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My Journey From Chronic Fatigue To Publisher
By Lynn Michell

I had been jokingly told by friends about the shock of the big 40, but no one had warned me about a nightmare scenario that began on that day and continued for fifteen years.

I invited a few friends to a party, and afterwards, several of us came down with the flu. At least, we thought it was the flu. But we did not get better. For eight of us from the same academic department, including the lively American Head of Department and Irish Administrator, what we faced was the long, long haul through a poorly understood illness called ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Personally I would re-name it No Idea Syndrome because the ignorance and dismissal we all faced from the medical profession was appalling, insulting and hurtful.

With the wisdom of hindsight, I should have holed up like a wounded animal and waited it out. I should have turned out the lights on my life and gone to ground until my body started to mend itself.  I did not know that ME is an illness that has re-written all the rules about recovery. It is pointless making an effort or putting on a brave face or getting up and doing something when you feel one notch better for ten minutes. It requires the opposite – a switched-off giving in to the inevitable waiting. It is falsely described as exhaustion but it is not about tiredness. It is about being in a permanent state of over-drive, the adrenalin racing all day and all night so that input is painful. Talking hurts. Interacting with people hurts. Everything hurts.

After seven years, I was somewhat better. I was upright, writing a bit and my face was a shade warmer than the cold putty colour it had been. Ignoring the signals that told me I still was not really well, I got myself a grant and an impressive research fellowship, and set off back to academic work – commuting from Edinburgh to Glasgow into the bargain. I lasted eighteen months. I knew after a year that I was sinking, but I was stubborn and the research was the best I had done, so I refused to put on the life-jacket and let myself drift back to the shore.

The relapse was worse – physically and psychologically than the initial illness. I was beaten.  I despaired of ever living normally or near normally again. I had no life.

When I was at my lowest ebb, I met an unusual man.  With unconventional ways of helping me, finally he turned me around. He had been an actor and had trained in alternative medicine. I remember our first meeting when he said quietly: “When your back is to the wall, you can only go forwards’. And we did. He used massage and humour. We talked and I heard his wisdom. Before long, I was driving to his council flat for my weekly treatment. For a year he helped me and made me stronger by accepting me, accepting my illness and knowing, instinctively, how to help me. Thank you, Jim.

I knew I could not return to academic life. I had always been a pretend academic who preferred writing and reading novels to scientific papers.  Going back to that competitive world after seven years’ of illness, instead of lying low for a bit longer, had doubled the time scale of the illness. Finally, I accepted that my career in ivory towers was over – not with resignation and upset, but with relief, because Jim was still next to me making sure I told myself the truth.

In Edinburgh, there is a wonderful alternative therapy and education centre called The Salisbury Centre. One day I walked in off the pavement and asked if they would like someone to teach creative writing. Yes, they said. Our creative writing tutor has just left. When can you start?

And so began a new phase of my life that felt absolutely right. The writing groups took place in a light-filled library. That room was very special. It had its own healing presence. Many women remarked on the calm they experienced when they opened the door and sat down at the round pine table. My health improved so much that I never once had to cancel a class in seven years. The two hour sessions did not drain me; I would leave content, enriched and fulfilled.  Later, because I wanted to shift the focus of the writing from the therapeutic to the literary, I held classes round my kitchen table at home.

I worked with women writers in Edinburgh for nine years. They came from all over the world and from all backgrounds. Their ages ranged from 23 to 93. And they could write! They produced poetry and prose and memoir. They wrote from the heart and with originality. So impressed was I by the high standard of writing produced by these previously unpublished writers, that I naively decided to publish a volume of writing called Wild On Her Blue Days – an eclectic collection of original prose and poetry. It was a huge learning curve but I was bitten by the publishing bug.

The next project came about when 93 year old Marjorie Wilson arrived at the Salisbury Centre to attend one of my classes, accompanied by her caregiver, wearing mauve and pink, and with three pairs of glasses hung around her neck. ‘I shall be an old nuisance!’ she announced. Far from it. She was wise and funny and when she read, we sat in rapt silence. I was humbled and amazed by her rare, lyrical voice. After sitting with her once a week, in the garden in summer and in front of her gas fire in winter, Childhood’s Hill was ready for publication. Not that I had done much – just listened as she read to me. Marjorie’s memoir, about growing up in Edinburgh at the turn of the century, was described by The Scotsman as: Luminous, episodic, sensual, rather like memory itself. Marjorie died, aged 97, in 2009. In the hospice, on her bedside table, were a photo of her cat Tufty and a copy of Childhood’s Hill. We miss her so much but her book lives on.

Next came a page-turner of a novel, Breeze From The River Manjeera, by Indian writer Hema Macherla who had spotted my very rudimentary website. I knew from the first two pages that I wanted to publish her novel. I just knew. Then came a novel from another writer from my writing class, Stephanie Taylor. This time I watched the novel grow, chapter by chapter because Stephanie too was attending one of my classes.  She has written a novel about two strong but wounded women – a mother and daughter – with panache, originality and black humour.

And so Linen Press progressed, in an amateurish but cheerful kind of way, until I admitted how passionate I was about this small publishing house and how much I wanted it to succeed at a professional level. Along came Nicola Regan. It was one of those chance encounters that might never have been. Nicola told me that I needed a much more clearly defined brand so that readers would recognize Linen Press books straightaway. Until then, every book cover had been different and the website had been neglected. Nicola really understood Linen Press. She designed the pages for a new interactive website and all the book covers that followed.

And so, through these difficult times in a recession when books are not selling, on we go.  I can lose myself in a manuscript for hours and yet emerge refreshed and delighted. It is still very exciting to stumble on a new project, a new writer, a new novel. I delight in words used with precision and originality to capture personal experience and emotion. When I read beautiful prose, I get goosebumps of pleasure.

The triumph for me, this year, has been to publish in paperback my own debut novel, White Lies, which was accepted for publication in hardback first by Quartet Books. The narrative came into being when my now ninety-six year old father dictated his memoirs about his active service as an infantry soldier in WWII and later in Kenya when the Mau Mau uprising hailed an end to an era of colonialism. My father talked about those times as his best years when he served his country.  Even as his short term memory faded and his sight failed, still he could recall his days in a broiling Libyan desert and his nights in the Aberdare Mountains above Nairobi fighting a cunning invisible enemy in a guerilla war. I wove his words into a novel in which one character may bear a slight resemblance to him. But the rest is made up. It is a story.

After fifteen years, I emerged from a deeply debilitating illness which, while it lasted, took away any meaningful kind of living. I was barely breathing. A friend said; ‘Your eyes were dead.’ I don’t look back to that time. Only forwards as I re-work the next chapter of the next novel for Linen Press, and engage in long email discussions with my writers about their books. I am doing what I love. This story has a very happy ending.

Lynn Michell Bio:

Lynn Michell is the author of six books including an illustrated writing scheme for schools (Longman), two books about mothering (The Women’s Press), and a book based on the material from interviews with 30 people with Chronic Fatique Syndrome and their carers: Shattered: Life With ME (HarperCollins).

White Lies is her debut novel which received a wonderful review by http://news.scotsman.com/reviews/Book-reviews-White-Lies-.6783144.jp.

Lynn is also the founder of Linen Press: Linen Press is small, new, bold and inspiring. Run by women, for women, it publishes writers with innovative voices who inspire readers with their wisdom, integrity, distinctive style and beautifully crafted writing.

Lynn has arranged for all Thrive In Life readers to have a 25% discount off orders if they type in the code: THRIVE

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COMMENTS (2) | healing, self realization
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Comments

2 Responses to “My Journey From Chronic Fatigue To Publisher”

  1. Ernest Dempsey
    September 15th, 2011 @ 5:52 am

    Lynn, this is a very inspiring and encouraging story. My writing spirit resonates with the theme and life journey you describe. Thanks so much for sharing it!

  2. Lara
    December 7th, 2011 @ 1:24 pm

    Inspiring and eye-opening at the same time. I’d never heard of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome before this. Thank you for sharing your story and lovely to read about your success. A happy ending indeed.

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