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August 4, 2021

Fear is Not the “Real Virus”—but Denial sure is Becoming a Real Problem.

*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.
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Throughout my late teens and majority of my 20s, I believed in and relied solely on the miraculous nature of the human body, as well as on the natural medicines that Source—our Creator, or whatever or whomever you want to call it—provides.

In fact, for the most part, this has not changed—except for the way I’ve handled COVID-19.

First, let me take you on a bit of a detour and share my story with you:

At the age of 23, I began to experience chronic fatigue and digestive symptoms. No matter how much sleep I got, I woke up each morning feeling utterly depleted—a heavy and all-consuming kind of fatigue—and this carried on day after day. It felt to me as though someone shook me out of a deep sleep at 3 a.m. and I couldn’t bounce back.

I felt ashamed of myself. I knew it was like a warning on a dashboard, signaling a problem with my body, but I regularly berated myself internally for not having enough energy—especially when I was so young—and for needing to rest in a society that honors burnout and hyper-productivity as opposed to moderation and recuperation.

Around that time, I was also finishing college and working in a classroom with elementary school children. By the time I got home each evening, I had just enough gumption to make it to the bed and pass out for several hours with no juice to spare to fully seize and enjoy the rest of the night, my time on the weekends, or for anything else for that matter.

I didn’t understand what was wrong with me.

As a child and well into my teens, I was vital and energetic. I took an aerobics class first thing in the morning in high school, and in my earlier years was an outdoorsy kid who loved to run, ride my bicycle around town, and shoot hoops after school. I couldn’t understand where I went wrong or why my former self, the one who loved life, had an active mind and an equally sharp memory, and who loved the great outdoors, seemed to elude me.

In addition, I was also experiencing sluggish digestion and was frequently being diagnosed with chronic sinus infections. Soon thereafter, anxiety and depression ensued due to all of these physical symptoms. Because I’ve always been prone to deep self-analysis and the enjoyment of researching medical conditions and their respective natural remedies, I dedicated a lot of time to figuring it out on my own, in lieu of utilizing Western medicine.

I quickly discovered a condition known as Adrenal Fatigue, and resonated with all the symptoms. I felt overwhelmed knowing all the tests one could potentially have to take in order to find the root of the problem. Hormones, I learned, are especially complicated, and so is the gut. Did I want to get tested for all these potential underlying issues, such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, leaky gut, and so on? Did I have enough time and money to invest in searching for the root causes, especially when I knew I’d need to be on an organic diet, which was already enough of an investment as it was?

It all made my head spin, and I didn’t trust most doctors.

At one point, I broke down in tears and talked to an older friend of mine who had previously suggested I get tested for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis—an autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid, causing it to become underactive, in most cases. She herself had it and when she listened to me talk about my symptoms in the past, she nodded her head in resonance. “That is exactly how I was feeling,” she told me.

Some time had passed before I was able to see a Naturopathic doctor, who ordered some tests and confirmed that I had a subclinical underactive thyroid gland. It wasn’t off-the-charts, but it certainly wasn’t at an optimal value for someone of my age. In addition, my TPO (thyroid peroxidase antibodies) antibodies came back a few notches above the optimal reference range as well. One thing was for certain, however: I knew I didn’t want to try conventional drugs. Later that afternoon, I walked out of the office with a $700 bill, thyroid supplements, and a few botanical tinctures for gut health and my adrenal fatigue.

It was later that year that I started eliminating trigger foods, such as wheat/gluten, dairy, and processed sugar from my diet. Having an Italian mother and growing up on Italian foods meant I loved bread and cheese, but they didn’t love me. I also gave up fried foods, which had me rushing to the hospital with severe heartburn that made me wonder whether I was experiencing a cardiac event. After a couple of unpleasant weeks of detox symptoms, however, I noticed a significant reduction in the severity of them. Some of them were even gone altogether. When I avoided wheat, dairy, red meats, tomato sauce, peppers, eggplant, chocolate, and caffeinated beverages of all kinds, I no longer had acid reflux.

As far as I was concerned, it was a miracle! My fatigue lessened, my memory sharpened, and my skin glowed. From then on, I knew that there was no going back to my former lifestyle.

So, why did I share all of that with you when the title of this article clearly suggests that this piece is about COVID?

Because I know what it feels like to mistrust doctors and Western medicine.

I know what it feels like to know something is wrong and feel concerned about what is going into your body.

I know that our society is one that is, for the most part, profoundly unhealthy and that there is a never-ending war on food.

I also know that in many cases, food and herbal remedies are the best medicines we could hope for.

But fast forward to 2020, when our world as we once knew it came crashing down and all around the globe we faced a problem so much bigger than any of us. Please then, ask yourself the following question:

Can we apply this same lifestyle and set of principles in our prevention of a type of virus we’ve never before been faced with?

To date, there have been 196,553,009 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 4,200,412 deaths reported, according to the World Health Organization. We have different variants, it is only continuing to mutate more aggressively, and has become more transmissible than ever before.

Is celery juicing and a multivitamin going to save us now? And if that were the case, wouldn’t almost every critically thinking individual, like you and me, be concerned enough about their health to employ these measures rather than get vaccinated if only we had that choice?

When I read that one of the long-term effects of COVID-19 is chronic fatigue, I dropped my pride. As someone who already juggled that, I certainly didn’t want to take my chances—however “small” some might argue them to be. That fact alone, along with a myriad of others, began to make me reconsider my former position regarding preventable measures such as a vaccination.

Last year, claims about Vitamin D as a prevention measure or even a potential cure for COVID were circulating through the media. This year, many of us are aware that that was entirely anecdotal, regardless of the fact that most of us health enthusiasts know that Vitamin D, along with zinc for example, is important for the functioning of the immune system. Yet, there is no strong evidence to support those former statements.

Back in October of last year, Rafael Canton, an infectious-disease specialist in Madrid, noted that the number of admissions to his medical center were falling—a huge change from earlier that year, back in the spring. Death rates, around that time, were also decreasing in hot spots around the world and now, we know that COVID-19 has a 99.8 percent survival rate—a statistic many people mention when citing their reasons not to be “consumed by fear” or to avoid vaccines.

However, what many people also fail to take into account is the fact that raw numbers simply do not tell us the whole story.

A few months ago, Dr. Katie Passaretti, another infectious-disease specialist with Atrium Health, said, “99% contains a wide variety of unpleasant and even near-fatal experiences, including long-term hospital stays, and lingering effects even after mild infection.” She also went on to comment, “So-called long-haulers after COVID that are healthy people but have the consequences of COVID that can last…Yes, they survived, but it impacts quality-of-life, function and what-not.”

In addition, I have read articles about and heard tidbits of stories from people who have actually had COVID. They described great difficulty breathing and long-term symptoms that include cognitive decline, in some cases. Those of us who are privileged with otherwise sound health and are young often view ourselves as invincible. Meanwhile, the Delta variant is attacking more and more younger, unvaccinated people, with people aged 18 to 49 now representing the largest demographic of hospitalizations, according to a fact-checked article citing reports from the CDC.

A year and a half later, the vast majority of us—especially those of us who are strong mindfulness advocates—are downright fed up with the news and want to shut it off. While I can certainly understand this position, I have often wondered whether turning a blind eye to the issue is truly the best way to go.

Those on the other side of this debate argue that people who advocate vaccinations and pay attention to what is going on are not questioning the world properly and are thus controlled by fear, hopelessly coerced by a government system that does not have our best interests at heart.

Let me be clear: I can represent both sides of the coin? Why? Because I am indeed a thoughtful person who is more than willing and capable of questioning both myself and the society I live in. I am not dogmatic in my views and am open to interpretation and to different kinds of ideas—especially in the midst of a global emergency.

But when I’m standing on a track and I hear a train coming, you better believe I’m going to get out of the way.

These days, we’re all walking a fine line between sickness and health each and every day of our lives, so of course I am going to reconsider my former principles for the sake of my own safety—as well as the safety of others. It’s just that simple.

And, while the vast majority of people claim to be accepting of those who have decided to get fully vaccinated, I’ve experienced just as many others who take pride in “going against the grain” and “choosing enlightenment over fear,” as though the rest of us concerned citizens are simply gullible, lost, and misguided for doing what we feel is the right thing for ourselves and others. (Of course, to be fair, the argument could go both ways, but I am not going to get into that right now.)

There are times I feel that the spiritual and natural health communities I used to cherish and feel connected with have become foreign to me. As much as I agree, resonate with, and embrace energy healing modalities, positivity, Zen, and a plant-based lifestyle, I can no longer support their belief in shutting their ears to the world around us as it is now. I just can’t.

Denial is not our friend. It doesn’t help anyone. Sweeping a problem as catastrophic as this under the rug won’t make it go away. Positivity is vital, yes, but not at the cost of our ability to tune in to what is happening and respond accordingly. Furthermore, judging people for taking COVID seriously and getting a vaccination certainly doesn’t make the person doing the judging seem more “enlightened.” Conversely, it actually widens the gap and highlights a division already in place. When people feel judged, they become increasingly defensive.

The truth is, few of us are truly as “enlightened” as we think we are (and, to be fair, that includes me at times as well)—and yet, it seems that far too many of us believe we are smarter and more informed than we actually are, which to me seems like an awfully dangerous assumption.

I love my herbs. I love fresh, local produce. I meditate, practice yoga, and read Eckhart Tolle. But if the building I was in caught fire, I’d drop all my herbs and run. All the positivity and prayers in the world wouldn’t save me from the destruction. And that isn’t “toxic” thinking: that is realism in the face of disaster. Furthermore, people not believing in the on-going, baseless conspiracy theories doesn’t make them “sheep.” (Also: is that very “spiritual” of them to judge?)

In the United States, the states which have the lowest vaccination rates have many people in the ICU on their deathbeds begging for the vaccine, only to be told that it’s too late. How privileged we are to be in a country where we can actually choose, while places like Cuba, for instance, suffer under Trump-era sanctions that make it harder to buy syringes.

How can we turn a blind eye to these things? Furthermore, lack of herd immunity is holding us back from stopping this virus from spreading and mutating. The result? Rising COVID cases and more of what we all dread: lockdowns, school and small business shutdowns, and so on. The list goes on. How long can this go on for? How many conspiracy theories are we going to hash out before we realize we have the power to work together to get this mess under control?

All of the government bodies around the world aren’t conspiring to kill us. What would be in it for them? We are the taxpayers. Businesses aren’t shutting down simply because a “common cold” is spreading throughout the globe. Businesses want and need to thrive by making money. When are we going to wake up?

While I agree that we shouldn’t be consumed by our fear, neither should we gaslight ourselves and others with toxic positivity because in truth, that serves absolutely no one. Somehow, we must strike that fine balance, and unfortunately, it seems trendy in our culture to deny the severity of our problems. We’ve effectively dumbed ourselves down and convinced ourselves, and each other, that nothing is “too serious” or “as bad as it seems.” We’re biased toward positivity—even in the face of facts that suggest we need to be concerned. How do we suppose climate change got so bad?

So, please, before you utter phrases such as, “Fear is the real virus,” please stop and think. Could the “real virus,” in fact, be denial?

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