For some time now, I’ve been trying to think of a good title for this blog. All the really great ones seem to have been taken. As I ran through the blogs of friends of mine who similarly suffer from chronic pain and illness, a beautiful phrase kept coming into my mind. ‘Sunshine made from rain’… It’s not the name of a blog but a poem, written by a Facebook friend last year, not long before she died.
Amberlin Wu was a dancer, a writer, and activist and a therapist, living in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. She kept chickens in her back yard. She also suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – as she put it, “the bad kind”, the kind that is absolutely devastating to sufferers’ lives. I didn’t know her well, so the details of how CFS affected her life I’m not really sure, but I do know that she had good periods when she could go out to the beach with friends, and flare-ups when she could barely get out of bed or even move. She worked hard to publicise an illness (or, quite possibly, a collection of different illnesses) which is still deeply misunderstood by many of the public and even medical professions. As my friend (and Amberlin’s) Toni Bernhard has said, ‘chronic fatigue’ is an absurd misnomer. It is a state of deep and chronic sickness, nothing like the ‘fatigue’ that most of us experience from time to time.
I only ‘met’ Amberlin on Facebook only a few months before her death; we had both written contributions to a mutual friend’s book project, and I thought hers was just wonderful. We only really exchanged a few brief messages over that time. As a result, I still don’t know exactly what she died of, but assume that it was from complications of her illness (little known fact amongst non-sufferers: CFS – or ME, as it’s more commonly known in the UK – can sometimes kill). And her poem, ‘Sunshine made from rain’, has felt even more touching since she passed away; it expresses deep sadness and joy in almost equal measure. To experience the world around her so fully, even through pain and illness – and then, quite suddenly it seemed to her friends, to leave the world entirely… At the time I had no idea she was so ill, or that CFS could take away a life, just like that.
What came across most, however, from Amberlin’s life, her writing and her personality, was that she truly loved life, and that she was determined to live it as much as she possibly could – and to help others live it too. Her Facebook page is still online, kept going by her mother Ann, and messages to Amberlin are still posted by her friends, saying how much they love her, miss her, and value the friendship she gave them. She was an incredibly loved woman – that much is so clear. With respect to her cluck-clucking chickens, it was Amberlin who made sunshine out of rain.
Although I’m not nearly as devastatingly ill as Amberlin was, my own chronic pain and anxiety have affected my life in some similar ways. And having been through periods where I was tormented and couldn’t see a way out of the hole, I’ve re-assessed aspects of my life since and am trying now to create something positive out of the pain I’ve been through – both for myself and for others. Because of this, the title and content of Amberlin’s beautiful poem resonate with me all the more. So the poem has given me my own title for this blog. Warm thanks to Ann Wu for kindly giving her consent for me to use and quote from it, and to Amberlin for writing it. And of course, for living her life and being the warm and giving friend she so clearly was to others.
You can visit Amberlin’s blog at http://bealightcfsawareness.blogspot.co.uk/ Meanwhile, here is her poem.
Sunshine made from rain
Today, I’ve been teetering along tears
I don’t know what or why
To stay in bed
Or get into a car and go
Go somewhere that might take me away.
There’s a grief inside me
Though I don’t know its name
It reaches up into my throat
With its clenched fist
Making it difficult to swallow.
The cluck cluck of chickens
Comes through the open window
Floating in from the farm
It’s magic born from sadness and suffering
It’s sunshine made from rain.