On disintegration


It’s autumn in Cape Town and last week I stood in the doggie park while Phoebe sniffed at leisure and watched the gorgeous leafy display in peak autumnal showiness when I realised that autumn is actually nature disintegrating. Literally falling apart.

And it reminded me of a log we found in Rhodes Mem last weekend on a lazy walk, but lets backtrack two weeks first before we get to the log.


I’ve spent the better part of the last two weeks (including two – TWO – long weekends!) in pain. Now I have a fair pain threshold, and can work through most things but this was the most debilitating pain I’ve encountered yet – thrashing out from my shoulder and neck vertebrae in rashes of electric pain that almost literally took my breath away. And certainly reached up into a headache and down to an almost immobile shoulder and neck that took my ability to think and smashed it on the floor, leaving me staring at it and, every now and then, at my blank computer screen with no clue what to do with either.

I don’t like being sick, or taking lots of drugs, and I abhor not being able to work, sad as that may sound. I love what I do, and not being able to do it along with the potential for letting down the people I do it for, is just absolutely unacceptable.

Having been to the physio four times, emergency room and x-ray department once each, and having kept the makers of Transact patches, Mypaid and a range of other anti-inflammatories in business for the last 14 days, the sun finally came back out on Friday after my physio apologised and then dug her fingers what felt like through my throat to treat the spine from the front, and what a relief it was when the cloud of pain parted a little and ease came flooding through.

I had already reached that point of constant pain when you can no longer tell whether it is actually getting better or worse, and you can barely remember what it’s like to be just normal, fine, able to do what the day needs without thinking about anything else. I had, I think, reached the point where I had started wondering if it would ever get better. And if I could live like that. I’m not sure I could. It gave me hugely renewed empathy for those who live with chronic pain and medical conditions – every little thing that most of us take for granted on a daily basis is suddenly a huge challenge that can be dealt with somedays, with great effort, and on other days just sits on the end of the bed and glares at you unattended and unchallenged. What an achievement it is for some people just to get up and dressed everyday, I hope I remember that more in future.


When the fog began to clear away from my synapses again, I managed a walk on the mountain on Rhodes Memorial side with my favourite barefoot man and Phoebe-dog, and that was when we came across the tree-stump that was slowly falling apart under the elements. It was being broken down from it’s original strong, tall form into a beautiful, almost laser-cut looking set of tiny wooden cubes, and then spreading around the log in a carpet of little disintegrating blocks. I was amazed, how interesting that this particular tree – whether due to the type or the place or reason it fell – was devolving in such a precise, beautiful way. It was disintegrating gracefully, letting go of the external constraints and pressures that had kept it in it’s original shape and allowing itself the space to change shape, to find space.


And having been down to my own point of near disintegration only days before, it made me wonder how many of us know what our personal patterns of disintegration are. We each disintegrate in different ways, and for different reasons – stress, fatigue, anger, loss, loneliness. And each of us shows it in our own unique ways – we have unique shapes of disintegration.

I’ve always carried a lot on my shoulders – stress included, and the last two weeks reminded me that when things start building up and whirling around my head too much, my aching shoulders are trying to tell me that things are getting to me, and that I need to get some perspective, or get some help, or even just remind myself that the world is not going to fall over if I slow down a bit and breathe!

I disintegrate from the shoulders. And in how I sleep. These are sign-posts. Ones we usually doggedly ignore until we can’t anymore, and are forced to deal with them – with much pain, frustration and cost. Imagine how much happier and more productive we’d be if we all started learning to read our own signposts earlier, and then instead of resisting them, took a deep breath, did whatever needed to be done to create some space for ourselves and allowed the disintegration to happen gracefully and painlessly, and used it as a base to re-build ourselves a little more clearly, more happily again.


It seems to me we’ve forgotten that we, too, are nature. And that disintegration can be a beautiful thing.




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