With COVID-19 still dominating news cycles nearly a year after its onset, pandemic fatigue is real. It’s difficult to imagine an end to the closures, isolation, and threat of a rapidly evolving and deadly disease. But for some, the fatigue looks a little different. What happens when you wake up one day and realize an illness meant to last a few weeks is still affecting you months down the road — that your body and mind aren’t cooperating or healing, despite your best efforts?
This is my new reality.
I am one of several Americans who contracted COVID in 2020 (which I prefer to refer to as “The Year of the Dumpster Fire”). My husband and I worked through the illness while suffering the entire suite of symptoms. In the months following, we felt relief; even enjoyed the theorized safety that antibodies provided us. However, that sense of peace was shattered in early December with a resurgence of certain COVID-like symptoms. I also experienced a new development that had me seeing red — literally.
Before we continue, some context is needed. I got the implant Nexplanon last March. While many forms of birth control may manage menstrual issues and reduce or completely remove bleeding, Nexplanon does not.
(Like the protection of the implant but want help managing your period? Consider layering contraceptives.)
In the months P.C. (pre-COVID) with the implant, I experienced no irregularity in my period. I did somehow manage the absolute misfortune of having my period and COVID at the same time…
…but maintained normal cycles for the next few months.
I got what appeared to be a regular cycle the first week of December. I was excited as it was my first time using a menstrual cup – a sustainable alternative to other disposable sanitary products. (This choice will, unfortunately, come into play later). If depicted on a graph, my typical flow would resemble a mountain summiting at peak crimson that tapers nicely. They usually last one to one-and-a-half weeks, tops. After two weeks passed with no signs of relief, I became concerned.
The worst was yet to come.
Around the start of week three, my flow became heavier than ever. My cup overflowed significantly every two to three hours throughout most of that week. For reference, most medical professionals suggest emptying every 12 hours, possibly more if you have a heavier flow (I use a size regular Saalt cup, for reference). The bleeding was so abnormal, and the significant loss of blood was giving me anemia-like symptoms including lightheadedness, dizziness, and pain. Yeah, not fun.
By this point, I was simply trying to understand this period from hell. Was it a delayed effect of getting the implant? Did starting to use a menstrual cup give me a heavier flow? Did I somehow anger the Gods of Menstruation in a former life? A friend of mine who works in public health policy provided me a shocking potential solution to the mystery:
According to several studies that came out around the same time, long-term COVID patients — dubbed “COVID-19 Long-Haulers” by the media – were experiencing a variety of ailments. While some, like the dreaded COVID “brain fog” and chronic fatigue were expected, surprise issues began cropping up. People with vaginas started experiencing irregular periods, while folks with penises had to contend with newfound erectile dysfunction.
Beyond the physical implications of these issues, there is mental anguish associated with your body feeling broken in a way you don’t know how to fix.
Though my period has stabilized since. I live with a fear that another tsunami-sized crimson wave is waiting just around the corner to terrorize me. I suffer from chronic fatigue, overall body pain, and experience brain fog at irregular intervals. Even if I’m physically able to have sex, oftentimes I’ll find my headspace out of sync and unable to enjoy the prospect of having sex or being intimate. Yes, this includes personal “me” time, if you catch my drift.
I know that I’m not alone in this struggle, and that is why it is so important to talk about long-term COVID – now being investigated by the National Institute of Health (NIH) as PASC – and its impacts on sexual health. If you have already gotten COVID, please monitor your health even if things feel normal for a little while. Listen to your mind, body, and overall emotional health. If something feels off, find a trusted provider to help monitor your health.
Some of my favorite affirming sexual health providers in DC include:
- Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington (PPMW) – did you know they’re providing primary care services now?
- DC Health and Wellness Center
- Whitman-Walker Health Center
If you have not yet contracted COVID, please take this as a cautionary tale. Though I’m still relatively healthy, I have had to reckon with the inevitable loss of bodily autonomy about 25 years prematurely. My doctor recommends that I stop drinking, avoid over-exerting myself, and to treat my cognitive issues as I would a brain injury. I now spend more of my time piecing together my thoughts than living my life.
Wear a mask (well, multiple masks, according to new CDC guidelines!) and adhere to current social distancing guidelines. Find out if you’re in a high-priority zip code and if you’re eligible for the vaccine and get it, even if you’ve already had COVID. Once vaccinated, still take care to protect yourself and others.
Basically, live your life like others depend on it.