As we’re starting to see, it’s becoming increasingly common for those with even “mild” versions of Covid-19 to struggle with serious symptoms well past the CDC’s 14-day guidelines. I think it’s safe to say that none of us with long recoveries had any idea we were going to be sick for so long (day 37 here!). Not one of us thought that we’d still be experiencing debilitating shortness of breath, relentless fevers, crushing exhaustion, or residual pneumonia into days 30, 50, and even 70+. I don’t write this to scare you; if you get Covid-19 you will very likely make it through. But so many people just have no idea that it’s possible to experience symptoms for so long, and are at a loss for how to come alongside someone with a longer than advertised recovery time.
I’m thankful to be part of an online support group with thousands of people experiencing long, jagged recoveries just like mine, many of whom are encountering skepticism from their families, friends, and workplaces. After listening to their stories and collaborating on what’s been helpful for us, I want to offer four simple ways you can support someone who is struggling with a long recovery from Covid-19:
1. Believe Them
Like you, we had no idea this illness could affect people for so long. We’re part of the first wave of survivors, and science (and the media) hasn’t caught up to us yet. If a friend or family member says they’re still experiencing symptoms, please take their word for it. Belief or lack thereof is immensely powerful, and many of us are experiencing heightened emotional distress that can be calmed or increased by your response. While the entire world is on lockdown from one of the most rapidly spreading, highly contagious viruses of our generation, let’s just assume someone with symptoms has it. Many of us did not meet the criteria to be tested back when our symptoms first appeared, and many others received a false negative. Being skeptical about our testing status, asking where we got it (implying we must not have been social distancing), or suggesting “Maybe it’s Lyme! Maybe it’s anxiety! Maybe it’s allergies!” just isn’t helpful. Trust me, with all of our strange, cycling symptoms we have enough self-doubt already.
Things to say:
“Oh my gosh, you’ve had Covid for x days? That sounds terrible!”
“Thank you for telling me, I had no idea it lasts this long!”
“I’m so sorry you’re experiencing all of this, what’s been hardest for you?”
“I’ll keep checking in for as long as it takes”
2. Encourage Rest
One thing that is nearly universal for long term Covid-19 recoveries are the frequent, extreme setbacks. It might be day 35 and you’ve had a few days or even a week of feeling better, when out of the blue you’re slammed with all of your old symptoms- or worse. While the cause for these relapses largely remains a mystery, overexertion can definitely be a trigger. And by overexertion I mean doing very normal, routine things like exercising, making a meal, or starting back at work. Help speed our recovery by expecting it to be a while before we’re able to function normally and consistently again. We want to be working, or writing papers, or meal planning, or playing with our kids! Our bodies just can’t right now.
Things to say:
“Take as much time as you need to recover”
“Give yourself a break”
“You are so strong, it’s just going to take time”
“I’ve canceled our meetings for the next few weeks so you can rest”
3. Anticipate Needs
It’s hard to know what you need when your level of exhaustion is so high that walking from the bedroom to the living room is all you can do in a day. While saying “let me know what you need” expresses that you care, it’s also hard for us to answer, not only because we might not know what we need, but also because it’s just hard to ask for help sometimes. When you’re sick, what do you like people to bring or do for you? As best as you can, anticipate what your friend needs and just do it. Prepared food is especially helpful; a friend asked if she could bring me tacos yesterday and I cried (I didn't even know it would mean so much!). Bonus: bring them non-essentials such as ice cream and chocolate, or ask them if there’s any task you can do for them that isn’t necessary but would mean a lot. Things we don’t “need” are much harder to ask for!
Things to say:
“I’m bringing you dinner tonight”
“I left some chocolate and a mask on your porch”
“I’m at the grocery store, what can I bring you?”
“I’m coming over to mow your lawn”
4. Spread Awareness
Just mentioning to us that you’re learning more about what we’re going through is so encouraging. Until recovery day 33, I was the only person I knew experiencing any symptoms, let alone for an extended period of time. Reading the first article about long recoveries and then finding the support group was so huge for me. Your awareness helps us feel seen and validated, and sharing about our experience may help others like me find the support they need at just the right time.
Things to say:
“I saw an article about long recoveries just like yours!”
“How can I spread awareness for what this is really like for you?”
“What do you wish people knew about what you’re going through?”
“I just shared your story with a friend”
Thanks for reading, and caring. For more ways to support someone with Covid-19 or if you'd like to learn more about extended recoveries, here are some of our stories: