Leon Williams was thriving as an actor, husband and father in the heart of London before all normalcy vanished. He got what seemed like a routine Covid-19 infection. After a few weeks, the British man developed a grim collection of symptoms that got worse instead of better: severe brain fog, crushing fatigue, headaches, chest pains, rashes, and sensitivity to lights and sounds. He also had orthostatic intolerance, often known as POTS, and felt like he could faint at any moment.
“I literally sat outside my workplace and thought ‘okay I’m either going to collapse or I'm going to faint or I’m going to have a heart attack. One of these things is going to happen,’” Leon Williams says. “I peeled myself up off the floor and had to go back home. It was a totally overwhelming experience.”
Doctors said he was fine. Labs were normal. No tissue damage. His general practitioner called it post-viral fatigue and didn’t have a remedy.
Williams felt debilitated and lost. When he tried to care for his two young children or return to work, he crashed even further. It had already been a time of stress and uncertainty for the young father, as the pandemic decimated the entertainment industry.
He loved his work in the theatre, performing at Shakespeare’s Globe, touring globally, and acting alongside Judi Dench to critical acclaim. With theatres on lock-down, Williams and his wife moved to the suburbs and he was forced to find a new career. He was already anxious from the change and uncertainty when Covid-19 struck—a perfect storm for mind-body symptoms.
Like many people, Williams consulted Dr. Google. After sorting through horror stories, he eventually came across Rebecca Tolin's interview with Sarah Rainwater, a Seattle teacher who recovered from post Covid symptoms through a mind-body approach.
A lightbulb went on. Williams realized he wasn’t broken.
“When I became 100% sure there was nothing wrong with my body at all, that’s when I started to make massive progress. These symptoms are 100% real. But they come from a place where the brain perceives danger and creates pain or symptoms. Then we get stuck in a cycle. It’s easy to get stuck in a cycle when you’ve been told there’s no cure.”
Williams discovered that the brain can cause symptoms based on past and perceived dangers. It learns those neural pathways and gets stuck in a rut.
This knowledge filled the British man with hope.
It made sense. Doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with his blood or organs. This strange, changing array of sensations came from the danger alarm signal in his brain and a nervous system stuck in flight or fight.
For the next six months, Leon dove into what John Sarno coined TMS, devouring the knowledge. He sought ways to calm his nervous system through gardening, breathwork and expressive writing—venting his emotions onto the page with abandon. He found a meditation called somatic tracking to be pivotal in his recovery.
“Somatic tracking is a game changer because you become an observer of your own body. You’re not the person in there saying ‘I have this symptom or I have this pain or this is going to happen.’ You can slowly learn to sit back to watch yourself, almost from the side of the river, to watch these things flow through you, without trying to change anything. That’s where the work really started for me, learning these sensations are feelings and maybe even emotions.”
Williams learned to acknowledge and sit with his feelings instead of pushing them away. As he reflected on his habits, he realized he was perpetually hard on himself and didn’t prioritize his own needs. Williams started soothing his inner child in a similar way he does with his children.
”If my children are struggling, in pain or sad, I’d never shout at them or be harsh or critical. I’d sit with them and put them on my lap and cuddle them and soothe them. I’d say ‘this is tough but you’re going to be okay.’ You have to find that love for yourself.”
Sometimes love is fierce. Part of Williams’ recovery involved reminding himself he is safe and capable again and again. With a new inner dialogue, he slowly returned to walking and eventually to running.
“I had to have real words with myself and be like ‘Leon, this is okay. These are just sensations. They can’t hurt you. You’re not going to crash. Nothing bad is going to happen to you.’ That was hard sometimes. I had to be strong and disciplined. It’s not about pushing through either. It’s about those continued messages of safety to my brain and having the faith that your body is okay.”
Day by day, his brain calmed down and his body came back to life. six months after discovering mind-body healing and neuroplasticity, he returned to work, running a 5K, picking up his kids, even meeting friends at the pub. He’s now back doing what he loves on stage.
Williams laments that his two-year journey with Long Covid would have gone smoother if doctors told him about the mind-body connection. He wants people who are still suffering with Long Covid, chronic fatigue syndrome, Fibromyalgia, IBS or anxiety to know there’s a remedy.
“There is a way out, whether it’s Long Covid or another mind-body thing,” says Williams. “Once you realize that you’re not broken, that’s it. There’s something else at play here.”
Leon’s keys to healing
🧘 Somatic tracking meditations
📝 Expressive Writing
🪴 Calming activities like gardening and breathwork
🧠 Reassuring his brain that he’s safe and capable
🏃🏽♂️ Challenging his perceived limitations by walking and running
❤️ Treating himself with love, as he treats his children