OCTOBER 5, 2021 — Editor’s note: This op-ed by Heidi Adams Rueda, associate professor in the Department of Social Work at UTSA, originally appeared in the San Antonio Express-News.
Nearly 30 million people worldwide diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS/ME, perhaps have felt a sense of normalcy during the pandemic.
The name of this condition does little to describe the complex symptoms that keep many of them homebound and socially isolated.
CFS/ME is characterized by persistent and profound fatigue, sleep difficulty, brain fog, dizziness, pain, gastrointestinal issues and a worsening of symptoms following activity or exercise. Many with this illness cannot leave bed. Some use a wheelchair. Those with severe cases are tube-fed in dark rooms.
The National Institutes of Health, or NIH, reports just $15 million annually in federal funding is dedicated to CFS/ME research, even though up to 2.5 million Americans are diagnosed. This highly stigmatized condition is finally getting attention, however, because of the pandemic and the similar symptoms suffered by many with COVID-19 who are not fully recovering.
In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported one in five people with COVID have continued illness six months after initial diagnosis. Individuals with long COVID experience debilitating symptoms similar to those of CFS/ME, including fatigue, pain, headaches and brain fog. Conservative U.S. estimates point to 3.7 million cases of long COVID. Many with CFS/ME hope the recently allocated $1.15 billion in NIH funding to long COVID will also unveil new understandings and a cure for the illness.
What can we learn from CFS/ME to prevent COVID from becoming a long-haul syndrome for some? First, like COVID long-haulers, many people with CFS/ME link the onset of symptoms to a viral infection. Second, stress around the time of a triggering infection, or during recovery, can be important in determining whether the person recovers. Finally, trauma during childhood can prime nervous system dysregulation, and thereby lowered immunity, later in life.
Whereas our public health approach for COVID has focused on mask-wearing and vaccines, CFS/ME research points to a different approach in potentially preventing long-haul COVID — the need to reduce stress, support mental health across the lifespan, and build teams of physicians and mental health practitioners who approach recovery holistically.
It is important to identify sources of stress since these lower immunity, thereby increasing vulnerability to opportunistic viruses. For me, a not-so-perfect storm of adverse childhood events, homesickness, a romantic breakup and striving to succeed in a doctoral program led to an eight-year recovery journey from CFS/ME.
My story reflects the #millionsmissing from public health conversations who have wisdom that could save lives in today’s pandemic world. For me, healing from CFS/ME has required a mind-body, psycho-spiritual approach to heal underlying emotional trauma and to gain insight into the societal narratives praising overachievement and perfectionism that — like so many — I had embodied. Our bodies speak to us — first in whispers and then, when that doesn’t get our attention, in symptoms.
There is hope for these conditions. We can learn to reprogram our nervous systems and create cultures in which being “busy” isn’t glorified but human “being” is.
Could CFS/ME and COVID long-haulers have similar not-so-perfect storms? It can’t do any harm to build our immune systems by attending to our mental health. While we’re at it, let’s leave our shoes out to honor those who can’t be on the streets and voice the need for more funding to research treatment for CFS/ME.
UTSA invites you to participate in our community altar by RSVP to this event. You can also use this link to learn more about Día de Los Muertos:https://anendlessconnection.weebly.com/the-project.html.Student Union Window Lounge, Main Campus
Mental Health Day is an annual campus-wide event taking place at the University of Texas at San Antonio. The event aims to bring students, faculty, and staff together to learn about the significance of taking care of their mental health.Virtual Event
Beyond Boundaries: Mastering the Liberal Arts is an open-access, student-organized academic journal designed as an inclusive forum for UTSA graduate students to demonstrate original work and experience the process of reviewing, editing, and submitting for publication.Carlos Alvarez College of Business, 1.01.20L, Main Campus
The tuba and euphonium students of Gary Poffenbarger and John Caputo will perform festive pieces in the first of two recitals. More details to come. The Fall 2021 concert schedule is subject to change. Please continue to monitor our website and social media for updates. This concert will be live-streamed via the UTSA Music Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/UTSAMusicUTSA Recital Hall, Main Campus
The students of Dr. Isaac Bustos and Prof. Johnny Pena will perform from the Recital Hall stage and via the Department's Facebook page.Recital Hall, 1 UTSA Circle, Main Campus
Presentation by Dr. Ainhoa Vásquez Mejías, professor and researcher from UNAM in Mexico City. It will focus on the influence of drug traffic on different areas of culture, and specifically on literature.Virtual Event
UTSA students, faculty, and staff are invited to the Health Fair on Wednesday. Health and wellbeing information booths and health screenings will be available.HEB Student Union Paseo, Main Campus
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