We Survive These Things

My spiral into Long Covid despair, and how I began the climb out.

4/16/20247 min read

Years ago, I was sitting at the diner where I waited tables; it was my day off and I was there chatting with a friend and asking her for some advice. I had recently met someone and it was turning into a potential romantic relationship, but there were some obvious red flags. I could see the flags, I knew in my gut this wasn’t going to end well, but I still wanted to try.

I hadn’t had any real relationships after my divorce, and I wanted to experience this one, even if it didn’t work out. I’ll never forget what my friend said. “You can give this a go, and maybe it will be amazing, and he’ll make good on all the promises he’s making, and he’ll do the work, and you’ll be happy. Or maybe you’ll get your heart broken and…we survive these things.”

We survive these things.

Failure had never really been an option for me growing up, it was something to be avoided at all costs. Failure was a reflection on you as a person. It meant you didn’t try hard enough, you should have practiced or studied more instead of playing with your friends. Failure meant you were lazy, or rebellious, or didn’t care enough.

I was already starting to deconstruct this belief while having this conversation with my friend and I realized I needed to give myself permission to try, and fail, and survive. And that’s exactly what happened. He didn’t do the work. He didn’t make good on his promises. I had some wonderful experiences, and some awful ones. I strengthened my boundaries, I learned to value myself more, I grew as a person. I don’t regret that decision at all; I needed to learn those lessons.

Right after that relationship imploded, so did the rest of my life.

The last time I saw him in person was just a month before the Covid Lockdowns. My skincare business came to a halt because supply lines were disrupted, plus my private label clients all had to get regular jobs, and I was suddenly homeschooling my kids. I was let go from a coaching job that I loved. My grandparents came to stay with us while my grandmother recovered from surgery for pancreatic cancer. My family got covid and had to watch my grandmother’s funeral on Facebook Live while sick. I began questioning and deconstructing the religion and politics of my upbringing while the people around me were doubling down on theirs. Every single part of my life that gave me identity and security unraveled at the same time. And this was just in 2020.

Meanwhile, between 2018 and 2022 all four of my grandparents passed away. My parents were having to travel for weeks at a time to care for their own parents, and then to deal with their estates. As if the current global turmoil wasn’t enough, our little pocket of the universe was in constant upheaval.

By 2021 I had developed long covid. I couldn’t breathe. I was always in pain. Just the process of filling out job applications was exhausting and sent me into a spiral of pain and depression. How was I supposed to actually get a job, when I couldn’t even get through the applications?

I kept hearing from my mentors, guides and even from Spirit that I needed to rest and heal. But I had bills to pay; did the universe really expect me to rest for a full year? Was the universe going to buy my kids groceries while I did this?

I needed to make an income. The problem was that I didn’t have the energy to be consistent. I couldn’t market my business because my brain wasn’t working due to the long covid and there was no way I would be able to show up in any meaningful way that would bring me business. I couldn’t get a job because I had no idea what days I would be able to function. I needed radical flexibility. So, for 2021 and 2022 I delivered groceries, donated plasma, cleaned my sister’s house, substitute taught, and worked in my dad’s business. I was doing it. I had found ways to work with my limitations and I was providing for my kids, and I was damn proud of my hustle.

But it wasn’t enough. I was still barely making ends meet, and my health was deteriorating more and more each day. Meanwhile, corporate greed was driving the cost of living up more and more each month, and I was able to buy fewer groceries with every trip. I was pushing myself too hard and it eventually caught up with me. By the end of 2022 I had completely burned out.

I was in pain every day. On a good day I could breathe at 70% of my normal. I couldn’t focus long enough to read or write, all I could do was listen to audio books and scroll social media. I had to stop donating plasma because it made me sick. Substitute teaching exposed me to too many germs. And a day of delivering groceries resulted in 2-3 days of me curled up in bed fighting off morbid thoughts about whether I was going to die young, and what that would mean for my kids.

I no longer cared about anything. I didn’t care about eating healthy, what was the point? Cooking and gardening no longer brought me joy. I used to face hardships and challenges with a “come at me” attitude. I could no longer remember what that felt like. I didn’t believe it was going to get better. I couldn’t even remember what believing felt like anymore.

We survive these things.

In those days, if you had come to me with any sort of light and love I would have scoffed. The usual tropes of “god/the universe has a good plan for you”, “this is for your growth”, “everything will work out for the good” sounded like bullshit to me. Any spiritual being that had to put me through abuse to teach me a lesson was a spirit I wanted nothing to do with. That’s not love, it’s textbook abuse. How can you say everything will work out when it doesn’t work out for people all the time. Over 1 million Americans died of covid. Did it work out for them? What about the children separated from their parents at our southern border and living in squalid and inhumane conditions? Is it for their good? Is it working out for them? How about the people who live their whole lives in poverty in our country and are constantly told it’s because they’re lazy, or that it’s somehow their fault?

No. Fuck that. I was done with shiny hope born of extreme privilege.

You know what got me through?

First, was the fact that I still had two kids to care for. I have put too much work into breaking generational patterns to blow that up during their fraught teenage years. I unraveled my entire life to protect them from those old ways, and I’ll be damned if I ruin that now.

Second, I finally decided that where I was…sucked. I couldn’t really grab onto hope (it turns out the long covid had actually broken the part of my brain that sends those signals) but I hated my current circumstances. I figured I could be miserable while wallowing in my current pain, or I could be miserable while doing something, and being miserable while doing something felt a tiny bit better. Mostly because it felt spiteful, and at the end of the day spite is a great tool when none of your other tools are working.

Third, my friends. I retreated so far into myself. I just didn't have the energy to maintain relationships. Even with my best friends from childhood there were entire weeks where our only communication was sending tiktoks to the group chat. (and sometimes those built up for a week before I had the energy to go back and look at all of them). My mentor, Jennifer Moore, would notice me missing from group meetings, and when I had disappeared for too long she would reach out and pull me back in. She never let me disappear. Even when that crappy inner voice had me convinced she must be so disappointed in me, and sick of how I wasn’t showing up. She would reach out and set me straight. She never gave up on me.

Fourth, my family. I am fortunate enough to have a supportive family that would never let me or my kids go without. They are there to buy groceries when I can’t, take them clothes shopping, and pay for clubs and lessons. My siblings come over most weekends when my boys are with me and they swim and play with them. I’m so grateful that they had a large family around them so that they weren’t alone when I couldn’t be emotionally available.

Finally, gritty hope. I hated shiny hope, it felt ignorant. But I found sources of gritty hope. The kind that says “yup, the world is on fire, it’s a shit storm out there, and it might not work out, but I’ll keep trying if you will.” I was laying in bed one day trying to get a hold of my spiraling thoughts when those words floated back into my brain. “We survive these things”. It was something I could hold on to. Life happens, and we break, and we survive these things.

I remembered the picture of my grandmother sitting in the doorway of the shack she lived in as a child, wearing the one pair of overalls she owned, and then her beautiful home in Colorado that we visited every year for Christmas. I clung to videos on tiktok of women saying “Hey, 8 years ago I didn’t see a way out and believed it could never get better, and now I’m married and love my husband and kids, and I love my life, just hang on”. I listened to John Green’s “The Anthropocene Reviewed” over and over, because that man knows how to write gritty hope (please read that book, it’s amazing).

Now I’ve found some treatments that are fixing the mental and emotional aspects of what long covid did to me. I’ve learned that a lot of that despair and anxiety were due to brain damage caused by covid. If I have a particularly active day that depletes me and causes a flare up I’ll catch my thoughts spiraling into despair and start having arguments in my head with everyone in my life. Then I take my medication and all of that just evaporates. Turns out hope is chemical to some extent.

There is so much I want to talk about. All I’ve been able to do for the past 3 years is listen to audiobooks and podcasts and process the changes I’ve been through. I have learned so much about Long Covid, spiritual deconstruction, political decolonization, racism, poverty, ableism, and so much more. I can’t make any promises yet on how soon or how consistently I’ll be sharing, because I know I’m still recovering. But it feels close.

For now, thank you for reading this far. I hope to reconnect with all of you soon.