Long Covid sufferer calls for more support for those with ongoing coronavirus symptoms after 'worst 16 months of my life'
Becky Metcalfe, from Wakefield, first developed symptoms of Covid-19 in April 2020, just a few weeks into the pandemic.
But while others recovered quickly from the illness, she was not so fortunate, and continued to feel worse as the weeks went on.
After initially being diagnosed with pneumonia in both of her lungs, she continued to worsen and developed a series of debilitating symptoms.
She said: "At this point I’d been off work for weeks. Nobody was talking about Long Covid. It improved for a couple of weeks but then I just started going downhill again. But completely different symptoms.
"It's literally head to toe. It's chronic headaches, scalp pain, hair loss, muscle aches. There’s times my legs will just stop and I struggle to walk because they’re hurting.
“This went on for months and months and months. I tried to go back to work about four times, but I just couldn’t do it.
“The worst is the breathing. It’s not shortness of breath. All I can describe it as is air hunger. I can’t complete a full breath."
Covid tests were not widely available at the time that Becky, 29, first developed symptoms, so she never received a positive result.
Although her symptoms left her unable to complete even simple tasks, like going for a walk, she said the uncertainty about the cause of her illness has had a detrimental effect on her mental health.
It was not until October 2020, six months after first falling ill, that Becky officially received a diagnosis of Long Covid.
And in the new year, she was one of the first to be referred to Wakefield's Long Covid clinic, where she is receiving specialist support for her physical and mental health.
She has now started to make the first steps towards normality, and hopes to return to work in a few weeks.
But she says she still has a long road to recovery, and believes more needs to be done for those suffering from Long Covid.
Becky said: "People think fatigue is tiredness, but it’s the headaches, the blurred vision, not being able to concentrate, not taking anything in.
“Long Covid attacked my brain. I have difficulty remembering things. It’s been the worst 16 months of my life."
Though Long Covid is still a relatively new illness, early research suggests that it disproportionately affects women aged 40 to 60.
Becky wants to see more done to support those who are coming to terms with the chronic illness, and more awareness of the ongoing symptoms.
She says discussions about Long Covid has dropped off in recent months, despite thousands of people still suffering from severe symptoms - with no end in sight.
Though she has nothing but praise for the doctors who have supported her through 16 months of illness, she says others have not been so lucky.
She said: "It can happen to anybody. But it’s just got to the point where nobody’s talking about it.
"I feel like people are too scared to speak up and say something is wrong.
“I think there’s kind of a stigma around it. I know that other people are having issues with getting people to believe them."
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the government had "rapidly provided specialist care" for those with Long Covid, and was continuing to expand its services.
Becky said the Facebook group she joined early on in her illness, Covid-19 UK and Ireland Sufferer and Survivor Support, had been invaluable in supporting her through the last 16 months.
And she urged anyone suffering with Long Covid symptoms to speak to their GP and seek referral to a specialist clinic.
She wants to see public figures, including politicians, speaking up about the illness, and encouraging people to seek support.
She said: "I think this is something I'm going to have to live with forever. For anybody who's got Long Covid I can't recommend the Facebook support group enough.
"It's literally been my crutch throughout. Just knowing that you're not alone. All I want to do now is try and help and raise awareness and share my experience with other people so they know that one day you will feel better. There is some hope there."
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The government rapidly provided specialist care for acutely ill COVID-19 patients at the start of the pandemic and we’ve matched that speed and scale in our support for people with long COVID.
“To help people suffering the debilitating long term effects of this virus, we have opened over 80 long COVID assessment services across England including specialist services for children and young people as part of a £100 million expansion of care for those suffering from the condition.
“At the same time we are backing our exceptional scientists with over £50 million for research to better understand the long term effects to ensure the right help and treatments are available.”
Anyone with symptoms of Long Covid should contact their GP for an initial assessment.