The Power of Surrender

So interestingly enough last month when I set out to write my blog post article, which you can read here, about what you can do to support yourself should you happen to come down with COVID, little did I know that just shy of a week later I would test positive myself!

Seriously!  I had just finished saying to someone earlier that week that I thought I must have some sort of natural super-immunity because no one in my family had tested positive or come down with symptoms and truth-be-told, our lives were more or less unchanged since the early days of the pandemic, relatively speaking anyway.  Both my husband and I have jobs that take us outside of the home and myself as a Naturopathic Doctor who prefers in-person to telemedicine consultation, and he, as a chiropractor, quite obviously cannot do his work virtually.  We chose to send our kids to school as long as in-person learning was available.  We kept my parents in our bubble since March 2020.  I would meet with friends for long walks outside in order to maintain my community.  Once gyms opened up I resumed workouts outside of the home, following protocols and keeping responsible with hand-washing, masking and appropriate physical distancing.  I did have the first two vaccines back last spring, but opted not to get the booster. Truth be told hoping for the opportunity to gain some natural immunity.

Given the amount of potential exposure I had had, and the fact that my son’s classroom had about 6 cases since January 2022 alone, I was certain I, and my family, must have had the antibodies to COVID as none of us seemed to be affected.  Because I do work with people in-person in the clinic and in my workshops, I was also mindful to rapid test two to three times per week, just to be sure I wasn’t harbouring viral antigens that may cause disease in someone else.  For myself, I wasn’t concerned, I just really didn’t want to be a vector for someone else that perhaps felt differently than I.

In any case, it was a Friday morning and I woke up feeling a little off.  The test I had taken Wednesday morning was negative, however with the strange sleep I had had I decided to test again.  At first it appeared to be negative so I assumed I was fighting something, just not COVID, so after the 15 minutes I went to have a shower and begin my day getting ready for work.  The shower felt extra good on my extra weary muscles that were now starting to feel quite leaden.  Beyond what I would have expected, despite the strenuous exercise I am known to engage in.  I continued my morning prep, increasingly feeling feverish and weak.  No cough, no sore throat but definitely a headache starting.  I was just evaluating how I would proceed with my work day when I walked downstairs and glanced down at the test cassette I had not yet tossed.  I did a double-take.  A very faint pink line was visible beside the T!!  I was stunned.  I immediately took another test then went upstairs again to debrief with Dan, definitely walking very slowly and pulling myself up the banister as the leaden feeling continued to become more pronounced.  Sure enough this second test showed positive within the 15 min. window, indicating that the viral antigen load had increased in my system to the point that it was immediately picked up.  I messaged the clinic letting them know I couldn’t see anyone in person that day and asking them to rebook those that preferred not to consult with me virtually.  Thankfully a large number chose to rebook, as it turns out I was to feel pretty rotten that day!

The point of this blog wasn’t meant to be to give you a play-by-play with my foray with COVID, though I think that it does make for a bit of an interesting story!  Really what I wanted to get at was the importance of surrender in the healing process, based on my physiological knowledge but also my personal lived experience.

Thankfully, prior to my positive test, I did have going for me that I held no fear or anxiety about getting COVID.  It’s not that I don’t have a healthy respect for the virus, I absolutely do.  I have a friend whose mother tragically perished as a result of the infection and have numerous patients whom have lost family members to it’s virulence.  I also appreciate the potential for long-term effects after having had the illness.  I also feel extremely confident in how healthy I keep my body, and in saying that I am not also under the illusion that I may still not be susceptible to serious illness.  I have a congenital heart condition that could predispose me to a more serious complication, so again, even with my own health I am not flippant about risk.  I have studied the effects on fear on the immune system in great detail and know intimately how the stress response interferes with a robust immune response.  Being in “fight or flight” mode can create the internal physiological conditions to allow a virus to take over.  So I was already in a ‘winning’ position against this virus.

I also believe in the healing power of the body and I have learned over the almost five decades of my life how to tune into, listen to and honour my body and what it needs from me in order to assist it to heal (be it something physical like a bruised tailbone, dislocated shoulder, two vaginal births, multiple ankle sprains, etc. or something mental-emotional like anxiety or depression).  I was actually a bit excited about putting all of this into practice yet again, in the face of a new challenge.

The first day, that leaden feeling intensified and I don’t know I have ever felt the level of exhaustion I felt that day.  My head was so heavy that opening my eyes hurt.  Reading was not an option, so forget using this as a chance to get caught up on my book pile!  I had no interest in watching anything, the thought of the blinking glare of a screen did nothing to appeal to me.  Instead, lying on the couch, sweating it out, drifting in and out of sleep, fasting, sipping water and occasionally turning my attention towards an audio book for a few minutes at a time was EXACTLY what my body was calling for.

Rather than fight it, resist it, worry about it or ‘try’ to do anything about it, I just surrendered and allowed my body to do what it knew what it needed for healing.  To just not move.  To rest.  To sleep.  To sip.  To fast.  It was a beautiful time of giving myself fully over to the miraculous healing ability of the body.  Thankfully I would drift up and into some energy and brain power just in time for the few appointments that had chosen to connect with me virtually that day. Then, I would collapse back onto my couch in exhaustion and repair.  After a 12 hour sleep that night, I was starting to feel somewhat more energized.  Reading became interesting to me, at least for a few minutes at a time, and I could focus on my audiobooks for longer stretches.  We have the good fortune to have an infrared sauna in our home so I spent several hours in that on Saturday morning, followed by a contrast hot-cold shower, ending with cold.  I felt human enough to head off for my PCR test (yes, it was positive), then come back home to continue my job of healing.  I camped out in bed that afternoon, having had to cancel all of my commitments for the weekend I was able to participate in a friend’s online birthday gathering I would have otherwise missed, I had the chance to finish an online course I was working on.  My husband got a chance to be primary parent, and in charge of meals for the week, this was a lovely bonus. Thankfully my kids are old enough that they are pretty self-sufficient as well and didn’t require me the way they would have had they been infants or toddlers so my self-isolation in the house was only tough on us due to the fact we couldn’t hug and cuddle and read together like we like to do.

Sure, a little difficult, however I knew it would pass and resisting this reality would only make it harder!  So more surrendering, accepting things exactly as they were.  Not pushing away disappointment for what I had to miss, but leaning into the opportunity that was being given to me, knowing that if I were to fight, try to overdo it when my body clearly didn’t want me to, get caught up in worrying I would never get better, etc. then I really truly would prolong my illness.  As it was by bedtime Saturday I was feeling better, still had a long sleep, engaged in lots of self care Sunday with more sauna time, lots of broths and hydration and a return of my appetite and the desire to make myself a smoothie.  By Sunday suppertime I felt tiptop.  Like I had never been ill.  By Monday I felt better than I had before, I think in large part owing to the significant chance I had had to rest and let my immune system do its “upgrade” by mounting the fever and fighting the infection.  Much is purified and strengthened in the body as a result of a successful dance with an antigen, like a virus.

I absolutely know that each and every person that has had COVID experiences it much differently and that we truly have no idea how and why some people get more ill than others.  Is it weight? Activity level? Blood pressure? Blood sugar? Co-morbid health conditions? Nutrient status? Anxiety levels? Fear of illness? Level of exhaustion/ burn-out prior to infection?

It’s any and every, really.  If I were to speculate on how and why I had a positive experience with the virus I would say it boils down to my ability to surrender.  When we surrender (which does not mean resign!!), our bodies drop into the parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the “relaxation response”.  This is the opposite of the aforementioned sympathetic nervous system or “fight or flight” response.  In the relaxation response our bodies are able to rest, digest, heal and reproduce (think healthy libido, hormone balance); all the thing we need to be able to do when we aren’t running away from danger.  Note that “heal” is part of the relaxation response.

To be really clear and make it incredibly simple, we do not heal when we are constantly in fight or flight mode.  It’s that simple.  And that’s not just about being busy.  That is also about RESISTING.  You have heard the expression “what you resist, persists”?  well this is not some woo-woo magical thing.  This is physiology.  When our brains are in resistance due to fear, anxiety, judgment, attachment (wanting/ not wanting), etc. our bodies are geared up for fight or flight.  When we are arguing with reality, thinking things should be different, worrying about what we have to do, what action we have to take, etc., well, we are in stress mode.

The opposite of this is surrender.  This is the ability to lean into reality.  As I said this is not passive resignation, not even close, instead we just give up resisting.

I didn’t passively resign myself into covid, I actively honoured the subtle things my body was requesting of me: no coffee, no screen, no book, yes water, yes broth, yes sleep.  I surrendered to my reality (the couch was my best friend) and took action as I was inspired to do so (the gentle nudge to go sauna when the time was right).  I have this little strategy I use and teach: the 5As.  Acknowledge, Accept, Alchemize, Ask and Act.

First we acknowledge what is going on for us: I’m tired, I’m sad, I’m sick, I’m emotional.  And then we accept it.  Even if we don’t like it, we accept it.  Because, really what is the point of resisting.  It is what it is! And resisting will just create the stress response to keep us stuck.  So, just accept.  Right then this acceptance, this turning towards ourselves and whatever might be going on with us creates the 3rd A: Alchemize.  Like being gifted with a big hug that you can just collapse into that seems to make everything better, the process of true acceptance is like that and it creates this alchemy within our body where we move out of fight or flight and into rest, digest, heal and reproduce.  Brilliant! Right?

Then.. this is where surrender and resignation are different.  In surrender, we turn to A #4 from a state of peace and relaxation, due of course to the alchemy we created, and we ask.  This may be we ask ourselves, our body, our inner wisdom or intuition, like I did.  Or it may be that we are guided to reach out and ask someone else for help: a trusted friend, spouse, parent, child, physician, healer, God, google, really anyone that we feel intuitively called to ask for help and support to get us through the challenge we are faced with.  This itself can be tough as we live in a staunchly (and pathologically) independent culture where we are so willing to help others but somehow feel it is unacceptable to ask for assistance ourselves.  Let’s just say it is high time to break this bad habit.  Because truly, though we are the only ones that can do our healing… we cannot do it alone.

Once we land on the next right most loving step in the course of action offered to us in the Ask step, well, then we take action when the time is right.

Acknowledge + Accept + Alchemize + Ask + Act = Surrender

By way of this simple equation, we have all the tools we need for vital health of mind, body and spirit.

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