Are You a Surge Capacity Warrior?

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by Karen Del Vecchio |

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Well, the past week and a half has been a baptism by fire, to say the least. I currently have nowhere near enough hours in my day to handle everything that needs to be done, and then manage any form of self-care other than riding.

Between being tossed into teaching a class two days before students returned to school, and trying to manage a completely upended routine for my regular job as a college counselor, I’m more exhausted than usual. (Thanks, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and chronic fatigue.) And it’s only the students’ second week back at school. 

A couple weeks ago, I read an interesting article by science journalist Tara Haelle. While it’s primarily about how our bodies react to the stress of changes in the world caused by COVID-19, I wondered if these physical reactions play a role in the long-term stress and management of chronic disorders. The following excerpt really stood out to me:

“Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters. But natural disasters occur over a short period, even if recovery is long. Pandemics are different — the disaster itself stretches out indefinitely. …

“When [surge capacity is] depleted, it has to be renewed. But what happens when you struggle to renew it because the emergency phase has now become chronic?”

The article explains that many people have been living from surge capacity to handle the extreme stress everyone feels right now. Most have reached a point where they’re really struggling.

Ann Masten, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota, told Haelle, “It’s important to recognize that it’s normal in a situation of great uncertainty and chronic stress to get exhausted and to feel ups and downs, to feel like you’re depleted or experience periods of burnout.”

Wow. This sounds like life with a rare disease.

Do those of us managing chronic disorders often fall back on this idea of surge capacity? Maybe those of us in the rare disease community have experienced it when managing flare-ups or health scares and not even known it. I’ve certainly felt what Masten describes at times.

The article made me wonder if some people managing particularly severe or complicated disorders have had the same experience with long-term surge capacity depletion that individuals are experiencing during the pandemic. Are we a hidden tribe of Surge Capacity Warriors?

While I don’t have an answer, I’ve been mulling this idea over since I read the article a week or two ago. It’s interesting how we all manage stress, and how our bodies are both biologically designed and not designed to deal with certain situations long term. I try to manage my stress as well as I can, of course, but it’s fascinating to think about the incredible ways our bodies can handle outlandishly stressful situations.


Note: Ehlers-Danlos News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ehlers-Danlos News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Ehlers-Danlos.


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