It’s a long time since I’ve written anything. In fact I closed down my Wild Places Facebook page and accepted that the days of exciting trips that people want to read about were over. I can’t drive to the Lakes, never mind Scotland and I certainly can’t backpack anywhere. I’ve cancelled my ML work for the year, cancelled my trip to Knoydart and instead have signed up for a week of leading for HF Holidays in the Shropshire Hills. I feel like I’m 80 instead of 49, although some days my 83 year old mother is distinctly more with it than I am 😀
I have Long Covid. Until last September I’d hardly ever been ill in my life. I was superbly fit and double vaccinated. Last summer I did a 4 day solo backpack round Loch Mullardoch and was 5th woman in a mountain marathon, beating lots of women half my age. I wasn’t stupid either – a maths degree from Cambridge and running my own accountancy business. I was a qualified Mountain Leader and had recently joined Teesdale and Weardale Search and Mountain Rescue Team. I had a busy (too busy?) but rewarding life.
Then Covid hit me, badly. I was very ill for 10 days, at the end of which I felt frail for the first time in my life. I had 6 weeks off work during which time my staff did a great job of keeping the business going and my clients were very understanding. After 6 weeks I tried to return to some kind of normal but I was exhausted, my chest hurt, my head hurt and I had severe depression. I also had brain fog and an inability to do basic mental arithmetic. The right hand side of my face was numb and I found driving long distances impossible. It was hard to simply get back to normal.
The next few months are a blur. I did the minimum I had to in the business. I continued my Mountain Rescue training and somehow passed the assessment. I also passed my mountain leader assessment for HF Holidays. I didn’t want to give up on either of those. I would crawl into the house on an evening and sit on the floor, exhausted, while my 10 year old daughter made me a cup of tea. The depression was awful, I didn’t want to live anymore, it was all simply too hard and too painful and I couldn’t see a way forward. I felt I was a hopeless mother, boss and friend and a useless Mountain Rescue Team member. But I was lucky that the people who mattered seemed to understand and they stuck with me and supported me.
I was also lucky that I could still go hillwalking and I could still read a map. I could still go for a walk as long as it was a short walk, not a run and I didn’t carry too much. Those weekly walks gave my mental health a huge boost and still do.
My involvement with the Mountain Rescue Team forced me to get out and see people which is one of the reasons I didn’t want to give it up. Some days I wanted to hide away and not see anybody which inevitably made me feel worse, so having structured training sessions forced me to go out and I always came back feeling better mentally even though it often hurt physically. The Team were very understanding, they are a great group of people.
The support from the NHS was good, especially my local doctor’s surgery. I’ve always been able to get a face to face appointment quickly and the doctors have always taken me seriously and helped where they could. Unfortunately much about Long Covid is new and all that can be done at the moment is to treat the symptoms.
8 months later and I still have Long Covid but I am improving very slowly. So slowly that I don’t realise how much I have improved until I look back at how I was 7 months ago. I still have a headache and numbness in the right hand side of my face most of the time. I am still unable to drive far. I still cannot do basic mental arithmetic and forget words. I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere about the Cambridge mathematician who can’t do basic arithmetic. You have to laugh about it, it’s the only way. I still go to bed at 8pm some nights and sleep for 10 hours. But the chest pain has virtually gone, as has the brain fog and the antidepressants help the depression. The extreme fatigue has also mostly gone and I no longer sit on the floor unable to move. I like to think that I’m a better mother now, a better boss, better friend and a more useful Team member, others may disagree 😀.
Strangely enough I’m OK with it all. I’m supposed to be angry and feel sorry for myself and I don’t. I’ll not deny that some days are hard and I get frustrated sometimes and I miss the mountains, but it is what it is and there’s plenty worse than me. I’ve had a good life so far, fitted more into 49 years than a lot of people do into a lifetime. I’ve done all I ever wanted to do and more. There are advantages – I have an excuse not to work for more than 4 hours a day and I feel justified in spending hours reading and relaxing. I feel no pressure anymore to achieve – be it growing my business or climbing all the Munros. I have closer relationships with the people who matter, they’ve seen me at my worst and haven’t run away. I have a greater understanding of what it means to be long term ill and disabled. I’m no longer a perfectionist. I am lucky to be alive.
This week I finally accepted that I may not get completely better. I accepted that my backpacking days were over and I cancelled my paid ML work. Up until recently I had held onto the hope that I would get better, but the time has come to move on and to enjoy a different kind of life rather than wait for my old one to come back. I’m a lot happier for making that decision, although some evenings when the sun is setting in the west, I think about the view from my campsite high at the head of Ennerdale and wonder if I will ever see it again.