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By Lydia Pearse
ou wouldn’t be able to tell that I was ill if you walked past me on the street. That is, until you looked closely at the dark rings under my eyes, tracing the outline of my skull. After ten months with long Covid, I am still trapped in an ailing body.
“I wasn’t healthy, but compared to the day I was told to stop washing to conserve energy, it felt like a great freedom”
I caught Covid early on in 2020 and the virus ran its course with all the predictable symptoms. I recovered quickly, but over the following months my body showed signs of crumbling under an invisible strain. The first sign of trouble came in the early summer, when a thick brain fog set into my mind. I stopped being able to hear the voice in my head, and would often glance at my hands and feel terrified, because they couldn’t possibly be my own. I drifted into a state of detached unfeeling, trapped in a small recess of my mind.
It wasn’t until November that my body too gave way to illness. I have come to loathe the term Chronic Fatigue, one of the main symptoms of long Covid, as the name implies that the condition feels anything like normal tiredness. We've all experienced exhaustion in one form or another, but this was something incomparable.
In those early days, making even the smallest of movements would reduce me to tears. My nausea was constant and all-encompassing – I stopped being able to stomach solid food, lost weight, and watched the skin on my face turn to a sickly green. I spent all of last winter under the covers of my parent’s spare bed, getting up once a day to wash, and then slipping back into bed to wish the day away.
“I stopped being able to stomach solid food, lost weight, and watched the skin on my face turn to a sickly green”
An insomnia developed out of this tiredness, which still seems to me to be an ironic coupling of ailments. I spent each night waiting for the first streaks of dawn before letting myself sink into sleep. I had developed a new level of fear surrounding death and needed to know that I had survived into a new day. Obviously, my mental health had declined - I was a 23-year-old stuck in a body that was rejecting me.
If I hadn’t had the luxury of being looked after emotionally and financially by my parents, I’m unable to see how I would have coped. Like many issues in this country, the experience of chronic illness is bound by class structures. We cannot separate privilege from suffering, and although I have suffered, I remain advantaged in my parents’ ability to support me.
“The doctors I spoke to greeted me with sheepish apathy, and put me on a waiting list for a ‘long Covid clinic’ that didn’t exist until the Spring of 2021”
The doctors I spoke to greeted me with sheepish apathy, and put me on a waiting list for a ‘long Covid clinic’ that didn’t exist until the Spring of 2021. For months I clung onto the hope of joining this clinic, as my life crumbled away beneath my feet. My relationship splintered, and I couldn’t bear speaking to anyone outside of my family.
After nine months on the waiting list, I was put through to my local clinic, where after a forty-minute phone call, it was decided that I was too unwell for their services. A nurse suggested that I cut down on washing - she suggested the process of cleaning sounded ‘an unnecessary expense of energy’.
Articles began to emerge earlier this year that claimed receiving the Covid vaccine had helped others in similar situations. I begged my GP for months to put me on the list, but again, I was told I didn’t qualify. I had to wait for my vaccine like everyone else in their early twenties.
“I realised about a month after I got my first dose that I could leave the house without a walking stick”
I realised about a month after I got my first dose that I could leave the house without a walking stick. Soon, I could leave without gearing myself up for the walk for several hours prior. I wasn’t healthy, but compared to the day I was told to stop washing to conserve energy, it felt like a great freedom.
The process of writing this short piece has been testing. When we start to get better, we also often get sad, because we start to realise just how much we’ve missed out on. Being unwell for a year of my life has changed me profoundly. I try to convince myself that my body isn’t permanently damaged, but the truth is that we don’t yet know what effects Covid has on the body long term.
I am still unable to work or live a normal life, but I spend each day hoping that tomorrow might be better.
The Personal Account Of A Student Battling Long Covid
By Lydia Pearse
The ‘Pure O’ or ‘purely obsessional’ type of OCD is characterised by distressing, intrusive thoughts and mental rituals to cope with them. Rae Elliman shares her experience of living with – and learning to manage – these hidden compulsions