So there was this guy who did the Process and on the first day he got out of his wheelchair and walked from from Crouch End to Marble Arch. I don’t know what he did on the second day, but on the third and last day he went home and cut down a tree. A woman who had been bedridden for years got up on day two and answered the door herself. Another threw away her crutches. And Signs? She went to Borders Bookshop in Brighton, had a coffee and bought a book by Ann Lamott called 'Bird by Bird'. It’s a book about writing and so far I’m enjoying it. Reading about the writing process is the displacement activity of choice when I am not writing, and writing about not writing is a close second. The title of the book gets its name because of a story she tells about her brother:
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write [it] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
Well that was day one. On the second day I came home and went to sleep. Then Mr. Signs and I did a reasonably thorough uncluttering job of a room in our house and that felt very good. On the morning of day three I noticed that I woke up and felt normal – meaning there was nothing weird going on in my head, limbs, stomach, or anywhere else in my body. And then I went on feeling normal for the rest of that day. I had a sleep again after coming home in the afternoon and when I woke up I still felt normal. You might think I had forgotten what normal feels like, but I haven’t. Normal doesn’t feel like anything at all, but when you are used to having shackles, normal feels like you are a piece of polystyrene floating on the water. Buoyant. The only reason for polystyrene not to float is if something is attached to it, holding it down. When it becomes detached from what has been holding it down, it surfaces again and floats – no matter how long a time has passed.
Well, but today I overdid it, and I haven’t had much sleep. And on this, the first day of the rest of my life, I went supermarket shopping. Cupboards were bare and son has just returned from the Arctic with a head cold and an overdraft. Life goes on and I am not looking for hallelujah moments. I am happy to take it “bird by bird” and notice that climbing the stairs is easier and for several days I have not particularly thought of needing to take prescription painkillers. I did think about it on day two but then I did the Process and the pain went. Today I have taken one because that is what I feel I needed to do and there is no benefit to be gained from pretending otherwise.
There were three of us in the group, plus Mr. Signs who accompanied me. The trainer was a woman who had had M.E. for eighteen years and now doesn’t. The process is used to treat all kinds of things, not just M.E., and it is recognised that this is a physical illness – not “all in the mind”, even though mind is used to bring about a change in the body’s response. Some illnesses appear to respond well to it, others not, nor would it be the right thing for everyone. The process itself is learned in three stages and is simple – but needs to be done regularly and consistently and my inclination is to look at the results after someone has practiced it for a while. Even so, it has taken me by surprise to witness how mind and body (mine) are willing to engage. Therefore I am hopeful. And mindful of the answer to the question: how do you eat an elephant? Answer: bite by bite.