Larisa, a mental health coach in training, lives in the Gisborne countryside with her husband, two teenage daughters, and numerous animals.
Along with her eighteen-year-old son now at university, they’re a tight knit family who grew even closer when they realised they were living with Long COVID, three months after contracting the virus in September 2020.
At first, they thought it was just a passing cold, but the whānau started to question what was going on when their then seventeen year old son didn’t get any better. “He never really recovered and then he got really sick around Christmas. It was soon after that the girls and I started getting sick again and the four of us just never recovered.”
In early 2021 the information on Long COVID was sparse and Larisa says this created a real sense of fear. “When the symptoms first came up, we were just really scared. My son was so sick for so long and we didn’t know what it was. Then when you look into chronic fatigue, it’s all pretty doom and gloom. This was a year ago, when there was really nothing out there. I then saw an article in the paper by Dr Anna Brooks who was planning research into Long COVID and realised our symptoms fit and I joined her study. The fact that there are four of us in the family is going to be valuable for research."
Once Larisa realised they were living with Long COVID “everything changed.”
“The grief for your lost life is massive” she explains.
The three teenagers have all had to make sacrifices, from school to social lives. “My son was in his final year at school and was selected to be a prefect, but was then too sick to go to school all year. We are very thankful that he has recovered enough to be at university, but he can’t exercise, and has to be very sensible. My sixteen-year-old has got friends who have got jobs, who are doing NCEA, and she can’t do any of that. It’s tough seeing your peers go forward. Her progress in life feels like it’s stopped and that can be disheartening. My girls and I loved riding horses, and as a family we loved lots of outdoor activities but can no longer do any of it. My girls are too unwell to study and can hardly socialise."
Despite Long COVID’s unwelcome entrance, Larisa says her children “have accepted it. The kids understand there are other paths in life, if something takes an extra year it doesn’t matter. I am absolutely amazed at my kids' attitudes. They are being so patient.”
The changes have hit Larisa too, with even daily tasks now feeling unattainable. “Managing it is hard because it’s so easy to over-do it. You start feeling a little better and so you do a little bit more and then you're back three steps, you just feel rubbish again. For example recently I thought I was doing a bit better so I did some dishes, got some hay for the horses, and then I was out of commission for ten days.”
“We are better, but recovery is a long way away.”
Larisa is quick to point out there are positives to the situation. “Studying is something positive that’s come out of this for me. I was such a busy mum, I was home-schooling, there wasn’t much room for me – write , learn about mental health and help other people. Long COVID has made space for that.”
Larisa now blogs about mental health, and has started studying a Graduate Diploma in Psychology, hoping to become a mental health coach. She has also found great purpose in helping the Long COVID community.
“I’m very active in the Long COVID support groups. I’m one of the admins on a Facebook page and I’m also now running the Long COVID Kids side of things.”
Being a big part of these groups has given Larisa a greater understanding of Long COVID’s reach, learning things that most people wouldn’t know. “There are people in the Facebook group who’ve had it for two years. In our group we’ve got people who can’t walk, or have crippling migraines, or heart issues as well as the fatigue. It’s very different for everybody.”
“I can see that mental health is going to be a huge factor in dealing with Long COVID. People have had their identities, jobs, recreation activities, and communities stripped away, with no end in sight.”
Larisa says there are ways you can support people living with Long COVID that go a long way. “Helping people with Long COVID can mean just staying in touch. Asking them how they are, see if there is something you can do for them, letting people know you are there to help if you can.”
Understanding is also paramount. Larisa continues “Understanding that someone with Long COVID is pretty exhausted so they might not be able to really engage in conversation, or if you visit they might not be up for inviting you in. It can just be too tiring. But knowing that someone cares and is willing to connect is really important.”
When it comes to supporting yourself and your family, Larisa says being honest with yourself and others is key. “It always helps to let it out. When it’s tough I talk to my husband, and I cry. I also often write about it. The process of writing lets me think about it a bit more and see things differently.”
At the end of the day, Larisa says it’s family and appreciation for the little things that gets her through.
“You can make quite a nice little life. When I do get to do things, I appreciate it a lot more.You learn to appreciate the small details of life. Our family relationships are really strong. Being in this together has been pretty special, we understand each other. And the kids’ empathy for others, understanding how precious and difficult life can be, it’s amazing to see.”