Pause & Reflect (February 15th 2022)

I am not much of a ‘winter’ person. I really do not enjoy being cold. Or wet. Or windswept. (Does anybody??). It always puzzles me that we, as (supposedly intelligent) humans, are the only living entity on the entire planet to not follow the natural rhythms of the earth’s seasonal cycle. Pushing ourselves to continue as ‘normal’ through these dark, cold, miserable days – then labelling it a ‘disorder’ if our minds and bodies succumb to the physiological effects of shorter days and longer nights, colder temperatures and reduced sunlight. The ‘winter blues’. A form of ‘illness’ to be ‘treated’ and ‘corrected’. For those of us with so-called invisible disability layered up with the complications of chronic illness, the effects are heightened. The complex regional pain syndrome in my left hand (I am left handed) causes cold in that hand to register not as ‘cold’ but as ‘pain’. The multifaceted effects of fibromyalgia become amplified, and the Christmas period in particular brings in own special kind of hell, with ‘cheerful’ bright flashing (migraine-triggering) lights EVERYWHERE, torturing me with pain, nausea, vision loss, and more, so that I avoid leaving the house as much as possible (becoming more of a recluse than I already am) – turning down invitation to social activities that would (as I know from hard-learned experience) leave me unwell for several days. Because the three conditions interact. Flare-up in my hand can trigger a migraine; migraine in turn can trigger the CRPS in my hand, and the whole lot can then set off a chain reaction of wider-body fibromyalgia symptoms – because all three conditions are rooted in the central nervous, the ‘information superhighway’ of body-&-mind.

Thus I tend to retreat in ‘hibernation’ mode from early December, reemerging in early February, around the time of what is known here in the northern hemisphere as Imbolc (in Christian overlay, St. Brigid’s day) – the midway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox, ie. the official beginning of spring.

Me and planet earth, we got a thing goin’ on.

Not that it is all bad, this hibernation thing. In fact, for me it is the only way forward. Not simply a matter of surviving, but thriving. And although ‘unseen’ in the public domain, I am far from idle. And certainly never bored. This has been particularly true this time around, since I’ve been investing a substantial amount of time and energy in various methods of therapeutic intervention via my local NHS ‘Pain Management’ department. Regular appointments with a whole array of incredibly knowledgeable, skilled and capable health professionals, including occupational therapists and physiotherapists, and (the bit that surprises people most when it comes to managing pain) psychologists. One-to-One input and an online group (currently, week 6 of 9). I only wish this had been available ten years ago, when I first needed it – instead of the dismissive: ‘nothing we can do, you must just learn to live with it’ …

But I digress.

Most significant this winter, has been my enrolment (October 2021) on a 3-4 year PhD, at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. I say ‘at’ but in reality I am home-based here in west Cornwall, working online as distance-learner via the wonders of modern cyberspace. ‘PhD’ sounds terribly grand, frighteningly clever, and somewhat intimidating. In reality it means I have committed myself to the next three (possibly four) years immersed in a subject of my own choosing. Put that way, it can sound a little self-indulgent. This notion is, however, balanced by the fact that my research proposal has been approved by a whole panel of highly accomplished academics, all experts in their own field, together agreeing that my suggested research is, in fact, a worthy cause. Who’d had thought it, eh?! Not bad for a 55-year old grandma who left school at 16 with a handful of average O-levels, returning to education at 22 (by then a newly-single mother of three) … with more than three decades of life lived since, along the way aquiring a Bsc. Hons. degree, an MA., teaching certificate, and more. And yet, still, this last few months, I have floundered. Because it’s all very well getting a place on a PhD programme. But you then have to do the work. Follow through. Walk the talk. Come up with the goods.

Gulp.

Fortunately, now four months in, I am in a much better place than I was at the start, when the initial buzz of acceptance sank rapidly beneath the shock of: ‘What have I done? Am I up to this?!’ Very quickly plateauing out into a rabbit-in-the-headlights zombie state of … ‘What. Am. I. DOING?!?!’ Cue, subsequent blur of funding applications, getting-to-know-you meetings with my two wonderful supervisors, seemingly-endless form-filling, additional funding applications, much buying of books, paper, more books, and a steep learning curve getting to grips with a much appreciated disability-support package (ergonomic equipment and computer software) … plus, most recently, a proper-academic submission of my full three-year research plan … And now I am ‘there’. Wherever ‘there’ is. Point being, I have somehow gotten out of my own way, and am now getting on with it.

Meanwhile. There is a much-neglected allotment needs tending (it can wait) and a colony of bees left to their own devices over winter. So, feeling the need to reconnect with the wider outside world (and with a brief window of blue sky) I headed off yesterday to check on my one surviving colony, which I last looked in on at the end of November. Last year was a mysteriously disastrous year for honeybees, with beekeepers around the world suffering dramatic losses for reasons that so far remain unclear. Inexplicable queen death and general failure. I lost 4 of my 6 colonies, with one of this final two becoming queenless, my only option being to combine the two together pinning all hopes on their overwinter survival, aiming to build back up again this coming season. I cannot overstate the my joy – and sheer relief – at finding them alive and well (as far as I can tell from the quick lift-of-the-roof manouvre I performed, not wanting to disturb them too much at this still-precarious early stage of the year). I did a quick icing-sugar shake varroa treatment, popped on a block of fondant as supplementary feed, and closed them back up. I’ll leave them to it for the next few weeks, and check in on them again towards the end of March, by which point the weather should be starting to warm up, and the queen (assuming she has survived) will have again begun to lay the all-important eggs, replenshing the colony with lots of lovely new honeybees.

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