Hard work has been a constant in Naveen Singh’s life. Raised in Te Awamutu, she spent her childhood helping at her parents’ Indian restaurant after school and on weekends, and got involved in lots of extra-curricular activities alongside her schooling. After graduating with a conjoint degree in law and social sciences, she took on a fast-paced finance role in the banking sector. She continued with a busy and lively schedule until May 2022, when she contracted COVID-19 and started to feel the effects of Long COVID.
“I started to have Long COVID symptoms three weeks after I contracted the virus. Ever since then, it’s just been evolving.”
For Naveen, the symptoms have been one on top of the other. “Every few weeks it’s something new. Three months or so ago I listed that I’ve had over fifty symptoms, so now it must be well over that.”
Naveen remembers the difficulty in managing it at the outset. “It was really hard because as I would experience symptoms for the first time, panic set in.”
This was only exacerbated when the new symptoms started occurring at inconvenient times or in social situations, such as in the office or out with friends. “It was then that I began to develop anxiety. I didn’t want the symptoms to continue in public, so I stopped going out as much.”
At first, it was hard to feel like there were people around who she could relate to. “Initially, it was challenging because it felt like there weren't a lot of others around who’ve had those kinds of experiences.”
Naveen found some comfort when she discovered the Long COVID community groups on Facebook.
“Reading other people’s experiences on those groups has been the most helpful thing. It made me feel less alone.”
Naveen says the community groups were also a source of information she found hard to access elsewhere. “It helped me understand the scale of this thing. It puts things into perspective for you. You learn from other people and find out what has and hasn’t worked for them.”
Many of these tips have made their way into Naveen's self-care routine. “I’ve learnt about supplements, breathwork and meditation, specific types of exercises like yoga or pilates, and mindset work.”
When it comes to the changes in Naveen’s life, the list is constantly evolving. But she says the biggest one is her energy levels. For someone whose life has always been active, this presented a major adjustment.
Naveen says this change seeps into many aspects of her life and makes it harder to make plans with other people. This has affected her personality too. “I’ve become way more reserved and introverted. I’m not as full of life as I used to be, which makes me sad. It’s not how I want to be, but it’s how I need to be so that I can manage my symptoms and slowly heal.”
Initially, Naveen didn’t tell her family about her health struggles, but they could tell something was up. “My family noticed me being a lot more tired and more irritated than normal. Brain fog has been one of my big symptoms and my family would see me just blanking out all the time. I didn’t tell them at first because I didn’t want them to worry about me. I was scared it would end up being a cycle of them worrying about me and then me worrying about them worrying about me.”
However, Naveen knew this needed to change, and she was so grateful for their reaction. “When it started to get worse, I knew it wasn’t healthy to hide it anymore. And when I told them they reacted better than I thought. I thought they’d be angry at me for not telling them sooner, asking me questions all the time, or telling me what I should or should not be doing. I didn’t want the constant reminder that I’m going through this thing, but they’ve been so great.”
For many people still learning about Long COVID, Naveen believes it’s important to listen with empathy. “The thing to realise about Long COVID is just how debilitating it is. I think a lot of people just view it as a bit of a cold and fatigue, but it’s so much more. When people minimise it, that deters you from wanting to talk about it.”
Naveen believes the best way to learn about it and to support those living with Long COVID is to start a kōrero. “If you know someone who’s going through it, I encourage you to engage in a conversation about their experience and what kind of support they need. It’s important to know that there is a wide spectrum for Long COVID and the symptoms you can have. Every single person's experience is different.”
As for taking care of her own mental wellbeing, she keeps it as simple as possible. “I just tell myself that this too shall pass. It might take a lot of time, trial and error, but eventually, people find ways to manage through the hard times. And I’m grateful for the things I do have. I’m really lucky.”
Naveen is quick to say that one of those things is the people around her. “I have amazing friends, family, and people around me. It’s so important to be around positive energy. Knowing that people care about you and are there for you makes a huge difference.”