming of getting offline, I've found out I really want to connect with the world and talk to people I love after about a week. I jumped in the camper van of a friendly German called Jurgen this morning, totally ready for a brief change of scene and some WhatsApp calls in town.
There have been a few shifts in the way I see things. I started out with an inner target; to be able to somehow slowly walk a 30 min trek to a waterfall and back before I leave in a month. I've started to understand that being such an optimist all the time can mean I'm setting myself up for disappointment. I don't think I need any help with drive or motivation. My work here is going to be more about acceptance... never giving up can chug away in the background while I get back to accepting life as it is now.
There are 'Karma yogi's' who work a bit like WOOFers doing anything from cooking to gardening to helping in the office. I'll be doing more hours over time. Last Monday as all the mindfulness-in-action-jobs were being read out I didn't hear one job that I felt physically able to do. And I wondered what my place here was going to be...and it hurt to think of all the things I'd like to do. I'm not an amazing sewer but I'm now mending and altering anything anyone gives me. I've turned it into an art project - the hole in someone's trousers tells me what it wants to become; a sunflower, some colourful cross stitching. I'll be helping with a digital archive of meditation CDs next week.
I'm mostly learning how to be a witness to my own mind. To become more familiar with the well worn tracks of despair it can so easy slip down when CFS (or life in general) gets to me. As it can get to all of us. I've always known this but here I'm more conscious of the myriad of responses available to us in any given situation. That we can machete fresh paths of thought out of the jungle once we start to recognise the patterns.
I have met some extraordinary people who have survived so much - someone with a brain injury, someone else who lost an eye and a good chunk of his head because an admin mistake meant he didn't have a tumour removed in time. I know that there is so much I can do, but even then what I can and can't do probably shouldn't even matter quite so much. And it's ok when it hurts. That I am in most senses of the word, totally healthy now. That there will be all kinds of possibilities open to me however I am when I get home. I also like that I hardly mention CFS to anyone now. Only when it's unavoidable. It's simply something I have to work with and nevigate my life around.
I go into total silence for a week tomorrow. Let's see how that goes. My brain likes to chew over the rest of the trip and whether I'll be carrying on or heading home sooner. But that can all wait for another month.
Most of all I'm remembering to be kind. That self-compassion and acceptance weave around each other and whisper, "It's OK to feel like this. Take all the rest you need. You can stop now".
You can find out more about Anahata here.
An ME/CFS Thriver