I tested positive for COVID on January 3, 2022.
Two weeks of symptoms: fever, chills, coughing. Everything went away which seemed normal.
But why was I feeling exhausted all the time? Why did I still have massive amounts of brain fog?
I’m double vaccinated. I could still taste and smell. I don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs.
I’m young and in great shape from practicing Muay Thai and dancing every week. What the hell is wrong with me!??
Oh shit. I may have long COVID.
What is long COVID?
I remember first learning about long COVID after reading a story of my friend’s condition back in early 2021.
The TIME piece described the lives of normal people like me with lingering symptoms (which can range from mild to intense) for months/years after they had COVID.
It’s obviously awful. But besides my friend, I’ve never met anyone with long COVID. I honestly forgot about it and lived my life normally thinking it would never happen to me.
But here I was in February 2022 surviving a depressing Toronto winter physically unable to do anything.
- I could no longer attend my Muay Thai or dance classes. I signed up for an improv course instead since it was less physically taxing but had to quit halfway because it too mentally taxing.
- I had to flake on my friends last minute for simple dinner plans or socials.
- Work suddenly became a slog to “get through.”
- I lost focus after reading 10 pages of a book. I couldn’t solve the chess puzzles that I used to do.
- “Small things” like cleaning and cooking felt like a huge chore.
I felt like a vegetable resigned to never leaving my couch–it was absolutely awful.
I did everything I could to fix the problem.
I visited my doctor and did blood work. I got a vitamin D test. I also got a chest x-ray since it was hard for me to breathe normally. All the test results turned up normal.
I saw a naturopath out of desperation and tried the six new supplements he prescribed. It might have helped in small bits but didn’t make a huge change.
But everyone online and my doctors all recommended the same thing: rest.
Lessons learned after six months (and counting)
I’ve been fortunate to never have had any serious health issues until this year.
But now that I’m living with long COVID, I’ve had to drastically adjust my life and expectations.
If you have long COVID, a lasting health condition/injury, or are simply curious to know how I’ve dealt with this... here are some of my reflections:
- Listen to your body: I’ve gotten really good at listening to what my body needs. When it needs specific foods (like vegetables), when it wants to be in nature, and when to not over-exert myself. More often than not, my body is usually telling me to rest.
- Accept your limitations: I physically can’t do the things that once brought me so much joy. I can hang through a dance class for an hour but a 3-hour social at night? Forget about it. I also had new goals to explore different styles of martial arts like wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. But that plan is out the window since I can’t even walk 10,000 steps without starting to feel winded. I can’t live like I used to, at least not until (or if) I fully recover. This sounds depressing but it’s my reality–I have to be adaptable.
- Focus on what you can control: I’ve been a fan of Stoicism for a long time and while this quote may sound cheesy, it’s exactly what people have done for ages when shit hits the fan. Instead of martial arts, I (slowly) learned Spanish since I can do Duolingo from the comfort of my own home and am loving the learning process! I was lucky enough to afford to quit my job and prioritize rest. My Five Minute Journal became my bible. I took my daily vitamins. I cooked healthy food or paid a pricy penny to eat nutritious food. Most importantly, I rested.
- Speak up for your needs and ask for help: I absolutely hate canceling plans and disappointing others. I’ve always been the one to “keep my word” at all costs. But at the end of the day, my health comes first, and I’d be doing both parties a disservice by showing up when I clearly don’t want to be there. This meant I flaked on many plans to prioritize rest. Luckily, my friends were always understanding and compassionate. Thanks friends. 🙏
- Ask for help: I talked with friends to simply vent my frustration. I saw my therapist again. I’ve asked friends to help me sell stuff, store my belongings, and move when I was forced out of Canada. I asked my team at work to be patient with my mistakes and with my terrible mood. Everyone contributed and went above and beyond to support me. People want to help you. All you need to do is ask.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this experience. It really sucks. 😛
Every day is unpredictable. There would be days when I'd wake up with some energy and could go out. But most days, I’d wake up feeling exhausted and simply know/accept that today, I won’t get much done and that is 100% ok.
I’ve accepted this reality. I’ve done everything in my control to feel better. I’ve adjusted my plans.
That’s all anyone could really ask for.
Three books that have been clutch in making this experience suck less:
- I Didn't Do the Thing Today: Letting Go of Productivity Guilt by Madeleine Dore
- Laziness Does Not Exist by Devon Price Ph.D.
- Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman (my notes here)
These books have taught me to be ok with simply being human.
We live in a world that’s obsessed with productivity and speed. It’s perfectly fine to simply be a human being, not a human doer.
I highly recommend them if you’re feeling like you want a different take on the usual rah rah self-help genre.
How am I feeling today?
It’s officially been six months since I had COVID and I’m feeling much better now.
I still have days when I wake up with no energy and have to cancel all my plans. But I’m no longer angry/disappointed. I simply accept that it’s part of my life.
I’ve had the great fortune to travel to Mexico which has really brightened my spirits after a quite depressing pandemic. Some real-life adjustments:
- Going to Spanish school every day was too intense so I switched to 2x/week privates and self-study instead.
- Going to dance parties and socials was too hectic (and so late at night lol) so I prioritize just going to classes instead.
- Meeting too many new people at once is draining so I lean towards choosing 1:1s or small group interactions instead.
Everything is both an experiment and a calculation of how to expend my energy. I’m always listening to what my body needs and acting on my feelings, even if that means leaving a party early or canceling plans.
It can feel like such a trip to do all this self-analysis while I’m still in my 20s. But that’s the way life goes sometimes.
Would I have done anything differently before COVID?
I don’t think so.
I got vaccinated. I wore my mask. I didn’t put myself in many high-risk situations. I acknowledged that the chances of something really bad happening to someone with my age/health conditions were low.
I made many “positive expected value” decisions (+EV, a term most popularly used in poker) and while the result wasn’t favorable, I believe I made very reasonable decisions on how I've lived my life.
So no, I don't have any regrets. I simply got unlucky and according to the odds, this was definitely a possibility.
I hope my long COVID goes away soon. But if it doesn’t, I’m here for it every step of the way.
Tam Pham's Blog
I write about my adventures, learnings, and reflections on living my weird, unconventional life. Subscribe below!