It has been a turbulent journey into the long-haul dimension. I was hit by the Delta strain in November, and by medical standards, I had a “mild” case (not hospitalized). Oh, it was a violent all-body invasion. But after 12 days, the war ceased, and I had one week of drastic improvement. 

Polly Sumner | Credit: Courtesy

Then, the planet tilted again. On a short walk in my neighborhood, my heart rate suddenly skyrocketed, and I thought I might pass out. Mere blocks from home, I had to be rescued by my husband. New symptoms swiftly emerged. Heart palpitations, tachycardia, winded doing very little, a druggy fatigue in my core pulling me down like a heavy anchor. Head perpetually swimming, and the return of an old nemesis: anxiety. Meanwhile, fever, nausea, sound sensitivity, and chills continued (still do) at lesser but persistent levels.

I felt eerily off in body and mind. Scary heart surges kept me up for hours in bed, and I was losing ground with sanity. I ended up at the ER twice. Heart and lung tests returned normal, which was partially a relief, yet accompanied disconcertingly by mystified shrugs from the doctors. “We’re learning about this through you.” 

It took the second visit to the hospital in as many days to accept I was physically thrashed. Being an endurance athlete — at the strongest I’ve been my entire life when I got sick — protracted my ability to surrender to this reality. And here’s the thing: COVID is a mind f*ck. Rays of normalcy shine through. You think you’re improving. You cry tears of joy at the sheer beauty of doing something simple like making dinner for the family or hearing music. In a burst of optimism, you tell others it’s getting better. 

And then the bitch takes you down again, and you wonder how you’re going to get from your bed to the bathroom. Then later that same day, you suddenly feel better and can actually pick your kid up from school. Yet 10 minutes after that, your feet are going numb, you look down and notice your finger nail beds have all turned blue, and you have a panic attack because you realize you’re too weak to even carry your kid’s backpack into the house.

I was told by everyone I needed to reduce emotional stress to physically heal. Right on. And yet, I saw myself sliding dangerously close to a plunge into depression. My demolished physical and mental state left me vulnerable, stripped of zeal, and afraid. Afraid to slip into that darkness, feeding an untethered and negative state. I knew I had to choose joy, and fast.

I began meditating twice daily. I started acupuncture weekly. With guidance from a naturopath, countless supplements and Chinese herbs now course through my body. I reached out to others I know with long COVID, who have all openly shared invaluable, personal insights.

I’ve learned to find joy in small moments like tea in the garden, marveling at the strong delicacy of hummingbirds. I watch Ted Lasso. I read a ton. I listen to the soulful Peter Bradley Adams. I ask my husband and son for multiple hugs a day. I embrace the support I’ve received from family and friends. A handful have checked on me so frequently that I sometimes burst into tears from gratitude.

This past month, I’ve felt improvement. I am able to work at least partially most days and am incredibly grateful for the normalcy and brain stimulation. I walked two very slow miles at a nature preserve a few weeks ago. It was exhilarating. I laid in the cool dirt among vibrant foliage and laughed giddily.

Still, new symptoms manifest. My new primary physician swung into action immediately and ordered updated tests. X-rays show hyperinflation of the lungs that was not there three months ago. Mentally, I continue to visit dark valleys. Recently I tried to do another two-mile walk, but I am suffering from Exercise Intolerance. It sucked. I went home pissed off and wanted to punch the wall. This limitation is a sick joke on an ultra-runner. 

I am, thankfully, starting to find a better rhythm to handle the dips. I’ve been gifted unexpected healing opportunities. My sister is a Reiki Master, and I’ve begun training under her to learn Level 1, to heal myself, and hopefully, others. I recently participated as the live model in a Therapeutic Yoga training that addresses COVID recovery. I intensely miss moving through my mountains, and oh boy, the tears. But, what a gift to tap into my many adventures, and fly up the trail in my head anytime I wish! 

My husband and son have been in the trenches with me. I don’t know how I would have gotten through these first three months without them. They have suffered the daily minutiae, patiently giving me space to be messy, volatile, and frightened. 

Fiercely independent, the shift to being almost entirely reliant on my little family to get through the day has changed me. Humbling for sure, yet I see a perceptible shift in my life perspective rising out of the mud. Roots have taken hold in acceptance, gratitude, clarity, and empathy. 

I did not want this story to be mine. Yet it is here, and with it I must bloom with and beyond the pain, because to be alive in this exact moment is magnificence. No mud, no lotus

Polly Sumner continues to struggle with the effects of Long Covid. In March 2023, her family created a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for her medical expenses. Find it here.

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