Eva Charalambides explores the relationship of chronic illness with time and the reason why we should all see the beauty in slowing down.
[Image: a person is wearing a bright orange top and green patterned scarf. Their hair is partially dyed blue and worn in a bun. They are standing a in a forest clearing with lots of leaves on the forest floor.]
by Eva Charalambides (she/her).
CW: description of Restless Leg Syndrome.
From the moment we are born, we are urged to get moving. Early bird gets the worm and the last one there is a rotten egg. We may get told to chop-chop or shake a leg, or are expected to groan at the sight of a slow moving line of people or traffic. I have no understanding of how a snail’s pace became an insult or how the human construct of time could wait for no human. I used to hold all this information like grains of sand in an hourglass, burying myself and digging myself out in time with the turning of each new day. I’d hurry to the next leg of the race without noticing the blades of grass beneath my feet. Then I became sick.
Time moves differently on the bathroom floor at three in the morning. No one asks me when I’ll be “done in there” or when I “expect to finish my next project.” I watch condensation form on the bottom of porcelain and I travel the edges of checkered tiles to find new routes from one wall to another. I am undisturbed by expectations because we are encouraged to slow down when we don’t feel well, but only in order to catch up to the version of ourselves we were before we got sick. We expect that waiting out today will help us rejoin the race tomorrow, and are seldom afforded more than that sick day or two. But I never stopped being sick and I never tagged back in. I’ve planted myself right where I am and I’m going nowhere
Sometimes I keep track of time by the hours I have until my partner gets home or the days I have until a deadline, but usually, it’s the minutes I’ve spent in pain and whether that pain has lingered for more or less time than the last time. And even though it usually lingered more, I feel as though the able-bodied people around me have started to expect me to stop wasting time. Should I stop waiting for tests, for medication to kick in, for my symptoms to lessen? I haven’t just had time to lace up, I’ve had time to buy a whole new pair of shoes and wear through the soles. So why aren’t I running?
I consider all the blades of grass the tortoise felt tickling their belly that the hare just hopped over.
Social media is my least favourite bleacher to watch the races from. It takes no time at all to feel I’ve been left in the dust of the family members and friends I watch racing through their days. They remember when six hours of sleep was enough for my twelve-hour working day. They remember when a rising star award meant my fastest must have been a good pace. I have to remind them that I remember too. They sprint to find more ways to fill the twenty-four hours they refuse to be held up by and hurrying me must make them feel faster. Seeing me sit still must make their feet flex and skin crawl the way mine do with restless leg. It’s the same discomfort of an honest answer when I’m asked how I’m doing, something that usually hurries people out of conversation. When I am being rushed, I am reminded of how good it must have felt for the hare to circle the tortoise initially. That’s a story we all remember where slow and steady is rewarded, but I wondered if the tortoise tried going fast first, failed and chose to decelerate from the experience. We don’t need to see the path the tortoise took to celebrate where they’ve made it and isn’t accomplishment enough without asking the tortoise about their next race. I consider all the blades of grass the tortoise felt tickling their belly that the hare just hopped over.
The recipe for success I’ve been handed down by bubbies and grandmothers is routinely written by the hands of watches. Their piles of laundry were as wide as the hours between drop-off and pick-up and celebration preparations that took all week. I wonder how my ancestors would watch me now, nestled onto heating pads and full of anticonvulsant medications, prioritizing nothing but my own care. I wonder if they’d let me wear their slippers, knowing I’d never fill them. But I see the dissonance in the eyes I can peer back into and assume my ancestors would be no less impatient with me than my current circle makes me feel. They spend one hour in traffic, nine hours at a desk, one hour in the gym, another hour of traffic home and just enough hours left to make sure they get enough hours of sleep to repeat the cycle. The speed of capitalism is an issue that doesn’t belong to disabled people, but I learned I didn’t want to take part through disability.
We marvel at the beauty of trees and never scowl at the time they take to reach their height.
I will not accept that I am less of a person because I have to take things slowly. We marvel at the beauty of trees and never scowl at the time they took to reach their height. My regrowth has been learning to let go of the expectation that we must remain constantly in motion to be valuable. My branches can stretch wider and higher and I don’t mind if that leaves others ahead of me to look back and wonder when it happened. I refuse to measure my life in time spent on and off the clock, or measure my worth by how productively I can use my time by someone else’s standards.
Let the grass grow under my feet. Let moss cover the parts of me that are warm from the sun and let mushrooms sprout from the parts shrouded away in shade. Leave me to become the kind of wild and wonderful forest that takes time to spread, exploratory and conquering without a schedule. I won’t spend any more time worrying if I can keep up with the speed of people faster than me. I will take my time.