Chronic Illness In COVID Times

peppermint-tea-5362243_1920Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Before I get out of bed each morning I take an inventory of the state of my health. I lie under the covers with my eyes closed and notice what’s happening in my body. Sometimes I wake up with full body aches, a sore, scratchy throat and a feeling of heaviness or weakness in my limbs. Not every day, but enough that it bothers me. And by “bothers” I mean that it depresses me. I hate rising this way. It’s hard to start the day feeling positive and optimistic when my body doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. I find myself slipping into a negative state of mind before I’ve even given the day a chance. I worry that, though I’m so much healthier than I was even a year ago, I’ll never attain the robust health I so desperately desire. And I’m confused. Am I feeling this way because of the new protocol I’m on for my Lyme co-infections, or could it be COVID? Though I’ve been very careful since the pandemic began, there is no way to live a risk-free life. I go to the grocery store. I see people I care about in a socially distanced way. And, since summer began, Harlan and I have allowed our kids to spend time with a small group of their closest friends. The toll that being isolated for three months took on their mental health felt unsustainable. We decided that the risk of exposure was worth the increase in their happiness and connection to others. When we first let them out of the house, there were very few cases in Marin. But now cases are rising here, as they are everywhere, and I’m less clear on how safe their time with friends really is.

Over the past several months my thoughts about the virus have fluctuated greatly. In March and April I placed myself in the higher risk category for complications due to my compromised immune system. I was terrified that if I caught it I would end up hospitalized…at a minimum. Then in May and June I started to relax. It seemed clear that those at highest risk were people with diabetes, asthma and other lung-related issues, and heart disease. And that, sadly, most of those affected were disproportionately people of color. So even though I have autoimmunity and some chronic infections, I decided I was no more likely than the average healthy adult to become seriously ill or to succumb to the virus. But lately, I’m not so sure. People my age and younger people are being hospitalized at higher and higher rates. And there is more evidence that the virus is being heavily spread by asymptomatic carriers. So I’m feeling more vulnerable again.

It’s almost certain that on the mornings I wake feeling particularly unwell I am experiencing a die-off reaction to the herbs that are working hard to kill my chronic infections. As Harlan regularly reminds me, my symptoms are the same symptoms I’ve been having for years. There is nothing to suggest that I’ve caught something new. This provides some measure of comfort, but the more I learn about the virus the more I’m hearing that the symptoms we thought were the most important markers in the beginning have been broadened to include almost anything. COVID is now defined not as a respiratory illness but a vascular one. Which means that any parts of the body impacted by our vascular system (almost all parts) can be attacked by the virus.

Knowing that my morning symptoms are likely caused by the illnesses I’ve been grappling with for ages time brings up its own set of issues. How much longer until I feel truly and consistently well? Another six months to a year, as my naturopath suggests? Or will I reach a plateau, beyond which I never improve? I remind myself, that like the trajectory of the coronavirus, life itself is uncertain. There are no guarantees. I just have to keep focusing on the journey, rather than the destination. And I’ve discovered that once I actually get out of bed and start moving I often feel better. Getting the circulation flowing seems to relieve some of the aches and pains. Not always. There are times when I feel like crap for most of the day. Thankfully, those days are less common than the days when I feel pretty good. And the slowing down that all of us have been forced into because of COVID and quarantine has, frankly, been good for my health. It’s weird to be grateful for something that has caused so much devastation. But sleeping in rather than setting my alarm each morning to get my kids to school has been good for me. Resting at home rather than rushing around running errands and driving my kids to multiple after school activities has been good for me. And even being forced to let go of social obligations has been good for me. It’s a twisted reality that, in some ways, this pandemic has been good for my health. The truth is that I’m supposed to be doing less right now. We’re all supposed to be doing less. Our cocooning can help to slow the spread of this virus and give the earth a chance to breathe and heal.

If I can stop feeling guilty for not being super productive when Harlan is working hard to provide for our family in uncertain times, if I can accept that taking care of myself, my family and my pets, connecting with loved ones, and continuing to dedicate myself to my writing is enough, and if I can remember that when I don’t prioritize my health I’m not good for much of anything at all…then maybe I can embrace this forced pause as a silver lining of the pandemic.

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