With the coronavirus crisis now in its tenth month, we’re starting to hear stories from people who, like me, are living with “long Covid.”
Telling our stories is incredibly important. Not only does it give researchers a steer on what they should study to understand the long-term impacts of this virus, but, in my case, I want to provide a feeling of hope to others suffering. I want people to know it can get better.
I first came down with a nasty virus in mid-March. By day four, we called an ambulance; I had constant dizziness and body pains, and felt as though I was falling through my bed. However, the paramedics insisted I didn’t have Covid as I didn’t present the symptoms back then they were looking for (difficulty breathing and loss of taste or smell), and cautioned me about being taken into hospital, which were starting to become overrun.
Then the company I’d recently started at announced they had to close the London office indefinitely due to the pandemic. The shock, coupled with my symptoms, hit me with an avalanche of stress. Proper stress.
Facing a pandemic and a recession, the doom I felt was so intense I could scarcely breathe. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, my aunt was diagnosed with cancer, my uncle died, and I lost my beloved cat. Over the next seven months my symptoms would relapse five times. At the most extreme, I felt like I was dying – How I imagine being poisoned while being electrocuted would feel.
Through this actual nightmare that seemed never to end, my symptoms continued in surging waves. The worst was the dizziness, that no amount of lying down would stop. Sharp searing pains throughout my nervous system rendered me immobile, with skull-crushing headaches and strange burning sensations throughout my legs. Desperate for relief and help, frustratingly nobody could find anything physically wrong.
I found a Facebook group for people suffering like me, and finally felt like I wasn’t alone. But reading their stories terrified me. Nobody was recovering.
To my dismay, they suggested it was all in my head. But I knew they were wrong. The Covid antibody test had just become available, and I decided to take it. The result was positive. I’d had Covid all along – and felt certain these symptoms were some kind of long-lasting effect.
I found a Facebook group for people suffering like me, and finally felt like I wasn’t alone. But reading their stories terrified me. Nobody was recovering. I began to fall into a deep depression. How would I be able to take care of my young son? How would I work or provide for my family? The guilt and sense of utter uselessness was so torturous that at times I will admit, suicide entered my mind. It was clear though, the physical symptoms were creating the mental anxiety, not the other way around.
My partner Emma was immense. She took care of me, our son, all the mundane chores, while holding down a busy job. Lockdown meant we couldn’t easily get family support, but my mother gave me hope and advice by trawling through medical papers from around the world as they were published. Doctors were now revealing they too were suffering from the same condition. The medical world had to start taking cases like mine seriously.
I knew we were still learning so much more about this virus, and what ‘long Covid’ really is. Being well enough to work and provide was weighing heavily. But I was determined to have purpose; to feel useful again. So, I simply couldn’t give up.
After months of suffering, and trying everything, my body began to feel a surge of sudden energy, like a long-lost friend. Hope had returned.
In a desperate state, weak and debilitated, I sought alternative remedies. I tried a combination of Chinese medicine, a nutritionist, techniques in calming the nervous system, regular meditation, acupuncture and even sessions with a prominent healer. After months of suffering, and trying everything, my body began to feel a surge of sudden energy, like a long-lost friend.
Seven months on, I have started work and am back into the full swing of things. The word ‘gratitude’ is so overused. But I am grateful. My job is part of who I am, and I find some solace in being able to enact that part of my identity.
Virtually all my physical symptoms have gone. I hope this is permanent. The mental scars still remain, so I don’t take my health for granted. I’ve given up alcohol, coffee and eat a healthy diet. I’m beginning to return to regular exercise and maintain the ritual of daily meditation. Looking after my mind and body, means I can take care of my family.
Long Covid has changed my perspective. Yes, it destroyed my mental health, but it forced me to reappraise my focus, direction, identity and capacity. It’s been a tough year, but an opportunity to rethink who you are doesn’t come around often.
That, at least, is something else I can be grateful for.
Dominic Goldman is executive creative director at Above+Beyond
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