My physical, emotional and mental health journey with Covid 19, by Wiltshire counsellor Nic Kellock
Monday 6th April 2020 seemed like a normal day apart from a very sore scratchy throat that had suddenly developed overnight. I had already moved my counselling clients to online and telephone due to lockdown restrictions so it seemed like another ‘normal lockdown day’ …this though was to change, and not for the best.
As the day progressed I developed other symptoms - a dry persistent cough, a heavy crushing sensation in my chest, excruciating back pain, a fever and severe fatigue. Anyone who knows me can vouch for the fact I am normally a bouncy lively person full of energy, however, something had really taken hold of me and knocked me straight off my feet.
I went to bed and that is where I stayed for the next 5 days.
I managed to drink Lemsip, water and could only manage the smallest amounts of food and even then, it was only my daughter’s delicious homemade banana loaf. I was unable to talk to anyone, my throat was like razors by this point. I moved myself to another room self-isolating, my children and husband only coming to the door to pass me drinks.
By Friday 10th April (Good Friday), just 5 days after the initial symptoms, I was directed by NHS 111 to Salisbury hospital to check for Covid 19. I was given a barrage of tests, was poked and prodded (in a nice way) by the hard pressed medical staff, however due to not being admitted for an overnight stay no COVID test was done. The only reason I was not admitted was because my breathing was ok – everything else felt horrendous but my oxygen levels were good.
That said, both hospital consultants and NHS 111 consultants concluded that it was highly likely that this was Covid 19. The advice was to go home and rest, drink and eat. Eating was the last thing on my mind…I had no taste for anything only water. Never had a thing for water before but I now found myself drinking it by the bucket load.
My abiding memory from this period was that the weather was absolutely stunning and I could hear the children playing and laughing in the garden during their Easter egg hunt. Easter, normally a big event in our house came and went. Actually, the whole week was a blur. Although I knew I was in the best place I felt sad that I couldn’t join in with the children or make a table feast of goodies like I normally would.
What absolutely kept me going during that time of illness and through the slow recovery was the love and support, texts and calls from family and friends along with listening to the Live Spring Harvest event on the Internet. Here I felt safe and sometimes rested. I literally felt lifted and supported in the prayers of others. The headmaster at my daughters school even included me in his daily prayers during the live streamed daily assembly. I definitely felt my faith tested and yet it has grown stronger through this experience; a modern hymn written by Ian White captures this feeling and many others I have experienced,
"Though I feel afraid of territory unknown
I know that I can say that I do not stand-alone
What lies across the waves may cause my heart to fear
Will I survive the day?
Must I leave what known and dear?
A ship that’s in the harbor is still and safe from harm
But it was not built to be there
It was made for wind and storm
And all I know is you have called me
And that I can follow is all I can say
I will go where you will send me
And your fire lights my way."
I can’t even remember how long it was until I spoke to family and friends again which is unheard of, but I think it was a good 4-6 weeks. Receiving their text messages and seeing their faces over face time was enough, no words needed to be exchanged as long as I could see them. This supported not only my mental and emotional health but my husband’s too.
The next few days saw some improvement and I was able to move downstairs and eat food thinking that I was on my road to recovery, I even sat outside in the sunshine lapping up the rays of vitamin D…making plans to go back to work.
I had been thinking about my clients throughout the whole episode wondering if they were ok? I felt enormous guilt that I couldn’t be there for them. Argh imposter syndrome creeping in …am I good enough? How long will it take to recover? How long is a piece of string you might ask? A new month upon me and I’m still not well enough. All these thoughts ratting through my mind as well as my body being hammered by this horrible virus I wasn’t doing myself any favours.
Hold up! Press the pause button and get the frontal lobe of the brain working. I had no choice but to take time out to fully recover. Actually, it was more than this, it was giving myself permission to allow as much time as needed to fully recover; in any case, I had no voice so how could I possibly support them. No matter how hard it was for me it was ethically important that I give my clients the option to seek another counsellor. ‘Losing’ a client was an uncomfortable feeling yet I was prepared for it, however, most of my clients wanted to remain with me and wait for my return to practice.
What I did not count on was that the virus had not finished with me! I was hit again, a relapse, this time much worst than the first. What followed was another 10 days confined to bed unable to move, not even to lift my head off the pillow, stuck in the same position, I was weak through coughing, lack of appetite, shortness of breath, brain fog, blocked sinuses, and heavy chest. All I could do was sleep and the Sleep App became my new best friend. Strangely enough any noise however quiet sent my whole body through shockwaves and my nerve endings on edge.
The coughing worsened, my oxygen levels dropped so paramedics came to check on me and on their advice another trip to hospital was needed this time by ambulance. They kept me on oxygen for several hours whilst they prodded, poked and pricked, x-rayed and heart monitored by the worn out medical team. After several hours of consideration it was suggested that I go home and rest and drink fluids. During both hospital experiences I was alone in the A and E whilst my husband had no idea what was going on waiting on either my appearance or a call to say I was being admitted. Looking back at this whole experience I am actually grateful that I was well enough to go home to be looked after by my family and not in a hospital ward alone.
What followed was an advent calendar of new daily symptoms from leg pain, palpitations, stomach issues, and feeling like my vocal chords had been stretched and strangled. I was dog-tired and literally felt scared for my life. I had never felt anything like this in my life before. Yes I have had flu like colds but this was something else. My taste buds and desire for food had all but disappeared and I was loosing weight fast and in total lost 18lbs. My staple diet of electrolytes, water and recovery drinks was serving me well. Some might say and they are right ‘what a drastic way to loose weight’ and to be fair I wouldn’t recommend it. In the earlier days I can remember my husband bringing me chunky soup, tears streamed down my face as I struggled to eat it. A tip from my father was to eat chicken soup or ‘Jewish penicillin’ as it is affectionately known – eaten the world over for its natural cure-all effects. This soup became part of my recovery and really helped ….
My husband moved his office to our room and you could say the kitchen too as he literally ate all his meals in there only leaving to help the children or make private calls. There’s a new meaning to being glued at the hip! My children were amazing through all of this, no fuss, no moans, they just ‘got on with it’ maybe for them being part of the military helps in times like this.
The thing about this virus is not enough is known about it or post-illness recovery. I joined a support group with over 4000 other survivors of ‘mild Covid 19’ symptoms, here I felt safe, listened to, and a sense of reality that others were suffering just like me and it wasn’t a new level of anxiety as described by the GP practice. Unfortunately through no fault of their own little is known about the long-term impact of Covid 19. Maybe it was post viral fatigue who knows??? It became very apparent that I was fighting a physical battle….
The amygdala had done its job and done it very well, I didn’t need it anymore. It was time to lay down new patterns. This traumatic event didn’t need to define me. It was time to calm the nervous system down and reverse the imprint. PTS (Post Traumatic stress) is the normal brain response to help, dissociation that I had, helped me to be able to cope with what happened to me until I was ready. 10 weeks later and I was ready, I used distraction, guided imagery, breathing, grounding techniques and gently spoke to my amygdala to congratulate it for doing the best job, acknowledging and accepting it really helped with the healing process along with 3 sessions from a trauma therapist.
Flowers and gifts came in abundance from family and friends, I have never felt more supported and loved. I can’t thank people enough for what I have received other than say; 11 weeks in I am now 90% recovered, gradual return to work and ‘normal activities such as gentle exercise resumed. Some days are better than others and I soon get a reminder that my throat is feeling it or my body needs a rest! Not helpful considering I use my voice for my work. The sleep app (Calm) is still my friend but we have the odd day off from each other.
Last but by no means least, I would like to thank my clients who have during these uncertain and strange times waited patiently for my return. I look forward to reconnecting with you soon.
Best wishes, Nic