I don’t know whether the term long COVID applies to me yet, but 12 weeks of brain fog and fatigue must count for something.
In the grand scheme of long COVID, my symptoms are mild. Some long haulers have multisystem inflammatory symptoms, for crying out loud. Others get winded just walking across a room. All I have is a sort of hard upper limit on what I can do. I read to a certain word count and my brain shuts off. I stay active until my body says that’s it, you’re done, go lie on the futon. There are days when I so want to be done with this nonsense.
At the same time, the persistent symptoms are teaching me something. The lesson stems from the variation of symptoms over time.
My doctor asked me to try putting a number to how well I functioned on any given day. For the first few weeks, the best I got was 70% of pre-COVID normal. Then came several days of 20-30%–otherwise known as I can’t put ONE freaking thought together, let alone two. There was a week of near-total clarity, and I dared to think, OMG, have I turned a corner? Yeah, right, don’t count your chickens: the fog came back the next week.
How am I supposed to function when I don’t know which version of me will show up?
As it turns out, that question carries the seeds of its own answer. Each morning, right after wakeup, I’ve taken to asking myself who am I today? A quick internal check gives me a sense of how I’m feeling, what my capabilities and limitations might be, and what therefore might be the best course of action for the day.
Who am I today? is only the first step. As the day goes on, various inputs may change the answer. So the question becomes who am I this moment?
Asking these questions, and sitting with the answers, has enabled me to stay quasi-useful while working around the symptoms. But now something else is dawning on me: this is a valuable practice not just when I’m cognitively impaired, but anytime, maybe for anyone.
Buddhism, and Zen in particular, are very big on two related observations: the impermanence of everything, all the time, and the need for attention to the here and now because, in essence, the here and now is all we have. Staying mindful of these two truths, I’ve found, enables me to embrace them and work within them, to bring all I can bear to the only place I can help make the world better: this present moment.
I have no idea when or if these symptoms will recede. No one does. Asking who am I today? helps me do the most with what I’ve got, which makes it a good question for me at any time, symptoms or no symptoms. Would this be useful for you?