My long covid journey-the road to recovery.

A common symptom of long Covid is brain fog...which is ironic as I've sat down so many times to write this blog post and my brain just doesn't always work, the words wont come out and I can't get them down on paper. I forget names, I have no memory of what I did an hour ago, I forget class plans, exercises, names of body parts, what I'm doing tomorrow, what I did yesterday. It's tough but I can't control it so I have to learn to accept it and not panic. Deep breaths and start again.

I learnt a few days ago that this week is mental health awareness week and the theme this year is loneliness and it felt so prevalent. I know that feeling well, when you don't feel like yourself and you can't describe why and even medical professionals don't know how to treat you, you can feel lonely in a crowded room. I've tried as much as possible to stay away from Google, I don't want to go down a rabbit hole of scrolling and googling the worst case scenarios; However I've found a group on Facebook for long Covid in athletes, with the aim to keep things hopeful and positive. It's a great reminder that I'm not alone and there are positives in every day.

After the initial recovery in January, I managed to slowly build myself up. I began gentle exercises, light weights, low reps. I went on walks, by the end of Feb I was doing short warm up runs, things were looking up, the 'crashes' were every week rather than every day, I could handle that and it felt managable. I even started to be able to get through a weekend without a big crash. At the beginning of March we had our ELF weekend in Butlins, I was excited, I knew I had to just take it easy and was convinced I had it all under control and I'd be fine. It's normal for us all to be tired after but it was worth it for our Butlins weekend with our amazing ELF crew. I had no idea how hard it would actually be in reality and I was completely blindsided. That's the thing with long Covid, It's completely unpredictable.

I started to feel fatigued on the car journey down...not a great start but nothing I couldn't handle. We went out on the Friday and I soon realised this was going to be really hard on my lungs, much harder than I anticipated. I decided to play it safe when the chest pain and fatigue kicked in and went back to the room early with Shelley. I had to pace myself and enjoy the weekend not burn out on the first night. Saturday arrived and we had a gorgeous beach walk and I felt fine. We popped into the pub after to fuel up after our walk and I struggled to warm up. My lips were blue and they just wouldn't change to pink! No big deal it was cold and windy so we went back to the room to start getting ready. I've often noticed since Covid that my circulation isn't as good as it used to be, I don't warm up but also I can get really hot and feel like I'm overheating too, like I can't control my body temperature properly.

Anyway, It was Saturday night, it was time to unleash the Teenage mutant ninja turtles and I couldn't wait!! Getting ready kept me busy and distracted, hair done, makeup done, outfits on we were ready for the night. I remember feeling really lightheaded and fatigued and my chest was really aching on the way out of the room, but there was no way I was going to miss the biggest night of the weekend, so I took some painkillers and pushed through (big mistake!!)

I still knew I had to take things easy so I hardly drank, it was my way of pacing myself and I knew if I drank it would finish me off and make me feel worse so I only had a couple of drinks. I was struggling to dance and sing but it was our last night so I decided to push through. We had the best time and got back to the room in the early hours of the morning.

Sunday came and it was time to go home. We were packing up and I started to feel really ill. My heart was racing, I felt like I couldn't catch my breath, the fatigue was extreme, I didn't know how I was going to be able to do the short walk to get to the car. I laid on the sofa all morning trying to recharge, deep breathing, trying not to panic, I just needed to get home. Luckily Chelly was driving and after a few attempts somehow we made it to the car and home. What a relief. My amazing roomies that weekend got me through, they were the most supportive, kind and caring group of girls that I'm so honoured to call my friends. Even thought it wasn't easy we all had such a great time.

After Butlins I crashed hard. I had to cancel all my classes for a week, I couldn't take a shower without sitting down, washing my hair was too much of a task, walking short distances brought on lots of chest pain, everything felt like a huge struggle, I would do a simple task then have to lie down, I struggled to function. I'd pushed too hard and it had backfired in spectacular fashion. I felt like I was back to square one.

It's now 9 weeks since our Butlins weekend, and I've spent those last 9 weeks building myself up again, pretty much starting from scratch. I can do a light workout, I have to take it easy and pace myself. I'm doing pretty well at avoiding any big crashes now but I have lots of little crashes regularly. I'm currently struggling with a huge list of symptoms

Chest pain-this is currently pretty bad so I'm avoiding cardio at the moment.

Fatigue-lots of regular bouts of this

Breathlessness-on and off especially when I crash

Cough-it lingers, when its cold its worse

Brain fog-all the time and so debilitating and relentless

Heart palpitations-these can come out of nowhere but especially when I lift heavy or change position too quickly

Swollen glands-when I crash, my heart races, my glands swell up like I've reactivated the virus

Viral rash-who knew this was even a thing. Like heat rash all over me and really itchy!

Headaches-before I crash I get signs, headaches is one of them and its a specific 'Covid headache' that I can't even describe. Its my warning to stop and rest.

Raynauds syndrome, numb tingly hands and randomly without warning my fingers will lose circulation, go white, then blue, they ache, throb, go numb. I have 1 finger that constantly aches now that doesn't seem to recover properly.

Sore clicky joints-especially when I do a workout. My joints click and ache a lot.

Life is like one big balancing act, if I have a busy week of classes I can't exercise in case I cause a crash, if I have a quiet week I can attempt a workout. If I do a workout I have to rest and monitor what affect it has on me before I do another one. The advice is to aim for 50-60% of my normal effort and keep my heart rate under 120bpm. This will hopefully avoid a relapse. I've gained weight, I've lost fitness and muscle, my confidence has taken a massive knock, I don't recognise my own body. But I truly believe this will get better and I will never give up hope that I'll get back to normal eventually.

As often as I can I do cold water therapy. The theory is that it can improve circulation, spike your energy levels, boost your immune system and reduce inflammation in your body. I really feel it helps with my mental health too. Getting into freezing water stimulates the Vagus nerve, forcing me to control my breathing, lowering my heart rate and breathe deeper which should help my lungs. I've had multiple tests showing deficiencies so I take iron and high dose vitamin D, I also take a magnesium and vitamin B complex supplement. I see the doctor again next week in the hopes that I can be referred to a long Covid clinic to help with rehabilitation, I need to know how to manage my recovery safely and avoid permanent damage.

New research is constantly involving in the treatment of long Covid, things like oxygen therapy, anti-viral's, blood thinners, probiotics and low histamine diets are showing promising results. Lots to think about and I'm not giving up anytime soon on my journey to recovery so watch this space.

Sam xx

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