Recovering from Covid 19: an up-hill battle

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Back Story

7 Months after coming out of hospital with Covid 19 (see previous blog), I was hoping to have been well over the throws of the virus and back to my normal self. It seems that covid had other ideas. Like many now seem to be discovering, whilst the symptoms of the active virus have long past, I now find myself battling with symptoms of crippling fatigue, body pain and brain fog to name just a few. I’m left with a physical and psychological feeling that I’m only a fraction of the way up the huge hill I’ve been climbing for the last 8 months.

Back in May, after I’d been off work for the best part of three months, I was feeling somewhat better. We agreed a phased return to work, not really knowing what to expect. But I was feeling better, I was able to go for little bike rides, cope with more activity generally and was desperate to get back to some normality. I started with a few hours a week and built it up from there. Before too long I was back to fairly normal hours and felt like I was coping. I had a holiday in August which broke things up a little and all seemed ok.

Relapse

However, by mid September things started to change. I was struggling more with fatigue and the headache which hasn’t left since having covid was beginning to get worse. By October the wheels were really beginning to come off and it was getting more difficult to hold onto the denial and the pretence that everything was OK. It wasn’t.

“Brain fog (I liken it more to someone opening up my head and using a whisk to mash it all up)”

The symptoms seemed to be getting worse, and as time went buy the rate of decline seemed to accelerate too. On the 12th October I was signed off again and remain off work today. My symptoms include: 

  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Fatigue and a constant feeling of being tipsy (I’m not on the booze I promise!)
  • Pain in the chest
  • Persistent headache
  • Feeling physically week & bucking knees
  • Unsteady on my feet
  • Brain fog (I liken it more to someone opening up my head and using a whisk to mash it all up)
  • Difficulty in processing multiple stimuli
  • Brain crashes, e.g. crashing mid-sentence and totally losing track of what I was speaking about

Besides the physical symptoms, perhaps equally as difficult to deal with has been the psychological impact.

Guilt

This has been really hard to navigate. The guilt I have felt for having had so much time off work has been huge. Rightly or wrongly, and like so many, I gain much of my sense of self from the work I do and the contribution I make. My work have been amazingly supportive but this hasn’t stopped the sense of letting the team down which has really gripped me. So far this year I have had about 17 weeks off due to this illness, which sits about as comfortably with me as an army of giant ants armed with itching powder in my pants.

Sense of failure

Again, for someone who likes to contribute and to achieve, being floored with fatigue has left me at times with a sense of uselessness. When the day’s achievement can be summed up as having successfully made a doctor’s appointment, or simply managed to get up and do one or two things in the day, the voice in my head telling me I’m a failure and a let down seems to have more of a platform than I’d like. There are days when I manage more; I’ve decorated the bathroom (over the course of weeks)…cue more guilt for being off work and doing DIY…arghhhh!

Anxiety

Usually I’m not particularly an anxious person. Following my hospitalisation with covid I seem to have found new ways to worry. Two ways in particular. 1. That I will get covid again. The evidence seems to point to this being possible and scares the life out of me. I find myself getting really grumpy and angry when people don’t keep social distancing rules in the supermarket etc. and find myself having really heated arguments with people in my head. 2. That I won’t get well enough to return to my usual capacity and that I won’t be able to provide for my family in the way I would like. The fear of losing my capacity to be a useful employee really upsets me, both for the obvious financial reasons as well as adding more to the sense of failure above! I find myself making plans in case returning to work doesn’t work out…

Withdrawn

I have found myself becoming particularly withdrawn from others. My WhatsApp has dozens of unread or unanswered messages as I struggle to cope with too much communication. Sorry if that means I haven’t replied to you; it’s not that I don’t care, I simply seem to have very reduced capacity to manage too many conversations. I have always enjoyed my own company, getting away on my bike into the hills has always been a refuge and space to regenerate, but I seem to be craving this more and more as the stimuli of everyday life often feels too overwhelming.

Low

I guess this is to be expected. The constant pain, fatigue and general uncertainty of what lies ahead has left me at times feeling really fed up. Thoughts like “What if it doesn’t get any better”? or “I’m becoming a burden to those around me” or “Work will get sick of this soon enough and ditch me” seem to dance around in my head like a clumsy Charleston often leaving me feeling more withdrawn, irritable and grumpy.

Summary

Thankfully, I’m aware of all the crazy thoughts that run through my head, and am surrounded by such wonderful support. I was lucky enough to have some therapy too on the NHS and able to work through many of these difficulties. That doesn’t stop the washing machine head from taking over at times, but does mean that I’m able to bring things into perspective when it does begin to happen.

I don’t know how things will pan out, but in my clearer moments have been able to frame things differently. If life has changed more permanently, I feel ready to accept this and have explored the different options to me and have even begun to consider this as potential opportunity rather than as mere loss.

My encouragement to you if you identify with any of the above would be to seek some psychological support. It doesn’t mean you are crazy or weak or any of the other things we often unhelpfully associate with someone seeking therapy. If you have been through covid and are struggling now, there is a lot to grasp and to process; often a good therapeutic relationship is a helpful place to begin to do this.