Long Covid: ‘I don’t know if I have recovered from Covid-19 since I got sick in May 2020’
Photographer Liadh Connolly
27-year-old Liadh Connolly is still experiencing severe Covid symptoms almost a year after testing positive.
Testing positive for Covid-19 in May of last year, Dublin-based photographer Liadh Connolly admits she is still not herself. Although she had no underlying issues, she has experienced recurring bouts of exhaustion that have forced her into weeks of bed rest, the last one striking in April 2021, which knocked her flat for 10 days.
Termed Long Covid, about 20% of all Covid patients suffer from recurring symptoms long after testing positive and women are hardest hit. Two studies found that women between the ages of 40 and 60 were at a higher risk of experiencing debilitating ongoing symptoms compared to other participants, while a University of Glasgow study looking at post-Covid recovery rates found that younger women are seven times more likely to feel breathless and twice as likely to become fatigued than men.
The truth is that no one really knows how long Long Covid can last as we’re still in the very early stages of understanding the impact of the virus. Symptoms can manifest differently, for some they might be recurring while in others they are constant.
Liadh’s Covid symptoms
Liadh had no symptoms other than exhaustion when she tested positive. “I had no cough, no temperature, no loss of smell or taste, I was just completely flattened.” She describes the exhaustion, not like tiredness, but like the unplugging of a drain that left her feeling “jellyish”, weak and dizzy.
Spending about two weeks in bed, she did not require hospitalisation but this was only the beginning. Recovery has been painfully slow and is still ongoing a year on. Liadh has had recurring bouts of exhaustion (all while testing negative for the virus), some of which have been worse than the initial infection period.
“She said, ‘this is not your joints, it’s not your muscles, it’s not your tendons.’ It was as if the virus was still making its way through my body,” says Liadh.
Through much of last summer, Liadh’s energy was low and she began experiencing severe pain in the lower back, groin area and down her right leg. “I had never suffered from injury or anything but as I got back to work and was driving a lot, it was just getting worse”. Her symptoms perplexed her physio, even after a run of appointments. “She said, ‘this is not your joints, it’s not your muscles, it’s not your tendons.’ It was as if the virus was still making its way through my body,” says Liadh.
On top of the physical pain, Liadh was also experiencing recurring waves of exhaustion. “I‘d get these moments where things just felt a bit wrong and I need to chill for a second,” she explains. Sometimes they passed, but other times they lingered. In October, she felt the wave hit her again, pulling her back the steps forward she had taken over the summer months. “I just had a sense there was something still lingering and then in January it came again, I was out for a few days.”
In April 2021, almost a full year since she first contracted the virus, symptoms reoccurred for the fourth time and more forcefully than ever.
In February 2021, Liadh said she crawled into bed on a Thursday and stayed there for two weeks. “Again the feeling was fatigue. I could sleep for 12 hours, have breakfast and then need a nap. I wasn’t able to go anywhere, I couldn’t even go for a walk.”
In April 2021, almost a full year since she first contracted the virus, symptoms reoccurred for the fourth time and more forcefully than ever. Liadh experienced severe dizziness and feeling like her heart was racing all the time, even as she lay in bed too exhausted to move.
These issues continue to persist to this day, Liadh says that she finds most shoes uncomfortable and suddenly has a range of twinges and pain that were not there before she contracted Covid. Admitting she feels “completely different” now to how she felt before, she says she needs a lot more sleep, she struggles to get out of bed in the morning, when she exercises it takes a lot more out of her. “Things like walking up the stairs, my heart will race a lot faster.”
Above: During her slow recovery in the summer of 2020, Liadh documented the experience in photos. “They are small details of moments within my 5k, close to home, that express a lot of emotion from that time.”
Air of invincibility
Liadh decided to post about her ongoing experience with the virus, in part because she had heard so little about the impact of Long Covid. “People are saying, ‘Oh I wish I’d gotten it at this stage because then I’d be immune’.” Coupled with the country reopening and an air of invincibility amongst people her age, she felt it was her responsibility to talk about her experience. “There is that chance, even if you have no underlying issues,” she says.
Truthfully, the issue of Long Covid is only going to get worse. Describing symptoms from serious organ damage to extended low-energy levels, there’s an Irish Facebook group for Long Covid sufferers that already numbers 2,000 members.
As well as the lingering physical issues, Long Covid is having a huge impact on people’s mental health. With symptoms striking unexpectedly and with severity, it’s impossible not to. Liadh admits it has been a struggle, as a usually active and busy photographer, the idea of doing long car journeys or committing to extended shoots now gives her pause. “What if I can’t get myself home?”
“I feel like if it were to come over me tomorrow, I wouldn’t just get back into bed now. But then you have to ask, can I live my life while feeling sick?”
Taking back control
While medical advice for Long Covid has been to simply rest, the inaction is also having a detrimental effect, “It feels like giving in,” says Liadh. Since her latest bout of exhaustion in April, she has decided to change tack. “I’m trying to flip it now and put mind over matter,” she explains. “I feel like if it were to come over me tomorrow, I wouldn’t just get back into bed now. But then you have to ask, ‘can I live my life while feeling sick?’”
Looking forward, Liadh feels it’s important to accept what we have all been through. People getting in touch with her about work are now checking in, seeing how she is feeling and whether she is up to it. “That is so important, we can’t go back to this busy mentality,” as though the world is a machine back up and running again.
As Liadh puts it, “we are going into a post-Covid world, not a pre-Covid one” and we will all bear scars of some kind from the experience. Just some will be more obvious than others.
Thanks to Liadh for her sharing her experience, you can read her full blog post about her recovery here.