Never, Ever Quit!
For this month’s blog post, I have decided to write about a book that I’ve just read. Make Your Bed was written by Admiral William McRaven, and in it he describes the lessons he learnt during Navy SEAL training. The ten principles have helped him overcome challenges not only in his career, but also throughout his life. You might wonder how his experiences could have any bearing on living with M.E., but wisdom is universal; practical advice and words of encouragement can help in life’s darkest moments.
The speech was so well received that it prompted him to publish a book last year; Make Your Bed: Little things that change your life and maybe the world, and I was recently given a copy for my birthday. The small, tactile book has ten chapters over 130 pages, each devoted to a lesson he learnt during Navy SEAL training, which in turn have helped in all aspects of his life.
I have always been drawn to words that inspire reflection, as someone else’s insight into life's struggles can help put things into perspective. Life is a constant lesson on how to live, and my experiences have helped shaped the way I deal with my illness, as described in A Self-Help Guide to Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. I could relate to the principles in Make Your Bed, as finding strength during my challenging times enables me to carry on, just as it has for the Admiral. Here, I explain how five of the chapters resonated with me:
Chapter One: Start Your Day with a Task Completed
The simple act of starting your day with a task completed will give you a sense of achievement, no matter what the day throws at you. The first task a SEAL has each day is to make his bed ready for inspection. In 2001, the Admiral was recuperating from a serious parachute accident and spent most of his day lying in bed. When he was finally able to get up unaided, the first thing he did was to make sure his bed looked presentable. That was his way of showing that he’d conquered the injury and life was moving forward. Some M.E. sufferers are unable to carry out this basic task, although the principle remains the same. The first thing you do each day, even if it’s only managing a sip of water, is an achievement in its own right. Never downplay your tasks, no matter how little, as they’re an important part of your everyday life.
Chapter Two: You Can’t Go It Alone
During the first phase of his SEAL training, the Admiral learnt the value of teamwork. He had to carry a ten-foot rubber raft everywhere he went, working together with six other men to get the boat to its final destination. If one member was sick or injured and unable to give 100 per cent, the other members would dig deep to provide extra strength. He writes, “No SEAL could make it through combat alone and by extension you need people in your life to help you through the difficult times.” The restraints of life with M.E. can leave you feeling lonely and cut off from the world. Find ways to strengthen ties with your loved ones, and make new friends through social groups or online. Never forget the people that help you or have faith in your abilities, as it takes a good team to get through life – people aren’t meant to go it alone.
Chapter Four: Life’s Not Fair – Drive On!
One of the punishments in SEAL training is a sugar cookie – being ordered to dive into the sea and then covering themselves in sand, leaving them uncomfortable for the rest of the day. They become a sugar cookie at the whim of their instructor, which many trainees struggle to accept. The point of it is to teach them that life isn’t fair; sometimes no matter how hard you try, you still end up as a sugar cookie. The Admiral writes, “It is easy to blame your lot in life on some outside force, to stop trying because you believe fate is against you.” He continues, “The common people and the greater men and women are all defined by how well they deal with life’s unfairness.” I see our sugar cookie as the relapses, which can happen regardless of how well we’re looking after ourselves. It is understandable to wonder ‘why me?’ or feel defeated, but this is the life we’ve got, and the sugar cookies will only make us stronger!
Chapter Nine: Give People Hope
In this chapter, the Admiral accounts a challenging night during Hell Week, the seminal event for the first phase of SEAL training. Chest-deep in the Tijuana Mudflats, carrying out a series of races and competitions, morale was declining from pain and exhaustion. An instructor offered comfort to the suffering trainees, enticing them with the prospect of relaxing by a fire with some food and drink. As one of the students made for dry ground, a raspy voice started to sing, and before long the whole class was united in song. The fleeing student suddenly turned around and resumed his place in the mudflats. He writes, “We will all find ourselves neck deep in the mud someday. That is the time to sing loudly, to smile broadly, to lift those around you and give them hope that tomorrow will be a better day.” I founded M.E. Support to assist other sufferers, but above all, to give people hope. We should all take time to help one another, even if it’s just sending a fellow sufferer a supportive message. Sometimes it only takes one person to make a difference, but together we form a strong and resilient network.
Chapter Ten: Never, Ever Quit!
There is a bell in the centre of the SEAL compound, and if a trainee wants to quit the training, all they have to do is ring it three times. Some years ago, I decided that quitting life was easier than battling M.E., but I’m proof that giving up isn’t the answer. As the Admiral explains, “Life is all of difficult times, but someone out there always has it worse than you do. If you fill your days with pity, sorrowful for the way you have been treated, bemoaning your lot in life, blaming your circumstances on someone or something else, then life will be long and hard. If, on the other hand, you refuse to give up on your dreams, stand tall and strong against the odds – life will be what you make of it – and you can make it great.” No matter what stage you’re at with your health, there’s always hope; stay focused and set yourself goals for the future – never, ever ring that bell!