My Covid Part 2

Dark and imposing Norfolk sky

9th June 2020

What I am sharing here is my own post-Covid experience, and my learning from this. I hope parts of it may be helpful to you too. Please ignore what doesn’t fit for you and take on what does.

I am now 9 weeks on from having had Covid-19. I have never had a test – I asked for one when I had the virus and they weren’t available even to NHS staff in my area (Norfolk) at that time. However, I had all the classic symptoms and on the two occasions I called 111 and spoke to two nurses and a duty GP, they all confirmed it was almost certain I had the virus. 

My experience is similar to many others: I was quite unwell but able to stay home with the reassurance of a prescribed inhaler in case I needed to be hospitalised (it’s a 30 minute drive away and ambulances were running on a 1-2 hour delay at that time). For more details of this phase of the virus see my previous blog here.

As I started to improve my symptoms abated and then seemed to return with force every few days. It was draining, and still a little bit scary. What would happen next? Would I get a ‘cytokine storm’ which I had read about, when your immune system seemingly goes haywire, or viral pneumonia, or something else (worse)? No-one really knew, data was being collected but we were all still learning. 

Intermittently I still had fatigue, muscle pain, tingling in my fingers and toes, headaches, over-salivating, sore throat, catarrh, and a tight chest with a strange feeling – someone else online compared it to glass shards in your lungs and I recognise that although the feeling was not as extreme as that. 

Unexpectedly I also had bouts of depression. I know this because I resumed daily walking locally when I could, and I know the point on this route when I normally feel the endorphins, the sense of wellbeing kick in. It didn’t happen. I felt anxious, uncertain, and powerless. Even though I could see logically that my trend line was going in the right direction, at the times when I relapsed it didn’t feel like it.

After around 5 weeks I went to my GP for another reason. He asked me how I was and I told him. The fatigue was uppermost at this time: I would do something in the morning, some office work from home for example, and would have to nap for 30 mins or an hour after lunch just to continue functioning. I don’t do napping, and it was infuriating. If I had clients (I divide my time between garden photography, writing and psychotherapy) I would need an hour to recover between zoom sessions.  My GP ordered a bunch of blood tests. 

Time passed, just under 3 weeks. I went for the blood tests, and the following day they all came back normal. I went back to see my GP and explained my theory, derived from monitoring my life since Covid, trying to be aware of what was going on both inside and outside my body, what activities seemed to trigger symptoms more than others. My speculation was that every time I put my body under any stress at all, it felt like my immune system went into overdrive and delivered all these unpleasant symptoms unnecessarily. He nodded in agreement. Then he said quietly: “You need to retrain your body”. This was my turning point. 

I realised that up until then I had been a victim. I had felt powerless and frightened (terrified at times) of this thing that was being done to my body (and mind) by this alien, unknown, potentially lethal virus. And even when my rational brain knew I no longer had the virus, it felt like I was still under attack. 

By this one comment, “You need to retrain your body”, my GP put me back in the driving seat. I could be active in my recovery, I had agency in how I could feel – even if it often didn’t feel that way. 

As a psychotherapist I have been very interested lately in the advances in neuroscience and how they relate to recovery from trauma. The link between mind and body, between mental wellbeing and physical health, has always seemed to me to be way stronger and more inextricably interwoven than western medicine (the ‘medical model’) had previously allowed. 

In particular, I have recently been interested in the role of the vagal nerve which runs from our brain stem to our gut, taking in most major organs along the way. Amongst other functions, it takes sensations from our gut, and transmits them to our heart and brain. Stimulating the vagus nerve has been shown to have a calming effect by slowing heart rate and lowering blood pressure. Crucially for post-Covid sufferers, it also inhibits inflammatory cytokine production, in other words it calms your over-active immune system. (A high level of cytokines, incidentally, has also been linked to symptoms of depression.)1

In trauma, this leads to the idea of two types of processing aiding recovery: top-down processing via the cortex – making meaning out of disregulated memory (eg flashbacks) by creating a narrative – and bottom-up processing, from body to mind, via breathing meditation, yoga, mindfulness and similar activities. Diaphragmatic (belly) breathing directly impacts the vagal nerve, sending calming messages to our heart and brain, which in turn calms down our internal feelings and responses. 

For me, when I get stressed I subconsciously tense my belly muscles. By turning my attention to noticing when this starts to happen and using belly breathing to pause the process and unlock the muscles, I have seemed to be able to calm my post-Covid symptoms. It doesn’t always work of course. But like any other muscle training, the more I use this technique, the easier and more natural it becomes, and hopefully as I continue, the more effective it will become. Is becoming. 

I am also attempting to do a five minute mindfulness meditation most days, and also to limit my intake of news and social media which is likely (highly likely at the moment) to press my anger buttons and raise my stress levels and bodily tension. We are lucky enough to live near the coast, so weekend walks on the beach are also part of my personal treatment plan. A small amount of Pilates and/or yoga. Daily local walking. Talking to friends and family on zoom and facetime. Feeling loved and nurtured, and loving and nurturing others.

Healing works from the body to the mind and also from the mind to the body. Decrease the anger, and I decrease the stress, which calms my body, which calms the symptoms. Increase the outgoing compassion and loving, and I increase the healing. It seems to be working.

So my learning from this experience is that taking some small control in my own recovery was a game-changer. Doing healing activities, and refusing to be defeated by my own disregulated immune system, but rather retraining it gently to understand that my body is actually ok now. I hope that yours soon will be too. 

Hopeful sunny beach and sky

What helped with Covid-19

This is a post about the things that supported me through my bout of Covid-19. I was one of the lucky ones. I didn’t need hospitalisation, I was able to stay in the comfort of my home. But it still had its scary moments.

What follows is what helped me. We are all different so that doesn’t necessarily mean everything will help you, but I hope at least some of it does. Feel free to take what you will, and ignore the rest. And share the link, tell people you think might benefit.

  1. The brilliance of our NHS staff. The system may have been systematically underfunded and undermined but the people are amazing: compassionate, patient and full of reassurance. They deserve better. In particular:
    • The doctor who gave me facts, support and reassurance which I trusted. Who took time to explain symptoms, helping me to understand what was happening. And listened to my anxiety and prescribed an inhaler just in case.
    • The NHS 111 nurse who took the time to talk to me as a human. I cannot tell you how much difference that made. 
  2. People.
    • my husband, who looked after me, cooked, cleaned and gave me regular back massages in a particular place which seemed prone to pain and knotting. 
    • My family and friends who checked in on me, talked to me, sent me positive thoughts and wishes. 
  3. Self-help.
    • Doing breathing exercises as recommended by a doctor and nurse at Queen’s Hospital. Who knew that your lung alveoli in your back played such an important part in breathing? I definitely felt better when I did this exercise.
    • Vitamin-C. This is anecdotal, although there is a study in China currently underway, which hypothesises that high doses of vitamin-C can reduce damage to the alveoli and protect against other kinds of damage. (Ref: ) A herbal throat spray also eased the scratchiness and coughing.
    • Paracetamol: I was lucky in that I wasn’t in a great deal of pain, but once I understood that my bouts of shaking were caused by fever spikes, I dosed with paracetamol in the early evening, when it seemed to be worst, and at other times as I started to recognise the signs of an attack. 
    • Distraction: when my anxiety levels crept (or rocketed) higher, reading, TV (so much crappy TV), and on sunny days just watching and listening to the birds in the garden.
    • Pilates: exercising was counter-intuitive, in fact one of the nurses suggested bed-rest. Somehow though I felt that keeping my body moving just a bit would help. The gentle stretching of a very few basic pilates exercises – and it was very, very gentle – felt good. My muscles relaxed and breathing, an integral part of the exercises, became naturally deeper and easier. 
    • Walking and fresh air: just getting up and walking slowly around the garden every so often, felt helpful. Listening to the birds singing their hearts out.

Crucially, using these remedies gave me at least the illusion of some kind of control. I was taking some agency in the fight  – and it did feel like a fight – rather than lying back and letting it happen.

I learnt the importance of listening to my body, trusting myself to move around gently and stretch, walk and sit or lie when I needed to.

And of course, the interconnectedness of mind and body. Before it happened I had a great deal of anxiety around getting the virus, both for myself and for my husband. Once it did happen I was conscious of the importance of trying to maintain a positive attitude, a strong and clear intent to get better. Don’t get me wrong, during the waves of attack this nasty bug kept mounting, I veered from anxious to scared to relieved and back to scared again. I tried to keep in mind a need and want to keep living and a determination to do so. This sounds melodramatic when I read it back now, but that’s how it felt. 

The other part of this interconnectedness was to nurture a sense of healing. For me that meant letting go of the (bad) news, the tales of mismanagement, lockdown transgression, mad statements by crazy so-called leaders. I stopped watching or listening to anything that made me angry. Good news was ok, no news was even better. Being in the moment, right here, right now: the sun is shining, I can see blossom from my window. And the birdsong – did I mention the birdsong?

It’s Award Time (IGPOTY 2018)

This weekend has gone by in a bit of a blur. Annie Green-Armytage next to award-winning image at IGPOTY
Apart from a retinal scan on Saturday, which meant that the afternoon was quite literally b
lurry due to the eye drops, I had found out the day before that I had been awarded no less than six different placings in the International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY) competition for 2018. Ecstatic, shell-shocked, excited, numb – all of these applied and still do to some extent.

I have been celebrating over the weekend, both in the real world and on social media, what is an actual undeniable achievement in the world of garden photography. But it still hasn’t quite sunk in. This is a really big deal for me. I need to keep telling myself it’s real, that there hasn’t been some huge mistake – such is the gap between my self-confidence and reality. But here I am, with the little bits of paper, and a weighty, glossy book, to prove it.

With that evidence and with the passage of time over the last couple of days, I have realised the real truth of ‘all things must pass’. The good and the bad, the suffering and the euphoria, we endure and we enjoy, and then life moves on. So perhaps I can move through this moment, appreciating it but without attaching too much importance to it. Enjoying it without too much expectation, or pressure on myself to perform in a certain way in the future. Living now and looking forward to the future – whatever it may bring. ‘Life is short: smile while you still have teeth.’ (anon)

The IGPOTY exhibition is open to the public until 11th March, 2018. 
For garden photography  commissions, contact me at

1st place, Greening the City: City Campus. Looking down the Sun Yat-sen Steps within the university campus of the University of Hong Kong, and across into the high-rise buildings of Western District.

Finalist, Beautiful Gardens: Sunrise at Dale Farm, the garden of Graham Watts, in Dereham, Norfolk, UK

Finalist, Greening the City: Dolores Park, looking across the city to the Financial District as the sun goes down, San Francisco, California.

2nd place, Outdoor Living: Sunrise at the wildlife pond, Chapel Cottage, Norfolk. Designed for wildlife and sustainable living by owner Sarah Butler

Highly Commended, Beautiful Gardens: The Moon Gate, Schloss Dennenlohe, Bavaria, Germany

Commended, Greening the City: The Pavilion of Absolute Perfection, Nan Lian Garden, part of the Chi Lin Nunnery in Kowloon. The garden – commissioned to echo the style of the Tang dynasty (CE 618–907) – sits like a green oasis, surrounded by busy highways and high-rise apartment blocks.

See my website for more images or contact me for licensing. All words and images ©Annie Green-Armytage. You are welcome to re-blog and link-share on social media with full accreditation; no other reproduction of any kind permitted without written permission.

5 things I have found helpful in coping with anxiety

A few friends have posted things to do with anxiety recently, so I thought I would share what I personally find really useful, and many of my clients seem to do too.

1 Concentrating on this moment (and the next, and the next) 

When I get anxious about something which may (or may not) happen in the future, (for example,  going walking up a mountain in Wales when I don’t think I’m fit enough) I say to myself, ‘right now you are ok. everything is ok. Concentrate on this, right now it’s all ok’. And repeat.

2 Do something to get some distance

A long day dancing like a crazy person at a local music festival helped me to start to come to terms with the possibility that we may never manage to sell our house on the terms we would like…

3 Breathe and count

This is great in those moments when you feel the agitation or panic rising, sometimes without you consciously knowing why. The counting is important: it takes your mind away from doing the worry temporarily and allows your body to calm itself.

So, belly breathing, expanding your stomach like a balloon as you breathe in, and letting it collapse gently as you breathe out: in for 2, out for 3; then in for 3, out for 4; then in for 4, out for 5, and so on, to the point that feels comfortable for you. Don’t push it. This is not a test. 

4 Tell someone

It doesn’t have to be a big deal, maybe as simple as ‘I am feeling a bit jittery right now’. Choose someone you trust to be supportive.

5 Learning to not mind

This one is longer term and needs work. In my case, a LOT of work. It is also potentially the most helpful. It’s about letting go of needing things to be a particular way. For example, ‘I must get a job’, ‘I should be better at keeping in touch with my family’, ‘I ought to do more about rejecting plastic in my local supermarket’, ‘I need us to be able to sell the house soon’ (you see a theme developing here?)

Trying to let go of the ‘should’, ‘must’, ought’, ‘want’, need’ words, trying to be ok with my flaws, and to accept what the world throws at me. Kind of close to ‘everything happens for a reason’ but not so glib perhaps; more, ‘let me be ok with what happens even if it’s not what I wanted to happen right now’.  When you find out how to do this seamlessly and easily, please let me know.

King Lear – a play for today?

What an amazing performance of King Lear last night, courtesy of a live link from Stratford to Cinema City in Norwich.
Incredibly powerful performances by the cast, but also such a relevant play for our deeply troubled times. I had never seen/read it before so I had not realised it was such a huge play, centred on man’s capacity for cruelty to fellow man, and also both deliberately plotted and opportunistic power-grabbing. And this all born of hatred/greed/envy which itself is born of resentment, anger and overwhelmingly, fear. Hmmm.
A quote which particularly resonated with me:
’Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind.
Remind you of anyone?

via Annie Green-Armytage

The Referendum – or Where do we go from here?

I need to say this once, although most of it has been said already, much better, by others, so please forgive me.

I am really upset and quite frightened about what has happened and more importantly what will happen, in the immediate and long-term future.

The only people I am angry at, from the depths of my soul, are the so-called leaders, who have cynically and calculatingly manipulated the truth into scare-mongering half-facts and outright lies. On both sides.

Special mention must go to David Cameron who brought this whole mess upon us in the first place in an attempt to secure his own parliamentary position, and then walked away so brazenly yesterday. He’ll be all right, the rich and powerful always are, no matter what. He has left behind a legacy of mistrust, bitterness and a deeply divided and hurting society.

We all did what we believed to be right yesterday, from a genuine wish for a better future, whichever way we voted. We need, more than anything, in the coming days, weeks and months, to connect back with each other in any ways we can in order to to heal our differences. Whether it be through sport, music, online media, or summer street partying, let’s do something together. And build on what unites us, not what could tear us apart.

OK, I’m done. Thanks for reading.

You don’t really need light and water do you…?

Let me talk about comfort. I can no longer deal with scuzzy camp-sites, taps hanging off walls, mosquito nets with holes on, walls with holes in, resident geckoes, or any other wildlife inside my bedroom. Don’t ask me to, I really can’t.

I need a toilet that works, a shower that pushes out a consistent stream of at least tepid water, a bed with some kind of linen, and if it’s really hot, an air-conditioner that works and doesn’t sound like a Boeing 747 taking off. I need food that I can eat with confidence and a supply of potable water. In other words I am a namby-pamby, middle-aged westerner.

So the next few days aboard the Mary Anne were kind of interesting for me. To cut a long story short, the generator was only working partially from when we boarded, and on the afternoon of the fourth day it stopped. Completely. The engine was ok, so we were still able to move, but no power for lighting, cooking or air-con, and for a few hours even the water stopped. I refer you back to the beginning of my last para. We were on the west side of Isabela island, about the furthest we could be from the main port on Santa Cruz. It was not good.

We saw this amazing lava field at Punta Moreno, Isabela, in the morning of the fourth day. The field runs between the Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul volcanoes. The flows are about 1000 years old and broken fragments often make a metallic sound when you step on them. These fragments are known as clinkers. Candelabra cactus (Jasminocereus thouarsii) in the foreground.

However. The crew were amazing, working so hard through the night to try and fix it (they didn’t). On the first night without power they took our dinner by panga (aka dinghy/zodiac) to our sister ship, The Passion, cooked it and brought it back. We ate dinner under the stars with no noise apart from desultory chatting. It was stressful (what’s going to happen, how do we cope with this) but beautiful. At the end of the evening, though, even the emergency lighting failed, and we felt our way gingerly down the steep steps to our cabins. At this point it was very, very quiet and very, very dark. I was glad of my £2.50 LED camping torch, thrown into my luggage at the last moment.


The following morning a power line is somehow rigged between us and the Passion, and the emergency lighting and water are back on. Huge inward sigh of relief. In the afternoon a spare part arrives by speed-boat. But will it work?

The Post Office beach, Floreana. Annie.

By the evening, still no power, so we are panga’ed over to the Passion and for a joint meal with the passengers there, the wine flowing freely in more than one sense. It was really interesting to see the inside of a modern boat: very beautiful, a lot more spacious than ours – but, to me, Passion-less. As a fellow traveller murmured to me,’ It’s just like being in a large apartment’. Our boat is a proper boat – if only it was working. Then, the lights flicker on across the water. It’s fixed! Another, happier, panga ride under the stars, spotting the southern cross and enjoying the breeze on our faces, and a release of tension as we boarded and made our way to cabins with lights and taps and toilets that worked.

Those two days were an object lesson in how much I rely on creature comforts. I wasn’t the only one, there were others arguably more stressed-out than me. But I have to acknowledge that this is how I am now, no matter how much I would rather believe otherwise. That’s a challenging pill to swallow, particularly when I look at the wider world and how much hardship others are enduring on a daily basis. I am not proud of myself. And maybe I can change in the future. But perhaps, for now, I can just accept that I am who I am, and that’s ok.

See my website for more Galapagos images or contact me for licensing. All words and images ©Annie Green-Armytage. Re-blogging and link-sharing on social media is permitted with full accreditation; no other reproduction of any kind permitted without written permission.

Who am I and what is this all about?

I was going to write about being a garden and travel photographer and writer. I was going to try and make this funny and entertaining. Then I read a blog by a young friend of mine: Let’s be game changers

This made me really think about why I am doing this. Initially, it was to publicise my photography, to raise my profile, to get more widely known, to make a living. And that’s still up there. But actually, those aren’t the only reasons. I want people to recognise who I am. I want them to understand me a little more. Maybe I want them to like me a little more. Most of all, living in the backwaters of Norfolk (UK), I want to connect with the wider world. But not all of the time. Definitely not every day and probably not even every week. For me, being online is not a substitute for real world living (although sometimes it’s a lot easier).

Being a photographer and writer isn’t all that I am. I am also a psychotherapist, working with adults in private practice, and with young people with drug and alcohol-related issues (and a lot more besides) for the Matthew Project in Norwich. I was going to say part-time, but that sounds like I do it on the side, like I’m not quite committed to it. Untrue. When I’m doing whatever I’m doing I do it wholeheartedly. I have always tried to keep these different sides of my life separate, to maintain professional boundaries. And maybe I will decide to again. But just for now, I want to be me. All of me. Hope that’s ok with you.