It’s September; seven months since we started to really pay attention to the threat this new Corona virus might pose, six months since the world shut down, five months since I had the virus myself, like thousands of others. What is special about me, however, is that I’ve shared my body with Rheumatoid Arthritis for twenty-eight years, over half my life: an autoimmune disease enabled in my system at twenty-one by a virus I had when I was three.
As we heard more and more news about Covid-19, I remember feeling both afraid and not-afraid of the virus. I felt almost fatalistic; it seemed like there wasn’t really anything any of us could do about it anyway, leading to a kind of immobility. You might get it, you might not. As was true so often in my experience, the body would do what it was going to do.
I felt at once a weird certainty that I’d be fine and also, given my underlying health condition, fear that my immune system might collapse, or worse. After all, I already had a virus in my body; what was going to happen if another one was introduced? Would I end up in an over-loaded hospital, unconscious, systems shutting down?
My symptoms were relatively mild, never enough to really knock me out. I got a little dose of most of the symptoms; the annoying part was that they lasted for weeks, popping up repeatedly when I thought they were gone. I felt blessed to have escaped so lightly, given the relative severity of my RA.
As Spring progressed, and I continued to follow the news, I heard more and more stories about people, most healthy and without underlying issues, who seemed to be suffering long-term from Covid-19 symptoms; months and months of difficult and varied symptoms, including exhaustion, neurological issues, and breathing problems.
These people are fighting to get their stories out there, seeking acknowledgment that their problems are related to Covid-19, and facing the terrible possibility that this might now be a chronic way of life for them. They are calling themselves Long-Haulers.
More and more, research is showing that life-long stress, trauma, adverse life experiences, and repressed emotions are the foundation for many medical conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, neurological disorders, obesity, addiction, and even cancer. These conditions are being referred to as stress-related diseases. As well, the growing field of epigenetics shows that trauma can be inherited. Difficult and traumatic experiences change gene expression; changes reflected in sperm and ova, which travel down through generations.
Is it possible that Long Haulers were already set up for a stress-related disease due to historic trauma and stress and Covid just happened to be the trigger? And what about others who haven’t contracted the disease but who have lived through probably one of the most stressful, shocking, potentially traumatic experiences of their lives? What could happen to them?
The pandemic and quarantine was, and continues to be, shocking, scary, and highly stressful. That shock, fear and stress will affect our bodies and minds in different ways, layered on top of what may already be historically present in our bodyminds. When you factor in the myriad systemic effects of the virus, it makes sense to me that you might get the next evolution of stress-related disease in everyone, not just in those who’ve had the virus. I think we’ll be hearing more stories about chronic stress-related symptoms!
I definitely consider myself an RA long-hauler. After years of indifferent success with Western medicine and medication, and suffering from chronic pain, tension, joint dysfunction, terrible fatigue, and flare ups, I was still managing to live my life, but it wasn’t easy. At 30, I began a somatic therapeutic process with the Founder of SPRe (Somatic Personal Resonance) Bodywork, Jill Ableson. www.sprebodywork.com
SPRe sees the body as an aggregate system – a person’s history in total, and not disparate or compartmentalized parts – body and mind connected. Pain, unnecessary tension, or illness are signals from the body that something isn’t right, that the nervous system is under stress and may be struggling. Together, Jill and I determined that the RA, although a real disease, was also a descriptor of aspects of my home of origin, manifested through my body.
An old virus may have prepared the ground for my RA, but the spark that truly ignited it was years of the unrelentingly stressful, isolation, neglect, fear, confusion, and rage endemic to my family of origin. At twenty-one, my body finally said a big, fat NO, and the rage-induced inflammation began, affecting muscles, joints, bones and every other tissue in my body. My medical condition may be a stress-related disease caused by unbearable and long-term strain on my nervous system.
The little I know of my family history tells me I may have a fair amount of familial trauma, as well, that may have affected what and how my genes function. Approaching the RA as a real disease, but also finding the true connection between it and what happened to me, was empowering, and allowed me to gain more of myself as well as a greater ease in my body and out in the world.
I believe so strongly in the benefits of SPRe, that I became a Practitioner myself, and I now work with clients who suffer from their own stress-related diseases and who struggle to connect their bodies with their minds – cognition with sensation. As someone who works with stress-related illnesses, I am interested in the backgrounds of these Long Haulers themselves, curious about their lives and why they – and not others – have developed these chronic symptoms.
Doctors don’t know how long the Covid virus will remain in our bodies, whether it will go dormant and return – devastatingly – at some later time, like chicken pox and shingles. Who knows what it will do to me in years to come or what the long-term effects will be. I believe strongly, however, that the reason I only suffered mild symptoms, even with my compromised immune system, includes the medications I’m on, the healthy lifestyle I live, and – vitally – the work I’ve done to understand and ameliorate the effects of my past trauma on my nervous system.
It seems like the best way to help the Long Haulers now – and others in the future – would be by paying attention to epigenetic and stress-related disease research. In conjunction with Western medicine and medication, it will be approaches that include the body, the mind and past trauma that will have the best success. Let’s encourage trauma-informed approaches like SPRe, that seek to uncover and integrate historic stress, and treat sufferers holistically with an eye toward healing their bodymind connections and giving them back their lives. www.joywalker-spre.com