30 May, 2006

Radio times

I spent most of 2003 being very ill indeed, though I kept it from everyone bar my closest colleague at work and my immediate family.

The symptoms manifested themselves inconsistently and never in enough of a tangible way to suggest an obvious cure, and I was never diagnosed with a specific disease or affliction.

I always suspected it was chronic fatigue syndrome; not one of the doctors or consultants ever said as much, or indeed said much about anything. Yet it made my life hell, and many was the evening I cried myself to sleep, wondering if the fucking pain would ever go away. I was put on a course of betablockers for around six months, and valium for one month, but after that I was left to cure myself, which I was eventually able to do through a mixture of somewhat quaint relaxation techniques and proper exercise. I've continued with both ever since, and they seem to have worked, though I doubt I'll ever be 100% well ever again.

Suffice to say my diary from 2003 makes truly grisly reading. On a couple of times I simply abandoned it because the effort to document what I was going through was too much. I'm rather glad these holes exist, however, for at least it showed my brain was still working enough to save me from the mercilessly pedantic business of documenting everything in my life for the sake of it.

But seeing the blank pages also reminds me of how I spent those dreadful days: lying in bed, rarely moving except to get another drink of water or some lacklustre meal, and listening to Radio 4.

Good old Radio 4. I'd include it in my list of the 10 best things about being alive.

The art of surrending yourself to a radio station (and it is an art) is something that can never be valued highly enough. While I lay there nursing a dozen unattributable aches and pains, I'd no idea what I was listening to most of the time, let alone what would be coming up next, yet the very fact the voices were always present, carrying on as normal, oblivious to my circumstances and instead chattering quietly about everything from - as I recall - Greek philsophers to 1930s cooking to the lost rivers of London to the recent invasion of Iraq was somehow deeply reassuring.

I would drift in and out of sleep, dreaming bits of what I was hearing and escaping into semi-consciousness before abruptly and all-too quickly jolting back into the real world. But the radio would still be there, still talking to itself, always in measured, calm, defiantly ordinary tones. It was my link with the real world, a lifeline if you will, and as far as I was concerned it was speaking to and for me.

Whenever I've been ill since (never as serious, thankfully) I've always been tempted to spend the whole day in bed and let the radio talk me through. Yet in the end I've never been able to justify giving up a whole day for such a pastime, always believing I should at least be up and about, even if it's just pottering from the sofa to the bathroom and back again.

The resonances with those dark days three years ago are perhaps too raw for me to seek parallel experiences just yet. Besides, the bed here isn't as comfortable as the one I had in Liverpool.

Only when you're really ill do you truly appreciate the value of being well and being able to go about your business without ever having to pause for thought. There used to be a time when I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to do the short 10 minute walk to work again. Strange the things that end up pulling you through.


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