Healing from Long-COVID
Today is the anniversary I never want to celebrate: my COVID-versary.
It all started with a strange fluttery sensation in my lungs and a racing heart, which I must admit, did seem a little odd, given that a new virus was making its way around the globe. But surely it was just my imagination. Surely there was no way I could actually have COVID-19?
It was March 14th, 2020. Our state had less than a hundred cases at that point. I mean, what were the chances?
Okay, so I’d attended a large business event in the city a week earlier, with organisers who’d flown in from interstate and overseas. At the time, government and media sites were recommending we all wash our hands thoroughly (both sides; for at least 20 seconds!). And since we hadn’t yet reached the point of even talking about masks or social distancing, cramming more than 200 people into a conference room seemed like a jolly great idea!
But that was just one event. I was just one person, in a city of millions. Come on. Surely not?
The next day, when I awoke with what felt like a regular head cold (minus the sniffles), I began to relax. See? It’s just a cold. Nothing to worry about.
But you know that little voice within – that tug of intuition that tells you things you don’t always want to know? It kept poking me. And I kept ignoring it.
On day 6 of my symptoms, just when I was hoping my ‘cold’ would subside, I awoke to lungs that ached so much, I could barely stand it. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get enough air into them. Each time I took another shaky, shallow breath, they throbbed even harder.
The sensation was eerily similar to my first night in London in 1999, when a friend had taken me to a jazz club thick with cigarette smoke. My lungs felt the same as they did the morning after that nightclub – like they’d been assaulted from within and were screaming in protest. Only this time, I’d slept for ten hours in a well-ventilated bedroom rather than inhaled a year’s worth of second-hand smoke in one night.
With a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and the little voice within yelling, “I told you so!”, I made a telehealth appointment with my doctor.
After explaining the whole story, I waited, hoping she would tell me it was nothing. I wished for her to say, “You’re fine! There’s nothing to worry about, silly!”
Instead, she took a deep breath and paused.
Unfortunately, since there weren’t enough tests in the state, I wouldn’t qualify to get tested, she explained, unless I could name the person who had infected me. This struck me as all kinds of ridiculous. I didn’t know any of the organisers or other attendees personally, so how could I know if they’d later developed the virus?
BUT, she went on to say, from the details and timeline of my symptoms, she could confirm it was coronavirus.
Yup. Pre-vaccine, pre-variant, original strain, full blown COVID-19.
I nodded numbly, taking notes. She explained how to count my breaths per minute, advising me to go to my nearest hospital if they reached above twenty. But she warned me to make sure I called the hospital before going there, so they’d have time to prepare a COVID section.
Dryly, she also commented that the upside was it was a good time to get COVID, while the hospitals were still empty.
What good is it to have an empty hospital if the staff don’t yet know how to properly treat you?, I thought to myself, but then quickly shoved the thought aside.
“It’s okay,” I thought. “I’m young (~ish, ha!) and the healthiest person I know. I’ll be better in two weeks.”
Oh, sweet, naiive, younger me. Instead, the virus decided to make a total nuisance of itself, progressing into viral pneumonia, and three years of debilitating fatigue, doctors appointments, emergency room visits, ECGs, x-rays, CT scans, blood tests, medications, supplements, diet changes, and alternative treatments.
(and infecting poor Dom along the way!)
Three years on, this little turd of a virus still isn’t done with me yet. Each time I push myself too hard, physically or cognitively, I experience a relapse back to my original symptoms. Sometimes the relapses last for a couple of days; sometimes for months.
But I know I’m one of the lucky ones, and I’m so grateful.
My Long-COVID recovery is often hard, slow, and heavy. But I’ve got this. COVID didn’t break me, just like early sobriety didn’t break me, just like every other challenging thing I’ve experienced in my life didn’t break me.
I’m still here. Different, and changed, yes. But healing, learning, and growing more every single day.
And so are you. ❤️
My Favourite Resources
I’m so grateful to the doctors and health care professionals who have come forward to talk about their own experience with Long-COVID. Because of them, new clinics continue to expand around the world to study the lasting effects of the virus.
With experts estimating that 10-30% of all COVID survivors go on to develop Long-COVID, millions of people around the world are currently healing from this very condition. If you, or someone you know, is also struggling with Long-COVID, I’d love to share some of the things that have helped me most. I hope they help you too:
I’ve read a ton of articles over the past few years. Here are just a few:
Mayo Clinic: COVID-19 (coronavirus): long-term effects
WebMD: What Is Long COVID (PASC)?
The Atlantic: Long-COVID – The Pandemic after The Pandemic
Cosmos: What do we know about Long-COVID?
BBC Sounds Podcast: Women and Long COVID
New York Times: Covid ‘Long-Haulers’
Reuters: Long-COVID a Global Health Issue
Time Magazine: The Wait for Long-COVID Treatments
60 Minutes: The Long Haul: COVID-19
Almost a Third of People Report Lingering Symptoms: New Long-Covid Study Finds
You can also search for more recent articles from official news outlet by Googling, eg: ‘Reuters Long COVID’ or ‘NYT Long COVID’, etc.
I resisted joining the COVID Long-hauler groups for a long time, because, to be honest, I really didn’t want to be one of them. I wanted to be done with this stupid virus and move on with my life!
But seven months in, I experienced a severe relapse that felt like it was never going to end. These groups were really helpful to me during that time. I still ‘hide’ them from my feed whenever I’m feeling well, but during relapses, it’s very comforting to know you’re not alone.
Here are just two of the many groups out there:
Long Haul COVID Fighters – Round 1 (Onset of illness prior to April 1st 2020)
You can find more online Long-COVID groups (including those specific to your city or variant) by searching ‘COVID’ in Facebook Groups.
Throughout 2021, I continued to experience symptoms of ‘razor blade’ sore throats, headache, sinus pain and pressure throughout the jaw and behind teeth, spontaneous fever, intense and debilitating fatigue (the kind that feels like you’re moving underwater, or like each bone weighs ten tonnes), brain fog (so severe I couldn’t even remember my own address, never mind work effectively), insomnia, nausea, swollen lymph nodes, a ‘panic’ sensation when lying flat, chest pain, stomach cramping, and digestive disturbances.
In addition to high doses of over-the-counter medications such as Nurofen (anti-inflammatory) and Zyrtec (anti-histamine), which worked fairly well for me, I was prescribed Prednisolone (steroid), APO-Celecoxib (anti-inflammatory), and Tapentadol (an opioid analgesic), with no clear improvement in symptoms. Eager to find another answer, I began to research the benefits and uses of CBD oil (medicinal cannabis).
Obtaining a referral letter from my regular Doctor, I found a wonderful Australian medical team through Green Choices and began taking prescribed THC-free broad spectrum CBD oil (this is CBD oil with the THC removed, and therefore unable to get you high or impact your driving or decision-making in any way).
Within two weeks, I began to feel a dramatic difference in my energy, clarity and wellbeing.
A couple of months later, I read about Bod Australia’s impending medical trial and asked my Doctor to prescribe me the mentioned MediCabilis™ CBD product (containing 0.2% THC).
This has truly been a game changer for me.
Of course, no two bodies are alike, and while it may not have the same effect for everyone, I can definitely recommend this as an option worth trying. I’m finally able to live and work again, and while the driving laws in WA don’t allow patients to drive while taking CBD products that contain even this small amount of THC (praying for this to change!), I’m so deeply grateful.
As a side note: I understand that some people in recovery don’t feel comfortable taking prescribed medications of any kind, and I completely respect that. It’s a deeply personal decision that must align with your values and history.
For me personally, with no history of smoking or otherwise consuming cannabis (or prescription painkillers), they hold zero memories or triggers for me. On the other hand, I have stopped taking Naturopath-provided herbal tinctures in the past because they contained small amounts of alcohol that I found triggering. As always, listen to your body and do what’s right for you. I mention CBD oil here in the hopes that it may help even one more Long-COVID survivor the way it’s helped me.
Experiencing a chronic illness can feel very isolating and lonely. It can feel incredibly frustrating to not be able to be as productive as you want to be, or be well enough to see friends and family, and it’s an issue that can be hard for others to understand. And yet, keeping your mindset healthy is so important for healing.
Do whatever you need to to take care of your mental health. I love doing simple things like soaking my feet in a warm foot spa filled with epsom salts and essential oils, or soothing my mind through meditation. I avoid stress as much as possible, and factor in plenty of additional time to get work tasks done.
Since dramatic or suspenseful movies or websites tend to make symptoms worse (due to the emotional and cognitive strain), I watch funny or uplifting shows, and have now curated my social media feed so it’s pretty much filled exclusively with funny pet videos. Because laughter really is the best medicine.
Books and Diet
Thankfully I broke up with alcohol long before I caught COVID (you can read my sobriety story here or in A Happier Hour). From the moment I got sick and was too ill to drink coffee, I switched to decaf, and since I already avoided dairy, gluten and refined sugar, I didn’t think there was much more I could do to improve my diet.
When a friend shared with me that she began to heal her long-term, chronic Glandular Fever (also called Mono in some countries, and caused by the Epstein-Barr virus), with the recipes and supplements recommended in this book, I knew I had to try it. Immediately, I began to feel an improvement, especially when it came to consuming celery juice, wild blueberries, and raw ginger, garlic and turmeric.
Strangely, I’ve also noticed that eating an adrenal snack such as fruit (of any kind, really, although I do love grapes) at around 11am when I typically experience the worst of the headaches and sore throats, tends to help calm the symptoms. So weird, I know, but it’s almost like my body needs more natural glucose, more regularly. It’s such a great, easy and healthy thing, and I’m just thrilled it helps in some small way.
I hope this book helps you too:
Medical Medium: Secrets Behind Chronic and Mystery Illness and How to Finally Heal by Anthony William.
Another friend shared with me the work of Dr Tina Peers in the UK, including this Instagram post about supplements for Long-COVID. While I take a lower dosage of the supplements mentioned, I have definitely noticed an improvement (especially when taking Niacin or Vitamin B3).
As per her advice (and her belief that Long-COVID is connected to mast cell activation), I also now follow a low histamine diet, which has definitely also helped. This also explains why some over-the-counter antihistamines have been so helpful at reducing the severity of symptoms.
Of course, as with all diet and supplement changes, please see your Doctor to confirm which ones are right for you.
I was interested to learn that the Long-COVID clinic at Mount Sinai hospital in New York uses breathwork to help patients regulate and reduce symptoms. Specifically, inhaling through the nose for four counts and exhaling for six in the morning, and in the evening, inhaling for four, holding for four, and exhaling for four.
I tried this for myself and noticed a slight but noticeable improvement in symptoms. Best of all, it’s free and easy to do at any time.
As reported in this article in The Atlantic on Long-COVID Treatment:
“Dayna McCarthy at the Center for Post-COVID Care laid out the group’s theories about why the treatment is so helpful. Through breathwork, patients can consciously control their heart rate, she noted. In addition, modulating the nervous system’s fight-or-flight response may help regulate the immune system. (Studies have shown that elevated stress hormones can lead to chronic inflammation.) And proper breathing is crucial to circulation in the lymphatic system, often described as the body’s highway for immune cells, which plays a role in eliminating toxins and waste.”
Grounding / Earthing
Ok so this one sounds totally woo woo, I know, and I must admit, I watched The Earthing Movie with a decent amount of skepticism. But one night I felt so bad, I was desperate enough to try anything.
Although I loved seeing the scientific body scans showing reduced inflammation in the documentary, I’d been for 20 minute walks (with my shoes on) plenty of times and hadn’t experienced a huge shift, so I didn’t want to get my hopes up.
To my surprise and delight, even just walking barefoot around our courtyard for 20 minutes made a huge reduction in the severity of my symptoms.
I now regularly walk barefoot along sandy beaches and through grassy parks, much to Dom’s amusement. Of course, many days I was too ill to even muster the energy for a walk, but if you do have the energy, all I’m saying is give it a chance. You might find yourself as happily shocked as I was that something so simple could have such a big impact.
If you or someone you know is experiencing Long-COVID, above all, please be kind (to them and to yourself). There are so many people in the online support groups sharing stories of losing jobs due to employers not understanding what they’re going through, adding financial stress to the depressing state of it all. Others have had partners leave them, adding abandonment and heartache to the mix. Others have sadly and tragically taken their own lives.
If your friend, employee, colleague, or loved one is going through this, please understand how much they need your compassion.
And if you are a Long-COVID survivor, whatever you’re going through right now – whatever challenge it is you face – please know that you are so much stronger than you believe. It’s okay to cry and shake your fist at the sky sometimes. I certainly do! Other days, I’m astounded at my resilience and at the resilience of all people with chronic illnesses. Keeping your mindset strong in the face of physical vulnerability and ongoing uncertainty is no easy feat.
You are amazing, and there is hope ahead. New medical trials, research, and studies are starting all the time. They will find answers. We will get through this.
You are loved, and you are not alone.
P.S. Have you experienced Long-COVID or a chronic illness? What healing modalities have helped you most? Come share with me on Facebook or Instagram.
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