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Living with long COVID: Former athlete opens up about 'guilt and shame' as she battles the invisible illness

Doriana Homerski was a high-level athlete and dreams of being a mom. But now, her future is uncertain.

Four years after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, Yahoo Canada spoke with several people still living with long COVID. Read their stories HERE.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Doriana Homerski dreams of being independant again. But with long COVID, her future is now uncertain.
Doriana Homerski dreams of being independant again. But with long COVID, her future is now uncertain.

On a good day, Doriana Homerski can wake up and make herself tea. It's an even better day if she can tend to a household chore or visit her Nona, who lives close by in Hamilton, Ont.

On a bad day, 30-year-old Homerski can't get out of bed. Her body feels heavy, she has immense fatigue and she feels "zoned out," often finding herself reaching for the right words to say. Doing something like bringing in grocery bags from a car or going for a walk can force her body to shut down.

"I feel frustrated all the time," she told Yahoo Canada. "I feel guilt and shame… because I'll see my parents or my partner doing something for me and I'm just sitting there, feeling useless."

Homerski has had long COVID since March 2020 — four years ago.

It's been four years since the first case of COVID-19 community transmission was confirmed in Canada, and the world is approaching the March 11 anniversary when the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. According to Health Canada, long COVID also known as post-COVID-19, affects everyone differently and there have been reports of over 100 symptoms.

Doriana Homerski needed a wheelchair at an airport, after standing for a few minutes. Homerski wants people to know that long Covid is an invisible illness and though it may not look disabling, it is. (Image provided by Doriana Homerski)
Doriana Homerski needed a wheelchair at an airport, after standing for a few minutes. Homerski wants people to know that long COVID is an invisible illness and though it may not look disabling, it is. (Image provided by Doriana Homerski)

For Homerski, what first felt like a sinus infection, with the eventual loss of taste or smell, developed into extreme fatigue, massive migraines, heart palpitations and body aches, particularly in her hips. This is in stark contrast to the life she was living four years prior.


How COVID-19 changed her life

Homerski has been a high-level athlete throughout her life. She played soccer at university, for the Dalhousie Tigers, got into kickboxing a couple of years after and frequented nearby hiking trails with her dog, Kobi.

She worked as a rehab therapist for people with brain injury and stroke and would bartend part-time at events like hockey games. There were times when she was working around 70 hours a week.

Now, Homerski is unable to work because of the disabling effects of long COVID. She considers herself lucky to be able to live with her parents, but it's a crutch she wishes she didn't have to use. Sometimes they'll help cook her meals, or lend her money when she asks — something Homerski hates doing.

Doriana Homerski playing for the Dalhousie Tigers. Homerski was a high-level athlete prior to contracting COVID-19. Now, she can barely walk around her block in Hamilton, Ont. (Image provided by Doriana Homerski)
Doriana Homerski playing for the Dalhousie Tigers. Homerski was a high-level athlete prior to contracting COVID-19. Now, she can barely walk around her block in Hamilton, Ont. (Image provided by Doriana Homerski)

"I was always so proud of working hard to build up my savings and now I'm dependent on others to help and that really bothers me," Homerski said, adding that her savings are now gone. She said she's worried she won’t be able to pay off her student loans, and she has to keep postponing things like going to the dentist or renewing prescriptions because of the cost. "It's an added stress that I don't need on top of all the symptoms I deal with daily."

Homerski's financial stress and physical health have taken a toll on her mental health. She said she worries for her future — wondering whether she'll ever really recover from long COVID.

I'm scared that I won't be able to be a functioning mom... That's one of my biggest fears.

"I'm scared that I won't be able to be a functioning mom," she said. "That's one of my biggest fears. Because I want children and I'm really close to my family."

Homerski is a patient at a long COVID clinic based in Toronto, which is mostly study-based. She participates in as many studies as she is able to, and is willing to try anything they offer that might alleviate her symptoms. Not much has helped thus far.


Why COVID-19 is an 'invisible illness'

Doriana Homerski and her dog, Kobi. Homerski considers herself lucky she has her parents and her partner as a support system because her mobility issues and fatigue can be debilitating. (Image provided by Doriana Homerski)
Doriana Homerski and her dog, Kobi. Homerski considers herself lucky she has her parents and her partner as a support system because her mobility issues and fatigue can be debilitating. (Image provided by Doriana Homerski)

What Homerski wants people to understand about her condition is that it's an "invisible illness." She sometimes feels judged when people see her parking with her disability permit, even though the short walk to the entrance would help her immensely.

For something that has affected her everyday life and her relationships, it can be frustrating for Homerski to see people coughing freely into the air or return to that new sense of "normalcy" that she has yet to experience.

For now, still hopeful, Homerski spends time at home writing the script of a feature film, a comedy she's been crafting after learning how to turn stand-up comedy sets into a script.

Prior to COVID-19, Homerski would perform stand-up shows at places like Comedy Bar or Absolute Comedy in Toronto, or Levity in Hamilton, Ont. She said at the beginning of her illness, she felt that she lost her sense of humour. "I'm still trying to find that again," she said.

The Torontonian added though she can't work on her feature film, or the TV pilot she also wrote, as much as she'd like because of fatigue, it's still something that excites her. "It's brought some joy back in my life."

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