Last week I went to the park, almost two years since the original post from which this one takes its name. My latest trip was by no means the only time I’ve returned to the park since that first momentous visit, but the sight this time of a circus tent being erected on the very spot as the theatre tent described in my earlier post, gave me fresh cause to reflect on how far I’ve come in the last two years.
The thing about chronic illness is that while relapse can strip away months or years of progress (quite literally) overnight, improvements often happen so slowly they go unnoticed from day to day. It is only looking back over a longer timescale it becomes clear, that although you may not yet be able to work, go for walks or manage without carers, you may nevertheless able to sit up a little longer, concentrate a little better or recover a little more quickly from things that would have floored you just a year or so before. Looking back on a blog post then, that feels like only yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to realise how much improvement I have made in small but significant ways.
On that first foray to the park, after several years spent bedridden, I only ventured meters from the gate and stayed just long enough to give my brain sufficient rest from the strain of driving, to make it feasible to make it home. Despite this, I reached home in a state of collapse, was bedridden for days and took more than a fortnight to regain my pre-expedition level of function.
Although still by far the biggest activity I am able to do, a trip to the park now takes days rather than weeks to recover from, taking a far lesser physical and mental toll than it cost me all those months ago. This is partly because I am much more accustomed to driving my motorised wheelchair; increased familiarity with the location of safe crossing places, usable dropped curbs, shortcuts through ginnels and alternative routes should the pavement be blocked by badly parked cars, have lessened the intense cognitive demands of navigating what two years ago were unfamiliar streets. These factors alone however, cannot fully account for the fact that two years down the line, I not only sit in the park for a much longer time, but can now manage a full circuit of the path that encircles the playing fields – objective proof that my functional ability must be improving.
Visible from the path at the far side of the park is a busy road that runs parallel to the river. In 2012, the Olympic torch relay passed by on that road, and though I would have loved to join onlookers on that road so close to home, it might as well have been a million miles away for all the chance I had of getting there. Now the road and the river are so very close I could almost reach out and touch them.
Dare I hope that this year might be the year I make it to the river? The year I sit upon the towpath to take photos of the city just a stones-throw away upon the opposite bank? After almost a decade spent bedridden or housebound, still not able now to venture more than half a mile from home, the footbridge into town seems so tantalisingly close and yet still oh-so-far.
I learned years ago not to set a fixed timescale for improvement as failure to meet these ambitions has repeatedly left me despondent, yet life without hope would be even more unbearable, so I keep on hoping anyway.
And while my first trip to the park brought only painful reminders of how far I had fallen since that glorious summer of 2004 when (despite undiagnosed illness) I worked there as a theatre-hand, the sight of circus hands working on that same field last week, transported me back across the years to happier, healthier days before relapse took away my ability to work.
And perhaps, if you’re willing to forgive the self-indulgence, I may make that the subject of a future post.