Updated: Jun 26
I am currently on extended sick leave from work. I suffered a relapse in my bipolar in November and then, just as I was recovering, contracted Covid-19 in the build up to Christmas.
During the acute phase of the virus, although the headaches, fatigue, sore throat and muscle pains were debilitating, I was not unwell enough to need medical support. Just as I discussed in my previous column, I fully expected that a few days curled up on the sofa with plenty of fluids and paracetamol would see me through the worst.
But those expectations have not been fulfilled; six months on I am still not fully recovered, and still suffer from tachycardia, headaches, drops in my oxygen saturations, myalgia and breathlessness long after my positive test on 18th December. My head sometimes feels as though it is full of fog or cotton wool at times, and I wonder how I ever managed to do my job.
For the first time my recovery from a virus is following the same worryingly unpredictable path as my episodes of mental illness, and has actually had an impact on my mental health.
The drawn-out recovery has left me feeling emotionally down. I probably wouldn't describe it as depressed, just flatter and more frustrated that I am not able to do all the things that help support my mental health, such as going for a run or for a bike ride.
I am usually physically fit, but now sometimes just making a cup of tea makes my heart race at a worrying 120bpm, and I can become dyspnoeic just walking up one flight of stairs or getting dressed.
Even walking more than a mile is too much for me right now, and I am really feeling the impact of not being able to exercise in the way that I did before I became unwell with Covid-19. I was slow to recognise the benefits of physical exercise to my mental health.
Growing up, I was not a ‘sporty’ child. It wasn't until I was almost 40 that I was finally able to shake off the horrors of always being one of the last selected for the netball team in school games sessions, or counting the minutes until I could get my purple mottled legs off a freezing hockey pitch.
"Although I fully appreciate that I have escaped the catastrophic effects of Covid-19 suffered by so many if I am honest, I am struggling"
Later, I simply could not see the attraction to chasing balls of various shapes around cold, muddy fields that seemed to make my husband and sons so happy.
But things changed; I will spare you the long story for now, but in true, cliched style as I approached that magic decade when ‘life begins’ I discovered that not only could I run, cycle, swim and do other things that I had spent the best part of four decades avoiding, but that I actually enjoyed them.
Rather than feeling embarrassed, awkward and humiliated as I had so many times in the past, I felt proud, uplifted and a sense of achievement. It was a total buzz, and meant that when I felt tired, it was physical as well as mental. I started sleeping better, had more energy and lost weight. My confidence and self-esteem improved.
Not only did I feel better about the way I looked, but I felt generally ‘better’. I learned that not only was exercise good for my physical health but was key to my mental wellbeing as well.
But now I am not able to go for runs, or long bike rides. The thoughts of doing another triathlon later this year will probably have to be put to one side. For now, I am making the most out of the days when I am able to go for a gentle walk around the village with my husband, or a stroll around the supermarket.
Although I fully appreciate that I have escaped the catastrophic effects of Covid-19 suffered by so many, if I am honest, I am struggling.
I feel guilty knowing that so many people are living in much more difficult and challenging circumstances than me, but I am working very hard to focus on the positives in my life – time with my family, a cup of coffee with a friend or simply sitting in the garden listening the birds – in an ongoing effort to prevent my mental health deteriorating as a combined effect of feeling physically unwell, and not being able to do the things that I know from experience make me feel mentally better.
Until next time.
*This was first published by the Nursing Times on the 7th July 2021 (https://www.nursingtimes.net/opinion/i-am-working-very-hard-to-focus-on-the-positives-07-07-2021/ ) and reproduced here with kind permission.