I’m 29 years old. I first became unwell at the beginning of April 2020. At first I was off work for a week and a half with what I thought was a terrible flu, but then the number of symptoms suddenly started to increase and I realised that all the symptoms matched those of Covid-19. Overall, I ended up being sick for just under a month. It was still very early on in the pandemic so there were no tests available.
When I rang the NHS, they confirmed that they were fairly sure it was Covid-19, and said to go to A&E if I felt really bad. There were many times I considered it, but I didn’t want to infect other people, and I was too weak to get up for most of my illness – I was bed- and sofa-bound, and my partner had to carry me or support me to walk around the house while we were quarantining together.
I had to stay wrapped up in fleece blankets and jumpers to keep my chest warm, trying not to talk. My partner had to do everything for me, even fetching me tea. My general symptoms were tiredness, headaches, a cough, a sore throat, upset stomach, itchy eyes, congested nose, fever, dry skin, and tight/aching lungs. If I got up to make food, talked on the phone, or sat by an open window, things would get scarier. I sweated profusely, my breaths whistled, I coughed incessantly, and I struggled for breath, as though I’d just run a great distance. My voice would get raspy and quiet. This often happened at night, and I barely slept while I had Covid because I felt like I couldn’t breathe at night.
By the end of April, I was a bit better, although things were up and down – I realised that recovery wasn’t linear. The insomnia continued, although now the fever was gone and I was standing up a bit more. I was even able to wash up, make a quick snack, and play computer games at this point without getting breathless. However, I was still spending 80% of my time lying down, wrapped in blankets. I also lost my sense of taste and smell, so mealtimes were boring.
I started working from home again on the 7th of May, and my partner and I were finally able to leave the house. It was an overwhelming experience. I was so excited when I stepped out of the front door and noticed that spring had sprung. It felt like the acute stage was definitely over.
By the end of May, I was feeling ‘better’, although on many days the breathlessness, sniffles, sore joints and swollen glands returned. I went for a couple of walks around the block, and was even able to dress up and ‘attend’ a friend’s socially distanced birthday party over Skype
In June, my strength was starting to return, and my sleep was getting back to normal – I was having 7 hours a night, rather than 4 or 5. I continued to work from home, and started to do very gentle yoga and stretches. Having lots of time at home meant I could get lots of rest.
In July, conscious of how weak I felt, I slowly started to workout again (I was very physically active prior to Covid). As I had been improving, I felt ready. The only symptoms that remained were nasal congestion, some fatigue, phantom smells and a change of taste, mild join aches, and swollen glands every so often, but I was sure these would soon disappear, and I was excited to feel like myself again. By August, I was doing 2 hours of intense dance and exercise, 3 – 5 days a week. I was taking protein supplements and eating a lot more. I was seeing real progress and my hair was starting to grow back. However, this is where it all started to go downhill. I went back to my part-time job (in person), and I suddenly started to experience more symptoms again. I was increasingly breathless when talking or walking up stairs. I got pains in my arms and chest, heart palpitations, I couldn’t sleep, and I became extremely depressed. My face was bloated, I started coughing again…I had a whole host of symptoms by this point, 19 in all. I suspected it was Long Covid, and called my GP, who told me to rest. When rest didn’t help, and I found myself unable to get out of bed after work and having to call in sick some days, I went back to my GP. Armed with my own findings from online research, I asked for several different tests. I was very low in Vitamin D. My lung function was like that of an asthmatic. I was eventually diagnosed with Long Covid. I started having telephone counselling, and more tests were done.
At the beginning of 2021, I started the Pulmonary Wellness Foundation’s online ‘Covid Bootcamp’ course, and that increased my ability to breathe. I really recommend it. I also realised that caffeine and sugar worsened my symptoms, so I did my best to cut those out and tried to avoid inflammatory/processed foods.
As I write this, it has been just over 19 months since my initial infection. On some days I feel almost as well as I ever did, and probably appear recovered to other people. However, I still have many lingering symptoms, the worst being fatigue, brain fog, chest tightness, heart palpitations, and joint/muscle weakness and pain. I haven’t regained the weight I lost, and my hair is still falling out. I have often been off sick from work with flare ups and regularly experience PEM and flu-like symptoms. I’m hypersensitive to cold and have to wear more layers than I used to in order to avoid wheezing and coughing. The only thing that improves how I feel is regular periods of total rest – in bed, curtains closed, no books, phone or mental stimulation.
Last month I finally started NHS physio run by my local Long Covid clinic. It has been a long, frustrating and bumpy ride. At times I have felt disbelieved and alone, but joining online support groups has helped a lot, and my partner taking over the household tasks has allowed me to stay in work. I am now better able to figure out how much energy I have to spend each day and avoid exhaustion as much as I did when I used to push through and overwork myself (because I couldn’t accept I was still sick).
I hope to be able to manage my fatigue and brain fog to the point that I will be able to exercise, socialise, and write as much as I would like without paying for it with days of unwellness afterwards. I am going to try Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber Therapy soon – I’m willing to do anything that might help!