I got sick in the early spring of 2020 before the coronavirus really hit Portland.
The whole thing was vague and confusing because I had started seeing my new primary care physician in November 2019 for symptoms very similar to those on the list of known COVID-19 checkboxes: brutal headache, aching muscles, sore joints, and worst of all, fatigue as I have never known it.
The closest I can come to describing it will be lost on some women and all men, but the fatigue is like first-trimester pregnancy tiredness dialed up as high as it can go. It was as if the forces of gravity were pulling me down so intensely I could barely move. It’s also difficult to tease out when the brain fog rolled in. (Losing my phone, keys, mittens, and water bottle is nothing new.)
But, people who know me well are aware I can carry on two or three conversations at one time. It’s rude to others and frustrating for single-focused thinkers, but I’ve always been able to eavesdrop and converse with strangers at the bar while also talking directly to BFF. In school, more than one teacher called me out for whispering, only to have their previous two or three sentences recited verbatim. If I were in high school today, I’d be the kid texting under my desk while answering questions when called upon in surprise.
These days, that useful superpower is gone. If I can carry on one conversation without forgetting something I’ve already shared, I’m having a banner day. I’ve gained weight because I don’t have the energy to be as active as I’d like, and regretfully I am no longer an early morning person. That’s another dearly missed superpower; I used to get more done from 5-8 a.m. than during the rest of the day.
But what do I blame all of this on? The natural aging process of growing older (chronologically, anyway)? The nonsense that has been going on since November 2019? COVID-19 long-haul? Climate change? Universally shared stress? There are some solid answers, but it’s not fully understood or explainable.
My new PCP has exhausted all and any tests known to modern science and the verdict is chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. The jury is still out on sleep apnea. Toss in a little long-haul black magic, and it’s not a great feeling or look. And, most of all, it doesn’t touch upon the one thing I’ve been missing the most – and damn if I didn’t even know it.
My mojo has been missing in action. My pizazz. My “Miss Need to Know” title. My sorcery. My internal fortitude.
A person’s internal fortitude is what keeps lost hikers on a frozen mountainside alive when the odds are against them. It’s the mutt of a dog that crosses the country to get home to a rural farm in Iowa. Mojo is what one of my heroes, the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, had when he was a resilient POW. I’m not even close to the same league as McCain, but it helps explain the concept. Mojo is an otherworldly phenomenon of inner strength and utilization of unique gifts, and fortunately, we all have it. Some inherently use it more boldly, more stealthily, or more cautiously.
My own mojo was reported to me as missing by a dear friend who is trying to understand the depth and struggles of how I’ve changed. She misses that inexplicable voodoo, although she loves me regardless. Gently, she explained how much better I’ll feel and be able to live after I bring it back to the forefront. As usual, she’s right.
When asked, another friend said mojo is better known as spirituality and is the key to getting manifestations and prayers answered. Someone else said it’s what inspires artists, musicians (dare I add writers?), and their muses.
Along with a welcome home party for my mojo (Probably at Portland Lobster Co. during a musical happy hour) it’s important to emphasize that hard, heavy days are not always the norm. I do have lovely, sharp, spot-on days where the colors look brighter and my inner-Energizer Bunny is back. I’ve been advised to pace myself so I don’t crash and burn, which I rarely do. Supposedly, it’s about balance and moderation and such. Not my forte, but my mojo and I will work on it.
For the record, none of this is intended to diminish the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic or any of the conditions mentioned above. I’m not saying mojo can replace the vaccine or substitute for wearing a mask around unvaccinated people. Instead, mojo can be seen as that missing piece when explaining what makes us the best humans we can be.
The gradual return of my mojo won’t keep me from having hard, heavy days. The truth is, sick or not, everyone is feeling some level of pandemic fallout. So hang on to – or rediscover – your own mojo, your sparked torch, your cosmic generator.
When fully engaged it helps us all do and be better.
Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine, and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at [email protected].