Inside the Fight to Be Positive About All This

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler.

Lindsey is perhaps the most positive person I’e ever met. I worked with her for about six or seven years last decade, and I watched as she smiled her way into a management position. Every single thing was met with an overly enthusiastic smile, and when she would walk away her ponytail would swing back and forth like she was Jan Brady thinking about George Glass.

I’m quite convinced you could kill Lindsey’s dog in front of her and she’d find some reason to thank you while flashing those pearly whites.

Then there’s me. While I am certainly not an eeyore …

… never have I been accused of being overly positive. Quite the contrary, I was raised to be a worrier, always on guard for the person out there who was going to try to put one over on me or for the next bad thing that was going to happen. Whether it’s nature or nurture doesn’t matter; the reality is, I’m not exactly a glass-half-full kinda guy.

My view of the world tends to skew toward the opinion that we’re having the wrong debate. This isn’t a matter of perception over whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. That glass is only a quarter full — at best — and those who can’t see that aren’t paying close enough attention to exactly how crappy human beings tend to be to each other.

But.

In the span of a week, I’ve had two people whom I would consider knowledgeable in neuroscience tell me that, if I truly want to recover from this Longhauler stuff, I have to be positive. Not surprisingly, I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around this.

The essence of what these two people are trying to say is that the mind can help itself and the body heal by believing healing is occurring. Academically, I do believe this. I’m all about the mind-body connection. But practically? As it applies to this situation? I know I’m not the only Longhauler in the midst of this slog who has some trouble believing this is all going to turn out OK.

One of the people who talked with me about the power of positivity also asked me this question: What does life look like on the other side of this? I was speechless for a good 10 seconds, which is quite a long time for me when I’m engaged in an intellectual discussion. I had not once thought about the “other side of this” precisely because I don’t know that there is an “other side of this.” I know not one Longhauler who is now symptom-free, not one person who was a Longhauler and now is not. I imagine those people might be out there, but I haven’t met any.

Were I positive, I might believe that I will be the first person I know who will exit the ranks of Longhaulers, the one guy in my life who no longer will have symptoms come back for no reason and knock me off the perch where I sit today — feeling relatively clear-headed, energetic and mostly symptom-free. Someone’s gotta be first. Why not me?

Because the odds of that happening are astronomically large, the true me replies. Why you? Why not one of the other Longhaulers you’ve met, one of the folks who have suffered longer or greater than you?

The two people I talked with about this seemingly automatic response to attempted positivity would say that my attitude is precisely what ensures I won’t be the lucky one — or at least part of the reason why.

Of all the things I value in people, one of the top traits is authenticity. I have an exceedingly sharp bullshit detector and often have seen through people’s well-designed smokescreens meant to obscure their true nature long before others do. And if I’m going to value authenticity in others so strongly, I need to put the same standards on myself.

That means I am 100 percent against “fake it ’til you make it” and “put on a happy face.” I know and understand how completely annoying this is to people who love me, but I would much rather be authentically miserable than inauthentically happy. I’d much rather people see the real and ugly me than some plastic, fake version.

So when we’re talking about being positive in the face of the grind that is Longhaul COVID, well, I’m struggling to find the line between positive and delusional.

I totally understand the danger here. I get that by essentially saying, “i’ll be positive when there’s a reason to be positive,” there might not ever be a reason to be positive. I believe in the idea that being positive could help give me a reason to be positive. But actually being positive? Well…

The person I talked to challenged me to look at my situation a little differently. She asked me to not look at things in the day-to-day or week-to-week but rather compare how I am now to how I was back in, say, February or March.

Those were dark times, my friends. Back then, I couldn’t get through a day without significant rest periods and at least one lengthy nap. Now, even on bad days, I don’t need to do all that much resting or napping, and on good days I have enough energy to function pretty much like a mostly normal person.

Back then, I was sleeping maybe four hours a night. Now I’m sleeping six or seven, though the quality remains poor and we’re still trying to get this whole sleep apnea thing under control.

Back then, I regularly would get winded by climbing the stairs. Now, that rarely happens, and I recently went to a St. Louis Cardinals game with no problems walking from the parking area a half-mile away from the stadium all the way to our upper-deck seats. Just a few months ago that journey required a slow pace, a few stops and wrecked me for the next two or three days.

Yes, some symptoms remain — hand pain, a foul taste in my mouth, random brain fog — but some are gone. I don’t remember the last time my heart went all jiggy for no apparent reason.

So there have been improvements. And, said this person who challenged me, if improvements can happen, doesn’t that at least leave open the possibility for the fact that future improvements could happen — improvements up to and including having no Longhauler symptoms?

Sure. Sure it does. That’s logical and doesn’t require me playing fantasy world or be annoyingly optimistic about everything like Lindsey. I have gotten better in some ways, so I definitely could continue to get better and eventually be better.

It’s possible. For me. For you. For all of us Longhaulers.

Of that, I’m positively hopeful.


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