This page explains what the hummingbird metaphor for ill poeple (and ill people with M.E. in particular) is all about.
Copyright Jodi Bassett January 2005. This version updated June 2011. From www.hfme.org
Some time ago I was flicking through a book (looking for some artistic inspiration) when I came upon a stage-by-stage illustration of hummingbirds hovering and it struck a chord in me. Soon it hit me why. In the same way a hummingbird comes crashing to the ground with a big SPLAT! if it falters in the complex series of movements that keep it in the air, in a different sort of way, so do I.
I contracted Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) in 1995 when I was 19. One day I was healthy and the next day absolutely everything changed. Since then I’ve been forced to keep on ‘flapping my wings’ endlessly lest I fall into an even more agony-filled and semi-conscious paralysed heap. I have to constantly remain aware of, and quickly adjust to, all sorts of small changes in my environment and my body. My version goes something like this;
FLAP! Making sure I don’t spend too much time flat in bed (consecutively), or my vertigo becomes much more severe, the room spins horribly and I feel I am falling over backwards as I try to walk, or have to struggle not to fall off the edge of my perfectly flat bed.
FLAP! Trying not to stand or sit up for too long or my heart just can’t cope and it struggles to beat properly and I feel extremely ill for hours afterward. It feels like a heart attack in every organ. Tests show my heart-rate can climb as high as 170 beats-per-minute just from a few minutes of ‘exertion.’
Then I forget for just a few moments about having to be careful about how much light I expose my eyes to and instantly
H! Burning pain that lasts for hours leaving me unable to open my eyes. But still I can’t let my guard down and have to get myself back in the air straight away…
FLAP, FLAP, FLAP! I manage to quickly close all my doors and put my headphones on to block out some neighbourhood noise that would have left me in agonising pain, experiencing seizures, memory loss and taking five days to recover from if I’d listened to it at full volume.
Then I forget to avoid one of the foods I am intolerant of (but that I tolerated perfectly well the day before) and a few minutes later...T H U D! Abdominal pain, headache, bloating, severe itching and nausea for hours afterward. But quickly I have to get myself back up in the air…
FLAP! I manage to make my bath neither too cold (which leaves me shaking and unable to get warm for hours), or too hot (which makes me light-headed, my heartbeat becoming irregular and fluttery for the next six hours so it feels like my heart is struggling to beat and I’m having a heart attack.)
Then I forget to put my blanket over myself properly and within a short while...S P L A T! I get so cold I can’t get myself warm again and it turns into a horrible shivering fever, which leads to delirium, paralysis and eventually loss of consciousness for several hours. I then spend the rest of the day partly paralysed and feeling (neurologically and cognitively) as if I’d had a stroke.
Because so many normal everyday things cause me to ‘crash’ I have to constantly monitor every little thing I do and every aspect of my environment to try and keep myself ‘in the air’ as much as possible. It’s a never-ending task and a fairly thankless one too, as my highest level of functioning is pretty low anyway – I’m 100% house-bound and 99% bed-bound on my best days, I’m in continual pain and experience many different neurological, cardiac, cognitive and other symptoms constantly. But it’s not so much having a painful and limited life that is so hard to bear (though obviously that’s part of it), but to have to plan and work so endlessly hard every minute just to keep my life this ‘good: that’s what really makes it a nightmare.
With a bit more research however, I quickly found a more positive reason to identify with hummingbirds. You see, although at first glance they are tiny, seemingly defenceless and extremely vulnerable to attack from anyone or anything, they are actually quite tough little critters. They never back down from a fight even if the odds are against them, taking on other birds much larger than they are when they need to. What their bodies lack in strength and power is made up for by their bravery, strength of mind and spirit.
I’ve met so many people with M.E. that share that same spirit, particularly with severe M.E.; people that have remained kind, witty, giving, optimistic and determined to make the best of what they have despite dealing with an unbelievably severe (and potentially fatal) neurological, cardiac and metabolic disease often without the support of family, friends or the health and welfare systems; indeed, often with direct opposition, criticism and sometimes abuse from these people and organisations.
I consider these people no less beautiful inside than a hummingbird is to the eye. The human spirit is capable of amazing resilience and endurance and I can see no greater example of this than people suffering from severe M.E. I think they are truly inspiring. When every hour of every day is so difficult and there’s no foreseeable end in sight, the fact that along with the obvious sadness and frustration there can also be hope and humour is just amazing.
The world is full of inspiring stories about people triumphing over quite small problems (compared to M.E.), always with the support of everyone around them and much back patting and praise when they’ve finished their short ‘ordeal’. There is nothing wrong with that, except that on the other hand, there are desperately ill people with severe M.E. who have no support at all yet are able to somehow keep going through one horrendous ordeal of a day after another, often for many years or even decades. Not only are they rarely acknowledged for their hard work and amazing strength, but they are sometimes actually labelled as malingerers, or seen as mentally weak or defective in some way. Sometimes they are, unbelievably, treated as if they were merely very ‘fatigued’ or ‘tired all the time’ instead of very ill with a severe neurological and cardiovascular disease. It really does boggle the mind that there can be such a gap between perception and reality.
I’ve since featured hummingbirds in many of my paintings and this is why. I see the same sort of strength and beauty, combined with such heartbreaking vulnerability in my M.E. friends everyday. Nothing I’ve seen on this earth is more inspiring to me, more beautiful, or more tragic, more heartbreaking.
I think of people with severe M.E. as hummingbirds now – vulnerable, strong and strikingly beautiful all at once; and more than overdue for some consideration, compassion and care in this world.
The 'Hummingbirds' text on this page can be downloaded in Word or PDF format from the HFME website and is also featured in the 'Caring for the M.E. Patient' book by Jodi Bassett.
Best wishes and all my hopes for a better future to every 'hummingbird' reading, whether you have M.E. or some other very terrible disease.
Note that the aim of this site is to provide a starting point for health and healing research for ill people; especially very overwhelmed and disabled ill people. This site provides recommendations, summaries and reviews of books but is not meant to be a replacement for actually reading some of these wonderful health books if the reader is at all well enough to do so. (Plus getting individualised advice from a doctor that is also an orthomolecular medicine expert if possible). There is no substitute for reading as many of these books as you can. The HHH site can only really hint at their full brilliance. The amount of insight, scientific references, logic, intelligence, compassion and experience in the recommended books will most likely amaze you. HHH aims to encourage people to do their own reading and learning, and to always make up their own minds. All content copyright Jodi Bassett 2006 - 2014.