THE NIGHTMARE I WANT TO WAKE UP FROM
THE NIGHTMARE I WANT TO WAKE UP FROM ... aka Long-haul Covid
By the time I finish writing this it will be day close to Day 100. One hundred days of waking up in a body that doesn’t feel like mine. It's as if I'm living a stranger's life in a strangers body, and often I find myself dropping into the beginnings of depression, before I haul myself back up. That’s hard to admit, coming from a guy who was always healthy and always optimistic, and had no time for what he would call “poor me syndrome”.
I suppose you could add in the 28 days of Covid-19 illness in March , plus all the down days between April and September, where Long-Covid was only a minor irritant, rearing it's multisymptomatic head for only a day or two at a time. So , yeah, it’s more like 150 days out of the last 300. Whoa. 5 months “down” out of 10 months.
(March 18 UPDATE - I started a FB Group for the emotional and mental side of LongHaul. It's at https://www.facebook.com/groups/longhaulcovid )
But these last 100 days have been really tough, because now, for me, Long Covid is relentless, day after day. I could take it between April and September, because I had lots of “normal” days. Now, I don’t have any of those. So listen, I’m not moaning here, because, although it’s tough, I'm not actually dying.
Well, maybe I am dying - in a not so different way - because Long Covid is sucking away at the life inside me. It sucks away my optimism. It drains my energy. It clouds my mind. It awakens my frustration. It teeters me into depression.
And hey, I wasn't even hospitalized, way back in March. Not me. I have a strong immune system. I live an extremely healthy life style. I have lots of energy, even at 63 years young. I ….. .
Whoops, I forgot! That's not me. That's the old me. That's the me that's in the past. That's the me that's beginning to feel like a dream from the past. Is he dead, the old me who had amazing health and energy? He's gone. And no , I don't want to say that . I don't want to believe that he's gone. It's too depressing. I want to believe that he ( the old me) is going to come back, and that things will go back to normal. But will they ? Will they ever?
Like so many others, of all ages - athletes, yoga bunnies, fit and healthy people - Long Covid (also called Longhaul Covid) is slowly doing me in. And the hardest part right now is the mental and the emotional side. Because yeah, I've kinda gotten used to the physical side. I've gotten used to having days where I start to feel normal again , and then I do maybe one hour of odd jobs around our organic vegetable plot, and a few hours later, I'm knackered! I’m back in bed, because, all of a sudden I have what I now know is “crashing fatigue”. It's even an effort to walk up the stairs – and I kid you not! And most likely it will take me two or three days -where I struggle with almost zero energy - before I get back to any sense of “normality”. Normality for me means nothing like the old normal, where I seemed to have a boundless source of energy inside me. Normality these days means operating at about 50% of my usual capacity.
That's just the physical side of Long Covid. You just never know if you're gonna have a good day, a shitty day, or an unbearable day. You wake up and wonder if you’ll have that horrible headache today - or will it just be the most debilitating fatigue, where your legs feel like pieces of jelly from the knees down. Or will it be that dry throat feeling that comes with an annoying and intermittent cough? Or maybe it will a shortness of breath day - SOB to all of you “Longhaul Coviders” reading this. Or it could be a tight chest day. Or feeling like you have an empty space inside your lungs where the oxygen just doesn't reach anymore. Or maybe some good old diarrhoea. Or insomnia . Or maybe heart palpitations. Or maybe you'll just get away with a little bit of brain fog today.
Or the worst scenario - maybe it'll be all of those symptoms, coming together like an invading army that takes over your body and your heart and your mind so much that you wonder who the hell you are anymore.
Yup, some days it does get really bad, like the day I recorded a video of myself and put it up on YouTube to remind myself how bad it gets – because I am an eternal optimist and I forget, and I start doing things as if I’m normal, and then, as I said, I’m back in bed, again! Those days I do start to wonder who I actually AM anymore.
As Freddie Mercury sang .. “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality.”
So that's most of my symptom list - and hey, I get off lightly. If you want to see how bad it gets for other people then be my guest by searching Long Covid or Long Haulers in the Facebook groups. I actually don't read too many of the posts in those support groups because, quite frankly, some of the stories scare me.
So yeah, I'm kind of used to the physical side of Long Covid now. What's happening more and more is that I have to deal with my other realities - the mental and emotion toll. Again though, I count myself as one of the lucky ones, because I can draw on all of the wisdom, teachings and practices I've learned and taught over the past 20 years. Still, it is a real challenge some days not to fall into that black hole and stay in it. Today is one of those days , and that's why I'm writing. Writing is one of my practices . It really helps. If you suffer from Long Covid, try it.
Julia Cameron calls it “putting all the drama on the page” (in her book titled “The Artist's Way). A Buddhist might call the process of writing like this “emptying out.” I need ways to deal with the emotions that Long Covid is stirring up for me. Emotions like … Frustration with not being able to do things the way I used to, not being able to go for a run, and not being able to properly explain to others how bad this is. And here’s a strange one for you … frustration with being able to do things … but knowing that if I do them, I'll be absolutely flattened tomorrow and the day after … so not doing them. Paradox Lost?
And then there’s the Grief, the loss of my old energetic self. I feel very sad writing that sentence down, because I really don’t want to allow it to sink in. Yeah, of course, I hope that I’ll get back up again from this, but I can’t be sure of anything right now. I need to honour the truth of that statement, that I’ve ( at least temporarily) lost my old energetic upbeat self for a while. So I’ve got work to do = with my frustration and anger, my grief and sadness, and my disappointment. It’s possible that my previous levels of energy will never return – and, strange as it may seem, I’m discovering a deeper peace when I allow the disappointment and the grief. I’m “working with” one of the Hindu Goddesses, Dhumavati, to help me through those emotions and out the other side. I’m chanting, I’m meditating, I’m writing, I do Yin Yoga, I take LOTS of supplements ( Zinc, Vit-C, Vit-D, Vit-B complex, Curcumin … and quite a few more, including, recently, electrolyte tablets)
But right now, after writing all of this, I can feel the frustration rising up again, so I’m off to do some meditation and some chanting, anything that works for me to release any emotions that are stuck inside me. As my mother used to say “Better out than in” , though I think she was referring to food poisoning, not my emotional wellbeing!
Ok, I’m back. Wow, that was intense! I'm very used to feeling my emotions, so while it was intense, it wasn't too difficult for me to get right into it. Over the years I have learned to start any practice by dedicating it to someone else- and in this case I dedicated it to anyone suffering from Long Covid. Dedicating a practice makes me feel at least a tiny bit useful , but it also means that I don't chicken out when the emotions really get going. Yeah, I chanted to Dhumavati. For thos of you nfamiliar with Hindu Goddesses, the chant is “Dhum Dhum Dhumavati Svaha" – and Dhumavati is the fearsome aspect of Devi, the Hindu Divine Mother. “She is often portrayed as an old, ugly widow, and is associated with things considered inauspicious and unattractive. She is said to manifest herself at the time of cosmic dissolution – she is "the Void" that exists before creation and after dissolution.”
So yeah, I chanted - and of course, that brough up all the emotion. So I cried. Yeah, I raged and ranted a little bit , to God, to the Universe. It felt good. After all the ranting and raving and crying I meditated a while longer and moved into a deep sense of peace , so much so that the words that came to me to describe my state were “I am suffused with peace.” That’s the benefit of having a practice to clear out any shitty stuff when you notice it. If you don’t, it kinda gets stuck inside you, and builds up day after day.
So yeah, I'm glad that I have some practices that really work for me , to keep emptying out all of this emotional and mental stuff that comes up almost every day with Long Covid. I really don't want to get into that black hole. Depression. The pit. You know that (infamous) Black Dog, which has qualities I am becoming uncomfortably familiar with – “The black dog of depression represents the gradual overtaking of the things you once loved, the person you once recognized in the mirror, or the life you once lived.”
So far, I've managed quite well, although I can cry very easily these days, like when one of my children call to say “How are you?” I’ve learned that authenticity is important here, to me and to those I love, so I make sure not to hide away behind the usual façade of “I’ grand, or I’m fine!” or the old masculine thinking of “It’s weak to show your emotion.” Sometimes the tears stay inside, sometimes they don’t, but at least I’ve stopped suppressing them. I’ve told my eyes – “It’s ok to leak a little” and I’ve told my old male conditioning to ( in my perfectly good Irish English) to “Feck right off :) ”
But there are lots of people who don't have the practices or experience that I have , so if you know anyone who has Long Covid , please please have some empathy for them. That doesn't mean that you need to get down into the hole with them every time they need to offload. But it does mean listening to them.
I spoke to a good friend of mine yesterday and I told him I was tired of talking about my illness, my “Long Covid” - and yet I also needed to talk about it. He stopped and went quiet for a second and I asked him what was going on. He said something beautiful “I'm imagining what it's like to walk in your shoes.” ( Thanks Enrico) What a lovely thing to say. That's what's really needed here , someone who can simply listen and have empathy – not sympathy. For those of you who don’t understand the difference between empathy and sympathy, here’s a two line summary –
- Empathy is when you wholeheartedly try to understand and feel someone else’s emotions and what they’re going through as if you were in their shoes.
- Sympathy is when you feel sorry for someone, usually based on their situation or circumstances. Sympathy can be full of platitudes and is closely related to pity. For many people, the term has negative connotations.
So, if you are suffering from long Covid what can I tell you? You already know how goddamn tough it is, day after day, week after week, month after month. You already know how down you can feel emotionally and mentally. But you may not know is what to do with all that - so here's my suggestions. From my heart to yours.
- Get yourself a pen and paper, and start writing . Writing what you may ask? Writing anything that comes into your mind. Anything at all. It might just be a string of curses, where you allow yourself the mother of all curses, or maybe you just let the pen do the writing, who cares ?! Get it all down on the page - and out of your system.
Every time you touch into a feeling - any feeling- see if you can name it. Use this four stage process called “Name it, Claim it, Feel it. Free it.”
No, I don't mean you should call this feeling Andy or Rebecca ! But do give it a name. Is it frustration, envy, anger, grief, disappointment, rage, numbness, annoyance. I'll pop a long list of emotions at the end of this essay to help you out. Once you identify the emotion, then ….
This part is to make sure you don’t dump the emotion on someone else …maybe GOD or some Divine Being like that. It’s your emotion, and the inly thing to do is to burn through it. So claim it as yours. And then you can move onto Stage 3.
Feel it and Free it.
Where do you feel the emotion? Here’s where your pen gets used again. Get writing as if you are that emotion. For example, write to yourself –
I am frustration . I am in your upper chest . I am in your shoulders your arms and your jaw . I feel quite powerful but I also feel totally pointless at the same time because there's nothing I can do. I just want you to listen, Eoin, because I feel like hitting or smashing something because it's all just too much. I'm frustrated because there's things going on that I have no control over - and actually I feel quite powerless, but I don't like that emotion at all.”
So now I realise that there’s another emotion, powerlessness, that is hidden underneath the frustration. That's usually the way with emotions - there are layers and more layers under that., and other layers sandwiched in between. So now I switch to “I am powerlessness”
“I hate being powerless. I do not want to feel powerless.”
( Usually there’s some tears here, which help a lot. The trick here is Not to fall into powerlessness, but just to allow the feelings to come up and out of your body. Always stay grounded and connected to the earth when you’re releasing. This is how you “Free IT.” )
After the tears there's usually a sense of acceptance and I then switch to working with that emotion. Acceptance …. “I accept my frustration - it's OK. I accept my powerlessness - it's OK. I accept my sadness and tears - it's OK. But I am not those things. They simply come and go. I, on the other hand am still here.”
Yeah, I have learned to feel the difficult emotions and once I do the work, amnd dive into them, I always come out the other side. I find something else underneath them . I always find a sense of space, or a sense of acceptance and a deep peace that goes with that. It can take some time, but it’s worth it, if I allow myself to work down through the layers.
So then, when I feel that I’ve emptied out the feeling and find that space or good feeling I bring it into inti my awareness more fully – simply by breathing into t=it and allowing it to expand right throughout my body.
So, today, I’ve landed in peace. Mmmm. Peaceful. So I breathe deeply into that feeling . I breathe it into my eyes into my face, into my mouth, into my chest and lungs, into my shoulders, into my belly and my back and my thighs and my legs and my feet. Peace . Peace. Peace.
It feels good – and it’s all I can do some days. But it's enough. It keeps the black dog at bay. It keeps me here in the present moment, instead of agitating and worrying about what the future may hold, or mourning the “old me” that seems to have vanished. Yes, I'm still here, still living in this body which feels like it belongs to a stranger. But I have a sense of myself that's somehow bigger and deeper than this Long Covid in my body , the emotions that it brings up I feel, and the stories that go round and round in my head.
I'm still sane … aren't I? 😊
P.S. If you'd like some support dealing with it all, ( via Zoom), have a look here and see if my work resonates with you. I still work with clients, but from time to time I'm just not feeling up to it and have to cancel. You know why. Likewise I will be empathic and understanding if the same happens for you. We're in this together.