Those who know Elspeth would describe her as someone leading a busy, active life. An artist with a focus on both painting and t-shirt design; a full-time employee at an office; a cyclist; a keen walker; a competitive rower who won an over 60s gold medal in the 2019 World Skiff Championships. Elspeth is someone used to being out and about.
However, since contracting Covid-19 in May 2020, Elspeth has been struggling with Long Covid.
“It felt like I had flu for a couple of weeks. And then I started to feel better again and I went back to cycling and swimming, and I thought that was it – it had passed.
But then, a few weeks later, I started to have difficulty breathing and it went from there. I was in so much pain, my whole body felt inflamed. I was fatigued like I had never been before. I experienced brain fog, stomach pain, headaches and insomnia.
I thought I was going mad. I’d had Covid. It was gone! Why had all these weird things started happening? Was I having a mental breakdown? I kept looking at social media and the news, trying to see if anyone else was experiencing this. I read an article by Paul Garner [Professor at Liverpool School of Tropical Diseases] where he described his own experience after Covid and I thought ‘that’s it!’ He mentioned a Facebook support group which I looked up. Suddenly I knew it wasn’t all in my head, other people were experiencing this too, but nobody knew what to do.
After two months of this, a woman from my rowing group told me about Thistle. She had also been struggling after having Covid and said Thistle had been really helpful. I was so fed up – anytime I started to feel a little better I just wanted to be better. I wanted to go back to work. I was desperate to find someone who could tell me something – how to get on with living.
Before the Thistle appointment, the practitioner phoned in advance and asked me to have a think about what my hopes were for the session. It was nice to feel proactive; being asked those questions in advance was a great starting point for the conversation. I’d been on a rollercoaster of trying things and being set back, and I wanted to be able to look to the future again – to going back to work and rowing.
It was so nice to speak to someone who understood what I was trying to deal with. I realised I was always thinking I ‘should’ or ‘must’ do certain things and I had to reset my expectations. It was really helpful to me. It was almost like being given permission to convalesce at the rate I needed. Feeling you ‘should’ be well again can make you feel like a failure for not getting better, it gets you down a bit. I started to realise that on days I felt I’d done nothing, I’d actually done a few things. I needed to start treating myself as I would a friend, be a bit kinder to myself.
With support from Thistle, I've found ways to manage my recovery. I plan my days. If there are three things I want to do, I schedule rest time in between them. It lets me focus and do things again. I bought a Fitbit to help me count my steps. If there was a day I could do 4000, I would do 3000 instead. My breathlessness disappeared, and that made a big difference. I know I can keep building myself up if I carefully pace.”
Nine months on from coming to Thistle, Elspeth is looking ahead to the future.
“I am back walking, doing yoga and rowing with Newhaven Coastal and Eastern Amateur Rowing Clubs. I went back to work on a phased return last November – at first I had terrible brain fog and couldn’t even remember how to switch the computer on! My employer, Sight Scotland, was brilliant and got occupational health involved and I am now back full-time in my role as a document transcriber. I also became a grandmother for the first time to my gorgeous granddaughter. It’s made such a difference speaking to someone who is understanding and can give you advice that is helpful.”
You can help us ensure support is available for people who, like Elspeth, want to regain control and live the life they want: