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Things of Beauty? Joy Forever -- Even with ME/CFS

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Jody Smith considers how things we consider beautiful can help feed a starving soul ...

I spent every day for years propped up on pillows on my bed. I could see out my window to the left. My messy closet was to the right. Looking straight ahead I saw a television, a messy desk and a dresser.

Then one year on a rare Christmas shopping expedition, my daughter Rachel the Chauffeur was with me in a department store, and as we neared a bunch of prints (pictures not fabric) I said in passing, “That’s nice.” I stood and looked for a moment at a scene of what felt like a French village.

A bicycle was leaning against a shop called the Elysian Café. An open gateway could be envisioned to lead down a pathway that led off in the distance to … freedom? anywhere I wanted to go that was away from my bed?

That’s nice, indeed.

Then she and I were on our way through the crowded aisles. But she took note that there was something that I’d said I liked. (I’m apparently not very helpful when people ask me for gift ideas for my birthday or Christmas). She made another trip to that store later unbeknownst to me, and bought me that print as a Christmas present.

I was quite touched by this. And I was happy to discover that the print that I had pointed out in passing looked beautiful on the wall of my bedroom. It wasn’t very big, it was just 19 x 15 inches. But it fit as if it belonged there in a spot that was directly in my line of vision, above the TV, as I lay propped up on my bed.

And since I spent hours there every day, the picture contributed daily to my need for beauty and imagination. When we were eventually able to upgrade a few things in the bedroom, its greens, reds and browns became the colours we went for.

It’s amazing what a thing of beauty can do for a starving life.

Some of us are fortunate enough to be living in beautiful homes with great views out the windows. Some of us have nice wardrobes, nice things. Many of us are not that fortunate. For those of us whose finances are in tatters, who make do with second-hand possessions whose only selling points are that they were cheap or free, whose homes or clothes don’t reflect us at all … every little bit of beauty feeds the soul.

One winter, my thing was high heels (before my legs and feet started ailing) even on days when I didn’t leave the house. That winter I also took money out of the grocery budget for the first tube of mascara that I’d bought in several years. I had sworn off the stuff when I was spending most of my time in bed, a lot of that time asleep, and I was sporting raccoon and dark circles under my eyes any time I put on eye makeup. I mean, what was the point?

When you spend so much time struggling with basic issues like breathing and trying to walk down the hall to the bathroom under your own steam, the niceties of life fall by the wayside and languish, well, for years. Pretty things become superfluous, and fall under the category of non-essentials that are as much a part of your life as a new car or an ocean cruise.

And when even the concept of beauty lies dormant, under layers of empty years like the remnants in an archaeological dig, it’s hard to get excited about the idea that it matters. Maybe you don’t believe it matters anymore. Maybe you suspect that that was all part of the happy, naive illusions you used to dwell in before ME/CFS trampled you, and now you are too cynical and jaded to give it head room.

But work with me here.

Do you feel an unexpected sense of uplift at the sound of your (almost-forgotten) favourite song? Does joy swell when you see the flowers come out in the spring or a majestic sunset? If you happen to look good one day (by accident, no doubt) do you get a split-second glimpse of your old self and experience a wavering hope that you might still be in there after all?

Cultivating beauty may be something you’ve forgotten about, and maybe you’ve forgotten how. Just maybe you’ve forgotten why. But it is definitely worth giving some thought to, and maybe even pursuing.

Since I came down with ME/CFS, I’ve never been in the position of being able to renovate or redecorate in any big way. And that is a bummer, no doubt about it. But beauty is worth looking for.

I bought a glorious emerald green glass bottle for a couple of dollars at a second hand store, and it’s ridiculous how happy it made me feel when I saw how the light hit it, how sleek and elegant it looked on my dresser. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that emerald bottle.

And the fact that the green of the bottle goes sublimely with the greens in Rachel’s Christmas present to me, is sometimes enough to make my day.

Have you been missing beauty? Have you been able to bring some into your life once again?

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I was given an amaryllis bulb at Christmas. They grow so quickly that you can almost see it an the flowers are very large. Plants always make me feel happy but this one seems especially suitable for those with ME.

"If, of thy mortal goods, thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves
alone to thee are left,
Sell one & from the dole,
Buy Hyacinths to feed the soul"
- Muslihuddin Sadi,
13th Century Persian Poet
Being forced to lay down most of the time has made me realize how important the view around me is.

I was lucky enough to have a small backyard for several years and could enjoy watching the birds and squirrels daily activities.

When I moved from there my biggest requirement was that I have a great view of the outside world. So, from my last apt window I could see the sunrise almost unobstructed and watch as pelicans make their morning journey to the port.

Now I have an unobstructed view of a small forest. Complete with hanging vines, squirrels and birds.

It's peaceful and rewarding to feel so close to nature.

As far as MY looks go, well avoiding mirrors works the best. I can't tolerate the chemicals in most make-up, jewelry or hair dyes so I am what I am. Who knows ? In some circles, I might even be considered COOL.

Great article. Tx .. x
Surrounding myself with beauty has been an essential factor of my healing process. It's a tricky thing in such circumstances, when I only have one set of street clothes and have to go weeks at a time without washing my hair, let alone trying to make it look nice without products. No make-up or nail stuff or anything either. I mean, it's hard enough to keep my nails trimmed at all!

Nevertheless, the past 2 years has been a journey into finding beauty wherever I can. The two matted and framed prints I liked and snagged for $3 each. Getting into photography with a borrowed camera, finding beautiful things and moments to record. Writing about beautiful things. Even finding ways to photograph myself that are beautiful, to buying a toothbrush that I found aesthetically pleasing! All these little things add up to brightening my day just by looking at them, having them.

I was raised with the notion that nice things are superfluous, and that wanting them is selfish and materialistic. It took a couple friends knocking me over the head before I was able to begin listening when that little bell in my head rings with something of beauty that's resonating with me.

The overall effect has been a significant reduction in stress. Beauty endears me to slow down, and testifies that life isn't too painful to enjoy.
I'm very lucky in this respect, I have always loved paintings and I developed an interest in collecting Art Glass before I got sick. That got me in touch with a load of other enthusiasts, many of whom have become very good friends in reality. (the secondary market is quite cheap if you know what you are doing)
Our home is pretty much like an art gallery or a museum, but filled with things we have chosen.
I never fail to appreciate all the lovely things around me, it does make being pretty much house-bound more of a pleasure than a prison.
When I stop on the stairs to recover a bit, I can spend the time appreciating a painting on the wall. :angel:
I am fortunate enough to live 2 blocks from the ocean. I try to get myself down there as often as I can. The ocean is like a deity to me. I have come to experience it as a mother goddess of wild blue beauty and peace. I want my ashes thrown in there when I die.
This DD does give us time to "stop and smell the roses", doesn't it? :)

But so many folk don't realise it.:(

This was a wonderful thread to start, Jody. I hope many folk who haven't yet thought about this, will now start. :thumbsup:
As you said yourself, it doesn't have to be anything expensive, a second hand print or a pretty glass bottle is quite enough to lift your spirits.
(I want to see your emerald bottle, but that's just my bias towards glass;))
I love this. Jody, your writing is so succinct. I have a bedroom window across from my bed. The birds, the squirrels keep me company. Everything about my room is for giving my mind and illness ease. The color of the walls; blue. A tree is what I stare at.

In my LR, I have a flat screen. 40 inch. It's all about what I SEE. I can see. I can't get around much, but I can see.

I still love a nice purse, a great shoe, but I too am unable to afford it. It's really not that big a deal.

I would give anything for sleep and an illness that would abate. Not a purse.

But, I've got to have a nice bedroom. It has to be for my sanity.
@peggy-sue ..that is so pretty. A sea of glass. I love glass. Love it. I can't stand dusting it, but I have glass too and collect pottery and handmade perfume bottles, or I did. Robert Burch, look up his work. He's in Putney, Vermont. He is amazing and I studied with him when I was learning how to blow glass and making glass beads.

I love your sea. A sea of blue and green with some pink/red mixed in. It's gorgeous. Art. Art is what makes the world go round and it comes in many forms. To me, the color of a rug is art; it's pattern..everything.
I bought a bird bath for outside my bedroom window. I can see it from my bed. A passing parade of white cockatoos, rosellas, magpies, peewees, blue wrens, finches, honeyeaters, pigeons and currawongs. Beauty, company and joy during those seemingly endless bedridden days.
We moved into our house about 4 months before I got sick, and it needed new wall treatment and upstairs flooring, so I got to pick out stuff I really like, which also happens to be very tranquil and nature-ish looking. Bamboo floor, a natural pale green on the walls, and the Ikea furniture made of actual wood instead of wood pulp + veneer :rolleyes:

We have some varied plants downstairs in matching dark red pots to contrast the green walls and grey-brown furniture, and a nice little garden behind the living room which I have a great view of from place on the couch. Sometimes I'm stuck downstairs, since we have to move my mattress down here if I need to lay down most of the day, so it's nice to have things tranquil and pleasant down here as well when it's my environment 24 hours per day.

The only annoying thing is that I can't see the garden at all when stuck on my mattress on the floor!
I'm afraid it just collects dust, Russ. If I need to take a piece out to photograph, I do clean it first.
@beaker is the picture working for you yet? You might have to click on the bit at the top that says "view from original source".
Or I could send you an image in a private conversation?

Misfit Toy, you've worked with glass? How lovely! I can watch glassmaking for hours...:rolleyes:
I'm posting a picture of the shelves of glass I have in the sitting-room. This is what I get to look at when I'm lying on the sofa.:) View attachment 6578

(click on the image to enlarge it)
So gorgeous! Thanks so much for sharing your corner of beauty--it enriched my day! :)

The big entertainment around here... not sure if it qualifies as beauty... is the squirrel and bird action in our yard. We have a bird feeder that attracts an entire flock of doves and sparrows on a daily basis, and there's a cooper's hawk nesting somewhere in the neighborhood, that comes around regularly to hunt and feast on the doves. And we also feed the squirrels, who are nesting in the big bamboo outside our back door. Mom squirrel has had two litters and they all hang out around here. Here's some of the photos my partner and I took during the past year.

squirrel mom 1.jpg
squirrel sibs 2.jpg

doves 2.jpg

doves at feeder.jpg