[Two Pronged] Long COVID is making me feel completely powerless and helpless

Margarita Holmes, Jeremy Baer

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[Two Pronged] Long COVID is making me feel completely powerless and helpless

Nico Villarete/Rappler

'What I fear the most is the emotional toll. Before that I was at the peak of my career.'

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr. Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in three continents, he has been training with Dr. Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer:

I was living in England during the pandemic.

I got very sick and my private doctor told me to go to Chelsea Hospital, but no one attended to me for hours. Finally a doctor came, but he sent me back home with nothing, even if I was positive for COVID. They said they could not do anything.

My COVID got worse. Twice I went immediately by ambulance to the emergency ward. That second time in the ambulance (the third time I had COVID) I was finally accepted. This was the most severe COVID that I got. They did a CT scan and found out I not only had COVID but also pneumonia, and that it had taken over my whole lung. They said it was so clouded.

I was in the hospital for four weeks. My roommates were sometimes brought out for a procedure and didn’t come back. The next day, sometimes even shorter than that, another person with COVID would take their place.

I couldn’t even walk three minutes without asking for help because my lungs rapidly decompressed. Often there were no nurses to help me because they were overstretched in the other COVID wards. 

Physically unable to get to the toilet, I needed an oxygen tank, but I didn’t have it full-time. Any device they let you use to help you had to be returned immediately because other patients needed it.

A Filipina nurse was at the hospital I stayed at. Unlike most Filipina nurses, she treated everyone roughly, me especially. It was such a shock.

It took me a long time to recover. Even now, I have the effects of COVID. My liver and kidneys have to be closely monitored.

But what I fear the most is the emotional toll. Before that I was at the peak of my career. I hosted mental health talk shows, had FB live shows, and they were so popular. I had deeply held causes I advocated. I would bike to work, eager for what the day held.

Now I feel nothing but powerlessness and helplessness; I cry at the drop of a hat. This is in stark contrast to what I was — so much in control, with a job that fitted me to a T, a job I was willing to stay with until I retired.

Please help. Do you think I will ever get better?

Thank you,

Dear Cora,

Thank you for your email.

While it is outside our remit to comment on the medical long-term effects of COVID, the other aspects definitely merit further examination. 

Potentially life changing events – be they COVID, cancer, etc. – can also have long-term psychological effects. The most obvious perhaps is the need to come to terms with the new reality, the new limitations, the challenges presented by the difference between life before and life now. 

The degree of adjustment will probably reflect whether the new reality is temporary or permanent and will of course also reflect the characteristics of the afflicted person – young/old, optimist/pessimist, fit/unfit, etc. 

The increasing medical knowledge and understanding of long-term COVID may be both a boon (perhaps a full recovery may be a future possibility) but also a bane (the uncertainty might weigh on you). However, maybe the best approach is a dispassionate attempt to match your current capabilities to your aspirations while always keeping an eye on the future.

The pandemic has opened up a myriad of opportunities to work remotely. Online work is now the norm and creating content without leaving the comfort of your home is a reality. 

You can still advocate for the causes you hold dear via internet-based activities and events (podcasts, seminars, Zoom meetings etc.), even if your current physical condition prevents you from returning to your previous style of life, and as and when your health permits you will be well-placed to broaden your approach.

Best of luck,

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[Two Pronged] Helping my partner heal from trauma

[Two Pronged] Helping my partner heal from trauma

Dear Cora:

Thank you very much for your letter, and for sharing all you did: not just the physical, but the emotional toll it had (and still has!) on you.

The very real possibility of dying while in hospital must have been terrifying, especially since this realization was literally brought home to you when your roommates, who would have come back in recovery were the procedures successful, did not.  

I am glad Mr. Baer has suggested ways you can deal with the fallout of your experience, especially now that you have a “new you.”

However, perhaps you can concentrate on doing most of these after you’ve had therapy, because your attempts, especially if they are not immediately successful, might only add to your feelings of powerlessness.

You need to get therapy for your trauma, dearest Cora.  

Trauma now seems like a flavor-of-the-month word, bandied about when you catch your boyfriend cheating or you realize a knock-off Louis Vuitton bag looks just as nice as the real McCoy.  

But trauma is real. The latest edition of the “bible” for American (and thus Filipino) psychiatrists and psychologists, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition, (DSM-5) makes sure trauma is not taken lightly by redefining it as a disorder that involves “actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence” [10] (p. 271). Stressful events not involving an immediate threat to life or physical injury such as psychosocial stressors [4] (e.g., divorce or job loss) are not considered trauma in this definition.

This is what you experienced, dearest Cora, and in truth I am surprised that you have recovered as much as you have. However, you need to recover more. The majority of people who have undergone the kind of trauma you have find therapy a big help. 

Not only have you undergone a near-death experience but in addition you were not in your home country. I do not know the circumstances of your being in England when you got COVID, but even in the happiest of circumstances, when something like that happens to you, we all want to come home, notwithstanding what our definition of home is. To be dismissed like that by your own kababayan (countryman) must have felt like a slap in the face and added to your sense of helplessness.

Dr. Jordan Anderson, a neuropsychiatrist and assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and neurology at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland says, “Having long COVID itself is a prolonged trauma that occurs over a period of many months. Someone might be triggered by anything invalidating or by any indication they might be sick again, even if it’s a common cold. It’s a terrible feeling that they are going to get worse again or have a life-threatening experience again.”     

In addition, Cora, not only may you have survivor’s guilt for recovering when your bedmates when perhaps several friends and family did not, but you may also have guilt about other things like saying goodbye to your old life, where you felt invincible with the confidence, competence and I-can-do-anything perspective you had. 

Mr. Baer suggests you can have something like your old life — and even better — in time. I agree wholeheartedly! And going to therapy will help you realize that it is not a sign of weakness, but more a recognition of having the smarts, attitude, and resourcefulness to get what you need.

Mabuhay ka, dearest Cora.  

All the best,
MG Holmes


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