This has been a particularly tough week. I read an article today about long COVID and the potentially hundreds of millions of people struggling with it. I’ve read many of these articles before, but none spoke to me like this one. As I read the words of Dr. James Jackson, I finally felt noticed. He says:
“So often they have memory problems, but more typically the problems are with processing speed. That has to do with how quickly you can process information and with attention and with this thorny thing that we call executive functioning. And I say “thorny thing” because executive functioning is associated with ability to function in so many areas.”
I recovered from COVID almost exactly two years ago, testing positive on the day I was finally eligible for the vaccine. How poetic. It took me about a year and a half after recovering to identify the core remnant is reduced processing speed. Up until that point, all I could tell was that my brain is not the same as before. Not even close.
I was watching an NFL game, fully absorbed in the action. After watching the quarterback throw the ball to a wide receiver, I realized I didn’t know if he caught the ball. A few seconds later a replay showed me the answer. He caught the ball. How did I not know that? I watched it happen the first time, yet somehow I didn’t know the outcome. My mind was not focused on something else. I was vested in this game, this pass.
I thought back to the other new challenges I’d noticed since recovering from Covid. How it felt like there were too many things to process while driving. How I’d look left, right, left yet forget what I had just seen in either direction. Left, right, left again. Still no more confident than the first time. Eventually pushing down on the gas pedal since I couldn’t recall a reason to stay stopped.
I thought about how I couldn’t think visually anymore. When I tried to think about how to build a vanity, I couldn’t break down a finished piece into the shapes, much less the sizes needed. I had difficulty carrying conversations because I would forget what we were talking about, or struggle to identify comments any of us had already made.
In these cases, there were too many things happening at once. My brain, which would normally take in all these data points and help me discern the important ones, could no longer handle the barrage of information. And given that none of these situations were out of the ordinary, the “barrage of information” was simply life. Life moves too fast for me now.
As I read on through the NPR article, I found the second affirmation of my experience:
“People with executive dysfunction … they have problems driving. They can’t manage their money. They have a hard time managing their medication. They can’t plan for the future. So executive dysfunction, processing, speed, inattention and some deficits with memory. And if you put it together — because often people have all of that — it’s a really toxic cocktail. And what it means for people is they have a hard time functioning in the workplace. They often aren’t functioning well socially. They’re not reading social cues, they’re disinhibited.”
And at this moment, I felt a degree of clarity. It reinforced why I felt such deep gratitude for my digital business and my lifelong pursuit of financial independence. Thanks to my diligence in pursuing financial independence I became CoastFI, a term for people who no longer need to save for retirement. Upon reaching this milestone, I quit my job and built my digital business. This business now generates thousands of dollars in income in exchange for a few hours of work a month.
Beyond the happiness of having a better lifestyle and passive income, my gratitude comes from a recognition that I simply cannot do what I did before. I can’t keep up with all the details to complete complex projects. I can’t work with numbers without transposing figures. I can’t recall conversations and the nuances among them. I cannot act with speed and accuracy. These days I act slowly and still make basic mistakes I would never have made before.
How lucky am I that I no longer need to rely on those skills?
All of this gratitude drives another human emotion: fear. Specifically the fear of losing my business. I don’t have the confidence I can prevent its loss or build something new in its place. While part of this is basic scarcity mindset, the other part is the real loss of some of these abilities. Pretending to be able to do what I did before feels foolish. Yet what are my options?
Dr. Jackson makes it clear there aren’t any solutions yet. Social security and disability are the two lifelines thrown at the end of the article. These solve only the financial symptoms caused by the problem.
Two days before reading NPR’s article I was informed one of my former team members suddenly passed away. At 43 years old, he was found unresponsive at the gym. I suppose this is why I feel particularly morose today. Dan was an incredible man gone far too soon. 43 might as well be 38, or 33 or 53. It’s just too young.
I’m not entirely sure why I feel these two situations are related. My mind can’t draw the connection that my body feels. Perhaps it’s the loss of being that’s the common thread.
Trying to make sense of all of this, I can only make the most of the time that I have each day. So I will continue Spanish classes as an attempt to get my brain back. I’ll continue to experiment with supplements and plant medicine in the absence of pharmaceuticals. I’ll face new fears in hopes I’ll rebuild the confidence I lost. And I’ll take trips wherever and whenever I want to enjoy the best of this planet while I’m able.