On travelling with chronic fatigue

Hi friends. Sorry for missing the last two days! My fatigue was super bad so I spent most of my time in bed or dragging my unwilling body to meetings.

But I am back! And feeling better. And I have good news and three days’ worth of stuff to catch you up on. Please excuse the weird format that follows, but I think it’ll be the best way to structure this one. Skip to today’s post (Friday 16th) if you wanna get to the happy bits, and ignore the last section if you’re bored or not keen on hearing me ramble on about chronic illness.

Tuesday 13th November

I woke up at 8am absolutely wrecked after the London reception the night before, so I went back to sleep until lunch time and then had a quick shower before heading off to my meeting. I spoke with Dr Steven Connor of CRASSH (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities) at Cambridge. He was lovely, and we had a good chat about academia in general and the changing structure of the Humanities at Cambridge.

After my meeting I walked through a little park behind Queen’s College and around the corner to Clare Hall, where we had a group session on applying for Cambridge.

To be honest, it was not a good time. It is likely that that was due to my fatigue-induced bad mood. I left partway through because I was so tired I was sure I was going to either burst out crying or throw up all over the table.

I stopped by a café on the way home to grab a sandwich and some snacks for the evening, because I knew from the headache coming on that I wouldn’t be capable of going out to fetch dinner later on. I ate my ham and cheese toastie and skulled my coffee, then fell asleep for four hours. I woke up briefly to eat a muffin and finish the last little bit of Leviathan Wakes, then I went back to sleep until morning.

Wednesday 14th November

Wednesday was another tough day. I made it out for lunch with Gemma (my first meal of the day) and she very kindly relieved me of my washing so that I could go back to sleep.

I had a shower at some point, and drying my hair left me so exhausted that I had to sit on the ground in the bathroom for ten minutes before I could walk the short distance back to bed.

In the evening I took a taxi over to Anglia Ruskin University for their open night, and I’m so so glad I went. I met Dr Tiffani Angus and Dr Helen Marshall from Creative Writing, and they were both amazing. We talked on and on and I felt so at home in their company that I could have stayed there for hours.

Afterwards I stopped by the group dinner briefly to eat a little bit, then started feeling ill and fatigued again so took a taxi the short distance home. I slept for twelve hours overnight, on top of the however-many-hours I’d already spent napping.

Thursday 15th November

Today was better. I had a meeting with Dr Una McCormack from Anglia Ruskin this morning at Fitzbillies down the road, and it was so good. The meeting concluded with us agreeing that I would apply for the PhD program in Creative Writing with (probably) Tiffani as my main supervisor and either Una or Helen as a secondary supervisor.

Oh my gosh. I am so ridiculously excited.

All the other universities have been so amazing, and all the academics I’ve spoken to have been super welcoming and supportive, but I think this is the one.

Even at Stanford and Harvard, which I was so impressed with, I would have had to squish my research into their framework. But here, I can 100% do the work that I want to do. And these three ladies are fabulous, and accomplished, and a joy to chat to.

We ended up talking for over an hour, and finished up just in time for me to take a taxi to the bus stop. I met one of the mentors and two of the other Scholars there, and we hopped on the bus to Oxford!

I sat next to a lovely lady called Susie on the bus (the third Susie in my life, all of them lovely) and we chatted the whole way. We’ve swapped contact details and will be sending each other postcards once I’m back in Perth!

We’re now in Oxford, where I have no academic meetings. So this week I’m going to be a tourist, and rest as much as I need to. It will be a nice end to the trip, I think. In eight days I’ll be home!

Chronic fatigue ramblings

Okay, so here’s the thing. Chronic fatigue sucks. And experiencing a bout of fatigue while travelling on the other side of the world, so so far from home and my support systems, sucks big time.

I didn’t blog the past two days not so much because I was fatigued, but because being fatigued and unable to do things that I could do relatively easily just a few days before was so upsetting. I was in a foul mood both Tuesday and Wednesday, and anything I tried to write would probably have read something like Catcher in the Rye meets A Clockwork Orange. And not in a good way.

But hey. I’ve made it through another few days of fatigue and for the moment I have a little bit of energy, so that’s nice. I still met some amazing people and got to experience beautiful Cambridge (even if only from the window of a taxi). And I learnt that even here, on the other side of the world, I’ve got people looking out for me (thanks Aurora fam).

Unfortunately, my experience at the group meeting on Tuesday has turned me off Cambridge (the university, not the place). I left that room feeling like there was no space for someone like me at Cambridge—someone who struggles with chronic illness and needs extra time/support sometimes. I left that room feeling like there was no way I could possibly cope with the workload of a postgraduate degree at Cambridge, and that somehow that was a personal failing. Like I said, it was not a good time.

But we’re in Oxford now, I have some Anglia Ruskin stuff to work on, I have plenty of time to rest and no meetings I need to get up for in the mornings, and in a little over a week I will be at home with my puppy dog and my car and my friends and my family.

This trip has been amazing, but these last two days knocked me around a bit, and I’m ready for a hug and a cup of Milo.

(Thanks Robyn for sharing your Vegemite this morning—it was just what I needed).

Una said my jumper was very Tom Baker. I was pleased.

Cambridge and surrounds

Today was another big day. I had breakfast at Fitzbillies again with my roomie, then we parted ways—she headed off to a meeting and I wandered about doing some shopping.

At noon I met with Dr Anna Alexandrova from the Cambridge History and Philosophy of Science program. She invited me to attend a seminar on ethical use and disclosure regarding algorithms that may be discriminatory (a very similar vibe to the Algorithms of Oppression talk at Harvard but much more philosophically technical). It was great to sit in and listen but I think I’d be exaggerating if I said I understood even half of it!

Then it was back to my room for a little rest before our big London reception this evening. And while I was resting… I received my thesis results! Not too shabby for someone who didn’t do creative writing undergrad, I’ve gotta say. And the feedback I got on the fiction component was absolutely lovely. It was a very surreal feeling, sitting in a room in St Catharine’s College Cambridge, reading my Honours results. A very “what even is my life” moment.

So of course now I’m completely reconsidering everything about this tour and my future study direction. Now that The Academy has confirmed that I can indeed write fiction, there are some mighty fine MFA courses that are calling to me…

Late this afternoon we took the train to London. We stopped in at a sushi train on our way to our event, and spent ten minutes stuffing our faces before continuing on. We had a fancy pants reception at Australia House (Gringots Bank from the first Harry Potter film for those Harry Potter nerds following along at home). It was a stunning building, but unfortunately for security reasons we weren’t allowed to take any photos.

After the reception we had dinner at a nice burger joint and then hopped on the train back home. Overall, a full and satisfying day.

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St Catharine’s is gorgeous.

Today was fab.

I had brunch at Fitzbillies down the road with one of the other Scholars, and it was delicious. And the coffee actually tasted like coffee, unlike whatever we had been drinking in the US.

At about noon my big day started in earnest. I set off in search of bridges.

My first stop was Mathematical Bridge, a gorgeous little wooden structure crossing the River Cam between the two halves of Queen’s College. I then walked back through Cambridge and stopped in at a cute little jewellery shop and the Cambridge University Press book shop before purchasing visitor’s entry to St John’s College to view the Bridge of Sighs. It’s a covered stone arch bridge which was built in 1831, and is named after the Bridge of Sighs in Venice.

I also stopped by the Round Church (it’s a church… that’s round), though I didn’t go in this time as I had other things I wanted to tick off my list. I climbed the bell tower of Great St Mary’s Church, from where I had clear views of King’s College to the west, Cambridge markets to the east, Trinity College to the north, and Corpus Cristi college to the south.

Then it was a short walk to our afternoon tea in Christ’s College, where we ate delicious snacks and sandwiches, and our host—Master of the College Jane Stapleton—let us sit in Charles Darwin’s chair and hold Alexander Todd’s Nobel Prize!

Two of the other Scholars and I ate dinner at the Eagle, the pub where Francis Crick and James Watson announced their discovery of DNA’s function in 1953. On the walk back to my accommodation at St Catharine’s College we passed the Corpus Clock, which was inaugurated by Stephen Hawking in 2008 (it features a little beastie atop the gold-plated main face dubbed ‘the chronophage’—literally “eater of time” in Greek, thanks Wikipedia—by the clock’s funder John C. Taylor).

Overall a very science-themed day! And I have been promised a visit to Einstein’s chalkboard when we are in Oxford. Excitement!

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Mathematical Bridge. Unfortunately I couldn’t cross it, but I still enjoyed admiring it from a distance!

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The Bridge of Sighs.

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View of King’s College from the roof of the Great St Mary’s bell tower.

 

Oh. And I learnt that one of the other Scholars on the tour is related to me. Hi Aunty!

Cambridge, Massachusetts / Cambridge, England

We have arrived in the UK! In the space of about 12 hours we left one Cambridge and arrived in another. It is just as beautiful here as it was in Massachusetts, and I’ve already found a good local coffee shop.

I’m staying in St Catharine’s College with one of the other Scholars, as it’s closer to the campus and easier to manage with my fatigue. The others are not too far away, though, so even though we’re split across accommodation again it should still be fairly easy to meet up and do things together.

I don’t have anything particularly exciting to report about my travels across the ocean, but I do have an exciting discovery to share!

Anglia Ruskin University, which is also located in Cambridge, offers an MA in Science Fiction and Fantasy! And on the list of academics is none other than John Clute, co-founder of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and one of the big names in sf studies. AND they offer creative practice PhDs in Creative Writing! AND AND they have an open day on the 14th, my last day in Cambridge before heading across to Oxford, which also happens to be completely free of appointments! To say I am ridiculously excited is an understatement.

I’ll leave it there for tonight. I’m going to finish my cup of tea and make a few more notes on these amazing programs and then hit the hay. Hoping to go exploring tomorrow.

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The view from the coffee shop this afternoon. Note the pretty sundial on the wall.