By May 2020 I had been ill with M.E. for eight months. I was waiting patiently for my appointment with the specialist, which had been delayed due to Covid-19, and I felt very isolated and alone. I was wondering why I was still feeling poorly and wishing there was someone I could talk to for advice and support. At that time, I had no idea that May was M.E. Awareness Month, or that on Sunday 17th May 2020 people from all around the world were raising money for M.E., and joining in with Blue Sunday Tea Party for M.E.
Fast forward to May 2021 and my whole life has changed for the better. In early 2021 I signed myself up to Twitter and Instagram and started to connect with people from the M.E. Community online. One of the first people I came across on Twitter was Anna Redshaw (@theslowlane_ME), the founder of the Blue Sunday Tea Party for M.E. Anna was, in fact, the first person to welcome me to the M.E. Club and I couldn’t have found a better person to connect with! It meant such a lot to me to finally have contact with someone who understood – and who genuinely cared.
I read Anna’s blog, the-slow-lane.com, and found out all about the Tea Party for M.E. – an event that started when Anna was too unwell to celebrate her birthday in November 2012. Anna asked her family and friends to help her celebrate virtually – posting pictures of themselves raising a mug of tea and enjoying a piece of cake. Being the amazing lady that she is, Anna then decided to share her idea with the rest of the M.E. Community and in May 2013 Blue Sunday: The Tea Party for M.E. was born!
I put the date for the 2021 Blue Sunday event in my (otherwise empty) diary as soon as I found out about it. Finally, something I could look forward to!
Over the next few months, I started to make friends with other members of the M.E. Community on Twitter and Instagram. It was wonderful to be able to chat to other people with the illness – people who understood what I was going through. I met people who knew the symptoms, and who educated me on the value of rest and pacing. I was humbled by the kindness and empathy the community showed towards me; especially knowing that many of these people had been living with M.E. for years and their symptoms were often far worse than my own, yet they still tried to help me out.
As May drew closer, I reached out to friends and family and invited them to take part in the Blue Sunday event too – asking them to wear blue, have a slice of cake and a cuppa, and donate to the M.E. charity of their choice. It was such a simple and lovely ask! My parents were happy to get involved, and they spread the word to their friends. My Grandad asked if he could donate to the cause. My friends said they would share the flyer and also take part themselves. It felt so good to be supporting Anna, and the rest of the M.E. Community, in raising awareness and funds.
Then May arrived and the M.E. Awareness events started. There was so much going on I actually found it quite overwhelming. To begin with, I felt like I wanted to support every cause, and take part in every initiative, but I quickly realised that I was putting myself under far too much pressure and I would need to pace myself. I had to prioritise and focus on the causes and actions that meant the most to me.
The days passed and M.E. Awareness Week arrived. If I’m being honest, I found my first M.E. Awareness week really tough. To see the M.E. Community putting so much precious energy into their Tweets and Instagram quotes, and knowing they would be paying for the effort health-wise – but feeling as though no-one from outside the community is listening, was really heart-breaking. A few of my new friends decided to withdraw from social media for a while, as it was all getting too much. I started to experience worse symptoms than usual as I’d been pushing myself too hard. I’d felt a personal responsibility to do as much as I could for the awareness month because I knew there were just too many people out there who didn’t have the health to get involved, no matter how much they wanted to. It all just felt too sad for words and I started to feel as though I wanted to give up and step away too.
But then, just when it was needed the most, Blue Sunday arrived! The heavy gloom was replaced by a feeling of hope and anticipation for a good day ahead. It was a wonderful feeling to get up and have a sense of purpose. It made me feel happy, knowing that today was a big day for so many other people who are poorly with M.E. and we could all be united in this happy event together. I thought about Anna too and imagined her excitement now that Blue Sunday had finally arrived. I think the M.E Community will always see Blue Sunday as being Anna’s day; but Anna will happily tell you the day belongs to us all, which also rings true as she’s made the event so inclusive.
I enjoyed getting dressed up in my blue outfit and putting some make-up on for once. Since becoming unwell with M.E. I generally haven’t felt like making much of an effort with my appearance, as I don’t feel well enough and there’s no real reason to, as I’m usually just sitting about at home… So this was another treat that made the Tea Party special (although I gave up on the idea of wearing my blue nail polish, but you can’t have everything!).
I even wore a pair of blue and white teapot earrings (that I’d bought especially for the occasion!), made by the wonderful artist Amanda Skipsey.
As the morning passed, the social media posts started to trickle in:
- a photograph of a cup of a tea and a scone with jam being enjoyed in Australia
- a post from Anna encouraging people who could not afford to donate to charity to still join in, as today was there for all people with M.E. to enjoy
- posts from people feeling too unwell to take part but (genuinely) wishing the rest of the M.E. Community a lovely day.
After getting dressed I had a good rest, then set about laying the table and making finger sandwiches and tea. I’d decided to keep things nice and simple so that I didn’t wear myself out.
The day before had been a bit of a disaster…
I’d wanted to make a celebration cake – a tea party table laid out with blue cups and saucers, tea pot and plates. Only the handles had kept falling off the cups and the spout wouldn’t stay on the teapot, and the table cloth effect didn’t work. I’d felt really unwell and sat in the midst of piles of sticky fondant icing and icing sugar and had a good cry. I knew I needed to rest but I just wanted to do THIS ONE THING for THIS ONE DAY.
Once I’d rested and reached a calmer frame of mind, I realised how silly I’d been to get upset. I grabbed the Blue Sunday Tea Party for M.E. fundraising kit (made by another amazing new M.E. Community friend, Hannah) and set to work…
It wasn’t what I’d set out to make, but it was okay!
I created a paper band to go round the cake and cover up the disaster icing. I grabbed the stickers from the fundraising pack and used them to decorate the paper. There was a lovely big blue tea pot decoration in the pack – so I realised that could be used to decorate the cake… And how about putting a big fondant cup underneath the teapot? Anna, who created the Tea Party, doesn’t actually like tea – so, if I used some white icing with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top, I could make it look like a frothy coffee. And because the cup was super-sized this time I was able to get the handle to stay on using cocktail sticks. Finally – a workable solution, and it really didn’t take long to create at all!
On Blue Sunday, when I posted the photo of my humble tea party spread, I received the most amazing compliments! It gave me such a boost and it reminds me again just how wonderful people with M.E. are. It was so lovely to see all the pictures of everyone else enjoying their day too – and to receive messages from friends and family to ask if I was enjoying my day. I have to say that, from now on, Blue Sunday is officially my favourite day of the year – it’s better than birthdays and Christmas – because it’s all about me and my M.E.
At the time of writing this post just over £17,000 has been raised for M.E. charities, and more donations are yet to be counted! It’s quite amazing to think that we did this. I am so proud of all the people with M.E. who took part and/or promoted the event and I am especially proud of Anna for all the hard work she puts in to the organisation of it, despite being poorly herself. She’s a total legend!
I decided to support the Open Medicine Foundation with my Tea Party donation, as I believe research into this illness is vital. The donations page Anna created is amazing. She’s gone to so much effort to make everything as easy as possible. You can find out all about each M.E. charity and click on the link to donate: https://the-slow-lane.com/donation-pages/
I’m counting down the days until Blue Sunday 2022! 💙