When do you stop believing in fairy tales?

You see it all over social media. Defying the odds and coming back better than ever. Striking back in the face of adversity and proving that ‘you can do it, if you just set you mind to it’. But what about if your body doesn’t let you? What if it’s actually broken beyond repair? You never hear about those stories.

I’ve been dreaming about the direction this blog takes next. ‘Guy goes from absolutely debilitating illness to back doing the things he loves, beating the illness, giving hope to others out there’. I want it to be a fair and detailed illustration of what I’ve had to go through, with the idea that others will find it, and take strength from it, and know that however it hopeless it seems right now, things will get better. But at the moment I’ve pretty much lost all hope.

It’s been over 6 months now since ‘wave two’ arrived. I don’t think in that time, there has been a day that’s passed that I haven’t felt extremely sick and uncomfortable. Obviously we managed to get married, which I’ll be forever grateful for, whatever happens to me. But that day and the build up to it took so much out of me, it’s impossible to quantify. But what were my choices? Just cancel the wedding, do it some other time? Obviously not, and it was an amazing day. My wife looked beautiful and she’s all I’ve ever wanted.

One of my biggest problems is my quality of sleep. Every night is bordering on traumatic – I try and stay downstairs as long as I can to try and fight it off, but eventually I give in through tiredness and head to bed. What follows is hours and hours and hours of these dreams, every single night, without fail. Not necessarily scary dreams, pretty mundane a lot of the time. But most of them involve me being ill or restricted in some way – a constant remind of the shackles imposed on my life. I’m terrified of going to bed – it’s utterly exhausting.

I’m getting help in a lot of ways. Counselling, a psychiatrist, a specialist ‘Long Covid/Fatigue’ team which includes a doctor and a physio, trying to help me ‘pace’ my way back into real life. I try and get out for a walk most days, but some days it’s excruciating, I’m walking along feeling like I might collapse or feint at any moment, my head is so blurry. I’m working in a nutritionist and take countless supplements every single day.

A mornings worth of pills

I’m also being encouraged to engage in short social situations like coffees and small catch ups. I’m always told I ‘look good’ or come across like I’m holding things together really well. The issue is – I’ve always been such a social person. I’m very very good at giving off a positive image, or creating a good conversation (I enjoy it) – this comes naturally to me. But inside I’m absolutely dying, and the energy it takes from me shows once I’m on my own, I’m completely knackered.

I miss my friends and family so much it hurts. I think since the wedding, I’ve seen just a handful of people, usually for a very brief amount of time. It’s so hard, because it feels like I know deep down, that lots of these people probably won’t be my friends anymore. It’s not because they don’t want to be – but realistically, when do I see people anymore? If I haven’t seen them in the last 6 months, and the situation doesn’t change, when am I ever going to see them again? It’s utterly heartbreaking.

Then you have the issue of when I do see people, I’m an absolutely miserable bastard. I suffer so much all the time, that sometimes it’s impossible to ‘see the bright side’ or take joy from the small things in life. I see these friends, who look more like aliens to me, in awe of how they can just walk around and live normal lives – have a family or go on holiday. It’s like I’m a different species.

I’m back at work full-time now, which to be honest has been a bit of a blessing. Work have been amazing throughout this process, supporting me in any way they can, giving me as much time as I needed. Financially though, continuing not to work was not an option for us, I had to get back. But this has given my days meaning, and I’ve so enjoyed interacting with people again, and seemingly achieving small things during my day.

The mental side of things aren’t too exhausting – it’s just as soon as I try and do anything remotely physical, whether that be taking the dog for a walk or planning to see some friends, I’m left ruined and struggling to contemplate how this is my life now. I just want normality, a chance to live like a normal person, just one of the masses.

Clearly I miss running, cycling and exercise an awful lot. It’s always been a huge part of my life, and most of the time I can’t even think about it without crying – I still had so many dreams that I wanted to live out. But on that side of things, I won’t slip quietly into the night. I’ve recently been elected as the new chairperson of my club, Clapham Chasers. I’m determined that if I can’t do what I love, then others will have an even better experience doing that because of me. It also allows me to stay in touch, in some small way, watching from the sidelines.

I could never, ever of imagined that life could be so tough. I’ve had periods in the past where I felt like I’ve struggled, but I can look back on them and almost laugh at how fickle I was being, how inferior my problems were. Ironman = easy. Stuff like that isn’t hard. You enjoy doing it. It’s a privilege, not suffering. An amazing thing to be able to do. But not difficult.

My spirit has been crushed into a million pieces. My self esteem is on the floor, and I find it hard to imagine it will ever return. I look at myself in the mirror and see a dying man – this thing seems to have aged me 20 years. Every day I look for hope and try and pick myself up (or Katie does), and things just come crashing down, the situation seemingly worse than it’s ever been. I’m fed up of crying 10 times a day.

I’ve had multiple mental breakdowns, where Katie has had to coax me back from the brink; an utterly horrific situation to find herself in. She can’t cope – no one possibly could. She’s somehow found herself with a husband that doesn’t want to be here anymore, through no fault of either of ours, and there’s seemingly nothing we can do about it. We don’t want the world – we just want a tiny part of it. The ability to be able to live a semi-normal life without the cloud of this debilitating illness constantly hanging over our every move.

I had so much love to give this world, and so much to look forward to in the future. I’m not sure if I’ll ever understand why this has been taken away from me. I don’t believe that it is ‘going to be ok’. But I wish I did.

I shaved all my hair off because #thuglife
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4 thoughts on “When do you stop believing in fairy tales?

  1. Joe – first of all you haven’t aged a bit and still look as handsome as ever.!! My heart breaks for you – and Katie too. No-one should have to go through this nightmare. The truth is that many do and come out the other side. None of us can fully appreciate the horror that you are experiencing. So good about the Clapham Chasers and also your work situation. That’s the 2 positives..Love always Nan

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  2. Joe, I completely identify with you. Everything you say I too have felt since being struck with Covid in the first wave end January 2020. What I can say to you is don’t ever give up hope in making a recovery. You have a strong athlete mindset and that counts for a lot. It is a long and slow road or it has been for me but you will get there. Don’t put pressure on yourself to achieve and take each day as part of the journey. It is heartbreaking and absolute hell living the recovery and impossible to explain to most people who have shrugged off Covid as a cold and non-athletic people. I got Covid before any vaccines and it took me from March 2020 until January 2021 to be able to run 1 mile. It has been bleak watching the world go by for the last 2and a half years but I have now recovered enough to run regularly, cycle and swim and recently did a half marathon. Not fast, but grateful to enjoy each sunrise and a new appreciation for life. Stay strong, never give up!

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  3. Hi joe. I first came across you back in rw forum/ brixtonrunner days, I guess 8-9 years ago. Incredibly sorry to hear how bad 2022 has been for you. I’ve no specialist wisdom or magical advice to offer. Just stick in, take each day as it comes, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Very best of luck for 2023, whatever it brings

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