TW: COVID and mental health
In March 2020, I lost my sense of smell and taste for five days. Seemingly innocuous when the symptoms for the pandemic that had stopped me from going to my city centre office were sore throats and fever. During those five days I felt a bit achey, fevery, breathless with a burning in my upper chest which felt like I had inhaled pesticides (if you’ve ever driven past a field where a farmer is spraying, it’s THAT feeling). Doing my usual yoga practice was difficult but not impossible, only once did I have to stop mid practice in Peaceful Warrior as I couldn’t catch my breath.
In the UK at that point, if you weren’t a key worker you couldn’t get tested, so to this day I still don’t know if I had COVID. I wasn’t sick enough to go to hospital and didn’t even need to take any days off work, just an hour or two’s rest and then back on the computer.
After I got over that brief, nameless illness, I started having (what I believed to be) hayfever, only it lasted for months. It was just coming into April so I put it down to tree pollen, although I had never had it so early before. Again, the symptoms were nothing too intense – just sinus pressure, sore throat and headaches; nothing to write home about. I didn’t link the two together until July, where my ‘hayfever’ took off.
The week before my best friend’s birthday I started to get sick again. I was dizzy, spacey, faint, just not with it at all. I felt nauseous constantly but put it down to the contraceptive pill I had been taking (when I’m due on I do get faint/sick), so decided to go ahead with my plans and go visit her and my family who I hadn’t seen since before lockdown.
As I sat talking to my best friend (socially distant in her house), my eyes just couldn’t focus on her. As I faced her, my eyes would drift off into the corners. I had to hold onto the sofa back to stop myself rolling forwards and had to change into pjs at 6pm – wearing a bra was making it difficult to breathe. I had two panic attacks whilst there and had to go lie down at 11:30pm. This started a 3 week long labyrinthitis episode which left me bed-ridden.
Labyrinthitis can be caused by an upper respiratory virus.
I think I was experiencing long-haul COVID symptoms, much milder than hundreds of thousands of unfortunate people, but still valid in their effect they left on my body. If you have read my posts before, you will know that I also have OCD, so getting sick during a pandemic is like…the absolute worst for someone like me. It kickstarted an episode of anxiety unlike anything else I have experienced.
Even though I had already been sick and was okay, even though I was bed bound and then got better, even though I was taking all the precautions I could to look after myself, my brain wouldn’t play ball. My ego was completely out of whack, screaming, telling me to run and hide. For about a month I felt like I couldn’t go outside. I was having panic attacks daily, I wasn’t suicidal but at the same time felt as though I couldn’t carry on. I was so scared. So lonely. So unbearably sad.
What lifted me out of the fear was community. I follow a couple of OCD accounts on Instagram (OCDRecoveryUK is my favourite) and started reading messages from members. Robert Bray, the person who runs the account, has experienced extreme OCD for years and is now in recovery. A lighthouse in my storm.
Reading these posts helped me identify what I was experiencing – a fear response. That was it. I wasn’t losing my mind, I was just experiencing a heightened fear response which was triggered by multiple sicknesses and the scary state of the world right now. I felt my shoulders relax as I scrolled on.
In a video, Robert said something that struck such a chord with me. He said that we need to accept that being uncomfortable is part of the human experience. Fear is part of life. Believing that you can live a life without any of these if you just do X is not plausible – life is too chaotic and random for that to be the case. Accepting that you are feeling fear when you feel it will ultimately set you free.
This brought me to think of my experiences on the mat. When I was in a difficult pose or vinyasa flow, I would either tighten up and wish it was over or take my mind elsewhere, distracting myself from the present moment. A darker response would be to chastise myself and get down on myself that I wasn’t ‘fit enough’ or ‘strong enough’ to be practising.
The mat is a reflection for how we act in our daily lives, this much I know. I realised that these seemingly small reactions were creating a wider narrative that my lived experience of difficulty/discomfort couldn’t be trusted. That how I felt about an experience wasn’t the correct response, or that the fact I felt that way at all was wrong. Ultimately, I wasn’t feeling safe enough to allow myself to feel uncomfortable and to work through it.
I had no faith.
I’m so pleased to say that I’m feeling loads better and am working on my trust/safety issues. I have daily mantras and am accepting my lived experience much more than before. When anxiety bubbles, I don’t judge. I don’t think about the ruined plans or whether I can survive it – I already have. I feel so much stronger than I ever have and I know that I will be okay.
If you have been struggling with anxiety/depression during this time, just know you’re not alone. You’re not ‘wrong’ for struggling and you shouldn’t be handling it any other way than you are right now.
I would recommend looking into some de-stress activities which you really love (e.g. dancing, sewing, walking, watching films etc) and making a space where you feel safe. This could be through social media or in your actual house! Follow artists on Instagram who make art that you can identify with or on TikTok, there’s loads of therapists posting awesome stuff. What did you do when you were little when you were sad? I used to sit in my room or write in my diary, so I’ve started journaling more and taking some alone time to be with my thoughts. Now is the time to connect with what feels good for you and explore that.
You deserve it.
So much love, my little lambs.