There’s a fun book called Spinsters Abroad: Victorian Lady Explorers, by Dea Birkett (2002). It recounts the stories of several female explorers from 19th Century England. One woman explored the male-dominated Middle East, another climbed mountains, another discovered a wide range of plants. She also became an esteemed fauna artist, having a building at Kew Gardens in London displaying her work that stands today. I don’t remember all their names (or any of them, really) or everywhere they went. One explored the Nile. What they all had in common was when they were home, they were pretty close to helpless invalids. If I remember right, the woman who climbed mountains had a chronic back issue that kept her prone most of the time. That wasn’t the focus of the book. The focus was the extraordinary accomplishments of women in Victorian England, when (ironically because a female was on the throne) women had little standing in society.
I don’t know, but it’s possible that their struggle with chronic health issues was only a side note because it seems a bit unbelievable. Did they really have chronic pain, chronic fatigue? How could they and then still go all over the world. Why were they healthy outside of their native environments? Were they? I would love to read their diaries. It’s important to note, these were middle class women with access to the resources they needed to travel and the resources to be able to focus on planning travel instead of earning a living or cleaning a house.
The thing is, when someone is suffering from chronic pain or fatigue or likely both, it helps to plan things to do, places to go, people to see. It helps to have an adventure. It doesn’t mean that person was faking it the day before when he or she stayed in bed all day. These women found an energy reserve just through sheer determination to do the things they did. I would bet everyone of them went to bed swollen and sore and woke to fibro flu only to get up and do it again. I’ve done it myself. I did it today.
Every day I get up and go to work. I don’t have a choice, being a single income residence. I work all day and go home and collapse. Today, Friday, there was a blizzard, and the commuter bus wasn’t running, so I stayed home. You would think I would normally have been working for 8-1/2 hours plus an hour commute both ways, tired and struggling sometimes, but functional, so I should be able to clean the house today. I’ve been working on it all day, since about 6:00 AM. I’ve napped and lounged and just collapsed between tasks. It’s getting slowly done, but what should have taken a couple hours has taken 14 and I’m not done. My mind looks at my circumstances today – I don’t have to answer to anyone, don’t have to be conscious, don’t have to function, so it relaxes, and my body and determination to function does too. I would totally be that woman in the 19th Century. Give me half a chance and I’d be trotting the globe only to come home and collapse for months on end, until the next trip. It doesn’t mean I’m faking it when I can’t get out of bed after traveling the Nile, it means sheer determination took my body away from its prison for a little while.
It doesn’t make my chronic pain fake. It doesn’t make my chronic fatigue fake. They are my every day reality. I accept them as part of me, but they aren’t me. I’m that spinster in a corset and petticoat perched on a camel in the desert with a parasol, exploring the pyramids while everyone around me scratches their heads and says, “Huh.”