It’s a nightmare audiences love to indulge in: Dead bodies reanimate as shells of human beings and aimlessly shuffle through the streets. Society grinds down to a halt. Resourceful heroes pull out every trick in the book to navigate a dystopian hellscape and cling to survival. Society has crumbled, and with it, access to technology, comfort, and security.
This is the zombie apocalypse, and it’s probably the most popular trope in the horror genre. It makes for exciting fiction, but I’ve got news for you— it’s here now. It’s not the vision of undead cannibal hordes we all picture, though, it’s long COVID. And yes, it’s eating our brains. If you’re living with long COVID, you may have identified these similarities before.
In this story, I will share a little of my journey and bring in pop culture references to show similarities between the classic tale of the zombie apocalypse and long COVID.
I was a very active person until March 2020. I worked full-time in a busy retail store and kept up a copywriting side hustle. Despite working over 60 hours a week, I had energy for my partner and our animals, an active social life, family engagements, and creative projects.
Then, I got what I believe was COVID (testing was scarce in 2020, so my case was never confirmed). It felt like a bad flu and nothing more, or so I thought.
Months later, I started having chronic fatigue. I saw specialists, and they ran some tests but found nothing. Healthcare providers believed the symptoms were because of my age or possibly psychological.
I had a confirmed case of COVID in late 2021. Since “recovering,” I’ve been living with long COVID, with way more symptoms than fatigue. I’ve had to take leave from work, making my recovery an around-the-clock job. I can’t do all the things I used to. I went from a thriving human to a listless zombie.
For fans of the shows, The Walking Dead and The Last of Us, zombies are easily recognizable, incredibly dangerous, and bring civilization to its knees. The long COVID zombie apocalypse is far sneakier. Unless you’re in the know, you won’t recognize it. Heck, there isn’t even a test for it, and a lot of us don’t even know we have it!
People with long COVID aren’t dangerous, at least not any more or less so than before the virus zombified us. But long COVID absolutely messes with civilization. In fact, it seriously impacts productivity; a report published by Brookings Institution in August 2022 (based off data from the Census Bureau), suggests that 4 million Americans have stopped working because of the condition.
So, what is long COVID? In a nutshell, people with long COVID, or post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC), develop a series of unexplained symptoms following a COVID infection. The symptoms are all over the map, with different people dealing with different combinations of them. They might include:
shortness of breath
disrupted taste and/or smell
You might be wiped out after doing everyday tasks like the laundry, reading, or taking a walk. To me, it feels like a bad hangover with added anxiety and depression—total zombie stuff.
It’s estimated that one in 13 adults in the United States is living with long COVID, and one in five adults who get COVID will experience long COVID.
Despite having “recovered” from the acute infection, you don’t feel like your former self and can’t figure out why.
Lab tests find nothing, but these serious conditions persist for months, or as in my case, years. Nobody knows what causes it, but theories include:
Or maybe it’s actually a bunch of different conditions caused by COVID.
And just like in the zombie apocalypse stories, nobody really knows how to stop it— yet.
Long COVID takes our humanity from us. We can no longer function normally. We wither away slowly, and our families often don’t understand what’s happening.
You call out sick. Managers at work might see you missing goals and think you’re slacking. Your friends might assume you’re bailing on plans. You forget to pay bills. Domestic partners might get frustrated that you’re not keeping up with chores.
Your body and mind can no longer manage simple tasks. Confusion and frustration intrude upon routine undertakings. You lose your breath walking up the stairs. You’re a ghost of your formal self.
Sadly, in many cases, providers can’t find a diagnosis, dismissing your concerns as psychiatric in nature and leaving you questioning your sanity.
It took me months to understand what was happening to me. It took over a year to find a healthcare provider willing to acknowledge I had long COVID and treat me.
Do you have long COVID? If you have any of the above symptoms starting about 2 months after an acute COVID infection, then you just might.
We’re the long haulers, the real-life COVID zombies. Sometimes people ask me why I still wear a mask in public, so I tell them my long COVID story. They’ll say that they’ve experienced some of the same symptoms themselves. As I said, many people have been unknowingly zombified by this insidious condition.
If this is you, and you think you might be part of this zombie COVID horde, you can take action. More and more, medical professionals are recognizing the condition. Research is happening. Treatments are out there, even if they’re hit-and-miss or hard to come by.
You can get your brain back. You can come back from the undead. My journey is proof. While I’m still dealing with the condition, I’ve made some progress. You can, too.
Research the condition and try different therapies. Join support groups and trade strategies, We can beat the zombie plague. We can be human again. Let’s make sure this zombie apocalypse story has a happy ending.
Miguel Cima is an Argentine-American who grew up in the New York City area. He's a veteran of the entertainment industry in New York and Los Angeles, having worked at DreamWorks, MTV, Warner Bros, and more. As an award-winning filmmaker, he landed Best Documentary at the San Diego Comic-Con for his short film, Dig Comics, which also screened at Cannes. Currently, he divides his time between freelance copywriting and spec screenwriting and being an Apple employee. Currently residing on Long Island with his life partner, his passions include cinema, music, television, the comic arts, cooking, and beating long COVID.
If you want to share your story on Kindred, contact the Content and Community Manager at Talia@hugo.health. No writing is required.
Long COVID household pulse survey. (2023). National Center for Health Statistics.
Bach K. New data shows long covid is keeping as many as 4 million people out of work. (2022). Brookings.
Katella K. What happens when you still have long COVID symptoms? (2023). Yale Medicine.
Nearly one in five Americans who have had COVID-19 still have “long COVID.” (2022). National Center for Health Statistics.
Long COVID or post- COVID conditions. (2023). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dani M, Dirksen A, Taraborrelli P, et al. Autonomic dysfunction in ‘long COVID’: rationale, physiology and management strategies. Clin Med (Lond). 2021;21(1):e63-e67. DOI: 10.7861/clinmed.2020-0896
If you're interested in sharing your story or experiences with the Kindred community reach out to the Content and Community Manager at Talia@hugo.health.