December 6, 2017
Vicar’s wife Tanya hopes her new book will help those who wait for answers to life’s challenges
Tanya Marlow is the wife of a Plymouth vicar. Her first book, Those Who Wait, has just been published. She wrote it over two years – from her bed. She explains how a life tragedy has shown her the challenge – and surprising value – of waiting.
Your book is all about waiting – what’s your own experience of that?
I’ve always loved living life to the full. In my twenties, I had a job I loved, a happy marriage. I was fit and loved running. But chronic illness crept up on me. In 2007, the doctors agreed my excessive sleepiness, muscle pain, lack of concentration and vulnerable immune system had a name: Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME).
Ten years ago, I walked in the Lake District because I was told exercise would help. The next day, I couldn’t walk more than ten minutes before my legs collapsed. I assumed it was temporary. But unlike most conditions, exercise and overexertion typically makes ME worse, not better. The following day, I could only walk five minutes. I ended up needing to use a wheelchair.
What happened when you gave birth?
I suspected going through labour could worsen my ME, but I had no idea how bad it could be. The day after giving birth, I awoke with a gorgeous baby – and a brand new disability. I couldn’t stand or walk unsupported. I could barely talk. My temperature rose and fell dramatically, and my heart struggled to cope with even sitting up. I was as helpless as my baby.
Because ME is associated with ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’, people think it’s just being ‘tired all the time’. It’s not. Severe ME is walking a few paces before your legs give way. It’s being in so much pain you can barely breathe. It’s your brain interpreting light and sound as pain. It’s a mind so scrambled you can’t speak or remember your own name.
Seven years on, I live an ‘in-between’ life: I am stable, but only if I’m lying in bed 21 hours a day. I can leave the house once a fortnight, in a wheelchair, to see my son in a school play or watch him scoot along the Hoe while I breathe in the sea air. Then I rest and wait for my energy to return.
I could recover from ME; I could get worse. Death from ME is possible, though very rare. In the meantime, I wait.
Why is waiting so hard?
Everyone’s waiting for something. Yet we all hate waiting. It’s hard enough in a doctor’s waiting room – how long can you sit patiently before reaching for your phone or magazine for distraction? It’s really uncomfortable not knowing the outcome of an appointment or interview – like sitting on a very hard fence, longing to land on either side.
But there are also bigger things that we wait for: a real home, a spouse, a family, a loved one to return, a second chance, true contentment. The tension can be agonising. We feel out of control, helpless, alone.
What keeps you sane?
My husband, Jon, is Vicar of St Pancras Church. In the early days, our church family brought us meals and ironed our clothes. Other friends supported us practically, too, and surrounded us with love. My son brings me joy daily. I’ve asked God angry questions, but found comfort there, too.
Five years ago, I started blogging about holding onto faith in hard times, slowly jabbing out sentences with my thumb on an iPad. For me, writing has been a lifeline – it’s my way of telling the world, “I’m still here.”
I also campaign online with #MEAction Network for better research and treatment of ME patients. Currently, I’m promoting the award-winning ME documentary, ‘Unrest’, which shows how people hold onto hope in hopeless situations. (The film is coming to the Plymouth Arts Centre in early 2018.)
This all gives me purpose while I’m lying in my bed. But I’ll be honest – being in limbo is hard. It’s mentally exhausting.
That’s why I wrote this book for those who long for a better life. It retells the stories of four well-known Bible heroes, like a gripping novel, so you don’t have to know anything about the Bible to enjoy it. It explores how even ‘saints’ struggle with waiting – yet hope can be found. I’m hoping Those Who Wait can be as healing for readers as writing it has been for me.
You can read more about Tanya Marlow at tanyamarlow.com, and you can buy Those Who Wait from Amazon or Waterstones
First published in the Plymouth Magazine – December 2017