Exploring COVID 'Long Haulers' from a Trauma-Informed Perspective #rwanda #RwOT

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. I’ve shared my body with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for 28 years, over half my life; 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. Would I end up in an over-loaded hospital, unconscious, systems shutting down? And then I got the virus.

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 they lasted for weeks, popping up repeatedly when I thought they were gone. I feel blessed to have escaped so lightly, given the relative severity of my RA, and I hope I don’t feel any effects in the future.

I began to hear more and more stories about people, most healthy and without underlying issues, who are struggling with long-term from COVID-19 symptoms; months and months of difficult and varied symptoms, including fatigue, 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.”

Research is showing that life-long stress, trauma and adverse life experiences can disrupt the immune, endocrine, vascular and metabolic systems in the body, leading to 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. 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?

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 all the 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.

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I definitely consider myself an RA long hauler. After years of indifferent success with Western medicine and medication, and struggling with 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.

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; years of unrelentingly stress isolation, neglect, fear, confusion and rage endemic to my family of origin.

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. It can still be difficult to convince medical professionals that many of the improvements I’ve seen are as a result of my somatic work, but the expansion of my life and body are proof to me.

I believe so strongly in the benefits of SPRe, that I became a practitioner myself, and I now work with clients who struggle with their own stress-related diseases and who struggle to connect their bodies with their minds — cognition with sensation. I am interested in the lives and backgrounds of these long haulers themselves, and why they — and not others — have developed these chronic symptoms. I suspect they might have stress and trauma in their pasts.

I believe strongly 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 people holistically with an eye toward healing their bodymind connections and giving them back their lives.

A version of this article was originally published in Elephant Journal.


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