Published in InterAction 71, Spring 2010
Theresa Coe was editor of InterAction for almost a decade before she packed her bags for a new life abroad.
For many years I made sense of my M.E. by doing volunteer work for my local group and then Action for M.E. I wanted something positive to come out of this wretched illness and it did – helping others and campaigning to demand better care for those affected were hugely rewarding. However, there’s only so long you can immerse yourself in the very condition that you’re living with on a daily basis, and by December 2006 it was time to move on.
I’ve always had a passion for Spanish language and culture and, though my concentration and memory are greatly affected, the part of my brain that processes the learning of languages still works. After spending years perfecting my Spanish through study at home and abroad, I began voluntary work teaching a beginners’ group at a nearby Age Concern centre.
Two years later, a former student asked me to set up a weekly (paid) conversation class in a local pub. I took my subsidised Computer Cab (a London benefit for people on Disability Living Allowance) to and from the 90 minute sessions, which proved the highlight of my week.
I fantasised about moving abroad to live a less stressful life in the sun and wondered if I might be able to get by teaching English and Spanish part-time. With limited energy and little money I didn’t know how I might make that longing a reality, but I believe that if you dare to jump, the universe will throw out a net. So, when my beloved Nan died, leaving us grandchildren her savings, I knew just what to do with my share.
First staying with a friend on the Costa Brava, I was lucky enough to get a few hours’ weekly work teaching English at a private language school in the village. Through word of mouth I also acquired some students who came to the house for Spanish classes.
A year later, having built up experience (and thus confidence as a teacher), I followed my heart to Gran Canaria to join Nelson, a man I’d met over a year before while doing voluntary work, teaching English for an hour a day in Costa Rica.
Although a relapse made the first months tough and lonely, I managed to submit an article on M.E. to the island’s British newspaper. In response a very talented Reiki therapist contacted me, offering free treatment in return for a follow-up feature. The healing helped stabilise my physical and mental health, allowing me to make new friends, get out a bit and think about teaching again (the universe throwing me another lifeline).
InterAction designer Justin Folker made me a fantastic poster offering translations and private tuition, which I display in local libraries and cafés around town. In addition, I write a regular column for The Canary News in return for free advertising, and also receive publicity in a local Spanish magazine as I teach one of their employees.
Nelson and I live fairly humbly in a community of mobile homes and small wooden chalets, but we’re lucky to pay low rent on the ‘love shack’ as our landlord is his boss. I teach English and Spanish for two or three hours an afternoon, mostly from our lovely garden, and give classes online via Skype and Messenger for students who aren’t here all year round.
The new skills I’ve learnt since getting ill have given me an enjoyable way to make ends meet, although I no longer work with children as I find that too tiring.
No heating bills and a social life that consists largely of picnics at the beach and barbecues in the garden ensure that our living costs remain low. With tourism hit hard by the financial crisis and unemployment having soared to 25% here, we’re grateful to have enough money to get back to the UK twice a year to see family (and my specialist, who stocks me up with pain and sleep meds).
After 20 years with M.E. I still struggle with the usual symptoms whenever I increase my activity levels. However, I’ve been lucky enough to change my living situation to one that gives me year-round sunshine and a gentler pace of life, away from the rat race of London. As I look out of the window at the blue skies and endless sea, I give thanks every day to whatever forces have helped me get to where I am today.
Theresa can be reached by email.
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