REGULAR READERS may have noticed I’ve been absent for the last couple of weeks. Far from being for any mysterious reason, I would rather you believed I was off assassinating a foreign despot or struggling to escape from beneath a pile of beautiful, sweaty, and exhausted bodies following a weeklong orgy, I have, in fact, had COVID-19.
This is not going to be some long, boring, blubbering screed asking for your pity. Besides, I vehemently distrust pity and those who readily dish it out. I’ve been one of the fortunate ones. I was double-vaccinated and I’m relatively young and in good health so the effects have been relatively mild. Do not get me wrong, it was unpleasant at the time. Losing one’s senses of taste and smell, somehow sweating and freezing at the same time, and never feeling quite asleep or quite awake at any moment are not pleasant and I would encourage you to do whatever is reasonable to avoid getting COVID-19. But no, this is not some sob story in which I beg you to feel sorry for me, so please don’t.
While it is true that my sense of taste and smell have returned, my fever is gone, and my internal warp engines are once again full of dilithium crystals – there is one aspect of COVID that lingers and will stay with me for some time to come.
COVID frightened the life out of me and did so for one very simple reason.
While I never thought I was going to die, and wagered that I wouldn’t be one of the unlucky few to face long COVID, I was scared the so-called ‘brain fog’ would never lift and therefore I would have to stop doing what I love to do – reading and writing.
I’m certainly no virologist and so I do not know exactly what causes brain fog or what can be done about it. All I can do is describe the sensation as best I can. When you’re in the middle of a brain fog cloud, it is as if someone has desaturated the world around you and placed muffles over life’s speakers. You find yourself unable to think clearly, communicate, make relatively simple decisions, remember what you were doing or what you meant to do, or do any of the thousands of tiny little cognitive tasks that ordinary life asks of you on a daily basis. Brain fog is aptly named – you can see through it, but not very well.
In my particular case, it meant reading and writing were nearly impossible. To attempt to pass the time in isolation, I tried to pull together a COVID diary and write a couple of sketches and humorous pieces but the words just would not come and the odd one or two that slipped through were mangled, garbled, and belonged on the editing floor… if they even belonged there. I also tried to read but taking in even the least complex sentence was like trying to climb a mountain of treacle and I’d soon forget anything that was in the previous paragraph.
There was a moment, during the nearly three weeks in which I was dealing with COVID, that I wondered, “what if this is permanent?”
I’ll be honest again with you, that scared me more than anything I have ever had to face in my life and I’m still a little shaken by it. Writing this is also difficult, but for a different reason.
While I do make my living, working in communications, from my aptitude for reading and writing – to me language is far more than that. It’s who I am in addition to what I do.
My entire life is a series of books, essays, articles, websites, and clippings taken from magazines that I have either read or written. They are the furniture that makes my mind a nice place to be and have helped me to connect with almost everyone who is important in my life. While I realise now that it was probably not going to be permanent, or anything like it, I learned that the prospect of not being able to engage with language in the way that I have become accustomed to is my greatest fear.
Without new books to read or thoughts to jot down and publish it’s hard for me to ascribe much value to my life. Sure, it would also probably have stopped me working but without the ability to really read and write, I would have asked; what would the point of working have been anyway?
This is not to say that those who can’t, or don’t, read or write live worthwhile lives – this is the most subjective opinion possible and I ascribe it entirely, wholly, and completely to myself alone using my own voice, which I am delighted, thrilled, and overjoyed to once again be in possession of. That aside, describing being without reading and writing as ‘a fate worse than death’, is as accurate for me as it is a cliche. My eloquence, verbal fluidity, articulacy, and capacity for using words to entertain, provoke, and challenge are directly related to the value that I place on my own life. If you’re going to take away the library in my mind palace, please just leave a rope and a bucket, I’ll take care of the rest.
There is an upside to this rather morbid period of self-reflection. I have emerged from the cloud of brain fog with a refreshed zeal for reading and writing. It’s been rather like that first night back in your lover’s bed after a fight – I’ve been having literary make-up sex and it’s been fabulous. Like any quarrel, I wish it hadn’t had to happen but as an eternal optimist, for whom it doesn’t matter how full or empty the glass is as long as the whisky in it is good, I habitually seek a positive side for all things. In this case, COVID-19 made me confront my darkest fear but also rekindled my most sincerely held love. For that, I suppose, I’m grateful.
Photo by Vanillasky Friday from Shutterstock