In my childhood, the monster lurking round the corner was called THOE. Everything would be going along smoothly and my friend would say: “You never know what's waiting round the corner, though...” “Don't you call me Thoe!” I'd reply. Thoe was always just out of sight. Waiting to cause trouble. Very patient. We took it to a new level. We began pulling faces at one another, impersonating Thoe, and laughed.
Thoe finally got me when I had long forgotten It. That's the way with monsters. As a newly appointed headteacher, I sat at my desk, turned to the window and stopped to reflect. That's a snapshot I can never erase. Rain was throwing itself contentedly at the pane. I like the rain. I like the sound it makes; it's probably my Irish ancestry.
The first head I'd ever worked for was a round motherly woman with a mind like Miss Marple. Loved by parents and pupils, she was the uncompromising major general of a village school. Now I had one of my own. A new building in a modern village designed like a Christmas card. I thought how she'd stayed at her school until she retired. Gave it the best years of her life, as they say. “I could do that. If I wanted.”
Round the corner, Thoe smiled. “Oh no you couldn't.”
I caught ME (yes, I did catch it, one sunny day, just after the Maypole dancing – the pain was beyond imagining). Four years passed, years of severe illness and disability, repeated struggles against it, and repeated relapses. I tried many ways to keep on with my job, many variations upon the same theme; how to build in sufficient rest time to enable my body to heal. There were improvements. And setbacks. Often, I was either treading water or going under again. Finally I took a dramatic decision to leave my profession for good, so as to rebuild my health. Well, I thought I would improve immediately but I didn't. Not for many months. After a longrunning series of skirmishes with Thoe's footsoldiers, I had run myself pretty much into the ground. I'm afraid that's a fairly standard result when the body is trying to recover from ME and we don't let it. And that's what we do unless we are correctly informed. Informed, not just about the nature of ME, but how to live successfully with it. This being the most important thing of all.
What got me thinking back on all this was dealing with a question from a teacher who is going through much the same. She clearly wanted to know if there was some way around the problem. So I shared a bit of my own experience. Recovery from ME is often a long drawn out business and no-one can know how complete their recovery will be. Most sufferers have some residual limitations; even if they look normal and seem to be living a normal life, a few enquiries usually reveal that they have had to adjust to these limitations.
I have always totally loved teaching. It is perhaps surprising that I never regretted my decision to leave. I felt as though I had come to my senses in realising that I had to deal with things as they were, not as I would like them to be. In the end, without one's health, one can do nothing.
The bottom line is that since then I have had the opportunity to help far more children and families than I would ever have done had I remained the head of one school. So it turned out to be a positive move, leading to a fulfilling future and far better health.
But I don't know how Thoe feels about it. I am being careful of corners.