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Calm • Anxiety

Why We May Need a Convalescence

The word ‘convalescent’ has – tellingly and sadly – gone very much out of fashion. In the olden days, it was an esteemed and highly plausible condition. One had been very ill – and now was no longer quite so. But at the same time, one wasn’t entirely ready to rejoin daily life at full throttle either. One was in a precious and fragile intermediary stage: well enough to rise out of bed and do a few things – read a book, answer a letter, peel some peaches – but not well enough to go to a party, run a business or hear disturbing news from outside. One needed – still – protection from life in its most raw form.

Painting of a dark haired young woman reading a book, presumably in convalescence from an illness.
Gwen John, The Convalescent, 1923.

We don’t need to have been overtly or physically ill to be in need of some of the privileges of convalescence. We have all suffered enough to deserve to count as at some level unwell, we are all delicate enough to be capable of being broken by a few well-aimed blows. It can take only one or two things to destroy us. We have, most of us, known sleepless nights when we couldn’t make sense of a relationship, or worried incessantly about the dramas at work, or were so beset by anxiety, it was becoming impossible to go out for dinner or to smile without someone asking us if something was wrong.

The designation of convalescent promise us some respite. If we can think of ourselves in such terms, we will appreciate our limits, we won’t take risks unnecessarily, we will privilege stability over excitement. We will know how much our steadfastness depends on keeping the surrounding environment steady. We will take care of ourselves and welcome the care of others.

The business of living is a sickness enough; it can take half a lifetime to realise it isn’t weak or indulgent to take very gentle care of ourselves.

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