I spent two years scared of Covid, and what the virus would do to me when it was my turn to have it. In all that time, I never thought it would be my mental health that would suffer the most. I'm finding it really tough.
After two years of avoiding the dreaded virus, I finally tested positive for Covid last week. There had been a growing sense of inevitability about finally being infected, with people close to me all succumbing in recent weeks and then my partner and her son contracting the virus. Still, it took nine days from my partner first failing her lateral flow test to seeing my own double lines. I thought I’d somehow got away with it when she started testing negative again, but alas, it was not to be.
It was a weird feeling, seeing those two red lines and knowing I had the virus. My blood ran cold on first viewing, even with the inevitability of the outcome. I’d tested negative the day before, then at work had developed a sore throat and a bad cough. I do 24-hour shifts, and by the end of each day I’m normally ready for my bed, but on this day I was so tired I was almost hallucinating, seeing spiders and woodlice out of the corners of my eyes that didn’t exist, feeling my eyes flicker and judder when I tried to focus on writing the notes. When I got home after my shift ended, I tested again, and that’s when I saw the red lines. What a nightmare.
What was strange, and I suppose is credit to the vaccines, is that I felt little physical impact at all. Apart from my cough, the only real issues I had were an inability to sleep properly and feeling out of breath when I did any physical activities, something that could be attributed to my being out of shape and overweight, though was definitely more profound than before contracting the virus. As the cough cleared and my tests returned to negative results, what really hit me was the decline in my mental health, which has been far worse than any physical symptoms.
At times, it’s been like way back in the day, when depression first cut me down and I was off work for two months. My anxiety is through the roof, I’m getting the sort of heart palpitations I’ve not had since coming out of hospital, I’m impatient and ratty with people, I feel tired all the time, and my head is all over the place. It feels like my head is filled with sand, weighing me down and making it impossible to think clearly. I went to the shops the other night, the first time I’d left the house in a week, and I broke down in tears because I couldn’t decide what type of fish to get for my tea. I don’t even like fish.
I feel so awful. I feel like I’m letting people down. I get an hour or so when the fog lifts and I feel mentally half-decent, but even then, my arms and legs have no energy. And then the half-decent hour passes and I’m back to being useless, barely able to keep my eyes open, with the entire world feeling bleak and the only thing I can do is cry. I can’t look people in the eyes because I feel like I’m letting them down. I can’t leave the house because I feel both frightened of what will happen and too weak to even contemplate it. I’m meant to be at work today, and I had to ring in sick again. Except, I couldn’t even do that myself. I had to get my partner to do it, because the thought of speaking to someone about how fucked I’m feeling was too difficult to do.
This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this sort of mental disturbance, but it’s the first time in six or seven years, and it’s happening at the worst time. I’m scared of the financial impact if it goes on much longer, especially with already having our monthly income hit by Covid. I’m scared of what happens if I can’t break through this state of depression I’m in. I’m scared I’ll keep getting worse, and I’ll end up back in the hospital again. I’m scared of having to face people and explain why I’ve not been at work, why I feel this way, when I don’t even know myself. Maybe it is this virus, and this is some sort of hangover from it. Maybe being sequestered to my house for a week, unable to do anything, has given me a huge adrenaline dump and my body is crashing from it. It’s been a very intense eight or nine months, what with buying a house, my dog passing away, my best mate barely acknowledging my existence anymore for reasons I don’t know or understand, writing and publishing a book which goes into great detail about the worst periods of my life and then the heartbreak of my beloved Grandma dying, with the wider issues of both the pandemic and the world seemingly on the brink of a war. Maybe, without the adrenaline to keep me going, the impact of it all is hitting me. Maybe it’s just how this virus affects some people.
My mate said when he got Covid, he suffered from brain fog for two weeks and he felt very similar to how I do, but then it lifted. It’s been eleven days since I tested positive, so maybe I only have a few more days to go. I hope so. I’m due back in work on Saturday and I just can’t afford to miss any more shifts. More pertinently, I’ve worked so hard on my mental health, I’ve come such a long way, and I cannot let this bastard illness take over me again. I love my life. I love the people in it, I love the future that awaits me and my family, and I love waking up in a morning and seeing what the day will bring. In the past, when mental illness invaded my world, I could always pinpoint reasons why, be they unresolved traumas, the pressures of life or issues with other people. There was always some underlying factor, some issue that I could find no resolution to, or some situation I couldn’t cope with.
I don’t have that now. I’m heartbroken at my Grandma’s passing, but I’m not angry about it. I don’t feel cheated by the universe, or feel like it was wrong. My Grandma lived a long, happy life, and passed away surrounded by her family and cherished by those who couldn’t be there. As much as death is always so sad, that’s as happy an ending as anyone could realistically hope for. I’m disappointed my book hasn’t sold more copies, but I always knew that was the likely outcome, and that it would take writing many more books before I could hope to achieve any real success. Buying a house and then moving in was a stressful time, and the house needs a bit of work that is somewhat daunting, but the most stressful bit has been and gone, and I’m absolutely in love with my home. I like my job, and though it’s been a stressful couple of years in the care industry, it feels like the worst of it is over and I’m happy where I work. I feel as close to my family as ever. I have the two most wonderful cats in my home, and the most incredible partner, and we’re raising two amazing children. I absolutely love my life. It’s the sort of life I always dreamt of, which is why it hurts me so much that I feel this way, because I just don’t understand what is going on.
I hope it is just some lingering after-effect of my brush with Covid, and that it clears in a few days. I want to go more than an hour or two without being overcome by exhaustion. I want to go more than an hour or two without breaking down in tears. I want to have the energy to move around, to be able to go up to my bedroom and back downstairs without struggling for breath. If and when this does clear, I’m going to start up the exercise regime I keep telling myself I’m going to start, because I hate feeling this weak and fragile. I hope it clears soon, because I don’t want to end up back on medication. I want my heart to stop jumping out of my throat. I want my eyes not to feel so heavy. I want my brain not to feel like it’s wading through a swamp. I want the way I feel to reflect the way I feel about my life, because right now it doesn’t, and it’s so overwhelming.
And yet, I feel like one of the lucky ones. My past experiences mean that at least I understand this isn’t me, that I understand something is wrong, and that I have the history of getting through this. I find myself wondering how many other people there are who have contracted this virus, come through it then been struck down by this misery. I wonder how many of them will have experienced mental illness before, and I wonder how many of them are frightened. If someone like me, with all my experience and knowledge of what is happening can feel so scared, how terrifying must it be for someone experiencing it for the first time? My heart goes out to them. My brain is telling me this won’t end, that this is the new normal for me, and I know it’s lying because it’s told me that before and it was wrong. And yet, even knowing that, I’m still scared in case this time it’s right. What of those without prior experiences to relate back to? What of those without such a support network around them like me? I’m such a lucky man, and even this cameo appearance from the bastard illness can’t convince me otherwise.
It’s frustrating to me that my blogging has fallen by the wayside in recent months, and it’s something like this that I choose to write about. I feel like I have to, because I have to be honest. It’s sometimes easier to pretend everything is ok, and to paint a façade of everything being hunky-dory. If there’s one thing I want my website to be, it’s real. I have to write about these dark times, because they are real. What is important is that they are the exception nowadays. It’s seven years since I was discharged from the mental health team. I’ve been medication-free for six years or something. I’ve not touched drugs in nearly five years, and I very rarely drink alcohol. I love my life. I am happy, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. That’s why I need to write about this, because it needs to serve as a reminder to me to be vigilant, to protect my mental health, because this bastard illness can return at any time. Hopefully, this is just a two-week challenge to endure, then that is the end of it. If so, I’m eleven days down. If not, then I’m going to have a big decision to make as to how to approach the situation.
I apologise that there isn’t really a happy ending to this entry. Let’s call this part one, and let’s hope that in a week or so I can write another entry about how the fog lifted after two weeks. I just wanted to get it all down because maybe there are others experiencing similar to what I am, and they don’t understand what’s happening, and maybe this can help them or something, and maybe it will help me to just acknowledge that I’m not ok, and my head is a bit fucked, and it’s most likely because of this virus that everyone seems to dismiss nowadays. Part of learning to live with it is being honest about its impact, and this is the impact it seems to be having on me.
I hope you are doing better than I am, and I hope life is treating you well.
Song of the Chapter:
‘Shake It Out’ by Florence and the Machine
Quote of the Chapter:
"I found that, with depression, one of the most important things you could realize is that you're not alone. You're not the first to go through it; you're not going to be the last to go through it. And oftentimes — it happens — you just feel like you're alone. You feel like it's only you. You're in your bubble. And I wish I had someone at that time who could just pull me aside and say, 'Hey, it's gonna be OK. It'll be OK.' So, I wish I knew that. Hold onto that fundamental quality of faith. Have faith that on the other side of your pain is something good."
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson
"One of the most insightful works I've read on mental health problems in men ... very well-written and a real page-turner. I would recommend it to anyone.
Dancing With Disorder
"It communicates a deep understanding of troubled individuals who suffer from the challenges of mental disorders ... Courageous, wise, humorous and thought-provoking ... an easy-to-read, surprising and subtly moving chronicle.
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