Moving forward from the Nervous System Challenges Caused by Post Viral States
In 2006 I recovered from 14 years of disability caused by a severe viral infection. At the time of the viral infection in 1992 I was iller than I have ever been in my life. From then until 2006 I was off work. My ability to day to day things like looking after myself were severely limited by things like physical fatigue and brain fog. I was confined to bed for most of the day. Symptoms were very similar to those described by people recovering from post covid syndromes. I walked with a stick to help my balance and strength.
Since 2007 I have been working full time with clients recovering from serious viral infections and chronic pain issues. Since 2020 I have been helping people with Long Covid return to wellbeing.
Recovering from a viral infection can be a tough business. My attempts at recovery seemed like a game of snake and ladders - a bit of improvement then slipping back. I was never reaching a point of sufficient wellbeing to return to anything like a normal life.
At times hope, recovering and positive, at other times devastating overwhelming symptoms that felt like back to square one or worse. Other times just day after day of severe symptoms. I used to wake up every morning hoping I’d be better - has it gone yet, darn it no.
At a nervous system level severe symptoms and the bodily game of snakes and ladders are tricky (2). As human beings we are continually weighing up whether what is happening within us and around us is supportive of wellbeing or not - a weighing up of safety and threat (4). Information that creates a story that is not about recovery can be interpreted by the nervous system as a threat and be dysregulating. That can cause symptoms in itself. (3) (For more information see climbing up the ladder of recovery, an autonomic nervous system perspective 1 more here)
The information that is supporting us or challenging us comes from 3 sources in a process that happens at an unconscious level. The information is from inside the body, from the environment and from relationships. This process described by polyvagal theory as neuroception (1)
For people recovering from Long Covid, and other post viral states there maybe positive signs of recovery, a mix of positive and negative. Negative information includes :
Information from inside your body. For example we might be getting information that our digestion is a bit off, or that breathing is harder than it was and a whole variety of other symptoms
Information from the environment For example demands upon us from work, or our home which may have become really difficult.
Information from relationships For example we may feel pressure from others to return to our previous working hours or be well. I would include here our relationship with ourselves, and things we imagine about other relationships,
Our brain makes a story with the information that we are receiving based on things like our previous experience. However, as the content of this story is dependent on our state in the moment it may not be useful. It can be one way we can accidentally end up in a cycle of illhealth where symptoms can creates symptoms and/or our immune system isn't prioritised for healing. (4) So for example the stress caused by the symptoms can cause digestive symptoms.
There are things that you can start to do right now. The ventral vagus part of our nervous system is associated with health and wellbeing. Aim to spend more time there with the resources that you have right now: (1)
(Remember to treat yourself kindly, you are recuperating (3) - the nhs recommends managing daily activity as you recover - link here )
Who will you spend more time with? Who makes you feel safe and welcome? (Name them)
What will you do? Small actions that feel nourishing, relaxing and connected? (You can include what you think about - the stories that you are telling yourself).
Where will you be? It maybe at home, at work, around where you live. Places where you love to spend time.
When is that? Moments of time where you felt that energy of relaxed, nourishing and connected.
Here's some of my list
Who will you be with - My lovely tea shoppe and walking friend.
What will you do? Sketching from the internet (when I am on my own, I am not really, I am with my lovely Mum)
Where will you be - sitting on the bench looking at the lovely view on the hill close to my home.
When is that? On a great Sunday morning.
Techniques like the Lightning Process are really good at teaching us how to switch out of patterns that don’t support recovery, and to teaches us to regulate our systems and promote wellbeing. .The impact can be dramatic and amazing (3).
(1) Deb Dana Anchored, Sounds True 2021
(2) Dr Gavin Francis, Recovery: The Lost Art of Convalescence Profile Books 2022
(3) Phil Parker, DO et al Understanding the Lightning Process Approach to CFS/ME; a Review of the Disease Process and the Approach July 2018
(4) Stephen Porges Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Emergence of Polyvagal-Informed Therapies Norton, 2018