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It has taken me almost five weeks since my release from the hospital to be able to move about my day without naps.
The exhaustion is present all the time, and it’s frustrating. But there are more days when I can push through it until that blessed time in the evening when it feels okay to say, “It’s bedtime.”
Everything is about pacing myself; it’s frustrating as hell. I used to wake up in the mornings and move through my daily chores all in one swoop after just a quiet cup of coffee or two.
Not now. Now it’s about doing a little bit, then sitting to rest, then getting up to do a bit, and then sitting to rest again. I’m trying to be gentle and understanding with my recovering self—convincing myself that it’s okay—but I feel so depleted. Not just of energy but of things I did without a thought.
Now, there are definitely some improvements that need to be noted:
The first time I tried to vacuum my house after being bedridden, it took me a long time because I had to keep stopping to catch my breath in each room. Now I can vacuum my entire house, and then sit to catch my breath.
When I first came home and was still on oxygen, just making my way through my house to use the restroom was exhausting. I am no longer on oxygen (grateful for that), and trips to the restroom no longer feel like I’ve just hiked a mile.
I had to shower sitting on a chair because my body was so weak when I came home. Even when I was able to stand to shower, I still needed to sit on the chair to shave. There was no way I could hike up the leg I needed to shave against the shower wall while balancing on just one leg. Now I can do this (even though that poor balancing leg trembles the entire time).
These are just a few of the things that I keep in the forefront of my mind to stay grateful.
Feeling abnormal every day means you have to remind yourself how far you’ve come.
The strength I’ve lost still blows me away. Before I got sick, I’d been on a pretty major health kick; I’d lost 30 pounds. I was working out every day and building muscle that excited me to see. I was healthier than I’ve been in more years than I can count and was feeling wonderful. (Ironically, the doctors told me that had a lot to do with being able to fight and survive COVID-19.)
But, the virus took it all! The muscles are gone; the strength is gone; my immune system is destroyed. I’m left with a figure in the mirror that I’m just trying to “fix” and rebuild as best as possible. I have begun small workouts in the attempt to get some flesh back under the weird, now hollow, places, underneath my now wrinkled skin. It’s wrinkled because there is no flesh and muscle like before. I have struggled with this “vision” of myself hugely! Not so much in a vain way, but in awe of what the virus did to me in such a short amount of time.
Every day feels like trying to find me—physically and mentally and emotionally. I’ve had a weird disconnect; for large periods during my illness, I was not coherent enough to know what was happening. Reading my medical records not only makes me feel like I’m reading about someone else, but it has instilled a fear in me for what I went through. I was too ill to be afraid then, but I am not now.
Being quarantined has also made things more complicated; I feel like I don’t have a life. I am just existing and surviving—trying to get back to myself. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. My “life” was saved by wonderful doctors who worked tirelessly.
But that is not the “life” I mean. I mean the one we actively live to experience moments of joy and make memories. All travel and fun that I had planned with my husband upon our dual retirement have been halted due to my illness and the overall COVID-19 quarantines everyone is experiencing. It’s just bad timing—retiring, COVID-19, and getting ill—it seems.
But coming through an illness like this makes you want to enjoy life in a way you couldn’t really understand before. You start to realize how precious it is. And the irony is that we aren’t able to get out and fulfill that. There is only so much you can enjoy within your home’s confines after five months. The mind needs more than four walls.
Yet, while I’ve been on “hold,” the same as many others, I’ve pondered many things that I have always pondered, but never put the energy for. I’m 55 years old, but have devoted most of my adulthood to my children and then my grandchildren. I never allowed myself to wonder what “I” wanted to be when I grew up.
And now I think about that.
Life needs to be enjoyed; we need to find things that bring us joy and pleasure.
To be honest, I was struggling before I got sick. I’d just come through a long depression (about five years worth). I started writing a book about my journey through depression to reach people who feel deeply misunderstood during their own miseries.
Just like COVID-19, if you haven’t experienced depression, you don’t understand its complexities. During my own dark times, I looked for books that would reach me—even if it was just for validation. I wanted my book to be one of those books that someone could pick up, read, and think, “Yes. That’s how I feel! I am not alone!” I was about a third of the way through my book when COVID-19 hit me.
Now I am struggling with going back to my writing because my book is written about my own personal journey through depression. I’m afraid of becoming depressed (again), while I’m already struggling with what the virus puts you through. So, I haven’t worked on my book in over six weeks now. I feel like I’m failing because the book is so important.
After COVID-19, I’ve constantly been thinking of things that are important to me. Before the virus, I didn’t have a chance to think about what mattered to me in life. Now that I have the time, I really want whatever forward motion I make to have meaning.
I guess I can consider this the beginning of a journey to figuring that out? It’s the limbo I’ve found frustrating—the not doing, not knowing, and the intense feelings of disconnection.
But, alas, I am still grateful to be waking up each day. I will continue to “do” whatever I can to stay moving and build my health again—my immune system and energy.
Maybe that’s all I can do at this time?