Living through the COVID-19 pandemic with a chronic illness

Efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic have created huge changes in all our lives, but they have had significant impacts on those living with chronic health illnesses. (Image source: Rex Pickar on Unsplash)

By Mallory Bradley@malbradley_

COVID-19 has brought an unprecedented amount of stress and uncertainty to millions around the world.

But for people living with chronic illnesses, the pandemic, and the resulting restrictions, have made managing their health all the more difficult.

I’m one of those people.

While my conditions are not autoimmune, the coronavirus has turned my pain management on its head.

Last June, I was diagnosed with endometriosis – a disease that causes the lining of the uterus (endometrium) to grow outside of the uterus, which can cause symptoms such as excruciating pain and infertility.

My list of symptoms is extensive; from pain that leaves me lying on the ground in the foetal position and debilitating nausea to muscle spasms and insomnia.

During the COVID-19 outbreak my health has seen some of its lowest points, including a night in the emergency department for pain management.

Unfortunately, stress exacerbates my condition.  I am spending more time in pain or unwell, and consequently taking longer to recover from these flare ups.

As much as the pandemic has impacted my health, I’m lucky that I have answers and am not waiting on a diagnosis, which takes 7.5  years to receive on average.

Endometriosis can only be definitively diagnosed through exploratory surgery, but the procedure is categorised as elective so many operation dates have been cancelled under current surgical restrictions.

While I’m not waiting for surgery, I have had all of my upcoming hospital appointments cancelled which are part of my pain management plan.

Increased health issues amid the COVID-19 pandemic are common for other people living with chronic illnesses.

For 20-year-old Creative Arts student Cerys Colquhoun, more frequent flare ups of her adenomyosis have come along with all the other changes the pandemic has bought.

Ms Colquhoun has struggled to keep on top of her usual pain management with the changes to her schedule and routine.

Being able to manage her pain at home has been a silver lining.

Ms Colquhuon said the decrease in exercise she has been getting, and also the stress that’s come with losing work and having to tackle university at home, have been key factors in her worsening pain.

“I’ve definitely had some of the worst flare ups I’ve ever had in the past couple of months and I have no doubt that all of the stress and change brought them on, but being home while they happen has been a blessing,” she said.

Caitlyn Bernie, 21, has continued to work through the pandemic, unable to apply for Centrelink payments as independent because of her age.

Ms Bernie has been undergoing testing for over six months between her general practitioner and the Flinders Cancer Research Centre but as of yet has not discovered an explanation for her number of chronic illness related symptoms.

She is currently on a waiting list for a biopsy but remains undiagnosed.

Her iron, haemoglobin, ferritin and B12 levels change rapidly without her feeling the symptoms until she needs an emergency transfusion.

She is at high risk of fainting and her immune system is impaired, making working through this pandemic scary.

“I love my job but it’s creating so much anxiety for me, having to be around the public so often, constantly wondering if anyone around me is sick, and what the virus would look for me,” said Ms Bernie.

This is a tough time for everyone, and no one is unaffected by the pandemic and the new restrictions.

But for those of us who live with chronic illnesses the stress of it all affects our health.

The more we have to change how we manage our conditions, or stress about what will happen next, the more we need the space to take care of ourselves.

Be gentle with your chronically ill friends and stay safe.

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