Health & Fitness

A BMJ Author’s Journey to Recovery from Long Covid

Kristen Sparrow • December 13, 2022

This author, a professor of tropical medicine,  researcher discusses his experience with long covid, and how he used unorthodox physical therapy approaches to overcome his symptoms.


Paul Garner: on his recovery from long covid

This opened the door that led to my recovery. I learnt that our primitive and unconscious defence mechanisms against injury and infection in the brain and other parts of the body sometimes get disturbed, giving false fatigue alarms. A vicious cycle is set up, of dysfunctional autonomic responses being stimulated by our subconscious. These neural tracks become established like tyre tracks in mud. I learnt that I could change the symptoms I was experiencing with my brain, by retraining the bodily reactions with my conscious thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. Over the following weeks, with support, I learnt how to do this. I suddenly believed I would recover completely. I stopped my constant monitoring of symptoms. I avoided reading stories about illness and discussing symptoms, research or treatments by dropping off the Facebook groups with other patients. I spent time seeking joy, happiness, humour, laughter, and overcame my fear of exercise. I started slowly with some graded physical activity on a bicycle. Within two weeks I surprised myself with an hour of Military Fitness training in Sefton Park with my friends. I was overjoyed, with all the great memories of running around the park with my friends. I began to build back my strength.

I believe that we can unwittingly reinforce, as Pavlov has shown, the dysfunctional autonomic tracks in the brain set up by a virus long gone.

I write this to my fellow covid-19 long haulers whose tissues have healed. I have recovered. I did this by listening to people that have recovered from CFS/ME, not people that are still unwell; and by understanding that our unconscious normal thoughts and feelings influence the symptoms we experience.