I have had a long Covid for almost a year – art saved me

Over the weeks, I have been unable to complete even the simplest chores around the house (Photo: Gary Dadd)

Sitting on the sofa in March, struggling to catch my breath after crossing the living room, I wondered if I was ever going to feel normal again.



It was hard to believe that I had gone from a fit and healthy 46 year old special needs teacher who cycled to work every day, to someone who could barely get out of bed. But recently, just going down the stairs has been a huge achievement.

Since I fell ill with Covid-19 in December of last year, my life as I knew it has changed completely.



What started out as an annoying cough in early December quickly turned into a feeling of utter exhaustion. My whole body ached and breathing was a struggle.

I did a Covid test when I first noticed the cough but the results were negative. Then, after weeks of constantly coughing and feeling so tired I couldn’t get out of bed, my doctor said we missed the period when a test would come back positive for Covid.



I was not at all surprised; there had been so many around that time and working in a school – where children often stayed at home because of the virus – made me feel very exposed.

I just assumed I would get over it quickly like other people I knew. But after another week of very labored breathing, I called my doctor back and he sent me to the hospital.



On December 20, I had an ECG, which showed my heart was working as it should, blood tests that found no signs of infection, and checks on my oxygen levels, which although weak, was considered normal.

Even though I could barely walk I was told I was much better than the patients who were admitted and put on a waiting list to be referred to a long Covid clinic and sent home for to recover. But recovering was a struggle.

I’ve always loved to draw and spent hours in my bedroom as a teenager drawing the faces of my favorite actors and musicians (Photo: Gary Dadd)

Over the weeks, I have been unable to accomplish even the simplest chores around the house, like going from my bedroom to the living room downstairs or making a cup of tea, without losing my breath. And every morning I would wake up with neck pain and aching joints. I had never experienced anything like it and it made me feel decades older.

Meanwhile, the UK was in its second national lockdown. As I am a single father to my 15 year old son Thomas Charlie, who lives between his mother and me, the confinement would have been very lonely if it had not been for my tenant, who was brilliant company and took me change my mind, especially when I was having a bad day.

But it was art that really saved me. I have always loved to draw and would spend hours in my bedroom as a teenager drawing the faces of my favorite actors and musicians. At Cambridge University, I designed posters for various clubs and societies. Art has always been my way of expressing myself and for several years I had a website where I sold my sketches. It’s the thing I turn to when I want to understand humans and the world around me.

In January, I still hadn’t recovered – I had trouble walking more than a few steps without getting out of breath and had aching joint pain – so my doctor diagnosed me with long Covid. On good days, I would sit on the couch with my iPad drawing portraits of faces – some famous and others just because they had so much character.

Sharing art had become a part of my life, and when I was sick it was one of the only ways I had to connect with the world outside my own four walls.

In April, although I still struggled to walk more than a few steps without getting out of breath, I returned to work full time, but found it much more difficult than I expected. I remember driving home from my first day back to school, feeling like I couldn’t wait to get to bed.

I knew it would take a while to readjust to the pace of teaching, but over the weeks I felt like something had fundamentally changed. It was as if my body was so busy fighting Covid that it had no energy left for anything else. I could barely move most nights, let alone do art.

Then, four weeks after I returned, my body suddenly gave up. I felt so short of breath that I couldn’t speak and my legs appeared to be leaden. I had to hang on to the child support bar on the wall to prevent myself from collapsing.

Fortunately, one of my assistant teachers was able to take over. And later that day my manager told me to resume sick leave. A colleague brought me home and I remember being desperate, not knowing how I was going to teach again, pay my bills, or support my family.

Over the weeks, I devoted more time to art (Photo: Gary Dadd)

I had had a complete relapse and despite being seen regularly by a Covid clinic over the following weeks, I realized that I was not going to improve without being proactive.

The first thing I did was join a Facebook support group called “Yoga and Meditation for Gentle Recovery from Covid”, where I learned to pace my activity according to how my body feels and how to do it. rest after the simpler activities like making myself coffee. . I then started working with a licensed blower, who taught me a different breathing pattern, which I turned to whenever my breathing got labored and short.

The more I connected to my body through the practices I learned and sat down to draw, the more I realized that I had been pushing myself for years. While my job as a teacher was incredibly rewarding, it was also extremely demanding. And I started to realize that I had been running on empty for a long time.

Over the weeks, I devoted more time to art. In a way, portraying other people’s facial expressions has helped me come to terms with my own difficult emotions. I might have felt trapped in a body that was struggling to function properly, but drawing other bodies in motion and interacting with the world gave me hope. And started me on my healing journey.

In July of this year I decided to quit my teaching job to focus on being a full time artist and it’s amazing. I now make money from commissions as well as selling original pieces and prints. I have exhibited locally, have an upcoming exhibition in Margate and will be attending one of the UK’s premier art events – Art Fair East – in December.

I know that if I hadn’t made the decision to devote myself to art full-time, I would be trapped in a never-ending cycle of long recovery and relapse from Covid. But I am not fully recovered.

There are days when my body looks like lead, when I have no choice but to lie down and rest. These days are rare however. Now I can move, walk and cycle again with relative ease. I do something that I love and it gives me the space to listen to my body.

I would never have chosen this path, but I am truly grateful that Covid has given me this gift.

As Yvonne Gavan, journalist and host of The Revolution of Tenderness podcast.

Do you have a story you would like to share? Contact us by email James.Besanvalle@metro.co.uk.

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