So I recently discovered the ‘Ask Polly’ advice column and I cannot believe it has been out there for so long without my knowing.
If you haven’t yet heard of it either, go read some. Ask Polly is by Heather Havrilesky in New York magazine and there are a ton of back-columns online. It’s nothing like an ordinary advice page, where people write in with problems and get given a practical solution or suggestion, with or without some understanding preamble. Polly’s understanding preamble is the column. Sure, she’ll get round to making some suggestions eventually. But the people who write in are usually stuck in a major way – social isolation, familial estrangement, hating their work or knowing their relationship is wrong – and seem unable to move forward. Polly spends a lot of time not just empathising with them but telling them why it’s OK to feel the way they do, what will make them carry on feeling that way and what could help them to stop. She almost always finishes by telling them (in one form or another) that they are vulnerable and brave, needy and strong, human and magical. She gives them permission. And yet the column is never formulaic, and always new. It makes me feel more powerful and more real every time. If this moves you, it’s down to her writing, not mine. Seriously, go read some.
I don’t exactly want to write to Polly (Heather) and ask her about how to handle life with ME/CFS, I don’t think. Although I am interested in what she’d say, because, possibly like most people who write to her, I don’t see how she could especially help me (stuck on the sofa as I am). And yet, I must do, because I imagine her talking to me about how to navigate my life all the time. Or maybe it’s me talking to myself and channelling her, I’m not sure. Anyway, when Polly/Heather/I talk to myself like this, this is what Polly/Heather/I say:
Life is hard. We all know it’s hard. I’m trying to rebuild here, and it’s really, really hard. I’ve had to start over and over, and I probably will again, and I’m not even sure how far I’ll get. But I’ll keep building up the battered bricks of my life, I’ll go into the ragged pile and start putting them together piece by careful piece, until my hands are bleeding and shaky and my knees are raw. And when my disease knocks the bricks down again, I’ll start building them back up, even though they have fallen so many times already, even though they may be torn down over and over, even when a fire sweeps through and turns them all to burnt-out dust.
Even then I’ll pick up the tiny dusty cinders and stick them together with sweat and dreams, and this time I’ll start building myself a throne, because I’m a fucking queen. And when I’m ready – not when I’m done building, but when I’m pure and simple ready, I’ll know it when I am – I’ll stand on my throne of dust and sweat and toil and hope, and I’ll turn my wrecked heart to the world and say: I am here. I am still here.