Portugal. January, 2021
Here I am. Struck down by covid. In bed most days. Discharged from the hospital two weeks ago. Shovelling Xanax down my throat. The panic was real. I can’t breath! At my worst I couldn’t escape convincing thoughts of suicide. Drawn again and again into a black hole. I must have called out to God a thousand times: Take it! Take these thoughts away from me. I am calling out, literally screaming. People who give me so much joy now haunt me like demons. They are demons.
The intensive Care is on the forth floor. If I jump, it will kill me. I am hallucinating the road half a mile away is in my room. Motor bikes are roaring past. The traffic roaring just beyond the window. I am sitting in the central reservation. The nurse cleans my ass and feeds me. I can’t move.
The doctor insists I take antidepressants. They work. I sleep. I am wearing a cashmere cardigan. But I’m not. I am wearing green cotton hospital pyjamas. I feel good. Even though I can’t walk to the bathroom. Even though my oxygen levels are crashing. Taking antidepressants is like wearing cashmere.
They put me into an ambulance and send me home. The dog is rooming with a friend of a friend. I can’t look after anything except myself. I am plagued with shame because I am convinced illness equals weakness, a moral failing… I am beset with an unshakable humility. I hallucinate balloon animals as real as my bedside table. I speak to my mother for the first time in years and it makes me happy. I am at peace with her. If the worst comes to the worst.
I have lost a great deal of weight even though I gobble up everything I am given. I eat toast all day. I eat huge, local oranges brought to me by my kind Romanian neighbours. I ransack the freezer. I eat everything.
At first I can’t walk to the river. 40 feet from my front door without scuttling back to bed, exhausted. Not breathing killed my maternal grandfather. I sleep with the window open. The cold air in my lungs reassures me. 20 days later I can walk further but the village is locked down so I can’t go far. Most days I don’t pay a price for walking but some days I do. I have to go back to bed for the rest of the day.
I promised myself I would write whatever I could write and publish what ever I wrote. However long. Unedited. As it spewed out of me.
I joined a long covid group as it became apparent amongst my friends who have had this disease, they had it milder and have fewer residual symptoms. They were tired for a couple of weeks and some lost their taste. Now they are up and running.
I was in London to have my brain scan and speak to the surgeon who would have performed the surgery I need in my stomach. London wasn’t locked. I was staying with the assistant of Monet X Change, a drag superstar from Rupaul’s drag race in a swanky residence off Tottenham Court Road. I retraced my steps: I went to the theatre to see Monet’s terrible show in the West End. I walked in the cold rain through Spitalfields with Juliette. Walking to Liverpool Street Station a man ran around the corner and crashed into me. It felt like an act of violence. Avoidable. I wondered if he had infected me. He didn’t look back. He didn’t apologise.
In Barnes I stayed with the parents of a friend of mine. They had covid last month. They were free and clear. I stayed a few days. My friend and I were going to Hereford to see the land. The weather was terrible so we decided not to go. I spent two days in a hotel.
I sat on the back seat of the plane and slept. In the taxi home it hit me. Hit me like the man barrelling around the corner. Total exhaustion and an inability to breath. He carried my suitcase. I slept as best I could. The ambulance took me immediately to the hospital, where I’d stay for ten days.
Since discharge I’ve been medicated. Drugs in my body. Calm and focused. Every day I get stronger but the moment I try too hard I spend the following day in bed.
It is Valentine’s Day 2021. I am mostly normal. Gruff. Thank you for everything. You know who you are.