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I have recently returned from a convalescence break in France where my parents (yes, I am lucky to still have my mother and my father) spoiled me rotten, not to mention my sister-in-law who is so generous with me I can hardly believe it. On top of all that, I also managed to see my beloved brother (who travels a lot so he is hard to catch) and my two treasured nephews. Lovely, lovely, lovely!

I worried quite a bit before I left for France about what I would be like while I was away. I didn't want to feel totally washed out, I didn't want to worry my parents even more than they already worry, I didn't want to miss out, I didn't want to spend my holiday in bed or stuck in an armchair for most of the day. There was a lot of 'I don't want' and I found it difficult to articulate any 'I want'. Me, negative? Surely not!  Well, yes, I am negative if I don't watch it - and even if I do watch it!

One thing this experience has taught me to accept (I am tempted to say "that this illness has forced me to experience") is the immediacy of my feelings. I feel fragile as a result but I also feel that I do not absorb and accumulate so-called negative feelings until they build into an unconscious back-breaking emotional weight. I feel what I feel (anxiety, fear, discouragement, frustration, etc) at the time it feels me. My as yet fragile energy precludes me from reacting strongly: it is as if I now operated like an open filter rather than as a stone wall. I let things affect me (I have no choice) and they travel through me instead of coalescing unacknowledged. I feel very fragile, quick to tears and exhaustion at the time something hits me, and yet somehow clean inside and peaceful afterwards. I have a sense I am learning a new kind of strength.

This reminds of a well-known fable written by *La Fontaine: 'Le Chêne et le Roseau' (The Oak Tree and the Reed).  The oak tree is very proud of its strength and  looks down on the feeble reed until the day a huge storm erupts and the fierce wind hits them both relentlessly. The feeble reed bends and bends offering little resistance to the wind but the strong oak tree gets uprooted before the storm subsides. I am discovering that there is a lot to be said for being reed-like, even if it doesn't come naturally. Not yet anyway.

My little French break went very well precisely because I was reed-like. I went walk-about one day and I rested the next, bending one way and then another. I did not force anything and enjoyed whatever was, when and as it was. My parents' profound understanding of my illess (from my father's own painful experience over the years) was a huge contributory factor in making easy for me to go with my flow, when flow there was.

When I got back, I felt refreshed and optimistic for a few days. Then I was hit by a big dip in energy that immobilised me for another few days. Bending one way and then another. The most challenging aspect of my being reed-like is still my need to understand why the wind blows, one day like a gentle breeze and the next like a gale. My father is a meteorologist (or was before his retirement - he is 81 now) so I know it is possible to explain why the wind moves the way it does by studying the earth's atmosphere. I also know it is impossible to eradicate the wind - it always is.

Ultimately, on the ground, what really matters is knowing how to deal with the wind, how to use it, how to protect oneself from it if necessary. I once likened bi-polarism to being in a little boat battered in a fierce sea storm, and so it is for me. No wind at all is great and restful but it doesn't get you anywhere. Learning to respect the wind, as both a powerful ally and a fierce ennemy might well be what is needed to sail this life.

Being like a reed on terra firma and like skilful a sailor on the seas - that's a lot for little me to grasp and master ....  but I am learning :0)

* Jean de La Fontaine was a famous French fabulist and probably the most widely read French poet of the 17th century.

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