What it feels like to have long COVID

21st February, 2023 • 5 min read

Fatigue, brain fog, loss of taste and many other symptoms have been linked to long COVID. Women who are COVID long-haulers tell us what it’s really like to live with it day to day – plus, what helps them cope and recover.

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Long COVID is being talked about as the pandemic after the pandemic. “If you’re dealing with issues after having COVID-19, and your health has changed because of it, you’re not alone,” says Dr Ann Nainan, family doctor and Healthily expert.

Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 1 in 13 US adults have long COVID symptoms.

“There’s still no specific test for long COVID, but keeping a symptom diary and talking to your doctor are key steps to unlocking more support,” says Dr Ann. “And we’re learning more every month about helping recovery.

“And if you’re struggling with long COVID, it can also be really helpful to hear from other women in the same situation.” Here, women with long COVID share their emotional experiences, ongoing health issues, and the treatment plans that worked for them. “We hope their experiences will support you,” says Dr Ann, “and offer some confidence and coping strategies to help you manage your health.”

You can also check out our long COVID treatment and recovery plan.

How long COVID affects my daily life

“I had extreme fatigue”

Tara was one of the first people in Australia to catch the coronavirus. And 3 months later, she was feeling sick and exhausted.

“There were days when I couldn’t get out of bed, or I’d make it out of bed only to drag myself to the couch. I had extreme fatigue, chest pain, muscle pain, headaches, palpitations. It felt like my organs were on fire.”

“Even walking up the stairs was hard”

Being young and fit is no protection against long COVID. In fact, according to the CDC, nearly 3 times as many people aged 50-59 have long COVID as people aged 80 and above. Lily was just 23 when she caught COVID-19, and had been a college athlete.

“Even walking up the stairs made it really hard to catch my breath. If I did any kind of physical activity, my heart rate was 20 to 30 beats per minute higher than it had been before getting sick.”

“But the overwhelming symptom was extreme exhaustion. Today, I’m constantly evaluating how I feel and what I can physically do at any given time.”

“Doing the laundry left me exhausted”

When Lucy caught COVID-19, she had classic symptoms – fatigue, brain fog, loss of taste and smell. Her symptoms then developed into long COVID.

“Doing the laundry left me exhausted, while Zoom meetings were followed by a lie down, because the brain fog made it difficult to concentrate on what people were saying.

“On the rare occasions I met up with friends for a walk, it would take days for me to regain the lost energy. I’d go to bed and wake up still feeling tired.”

“I started sweating profusely”

Varalakshmi was eventually diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) – a heart condition experts think could be linked to long COVID – after doctors were initially stumped by her symptoms.

“I was coming back from the shops when I collapsed in my apartment,” she says. “I felt my heart rate go up, I started sweating profusely and I blacked out. I was hospitalized several times.”

Varalakshmi is now back at work, but says her long COVID symptoms sometimes get worse, particularly when she has her period.

“Chronic illness is part of my new reality”

Michelle was working as a nurse when she caught COVID-19. After she developed long COVID, she spent 5 months going to “every doctor imaginable” to try to find a treatment that worked.

“The fatigue was too much. The shortness of breath, the (heart rhythm problems) arrhythmia – it felt like I was running on a treadmill the whole time.”

“Sometimes, I feel so exhausted, it can be difficult to cook dinner or even take a shower. My doctor still can’t tell me how long before I’m better so, for now, I’ve accepted chronic illness as part of my new reality.”

Coping strategies and recovery

“I’m feeling super-fit and healthy again”

Amanda had a mild case of COVID-19, but later developed chronic fatigue, “terrible shortness of breath” and other long COVID symptoms. Luckily, her doctor spotted the signs. “But he told me it could take 4 to 6 months before I turned a corner.”

Alongside steroids and other medications, Amanda discovered an NHS guide to managing post-viral fatigue. “I used to be an athlete, so I was used to pushing my physical limits. But the guide taught me to work within an energy envelope; if I went for a walk, I’d only go for 5 minutes, even if I felt I could do 10.”

This practice of “fitness snacking”, plus following a healthy diet, helped her recover, both mentally and physically. She says, “Months later, I’m feeling super-fit and healthy again.”

“I’m getting there”

Yvonne would regularly hit the gym for fitness classes and personal training sessions. But when she caught COVID-19, it hit her chest and lungs. Long COVID led to her developing asthma, but the inhaler she’s now taking has “transformed” her life.

“My symptoms weren’t eradicated, but they have improved incredibly,” she says. “My journey is one of improvement, but it is a lot slower and a lot more frustrating than I imagined it would be.

“I’m probably at 70%, because I can’t do what I used to do. It’s slow, but I’m going to get there.”

When to see a doctor

If you recognise any of the symptoms described above, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Long COVID can be debilitating, but new treatments and recovery plans are emerging all the time, you don’t have to put up with your symptoms.

Dr Ann Nainan

Clinical content reviewer, MBBS, DFSRH, MRCGP

Guide to long COVID

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.