As I struggle to cope with the new reality of COVID-19, I can’t help but feel an odd sense of deja-vu. The anxiety, the uncertainty, the loss — they all feel strangely familiar. I remember a time not too long ago when I was also stuck inside, unable to plan, consumed by the fear of an invisible illness. It was a chapter of my life called POTS, a chapter that defined my college years and changed my entire life trajectory.
Just one month into journalism school at Rutgers University, I was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), an autonomic nervous system disorder that turned my world upside down with debilitating symptoms ranging from near-fainting spells to extreme dizziness, fatigue, gastrointestinal pain, insomnia…and the list goes on. Practically overnight, I transformed from a fully-functioning, energetic high-achiever to a barely-functioning shell of my former self. Looking back, it’s a complete miracle I managed to get through each day, let alone succeed in school. Here are just a few reasons I’m reminded of POTS during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Grocery shopping was a risky outing. I never knew how long I would last before the dizziness and fatigue would overtake me.
Planning for the future was nearly impossible. I had no idea how I’d feel the next month, let alone the next day.
Staying inside became a new way of life. Even small outings (like going to class or a restaurant) felt like running a marathon.
And here we are in 2020, stuck inside with no idea how long the pandemic will last or what the future will hold. There is one small difference between my personal story and the global story unfolding today. I have the gift of hindsight. And you know what they say: Hindsight is 20/20. I can now see why I had to get sick and how each step of the journey brought me to where I am today.
And now, my friends, I’d like to share that story with you.
Let’s start at the very beginning. As a scared, sick 18-year-old, I travelled alone from doctor to doctor desperately searching for answers. I started with conventional medicine — besides, that’s all I knew. But none of it worked: not the array of off-label pills given to POTS patients to control symptoms, not the high-salt diet to increase blood volume, not the compression garments to promote circulation…
Out of sheer desperation, I ventured into the world of holistic medicine. There, I discovered the intimate link between food and disease and learned that we must take responsibility for our health. I thought I found my answer, radically changing my lifestyle and gearing up for freedom. Lifestyle modification helped — partially. My GI symptoms vanished and my mental health improved, but I still was nowhere near healthy.
Then out of sheer luck (or fate in my opinion), I met a fellow Rutgers student who was bedridden with POTS for three years before being completely cured. I was overjoyed to accept her referral, which began a hopeful two-year affair with an acupuncturist in Ramsey, NJ — an hour-long commute each way. Acupuncture helped immensely, transforming me from a barely-functioning college student to a half-functioning college student. I was able to add a few in-person classes to my online course load and venture out of the house more. I felt more alive, I could connect better with others, I could (semi) make plans. But I still was not healthy.
Then in my senior year, I “happened” to stumble across a neurorehabilitation program called the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS). DNRS views POTS (and a host of other conditions) as a manifestation of an overactive threat response in the brain. That made sense to me. I was reacting to excessive lights, noise, activity level…I knew this wasn’t normal. DNRS teaches you how to consciously break out of the alarm cycle, reassociating stimuli one by one to slowly rewire your brain. And it helped — a ton. DNRS showed me that fear had been running my life for the past four years and gave me the tools to chart a new future. It was incredibly empowering, so empowering that I thought I had conquered POTS for good. I bought a ticket to Israel and spent an incredible summer in Jerusalem before signing on for a year-long teaching fellowship.
I was living more than I had lived since I started college — running around a new country, socializing, working, having a blast. But I wasn’t fully healthy. I still had to monitor my energy levels and cope with residual symptoms like light sensitivity and dizziness. I knew I had more work to do. During the year, I stumbled across another brain retraining program called PSYCH-K. Instead of working with the conscious mind, PSYCH-K works with the subconscious mind, which turns out to be the one primarily running the show. PSYCH-K helps people rewrite their subconscious programs, rapidly transforming limiting beliefs into empowering beliefs. Participants have reported a wide range of benefits — from the realm of health and relationships to business and trauma. I had the privilege of attending a three day PSYCH-K workshop in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was a magical, unforgettable experience that underlined the power of our minds — and the power we have to rewrite our lives.
The tools I gained from PSYCH-K have brought me to a whole new level of health. I feel physically better than I have since high school — and better than ever in terms of emotional, mental and spiritual health. But I am done saying, “This is it! I’ve reached the finish line.” If I’ve learned anything in my health journey, it’s that the finish line is an illusion. As long as we’re alive, we must constantly work to reach greater and greater heights. There will always be new challenges and setbacks, followed by new triumphs and joys. That’s the cycle of life, and that’s how we become the people we are meant to be.
The COVID-19 pandemic is incredibly challenging, and many of us just want it to be over. I get it — in the throes of illness, all I wanted was an answer. Not next month. Not next year. Now. Yet looking back, I can see how each step of the journey was an integral part of the process.
If the conventional POTS treatments were enough, I never would have discovered the incredible world of nutrition and lifestyle medicine, which has given me an entirely new outlook on life and a new career path.
If lifestyle change was enough, I never would have discovered the fascinating world of acupuncture and energy medicine.
If acupuncture was enough, I never would have discovered DNRS and the groundbreaking world of neuroplasticity that shows we can rewire our brains.
If DNRS was enough, I never would have discovered PSYCH-K and the unbelievable power of changing beliefs at the subconscious level.
I couldn’t see the whole picture when I was in the midst of it all, but I can now. As Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
I can now see how my dots connect to form a beautiful, one-of-a-kind picture. Though POTS felt like a curse, I now realize it was the greatest blessing. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. I know we will look back on our 2020 global pandemic and see that all the dots connect too. We just have to have faith and hold on.
Yet…I think we can do more than hold on. We can actively chart our future by recalibrating our lives and unearthing the lessons of this unprecedented pause. For one, COVID-19 is making us incredibly grateful for normal, everyday life. Who would have thought that one day, we’d be unable to shake hands, go to work and school, visit our grandparents, attend graduations and weddings, plan trips and even meet friends for coffee?
Every time my health improved, I was shocked at how quickly I lost my sense of gratitude and awe for the functioning body. That’s the thing about gratitude — it is so strong during times of lack but seems to drift away when life returns to “normal.” We can’t let that happen this time. As a global community, I know we can do better than any one of us alone. We can unite our energy and consciously hold onto the intense gratitude we currently feel for the “small things” that turned out to be the most important of all.
I think there’s more. If this pandemic is teaching us anything, it’s that we’re not in control. It might feel like we’re in control when we’re going about our regular lives, following routine and planning for the future. But there’s a higher force behind the scenes. We’re learning that we can’t put our faith in ourselves — or the economy — or the medical professionals — or the world leaders. We’re being forced to acknowledge our vulnerability as human beings and called on to recognize a higher power. It doesn’t matter if you call that power G-d, divinity, nature, energy, qi…all we have to do is acknowledge that someone else is running the show. It’s a humbling reality, and I hope once we recognize it, we will be better able to respect the integrity of ourselves, our planet and all of Earth’s beings.
We’re learning that we can’t put our faith in ourselves — or the economy — or the medical professionals — or the world leaders. There’s a higher force behind the scenes.
I pray that very soon we will look back on the 2020 pandemic with 20/20 vision and see how all of the dots connect to form a magnificent global picture. Until then, let us stay strong, support one another and internalize the priceless lessons of COVID-19.