Testing positive for COVID in December wasn’t surprising, even though my whole family is vaccinated and boosted. Folks were having conversations like, “well, this is the strain we’re all going to get—at least this one is mild for most vaccinated people.” A week after flying home, our college kid felt sick, tested positive and five days later he was almost fully recovered. So when I felt a tickle in my throat and got my positive test result, we were crushed at canceling our extended family Christmas, but we weren’t worried. We have a comfortable guest room where I could quarantine so I made myself a Netflix watch list and settled in.
And then came the first curveball. My symptoms were not mild.
My throat felt like swallowing razor blades, my head was in a vice no matter how much Tylenol I took. Fever, short breath, inability to focus even to read a few pages, and exhaustion so intense I slept the better part of most days. And then the cough came. The doctors gave me steroids, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, cough suppressants, and antihistamines. Over the course of the next two weeks, many of the symptoms started to resolve. But that cough!
As I write this, I am 40 days past first testing positive. This article is the first work I have been able to accomplish in that time. The cough, headache and exhaustion drive my schedule. As challenging as those symptoms are, the hardest to stomach are the guilt and the shame. Guilt driven by knowing how much worse this could be. Imagining what so many families would give to have their lost loved one alive and figuring out how to navigate these same symptoms that I am complaining about. Guilt that I am so frustrated by loss of function when I can’t imagine how it would be to have to come back from weeks in an ICU bed. And shame. This one really surprised me. When I finally said it out loud, I heard “same” from almost everyone I told. How could this have happened—to me? Me, who takes care of myself, and who did all the things to keep myself and those around me safe? Of course, if a friend said this I would assure them that their shame is unwarranted. That they did do everything they could, and that sometimes we just have to sit with the randomness that is this life.
At the beginning of this pandemic, the wellness world seized on the idea that the virus was more likely to cause catastrophic illness if its host was already infirm. And, as any industry is wont to do, quickly began to offer itself as the prophylactic. Now—I am not here to tell you that hydration, rest, eating well, exercising and tending to your finances and relationships, the things we do to maintain our overall wellness, aren’t contributors to positive health outcomes of all kinds. They are. But here’s the thing. Even if we do all those things; we still might get sick.
Did the fact that I am generally very healthy, get plenty of exercise, eat well, get good sleep and stay hydrated keep me from being sicker? Is my habit of listing 5 things I’m grateful for first thing after I open my eyes in the morning mitigating these feelings of hopelessness? The answer to those questions is, resoundingly, “yes.” Every single doctor that I have spoken to through this has confirmed this.
As frustrated as I am with the slow pace of my recovery, I know that the things that had me well before this are the things that will get me well again.
Over years of trial and error, I’ve built my personal practice in a way that the things I am longing to get back to doing are the very things that will keep me well. And if you haven’t already, you can too! It starts with nakedly assessing where your health is and owning the things you do that contribute to that. Nearly every one of us can quit smoking or take up a breath practice and we will reap the benefits when we do. And at the very same time, a virus can find us and send us to bed for weeks and ravage our health. This is the hard part for me. Letting go of the intense desire for control. There is not one darn thing I can do to change the fact I got sick. But, I can drink water, spend a few moments each day focused on my breath, move my body in ways that feel good, spend time outside with people I enjoy, eat well, and get the rest I know my body craves. I will be grateful for the good care I am getting and I will give myself grace in those moments when gratitude is hard to find. I will resist comparing my recovery to others and I will allow myself to mourn the things I am missing at the very same time I celebrate the things I have. Because at the end of the day, that is who I am. Even when I’m sick.
I would love to hear your stories about experiencing illness and injury: what did you do to recover, or if you haven’t recovered, how do you see your path forward? Sharing these stories is the best way to give ourselves and each other the grace we all need to heal.
Erika Taylor is a community wellness instigator at Taylored Fitness. Taylored Fitness believes that everyone can discover small changes in order to make themselves and their communities more vibrant. Visit facebook.com/erika.taylor.303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.