Surviving Long Covid (&life)
The world we knew one year ago has gone. None of us know when, or even if, it will return. What is certain is that uncertainty rules. Ironically, the Chinese, where this virus originated, say that when we realise that uncertainty is the universal norm, for everything is always in a state of flux, and when we live in the ‘flow’, wisdom becomes ours.
Applying this to our every day reality may feel strange, for we’ve been educated since birth to adhere to stability, to generate lasting patterns which thread their way through our lives. Our very characters are based upon stable traits, if we were to continually change people wouldn’t trust us, hence we’d be the wild card. Long Covid is the wild card.
It affects over one million Brits, the implication for society, as well as for those unfortunate individuals, is serious. Today is a faint reminder of the periods after the 1st and 2nd World Wars when so many young, the usual drivers of activity, were injured, unable to participate or were listless due to ‘shell-shock’.
People unfortunate enough to face such circumstances must adapt, which isn’t easy. You can’t find the energy to trot back into your old social scene, you try, but haven’t the clout and slip off the track. It’s not that people want to avoid you, it’s just that you lie unnoticed in the bushes. There’s the financial impact too. Unable to earn as much, you can’t jump back up, and are left at the roadside.
In my own life, constrained since we got married by my constant bad health, we’ve always been on the edge financially and, against our wishes, have been forced to sell one home after another to resolve unavoidable mounting debt. I used to hit the walls in frustration.
Frustration becomes a problem. In those days, we’d not had thousands of doctors world-wide studying Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome(PVFS), which is what Long Covid is. My blunt doctor, whom I loved, was a tough, ex-military doctor who still attended to Special Services soldiers in the near by garrison. He barked, “I’ve seen tough young men like you trying to recover from a cocktail of tropical diseases, some, hard hit like you, never get better. Find a way to accept it.” That was it. No more advice.
I didn’t hear. I tried to exercise my way out of illness. This meant robbing my body of the energy required to fight this nebulous condition. It took years to revive sufficiently to live a semblance of a normal life. Long Covid and PVFS grip fit fighters, highly active people, to the sofa. Today there is knowledge and support, but this is a mental challenge as well as an obviously physical one when walking across the room uses up all the energy you have.
You must avoid self-pity, for that is when you start to slip down the slope towards depression. Think: ‘This is the way it is, all I can do is live it without self pity.’
This isn’t negative, but sound sense.
It may sound impossibly simple, but being in the present has the effect of enabling your brain to take over from your mind. The mind goes round and round finding things to fret about whilst the brain plods along doing ordinary stuff like making your heart beat and regulating your body temperature. The mind gobbles energy - the bonkers bundle of interactive cells we call the astounding human mind, which incidentally created your persona, can lose the plot because the spark of consciousness which thinks it is you can easily get out of control. Fretting can use 30% of your energy. “Baloney!” You will no doubt shout. But hey, that’s the mind shouting, not the brain.
But mind energy can be useful. Research around the world has shown that our attitude when we do something influences the outcome. This happens not only in the mind as positive or calming thoughts, but in the brain’s very structure - as sparks which ignite the connecting cellular activity any task involves. That is boggling. What we think changes the brain, so, being filled with self-pity causes nasty chemicals to swirl around the physical brain, which changes our mind’s view of things and so we get caught in a destructive circle.
The opposite happens as your attention rests in the brain, in other words, the body and senses. Feeling your skin as it senses the air, being in your ears as they take in sounds, feeling gravity in your limbs, watching the light shift across the room. All experienced as if for the first time; child-like, with fascination, with a touch of joy. The world you thus inhabit is soothing, which is healing as it allows energy normally binging about in the brain to work for your body’s recovery.
The more time you can slip in to brain/body-mode, the better it is for your mind. It gradually settles, you feel more at home being you. A mindset called the Alpha state bathes you in its magical glow, you feel better, even though your body may not be that great. As I write, I have to keep slipping from the mind, from where the sick body is not at all comfortable (I was close to death a short while ago), and in to brain-mode, from where the body is as it is and hence the Alpha state is available if I’m totally in the here-and-now. The body still struggles, but the brain-settled mind is soothed. Life, although medically dodgy, is OK. It is what is.
When I’ve a little energy to do a little exercise, I go slowly up our internal stairs thinking with every step, “Wow! This is good for me! Great changes are happening inside me with each little movement of my body! Whoopie!”
Sounds rather over the top, but all that world-wide research has found that involving positive emotion adds a bit of extra oomph to the process. Don’t over-do it though. I think I ’talk’ to myself in my head, which my wife denies, claiming that I whisper: “This is loosening my feet, stimulating my calves, oiling my knees, strengthening my thighs. Body! You’re great!”
It’s a good job the neighbours can’t hear. As you exercise very gently, being in the moment, enhancing your mood and health, either ignore the neighbours or close them lips tight as you encourage your super-body in to gentle action.