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Featured Image Credit: Laura Johnson
A 5k jog should be no problem for Laura Johnson. The 28-year-old has always been a keen runner, first to sign up to charity races and even gruelling half marathons.
But not long after she's tied up the laces of her AirMax Ones in a neat bow, Laura finds herself panting heavily, staggering against a brick wall as she tries to catch her breath. Her FitBit shows she's just shy of 2k. Defeated, she turns back and makes her way home, light-headed and still struggling to breathe.
Laura is not simply out of practice. She is among the one in three coronavirus survivors who suffer from 'long covid' - those who continue to struggle with symptoms of coronavirus long after the virus has left their bodies.
When reports of a new respiratory disease emerged last March, research manager Laura, who lives in east London, wasn't immediately alarmed. But while she took precautions to protect herself from the virus, she caught covid in late March after her boyfriend became infected at work.
Laura didn't experience the widely-reported hacking cough, and says her symptoms were more like a "bad flu".
"I had this banging headache and I couldn't move my head for 72 hours straight," she tells Tyla. "I couldn't even lift my head.
"Then I got aching muscles and felt so tired. My smell and taste went. I would get a strong stinging feeling in my nose and when I blew it, there was blood in the tissue. That's when I started to worry."
"As I got the virus really early, I didn't know losing your smell and taste were symptoms," Laura adds. "My boyfriend's experience of covid were much more in line with what the government was saying - a high fever and a cough - but I found my symptoms a lot more varied."
Laura felt better after a week in bed, and when her headache and muscle pain began to subside, she considered herself recovered. She stayed indoors for an extra week in line with government guidelines, and worked from home.
However, as she tried to swing back into a routine, it became clear to Laura she still wasn't 100 per cent better.
"I just couldn't stay awake throughout the work day," she explains. "I have never been a napper, but I had to take a two-hour nap over my lunch break. And I was just working from my bed at that point."
"I'd wake up feeling crap. I was groggy with a really bad headache that took over an hour to pass."
After three months of struggling and seeing no improvement, Laura decided to visit the doctor, who sent her off for a series of blood tests.
Her results showed she was low on folic acids and vitamin B12, so doctors sent her home with supplements - which made no difference whatsoever to her symptoms.
"Doctors gave me six weeks' worth of injections. After a few weeks I did notice a difference, which lasted around two months. Now, things have gone back to how they were before. Waking up, feeling crap, having to have a nap throughout the day, not being able to exercise."
Laura's lack of appetite is also likely to be contributing to her fatigue. One of her most severe symptoms is parosmia - the distortion of your sense of taste and smell.
"Before the end of August, things started to taste really awful," she says. "I thought I'd eaten a few dodgy ready meals.
"One lazy afternoon, I ordered myself a Domino's. I took one bite and had to bin it, as it smelt and tasted like paint stripper.
"Most foods taste rancid now. The only things I can stomach are cinnamon-flavoured cereal and pasta. There was a point where everything tasted so bad all I could stomach was bread and butter as everything else tasted like paint. But it's either that or starve.
"I've been eating a lot to make sure my ongoing fatigue isn't down to lack of calories, but I'm still light-headed."
There is currently no definite cause of long covid. While some experts believe the virus may be linger in pockets of the body in some sufferers, others believe coronavirus may have caused potentially permanent damage to people's nerves, directly infecting a wide variety of cells in the body and triggering an overactive immune response which also causes damage throughout the body.
Naturally, long covid has had a huge impact on Laura's day-to-day life. Having always been fit and healthy, without any underlying health conditions, Laura is baffled as to why she's struggling so much.
"Sometimes I throw myself pity parties where I'm like, will I be able to run marathons again?" she says.
"I struggle to cope sometimes. I should be in one of the happiest places I've been in. I've just bought my first house; I've moved in with my long-term partner, why am I so miserable?
"And it's because I wake up and I'm thinking, 'Am I ever going to be the way I was before, or is this it?' It's constantly going through my head."
Returning to the fast pace of normal life when coronavirus restrictions ease is a huge worry to Laura, and the thought of commuting again is almost overwhelming.
"I'm dreading going back to the office," she says. "It's an hour commute plus a 20-minute walk to my building, what state will I be in when I get there? How am I going to pretend I'm full of energy?
"Brain fog is really affecting me. I'm really stumbling when giving presentations. What am I going to do at work when I'm expected to be on top of things, presenting to clients?"
For now, Laura has found AbScent, a charity dedicated to those struggling with ongoing coronavirus symptoms, a huge support. Its Facebook page, which has over 7,000 followers, is a place for people to voice their struggles, as well as sharing tips and hints to help ease symptoms.
"It's been a game-changer for me. Without it, I'd have never met anyone who's experiencing what I'm experiencing," she says. "What's keeping me hopeful is trying new things. I've bought lots of vitamins - zinc is meant to be improving things so I've bought a lot of that. I'm mostly just praying things might change."
As lockdown restrictions start to ease, with outside pubs and restaurant areas opening next month, Laura is urging those who are yet to be vaccinated to proceed with caution.
"Look at me. I'm 28, no underlying health conditions," she says. "Even having the virus itself, it was on par of having the flu, but the struggle I've had after it, you just never know how severe you're going to get it.
"It's not worth taking the risk."