“Hope this finds you well?” + “Hope you’re safe and well?” are the questions that every email, Zoom or message seem to start with right now and then “Stay Safe” at the end. I’m finding them difficult to answer as someone recovering from a ‘mild' case of Covid-19. Of course I’m so grateful not to have been hospitalised and, to be honest, to have survived, but I am also one of the many thousands of people who have been so ill and are still struggling to recover at home. I’m not “Fine”. I don’t feel well. But does anybody really want to hear that?
Nine weeks ago I started having the recognised symptoms of Covid-19 and went into isolation. For me that was not an option or hardship as I was in bed with a fever for 10 delirious days. I can remember only a little from that time but when concerned friends contacted me, struggling to describe how it was, I said “It feels just like Malaria” (a story for another time). Not a very helpful analogy if you haven’t had Malaria yourself! But the intense, migrating joint pains, headaches, neck ache, fevers, chest pressure, and hugely swollen glands took me back to My Malaria Months.
When the breathlessness increased to the point of not even being able to hold a conversation, my fear ramped up. I was well aware that it was lung complications that led to the most severe cases and that the danger time was 7-10 days in. An NHS 111 doctor called me back reasuring me that as long as these symptoms didn’t worsen that he was happy for me to stay at home - to lie on my stomach as much as possible and rest. Thankfully that was my worst day and the ‘brick on my chest’ lifted slowly but consistently from that day on.
Why I wanted to write about all this is to share not so much the acute illness stage, but the post-viral life I’ve been trying to cope with since.
The backwards and forwards of recovery - my own coronacoaster. Not the emotional one I know so many people have been experiencing. But the physical one where one day I feel like I can get out of bed, or maybe even go for a short, slow walk, only to then have to spend the next 2 days back in bed drained, with The Headache ever present. For anyone who has migraines, to me The Headache is like the feeling you have when you KNOW you are about to go down with a migraine and you need to take medication and have to get to a darkened room. But that feeling for a week.
My post-Covid symptoms have definitely been neurological (nerves and brain - ironic really) rather than pulmonary (lungs). Also all the stories of kidney complications helped me understand the incredible thirst I have. The continuous feeling of dehydration, yet however much I drink it doesn’t diminish. The sleep disturbance (complete nights awake), the tongue ulcers, laryngitis, and digestive problems are all now written up extensively as typical for people who are coping with the after effects of this virus.
It is comforting to know I’m not alone but, until I found support groups on Facebook, it was difficult not to question myself. I should be better by now. Why do I still feel so ill? Is it me?
There is so little known about the after effects of this illness and so far absolutely no recognition or support for people doing their best to self-medicate at home. No wonder so many people are fearful of having to go back to work and are expected to be able to carry out their job yet are still feeling so weak and tired. The fear of release, the end of lockdown, is real for so many of us. Not only those that are ill.
In the last couple of weeks I have turned a corner. It took a while to have the mental energy to get out of the mindset of victim and into the mindset of survivor. I started to look towards my strengths and experiences in recovering from chronic illness. My main 2 battles in the past have been Malaria and ME (CFS - Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)and the blessing of these very difficult times in my life has been to learn to biohack my own recovery.
So I thought I would share the key things that have helped me to recover just in case any of these can help you too:
As I just mentioned, the first thing that helped me was a shift in thinking. Rather than fight my lack of energy, frustration and feeling fed up I decided to lean in to it. If I need to rest, then I need to rest. There is no point using up energy feeling negative about this. Let it go.
If I make the decision that my number one priority for now is my wellbeing then my choices follow on, naturally, from that. My resistance to going back to bed if I felt tired disappeared.
2 Body Scanning
I wrote about this recently in my newsletter - The Vitamin Smith No 7 - and it is a way to tune into what your body and mind needs. First thing each morning, and then regularly through the day, I take a quiet moment to close my eyes, take a deep breath and check-in with how my body is feeling.
Rather than push through the day, ignoring the sensations and feelings that my body is trying to communicate, I try to pause and listen. Only then can I make a good decision from the perspective of my wellbeing.
I ask myself “What would help me right now?” And then do it.
It’s the Doing It that is difficult sometimes. As someone who is used to being busy, juggling 2 businesses and 3 children as a single parent, my rest is often interrupted by feelings of responsibility, the need to take care of others or to answer an email.
So if the body scan comes back as: “I’m tired. My brain feels foggy. My eyes ache”. The answer is “Rest”.
The Doing is made so much easier if I have given myself permission.
I use the Phone Recharge Analogy. The way this works for me is that if I recharge my battery today I won’t feel so flat tomorrow. There’s no point running myself down to 0% only for it to take days to recharge. Much better to notice when I’m down to 50% and plug in. The key is not to then unplug until you are back up to 100%!
Whilst I’m plugged in one of the ways, along side audiobooks and podcasts (eyes shut, softly keeping me company), that I recharge is to do Guided Meditations. I find the most powerfully effective ones are Colour Meditations. I was taught one when I was studying NLP (Neuro-linguist programming) but when I’m struggling for energy I like to hand over the meditation to somebody else and be guided.
I have some favourites on YouTube that I have in a folder but I really encourage you to find the ones that work for you. I have found them life changing. My body seems to switch its holding pattern of “stress and protect” into one of “release and relax”. The relaxation response is crucial for recovery - it frees all your energy to be focused on repair.
By Yoga I mean gently moving my body and holding long, slow poses that feel restorative, flooding my body with chi. After lying in bed for days and not feeling able to walk or exercise at all, the beautiful benefits of releasing tension and energy blocks is like a physical and mental reboot.
I have followed some instructors but more often now move into whatever poses I’m drawn to instinctively. Sometimes it’s just Child’s Pose for 15 minutes. Sometimes it’s realigning and stretching in Tree Pose.
Simple, unchallenging poses to connect mind and body on my mat in the garden, listening to the birds.
No Wounded Peacock or Handstand Scorpions needed!
6 Supplements + Biohacking
So with all my neurological symptoms I wonder why it took me so long to think about refuelling my brain? After all I have boxes of high quality supplements at my finger tips! I think the answer is that that my brain was simply preoccupied with fighting off the virus. In the first place, survival.
I needed to get a little better for it to have the spare capacity to problem solve. But the wonderful feeling of biohacking - being able to work out what nutrients would support my body to help me recover - helps me feel that I have some control back and that I can take some action to take care of myself.
So to start with I focused on immune boosters, taking Mood Me with all its powerful ingredients to support the fight.
Then it was brain energy, to try to get through the day without having to go back to bed with Energy Me.
Probiotics, Vitamins C + D, and Zinc have all been linked to prevention and recovery from Covid-19 which made me so happy when I knew that all of these ingredients were in their most bioavailable form in my own supplements. I had designed and created my own tools for recovery.
Energy Me was a complete game-changer for me.
I added Quercetin for lung support. And Oregano Oil + probiotics for digestive issues.
Then I took Calm Me for the Magnesium and Glutamine, to help me reduce the anxiety, shock and adrenaline in my body that I felt was present in high quantities, to fight off the attack. Just like a tiger threatens your life and we release adrenaline in response, so disease triggers the same response.
And Happy Me for the DLPA and Tryptophan to ease the low, flat feelings that I was experiencing at times too. To help me build some emotional energy, to help me sleep and to refuel my hypothalamus (Control Centre for us Humans).
I hope these tips give you some ideas and go some way to help with your recovery - mental or physical - whatever you are struggling with.
P.S. If you would be interested in the online course I’m writing on “How to recover from post-viral fatigue” then please sign up for The Vitamin Smith to get all the latest information and the release date