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.

Day 40… Lights in the darkness

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Well I can’t quite believe it’s Easter Day and that this challenge is at it’s end.

Firstly, a massive thank you to everyone who has contributed to this blog by sharing your story around mental health or wellbeing. You have been both courageous and generous with what you have shared  and a real blessing to those who have read your story. I’d also like to thank all those who have followed the blog in any way; it’s been really nice to hear that you have been encouraged in some way by what you have read here. This blog will of course remain open and I will always aim to publish your story if you feel you are ready to share it. I’d also like to say at this point that it is now safe to subscribe (below) to this blog without fear of a daily bombardment of email from me!! Continue reading

BBC: Pupils as young as four having panic attacks, say teachers

Original BBC article here


Children as young as four are suffering from mental health problems such as panic attacks, anxiety and depression, teachers say.

Almost all of the 2,000 who responded to an NASUWT survey said they had come into contact with mentally ill pupils.

Members of the teaching union suggest schools are struggling to access enough support to deal with the issue.

The Department for Education said it was investing £1.4bn to ensure all children get the help they need.

The union is highlighting the problem at its annual conference in Manchester this weekend and it will also discuss school funding and the online world.

The survey found:

98% of teachers said they had come into contact with pupils who were experiencing mental health issues.

They were most likely to be teenagers, with more than half of teachers saying they had seen issues in 14 to 16-year-olds.

But nearly a fifth (18%) of those surveyed by the union said they had been in contact with four to seven-year-olds showing mental health issues while more than a third (35%) had seen problems in youngsters aged seven to 11.

Nine in 10 said they had experienced a pupil of any age suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, while 79% were aware of a pupil suffering from depression and 64% knew of a youngster who was self-harming.

Around half (49%) were aware of children with eating disorders, and a similar proportion (47%) knew about a youngster with obsessive compulsive disorder.

Pressure of exams and testing, family problems such as ill health or a break-up and social media were all seen as having an impact on mental health.

And when asked about how it affected pupil behaviour, most teachers agreed that it led to an inability to concentrate in class and led to a pupil being isolated from other students or have problems making friends.

‘Expert gap’

Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary warned there was concern among teachers about a gap in the availability of experts and counselling to help children with mental health needs.

“It is clear that teachers and school leaders are seeing many more children and young people who are exhibiting the signs of serious mental distress.

“Teachers and school leaders take very seriously their duty of care to their students and it is clear there is a great deal of concern in the profession about the gulf in the availability of expert physiological support and counselling for pupils with mental health needs.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said no child should suffer from mental health issues and that it was investing a record £1.4bn to ensure all children get the help and support they need.

“We are strengthening the links between schools and NHS mental health staff and later this year will publish proposals for further improving services and preventative work.

“Schools can teach about mental health in a number of ways and we have funded the PSHE Association to provide guidance for teachers on how to do this.

“We have already announced plans for every secondary school in the country to be offered mental health first aid training. We trust teachers to deliver assessment in a sensible manner that will not create stress among children.”

‘Asking for money’

The NUT is also meeting in Cardiff for its annual conference this weekend.

Speaking beforehand, the union’s general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “Funding is going to be a theme that dominates the conference.

“In schools around the country, class sizes are going up. We are seeing arts, dance drama and music being cut. Vocational education is being cut.

“We are seeing schools around the country sending letters to parents asking for money on a regular basis to make up for the the gap that the government is leaving in school budgets.”

The Department for Education insists that schools in England are funded at record levels and that its investment will rise as pupil numbers rise.

The thing about labels…

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Day 38 of my 40 Day Blog Challenge. It’s strange to think that this challenge is coming to an end! Whilst I won’t be posting a blog every day in a few days time, doing this challenge has highlighted the fact that people are ready to speak about their battles. Because of that, if you have something you feel you’d like to share, then please do just get in touch – there will always be a space for your story here. Today, I share about my views on labels… Continue reading

Taboo

taboo

Day 35 of my 40 Day Blog Challenge. So I am wondering about getting to day 39 and then taking a break until Easter Sunday. In the meantime I shall continue to collect new contributions (please keep them coming in!) and focus on getting more exposure to the contributions that have already been written. I shall also spend some time thinking about and planning what happens next, since this blog has attracted far more interest than I imagined it would. Watch this space!

Today, I’m going to reblog something simple I wrote a couple of years ago about the Taboo surrounding mental wellbeing… Continue reading

5000 views…?

Day 32 of my 40 (46) Day Blog Challenge. In case you are new here, let me fill you in . I decided to publish a blog around the subject of mental health and wellbeing every day for Lent. Mental health is such an important subject to be speaking about openly, and I wanted to see what would happen if I started this. Very quickly, lots of people decided to join in and write about their own experiences of mental health. It has been such a blessing. And thank you everyone who has participated so far. There are now just 2 weeks left to go.

So now I’d like to challenge you! Continue reading

Gym-timidation!

GYM-1Day 30 of my 40 (46) Day Blog Challenge. I thought I’d blog about my insecurity today, and where better place to start than in the gym…

I started going to the gym this week. A year of not being able to do  much exercise, being middle aged, combined with the close proximity of “naughty street” (a street close to work with lots of bakeries and food outlets), has not been good for the old bulge 😕.  Continue reading

Mental Health & Debt

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Day 27 of my 40 Day Blog Challenge. I wanted to have a think about how mental health can impact on our financial wellbeing, and vice versa. I was looking around and found the following article from Martin Lewis of Moneysavingexpert.com. I think this article serves as a good introduction to the issue; hopefully, this will be something I think about a little more here on the blog before the 40 days is up.

Don’t forget, if you have a story, I’d still love to hear from you. The following is taken straight from Moneysavingexpert.com where you can view the full article and really helpful resource guide here.

A message from Martin

Be under no illusions. Mental health problems can cause severe debt, and severe debt can cause mental health problems. Continue reading

Resilience: around the world on his bike!

Day 25 of my 40 Day Blog Challenge. If I thought Id’d set myself a challenge doing this blog for 40 days, then Josiah Skeats is a challenge legend! I have been following his blog as he cycles around the world, from the UK toward Australia. As a keen cyclist myself, I know how disheartening it can be when you are  cycling into a bit of a headwind, let alone some of the crazy conditions Josiah has faced. So I figured I’d ask him about resilience, and he has so kindly written the following blog for us on the subject. Please do check out his personal blog, or follow him on Facebook, it is a truly wonderful story.

Resilience

Of the many lessons you learn on a 25,000 kilometre cycling journey around the world, learning to be resilient, and to overcome difficult situations is one of the most valuable. Contrary to what you might imagine, the physical challenge of cycling such a vast distance pales in comparison to the mental challenges. Continue reading

Not “OK”

Firstly, our thoughts must be with all those individuals and families affected by yesterday’s terrible events in Westminster. It has been a truly dark day. 

I had another blog lined up to post today but felt the need say something about the events of yesterday. Today’s will be a brief post. 

The events took place just less than 1/2 mile from my office in Westminster. I was in a team meeting at the time, oblivious to what what was happening. It was only when we checked the answerphone after the meeting that we all became aware. 

At first it was surreal. I called my wife to say I was ok. We all made our way out of the office and started our various journeys home. I got the 17.06 back to Sussex and the safety of my home and family, for which it feels I have never been more grateful. 

It was only during the evening that the reality began to sink in. I didn’t want to watch the news, and spent the rest of the evening feeling numb and subdued. 

That feeling remains with me this morning as I write this on the train heading back into Westminster. I could pretend everything was ok, but somehow, my small part of the world feels very different today. 

Thankfully I wasn’t caught up in the events yesterday; but they have certainly had an impact on me. I felt the need to share that, as I process what it means to work in the heart of a city which has no immunity in this era of terrorism. 

Of course, things will settle down and probably quickly return to “normal”. But for today, I acknowledge that I’m really not OK, and that is OK.