Living with post viral fatigue the Ayurvedic way
Back in January 2019 I came down with flu, only this was no ordinary flu, it was a physical storm that wreaked havoc on my body for a whole year and a half. I write this because reading about long covid sounds very reminiscent of the symptoms that I have been dealing with and that lead me down a path of consulting with doctors, cardiologists, lung specialists, naturopaths, Ayurvedic doctors, and Homeotoxicologists. I had thought myself a pretty resilient patient, with my background in Ayurvedic medicine. The flu itself had the usual symptoms of aching body, fatigue, productive cough, but the fever was high, and went on for at least eight days, leaving me at times unable to sleep or eat and soaked in my own sweat.
A month or so after I had recovered I began to experience heart arrhythmia; my heart felt tired, and was beating at different rhythms. I’d have to lie down because a fatigue would just come over me, and a shortness of breath that was sometimes so intense that I couldn’t talk. This was accompanied with chest pains, and tightness, that had me yawning and gasping for air. After a fair bit of googling, and trying to figure out which dosha was playing up I decided it was either my heart or lungs that were in trouble. So there began the testing, but after an endocardiogram, sonogram, chest x ray, and blood tests, I was still none the wiser as to why I felt so chronically fatigued, and why I couldn’t breathe. I ate well, I didn’t smoke or drink, I took ashwaganda in the morning, and practised yoga. I lived on organic food, filtered water, and a diet that balanced my vata dosha. I was an Ayurvedic practitioner, I was meant to be an expert on health.
By this time seven months had passed, and I was beginning to think that I had an undiagnosed autoimmune issue that I was just going to have to learn to live with. Maybe it was asthma, I reasoned, and started practising the Butenko breathing method, as there was no way I was going to weaken my lungs with steroids. The less I thought in terms of labels and pathologies the easier it was to think positively. I needed rejuvenation, and cleansing. I did a three-day pancha karma but still did not feel any significant change. I reminded myself that I couldn’t expect immediate results, once an imbalance is established in the tissues it can take many moon cycles for the immune system to rebuild itself. Still I longed for a diagnosis.
Finally my mum recommended a naturopath that had helped her, the diagnosis involved vitamin, hormones and stress tests. Nothing obvious came up, but she had seen my profile before and diagnosed my condition as post viral.
I read Medical medium where Anthony Williams talks about Epstein barr virus as being behind a whole host of physical issues ranging from lupus to chronic fatigue, and that is it often misdiagnosed. His solution, celery juice and a diet of raw vegetables, went against my Ayurvedic knowledge, I knew being a Vata constitution I needed warm, cooked, and grounding food.
I recalled having Epstein barr in my twenties and remembered that it had been bad enough to force me to cut out alcohol for a good year, as it would trigger a remission in the tiredness. The truth is medical science knows very little about the virome and even Ayurveda while it can tell us much about immunity, the dynamics of staying in health, balancing our constitutions, Charaka Samhrita was written 2000 years ago, before we had degraded our soil, contaminated our air and migrated to big cities. What Ayurveda does tell us is that even after the entry of microorganisms into the body disease is not created unless there is a vitiation of the doshas, our unique biological humours. The digestion and appetite are subtle signs of how balanced we are. Ayurveda teaches us to read those signs, before disease gets established.
Once a disease has accumulated and spread Ayurveda provides a personalised plan of detoxification, and rejuvenation without focusing on the labelling of incurable pathologies. Though Western medical pathologies have their necessary role in explaining disease they can also become a life sentenced to compromised health managed by drugs. In the language of Ayurveda one’s health is not defined by standards of disease but by our own unique nature, which when given the right ingredients is always capable of regeneration.
The epidemics of autoimmune diseases, viruses, autism, asthma, diabetes, obesity and depression we are witnessing in first world countries are symptoms of a collapse in health that follows this history of separation from nature. While our TV’s and newspapers wage war on a virus, I still believe what we are witnessing is a symptom of the disease of modern life. Our entire body is an organic garden of bacteria and viruses, but viruses are not microbes, they are not alive, they are a communication network, a genetic package of information. In neonatal babies 100 million viruses have been found per gram of faeces by seven days of life. We interact with viruses through our innate immune systems.
According to Zac Bush MD “when a child recovers from chicken pox to a healthy state they become more resilient against disease and cancer. Conversely if that child never gets the update he is subject to higher rates of chronic disease and disorder in the decades after.” I saw this first hand in my daughter who had suffered from constant chest infections as a child, and after having a bad case of chicken pox seemed to have a much more robust immune system with no more recurrent infections. Perhaps what we really need is to create an environment that does not collapse our innate immune system and accept that viruses are part of that environment. Why I often ask do children growing up in hygienic city environments suffer more with eczema, allergies, and asthma, because they are more exposed to the contaminants in our air, food and water and do not have the protective immunity bestowed by good soil, and clean air. It is not enough to be balanced internally if our external environments are poisonous.
It has been two years since my viral flu, and I have finally come to a remission of my symptoms, but it took time, patience, and at times despair. Through the help of Ayurvedic herbs, and Homeotoxicology I feel I was able to cleanse my body, rejuvenate my organs, and reboot my immune system. Sometimes the shortness of breath and fatigue comes back, and I know it means that my body needs some help. Often if I tune in and introduce herbs, stillness, rest and good food I realize how much easier it is to fall into worry and labels, than to fully take responsibility for my health.