I’ve debated writing about this topic for over a year now. Half of me is shamed that I caught COVID while being extra careful during the first half of the pandemic. The other half of me feels that it’s the right time to talk about it more openly. Through many conversations with coworkers, friends, family, and even random strangers on the internet going through similar challenges, I felt compelled to write a piece on this topic.
For those who do not know me, hi. I’m Jon. I’m a 30 year old male with no known preexisting conditions. I’m in excellent health weighing 225lbs at 6’3”. I have ran spartan races, half-marathons, and consider myself an intermediate weightlifter.
DISCLAIMER: This is my experience with COVID and long COVID. I provide a perspective as a citizen scientist who wants to help others who may experience what I’ve gone through. I am not a medical professional. I do not know what I’m doing as I am mostly experimenting with my own body. I will not engage in any political discourse on the topic.
I got it. Now what?
First and foremost, I believe I had/have what is known as long COVID. If you don’t know what that is, it’s lingering COVID-like symptoms lasting longer than the infection itself. This can be weeks, months, and even years. Yes you read that right. Years. It causes all kinds of issues in your body. Chronic body aches, persistent coughs, bowel movements, random loss of appetite, constant migraines, brain fogginess, and being short of breath to name a few I’ve experienced daily.
I got COVID in January 2021. I came down with flu-like symptoms without feeling anything like the flu. It was the weirdest experience I’ve had with a sickness in my life. One minute you’d be fine, the next you might feel your heart fluttering or gasp for air after being suddenly short of breath walking up the stairs to put your kids to bed.
This usually correlated with my circadian rhythm, especially at early morning and night. For just under a week I had on again, off again symptoms with one night of labored breathing that had me waking up with slightly sore lungs from the night prior. As if I went on a long run that day. I had tested myself multiple times throughout the week and could only come up negative.
I knew it was COVID. I’m an avid runner who is training for my first marathon and I saw my average mile time increase by two minutes in a single week. All of my progress through the year went straight out the window. My lungs felt like they were on fire when I’d start to exercise again after the first recovery. When I noticed certain symptoms weren’t getting better, I was curious enough to try LabCorp’s new COVID antibody blood test which came back positive indicating that I had antibodies prior to vaccines being widely available a couple months later.
After continuously testing negative for COVID with various tests on the market, many of these symptoms never went away a few months later. Long COVID stayed with me for around 14 months to be exact. I started to feel like 100% in March 2022. This article will tell you about how I am managing my life with this in mind.
What I immediately did
Given I did not need to go to a hospital for COVID, I knew immediately I needed to take action. I scheduled appointments for my primary care doctors, but never got a chance to visit them through the heights of the various waves throughout the pandemic. My appointments would get cancelled, my doctors would take new jobs at different hospitals, and I just couldn’t find care without having to wait half a year. I eventually was able to see an ER doctor and cardiologist after a small heart scare in November 2021. After some lab work and ECGs, I was told I am perfectly healthy and sent me on my merry way with an emptier wallet noting that I should drop my caffeine habits. The funny thing is, I just happened to have a cup of coffee that morning but I rarely drink it in the first place.
I decided I needed to get more serious about my health to figure this out. I’m the one stuck with the body at the end of the day. I decided to do a complete blood panel and opted for LabCorp’s Men’s Health Blood Test. It’s about $200(HSA eligible) and gives you a metabolic panel, blood count, heart health panel, and much more. After getting my results back, I found myself in generally great health with lower than ideal vitamin D and testosterone. So I put myself to work.
This told me that I needed to get serious about taking daily supplements, get outside more often, and work my body harder. I had already been going on daily walks with my kids at this point and lifting weights at the gym three times a week between my marathon training runs. I even occasionally play in a weekend game of pick-up basketball at the local gym.
While I got plenty of exercise in, I noticed many of these symptoms to get significantly better when I’d be consistent with everything. It felt as if the supplements were kicking in and the natural blood thinning effects of exercise would do wonders each day to get me out of my head.
Dealing with pain
For rougher nights, I would often take a pain killer. Below are three different over the counter painkillers I tried throughout the year and my experiences with them:
When I first started, I used acetaminophen to manage the random fevers and pain. While this helped lower my temperature, I never felt a difference when using this for the wild inflammation I was experiencing. I could physically feel with my hands certain organs in my body blowing up like a balloon and having their own inflammatory pulse. 3/5 would recommend.
I then moved to ibuprofen which would worsen some symptoms to the point of heart fluttering & brain fog. While it did wonders towards the body ache pain, I would rather suffer the physical pain than the mental anxiety brought on by further heart palpitations and dizziness I previously experienced. It felt like I might have a stroke or heart attack at any moment when taking it and experiencing even worse inflammation. 2/5 would not recommend.
Finally, I found aspirin. As an adult who just turned 30, I hardly use pain killers. I didn’t even know the major differences between them until now. Aspirin was recommended to me by my dad. He mentioned that he has been following it for many decades and the health benefits it has when taking a baby dosage each day for all kinds of issues(mostly heart). Aspirin to me was one of the keys to my recovery. As the aspirin and its longer term benefits would kick in after about 10 days, I no longer suffered any of these neurological or heart related symptoms. It was mostly just physical pain of the inflammation at this point. Perhaps that’s the aspirin properties of antiplatelets, who knows? 5/5 would recommend.
Dealing with inflammation
Every body part would get inflamed in due time throughout the year. I would treat each affected body part with daily cold/hot therapy between rotating ice packs, heating pads, deep tissue massages with a massage gun, and Scottish showers. For especially painful inflammation bouts, I found the use of Wim Hof’s deep breathing exercises to be life saving. It’s a practice of 30 deep breaths and then holding your breath for various amounts of time to help train your breathing. While having a pulse oximeter or Apple Watch on, I could physically feel and see my oxygen saturation increase within as little as a five minute exercise. In most cases I could raise my levels from 95% to 99-100% from this exercise alone. In addition, I could see the effects these tools had on my resting heart rate. I typically have a resting heart rate under 60 beats per minute. When I treat the inflammation and do the deep breathing exercises, I could see my resting rate drop to the low 50s. This stuff really worked.
Lastly, some methods of compressing certain body parts helped significantly. Usually that meant laying on the certain area or holding it with my arms while going to bed at night. I’m sure compression sleeves or wraps would help too, but I never tried them nor needed them. If I had to compress my body, it usually meant I was at the peak of a painful bout of inflammation and would pass shortly after.
Dealing with mental health
These last couple years have been very challenging on my mental health. After getting COVID and seeing lasting effects from long COVID become part of my everyday life, I started to live life with a newfound partner most call anxiety. I hardly experienced anxiety prior to COVID. Sure, I was an anxious person and had my anxious moments, but the one thing I can say is that I now know anxiety like it’s my new best friend. We go everywhere, we do everything together, and sometimes he’ll even invite his cousin depression over for extended stays.
Through depressive episodes when dealing with so much physical and mental pain due to inflammation, life can feel extremely heavy. Nothing brings you joy. You’re just trying to make it through each day and weather the storm. I would mentally break down each new day into four quarters or seasons where I knew that both the start and end of each day would be the most difficult to get through. As mentioned earlier, most of my symptoms would worsen early in the morning and late at night due to my circadian rhythm.
This gave me a daily target of where I should conserve my energy. If I could get through the morning, I’d need to preserve myself for later that night. Everything in-between was my window to mostly be normal and take preventative measures for the night and next morning.
Many of these physical and mental effects had me burning out faster than ever. While I tend to be a patient person in general, I had noticed my moods to fluctuate more. The migraines would last for weeks at a time and the last thing I wanted to do was think deeply about something. The brain fog would have me looking for thoughts I know are in my brain somewhere, but the connection was never made. The symptoms would sometimes appear randomly while I’m doing something important and I’d need to put on a smile to continue on without people knowing the excruciating pain I’m going through.
Dealing with family
I’m a parent of two lovely little souls. One that was born the summer after I caught COVID. It can be a challenge to be present all of the time when you’re going through different annoyances and pain on a daily basis. Sometimes you need more time to do things. Sometimes you need to lay down in the middle of the day. Sometimes you need to attach an icepack to your body while having your daughter poke fun of you being a “grandpa”. Much of the last year was quite a blur for me. I know one thing for certain though, it’s been a hard and scary time for my significant other. My rock, Stevie. She has had to experience uncertainty and witness what seemed like my health crumbling.
She’s seen me at my lowest over the last year. She’s seen me enter a storm that neither of us saw coming. She saw me go on and survive it only to find myself right back in the eye of the storm when we thought it was over.
To raise and care for a family while feeling the illest you’ve ever felt in your life is extremely challenging. The minutes feel like hours and the hours feel like days. You put on a stoic face to ensure your kids can sleep soundly. The last thing you want to do is bring more worry into the house. It’s a noble lie, but they’ll understand later down the road.
What I think is going on
For certain symptoms, it feels as if the blood in my body is slowing down or halting for a short period of time. As if the blood has a harder time transporting itself throughout my body. Since I work in software for a living, I would describe this as a “stop-the-world” garbage collection. As if you pressed pause on a magical television remote to freeze the world you live in while the garbage truck proceeds to collect your weekly trash and once it has done so, your life resumes as normal. My body would sometimes seize for a couple of seconds for certain symptoms to pass by. It felt as if there is micro clotting making it harder for the blood to bring oxygen and nutrients to all the parts of the body. At least that would help explain why the excess exercise and aspirin helped me so much.
On-top of that, it seems that perhaps there are portions of the virus that hide themselves all throughout different organs of the body. On random days, weeks, and months I would experience new symptoms and/or inflammation to a different organ in my body causing related symptoms as if they were activated by the cached reservoir of left-over virus. I would feel the effects almost in a sequential order as if you were to visually scan your body from head to toe. It would start on either the top or bottom of my body and work its way to the other end. Once it would make a full trip through, I would have a few months of exceptional health until the next bout.
With these two ideas in mind regarding the clotting and remaining virus in the body, it makes me think of long COVID as a car desperately needing an oil change. Perhaps what could really help is a human equivalent if such a thing exists. I would often think of this metaphor while going through these bouts where my body(engine) would heat up(fever) and cause inflammation(misfires) to wear down my body(engine) and stop working properly.
When I would start to physically rest more often, I noticed I would recover faster in the long term, but in the short term I would feel the innate desire to get out and go exercise as it grounded my symptoms. If I exercised too intensely however, I noticed that I would feel symptoms of inflammation for a good 1-2 weeks afterwards. I had to learn to go at a slower pace while I was recovering because although my mind could push through, my body could not.
From the mental health perspective, I could see going through this as a form of trauma. I had gone through so much stress and pain over the last year that I may have even learned helplessness throughout it. Upon reflection, I would feel helpless for months at a time. I broke down multiple times during the year. Why is my life suddenly so different? Why me? But I realized that to get better, it required a sense of agency. That I had to be in charge of my life. That I haven’t tried everything quite yet. That I need to love myself more and give myself a break. This meant:
- Finding a way to become calm.
- Learning to maintain that calm and focus when going through symptoms or lingering thoughts about COVID.
- Finding a way to feel fully alive in the present moment with others.
- Not keeping this experience a secret anymore and sharing my story.
What I learned from the experience
I learned so much from this experience. Whether that was how to take life a little bit slower, nobody having an idea or answer to novel things, how to listen to my body more closely, following my intuition, and much more.
While I would keep an eye on the current events and new developments in the treatment of long COVID, I also knew I had to do what I believe is best for me. I had consulted doctors who didn’t have any concerns for me when I brought up this idea of “long COVID” and I knew I had to start somewhere. I figured that if I don’t help myself, how could I expect anyone else to help me? I had read many developing stories about people who got into long COVID treatment programs and all of the tools they were using consisted of tools I had stumbled across already in the many books I read that I’ve been practicing in my life for some time now. These mostly related around mindfulness and the power of our thoughts.
I truly believe that when you’ve suffered and gone through enough pain, it gives you an opportunity to live a deeper life. I doubt pain makes us “better” but I know that it makes us more profound. I live a much deeper life in result. I work hard, I play hard, and I love hard. I have a new appreciation for life by going through this challenging year. Perhaps this was my wake up call.
The test of time
I recently tested positive for COVID again after returning home from a two week vacation. I was practically asymptomatic outside of a dry cough. Who knows whether I will be starting a new journey or continuing an existing one. Nine days after continually testing positive and recovering, I feel even better than before. Maybe this variant had cleared out the remaining virus from the previous infection? I’m hopeful, but only time will tell.
While this might be a long road ahead and affects everyone differently, I kept this as a reminder to myself:
You don’t need anybody. All you need is yourself. You may not know what the night has in store for you, but at least you know you’re ready for whatever comes.
How has this affected your work?
I’ve been able to work throughout the day without many problems. There are occasions where I’ve needed to cancel a meeting, take some time off sick, end a day early, and disappoint others for the sake of my health. I’m fortunate that my symptoms are predictable and haven’t invaded the hours I’m mostly awake.
How has this affected your family?
It’s been especially hard on my significant other. There have been multiple “storms” aka weeks through the year where I’d need to focus purely on rest and recover. That can add extra pressure on her to take care of our two kids under 4 by herself. At first it was hard to talk about this topic, but with time we found a system that works for us both. As mentioned earlier, I tried my best around my kids to keep the tranquility in the house.
Why did you write this?
I’ve had the idea to write this during the first half of my long COVID journey. I continued to see the topic come up and still no answers. I figured that although I may not have an answer, I could share my experiences with the world. The idea has continued to linger in my head as something I needed to do. I had to get this topic out of my head and into the world. It serves as a form of therapy to do so. I can’t heal and move on if it’s stuck inside eating at me.
How do you feel right now?
I want to say that I’ve fully recovered from my initial long COVID journey after 14 months. It is hard to know however. The vicissitudes of the human condition can play tricks on your mind into re-living the trauma you’ve experienced. But at the time of writing this, I feel great. Thanks for asking.
TL;DR – What I do each day
- Daily walk in the morning or night
- Daily exercise for 30+ minutes
- Eat healthy
- Sleep 8 hours
- Reduce stress
- Daily fasting
- Practice meditation & deep breathing
- Hydrate with electrolytes
- Journal your symptoms
- Moderate technology & social media usage
- Sunlight for 15+ minutes
- Drink tea(dandelion root)
- Read 30 minutes or 1 chapter a day
- 50mg zinc
- 1250mg fish oil
- 5000iu vitamin d3 (2)
- 100mcg vitamin k2
- 500mg resveratrol
- 500mg NMN
- Selenium through Raw Brazil Nuts (2)
- 1800mg NAC
- 1800mg Glycine
- 81mg aspirin
- 4000FUs Nattokinase
- 1700mg Bromelain
- 500mg tumeric curcumin
Note: The items listed here are not all taken daily. That’s too many damn pills. I usually rotate supplements throughout the week depending on the symptoms I would experience while staying consistent with the basics. I also experiment with different supplements to see how my body reacts to improve overall symptoms based on published research. Please consult a medical professional and do your research on them prior to including them in your life.
- 325mg aspirin
- Warm/cold therapy
- Deep breathing exercises
Books To Read
- Pushing to the Front or Success Under Difficulties
- The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety
- The Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life
- Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind
- Reasons to Stay Alive / Notes on a Nervous Planet
- The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
- Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art
- A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
- How to Do the Work: Recognize Your Patterns, Heal from Your Past, and Create Your Self
- The Wim Hof Method: Own Your Mind, Master Your Biology, and Activate Your Full Human Potential
- The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
- Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
- Self-Reliance and Other Essays
- Tao Te Ching
- Walden & Civil Disobedience
- Discourses, Fragments, Handbook
Note: The items listed here are things I found to help me on my journey. They may or may not help you on your journey. They are a collection of habits, supplements, and books that had a profound impact on me over the last year going through this experience. Please consult a medical professional and do your research on them prior to including them in your life.