As someone who lives with with autoimmune disorders (lupus, fibromyalgia, APL, Sjogren’s Syndrome, RA and chronic pain from spinal stenosis), COVID-19 was an illness I hoped I’d never have to face. My conditions make me immunocompromised, meaning I was always at higher risk for serious complications if I contracted a respiratory virus like COVID-19. When I tested positive, I felt so many emotions: sadness, fear, confusion, and loneliness. Something that helped to calm each of these feelings was the advice and insights of others who had gone on this journey before me. Every time a friend or stranger who had already gone through COVID shared their symptoms, experiences and methods for coping, I felt more at peace and less alone. I wanted to do the same thing and share my experiences with COVID-19, not just to urge you to stay vigilant and keep your community safe by wearing a mask and washing your hands (although this is important!) but to help you know that, if you’re going through this, you’re not alone.
Carrie Ann’s COVID Timeline
This photo was taken the day before I tested positive for COVID. I had my regular work on The Talk and a photoshoot after; I started to feel a little off but tried to fight it and stay positive.
Fortunately, nobody on my hair and makeup or styling team was infected even though they had exposure to me; their masks and shields and gloves worked to keep them safe. Remember that these safety measures can make a difference and can keep you and your loved ones safe!
Day 1 – 3
This photo is from just 24 hours later— COVID-19 hits fast, and it hits hard. Day 1 started with some strong fatigue that was more than my usual chronic fatigue. My eyes felt very heavy and I felt aches in my body, more than usual. In general I felt heavy and sluggish. On Day 2 I started to feel like I was catching a cold and a dry cough started— I’m used to having some dry cough from Sjogren’s but this felt different. It felt like something was heading into my chest, like bronchitis. I started to have a headache and general malaise. On Day 3 the fever came in at 102.00 and hovered between 100 – 102. The pain in my head was so intense I couldn’t move my eyes. There was no getting out of bed, there was coughing and congestion, pain and chills throughout my body. Everything hurt. I slept mostly on a heating pad, alternating between putting it on my chest and on my back. I couldn’t smell or taste anything.
Nausea came along with the congestion and aches. I started to have diarrhea and stomach cramps along with the shooting pains from the fever. The fever stayed around 100 most of the day. I had no appetite. Still no taste and no smell. Headaches and sinus pressure and congestion continued. The dry cough persisted as well. I still felt weak and very tired, but the incredible pain behind my eyes and in my body from the fever had lessened.
This is when the excruciating and stabbing pain started in my neck and shoulders. It moved to my head and my sinuses. But the worst of the pain was behind my shoulder blades. It was as if someone had a hot poker pressed into my shoulders all day and night. The pain was intense and relentless, so much so that it made me cry. That says a lot because I live with chronic pain and am used to coping with it— this ache in my shoulder blades still made me writhe in pain. It lasted for 2 days and then finally subsided. My fever dropped down to 98-99 (my normal temperature is 97.5- 97.7). I still had a sensitive stomach, but less nausea. I had a hard time keeping my food down; it would get stuck in my throat and then come back up. It was all so strange and I mostly just tried to keep my mind on positive things. My goal was for this virus to stay out of my lungs so throughout the duration, so I steamed every day and drank a lot of hot water. I remembered reading that COVID did not like heat so I tried to keep my body as warm as possible to discourage the virus. I continued to drink hot water and by Day 10 I started to taste and smell again.
Day 10 – 14
10 days out, I received my first negative COVID test. It was a relief to know that my body was cleared of the virus, even if I was still dealing with the aftermath. Congestion and the pain in my sinuses both continued. I still had a cough and my throat was starting to hurt from coughing so much. My temperature would spike up to 100 every once in a while and I felt like I had a cold. Day 10 I had good energy but by Day 11 I was back in bed.
Day 15 – 18
Finally, two weeks out from catching COVID, my energy started to come back. I could taste in the back of my mouth but not in the front of my mouth. Many things tasted sour. I could only smell eucalyptus or lavender if I put it right up in my nose. I still can’t smell a lot or taste everything, but it started improving. The pain in my sinuses and at the base of my skull is still so intense that I have to take Gralise and Hydrocodone to ease the pain. The sinus pressure is very intense. One day I felt like I had very high blood pressure, and my head felt like it was going to explode. Nothing eased that pain, not pain killers nor any massage or amount of water I drank. I was just grateful when it was gone the next morning.
Every day of this virus is something of an adventure. Different challenges pop up without any rhyme or reason so it’s hard to know what to do except to lay down and allow the virus to run its course. There is a lot of discomfort, and a lot of actual pain as well. There is congestion that feels like it will never end and when you can’t smell or taste, you feel isolated. It made me feel disconnected and depressed. I’m very sensitive to smell and am always using scents to change energy or clear energy, so not being able to smell has been emotionally difficult in a way I wouldn’t have expected. It takes an emotional toll.
Fighting back the fear that tries to roll over you when you hear the words “COVID” and “positive” in the same sentence is not easy. I had to truly focus only on healing and doing everything possible to keep this virus out of my lungs. I have scarring in my lungs from the years I have struggled with my autoimmune disease and with bouts of bronchitis so I was truly worried that I could end up in the hospital on a ventilator. But fear does no one any good, so I did everything I could to keep my mind in a positive state. Every day I watched comedies on TV. I watched Fleabag, Crashing, and Kim’s Convenience Store, along with a few episodes of my favorite, Schitt’s Creek.
I remembered a few things I had learned while my mom went through her journey with breast cancer and my father’s journey with esophageal cancer— that an important part of healing was your state of mind. I remember reading that it was helpful to watch comedies, and to laugh a lot. I tried to remember this in my own circumstances. I completely stayed away from the news. As I went through my own journey, COVID was really starting to ramp up in the world and everything in the news was about surging numbers and rising death tolls. Since the election news was dying down the news now fully focused on COVID and the surge. The images on the television were painful to watch: people suffering alone on ventilators, lying in halls, bodies overwhelming the morgues, hospital front line workers exhausted and frightened and frustrated. The vaccine was coming out right as I was heading into my worst days, and while that was good news there were also stories of people getting very sick from the second dose of the vaccine and that mixture of uncertainty with hope was so overwhelming.
I had to actively work to calm my mind with a strong discipline. I used my favorite meditation app, Insight Timer, and did guided meditations by Sarah Blondin, who is one of my go-tos. I also did guided meditations for fear and for sickness and pain. They helped me to pass the time in a way that allowed my spirit to stay as calm as possible. Another emotional challenge I had to face was the worry that I had caused others to get sick. That’s a part of this whole COVID experience that needs to be talked about. I could feel when I first got it that everyone wanted to blame someone, myself included. I wanted someone to blame. But then, at the same time, I felt terribly responsible for anyone who might have caught it from me. It’s a horrible feeling I will tell you, to know you might have caused someone else to feel ill and to feel the fear that this virus causes, not just for the person infected but for all those who love them or are in their family. What I realized quickly was that blame was not useful. That was a waste of what little energy I had at my disposal. I instead focused only on healing and doing everything I could to take care of myself and those I knew who had also caught it, and stay connected. The outpouring of love I received was powerful and it helped me to stay positive. I wrote in my diary and tried to share my journey openly in my Instagram stories to help anyone else who might be going though their own challenges. I kept in close contact with my mom. She was very supportive and helped me pass the time with research. I knew it was killing her that she couldn’t be here with me. But she found her strength after the initial shock and fear washed over her and she has been an amazing support system. I was also fortunate that my boyfriend and I caught it at the same time so we didn’t have to be alone while we were going through it. But I will say that this virus can cause incredible strain, even with the people you love the most. About halfway through this process, we were both feeling so lousy that we were fighting and didn’t want to spend time together. When I was feeling the pain in my back, I just couldn’t deal with anything, not even the man I love. COVID causes disconnection in so many ways, and that is what we need to fight. Even though we have to be isolated in so many ways from the people we love, we have to fight the disconnect because as humans we need connection to survive.
At the time of writing this, I have tested negative for the virus twice so it is out of my system. And for that I am grateful…truly, truly grateful. But it isn’t really out of my system. The lingering effects are still quite uncomfortable. I have sinus pain and pressure that forces me to lay down it’s so intense. It makes me want to claw at my face, to push it out of my sinuses. It’s intense. I’m sensitive to sounds and light, and the cough is persistent and I wonder if it will ever go away. I still don’t taste things quite right, and that has affected my appetite. I’m confused as to when I want to eat and what to eat, but I’m hungry. Food is not satisfying nor is it very comforting at this time. I’ve lost about 5 pounds which in some ways I am not complaining about since I had gained so much weight during the pandemic from my stress eating. Even on the other side of two negative tests, my life is still not quite normal again. Yesterday I was up and doing my taxes and going through receipts from the year, and today I had to lay in bed most of the day. My pain levels were at about an 8, exacerbated by my autoimmune conditions and fibromyalgia. My doctors have no answers. When I first found out I had COVID, I called my doctor. This is what he said to me: “If your fever is over 100 for three days, and your pulse goes up to 120 and your oxygenation goes below 93, go to the ER.” Other than that, he had nothing for me. He basically told me I was on my own. I called another doctor that I work with and he checked to see if I was a candidate for the antibodies infusion but I wasn’t. I was all alone with my COVID and my only option was just to wait and see where it went. The nurse that came to give me my tests was my lifeline. She gave me recipes that people had used that seemed to shorten the duration of the virus. She helped normalize the conversation about the symptoms. She was clear and very helpful. I’m forever grateful to her for her clear advice and her care. I felt strange when she would come near me knowing that I had COVID and she did not. I felt a strong sense of respect for her and her courage. It helped me to understand how much courage all the front line workers have had to muster every day in order to help people. I salute all the health care workers during this time. And I appreciate you all. Thank you for helping us in our time of need, for being brave for all of us and not giving up on us.
What I’ve learned during these last few weeks while going through this COVID journey is that love and connection very important. Taking care of each other and ourselves is so important at this time, and that has to include taking care of those who are in need. This is the bond of humanity that will help us all get through this terrible time. “Isolation” is the word of the year and we are all feeling it. COVID has made this year truly a difficult one for all of us. There is no way to sugarcoat how challenging this year has been, the toll it’s taken on our souls and spirits, how costly the isolation and fear have been. I wish I had a simple thought that could help us all deal with it. But I don’t. And I struggle each day right with you to just get through the heaviness. What I can say is this: Life is difficult. We are all struggling. And so, I think we should be kind to each other. Each of us is struggling with something different but know that we are all struggling through these times. We have all experienced loss in some way, whether it’s the loss of life, a loved one, a job, freedom, hope, or the sense of identity that comes from the society we had lived in for so long. That is all gone. Life is changed forever. It’s important to accept this. But it is my hope that we can find a stronger sense of compassion between us as human going through this time. Because we will find a way through this. And we will bear the heaviness because we are survivors. We are so much stronger than we thought. And we don’t need as much as we thought we did in order to be happy. Happiness is a choice. Peace is a choice. These are decisions that we can still make no matter what the news says. No matter what your bank account says. I keep trying to choose peace. I keep trying to choose hope. I sometimes fail. But I keep trying. That’s what we can do. We can keep trying, and we can continue to be kind to each other and lead our lives with compassion because we are all going through this. If you can, help to feed those who cannot put food on their tables at this time. This is something that I believe is important to do. We need to share what we have with those who need it, whether it is love, friendship, compassion, food, money, or shelter. Sharing is indeed caring, and that is what we need to do to get through this. Not only will it help the person in need, but it will lift your own spirits as well.
I’m sending you all hugs and so much love.
I hope that we will all make it through this time. I have hope that my health will return and that I will make a full recovery in time. I know I have to have patience. I thank you for your support and for your love during this time. I sincerely hope that you are all okay and that you can find peace every day even if just for a moment. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Writing this helped me to find my peace today and I’m grateful.
May God keep you safe and may you always know you are loved.
Here are some of the things I did to help me get through my COVID experience; if you’re going through something similar in your journey, I hope some of them can help you as well.
- Tylenol for pain and fever
- NyQuil to sleep and quell the cough at night
- Steam with eucalyptus (even when I couldn’t smell) breathing in through the nostrils and through the mouth.
- Heating pad on the back and on the chest as often as possible
- Neti Pot with warm salt water twice a day
- Onion, Garlic, Ginger root boiled in large pot of water, poured into a cup with lemon or lime and honey for taste ( Although you most likely won’t taste it)
- Garlic and Ginger root tea mixed with honey.
- Lemon and hot water
- Hot baths with Epsom salts
- Get up and stretch if possible at least once a day.
- Afrin for sinus congestion
- Oregano Oil
- Vitamin C and D and B12
- Bayer Aspirin
- Rest as much as possible.
- Drink lots of water.
- Think positively.
- Stay connected to friends and family.
- No kisses for your pets— There are studies that show they can catch it.
- Get some sunshine when you can to help lift your spirits.
- Listen to good calming music
- Watch funny or heartwarming films or series.
- Read uplifting books.
To read more about Carrie Ann’s advice and experiences living with autoimmune conditions, click here.