Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Tanysha Dissanayake: Coping with long Covid

Posted on 8 June 2022 by Toby Rathborne

Tanysha Dissanayake playing in the UK Pro League

As the world recovers from Covid-19, masks diminish, and loved ones reunite, those with long Covid have not been able to return to their lives unscathed. Tanysha Dissanayake is one of them.

Before she was diagnosed with long Covid, Dissanayake was on her way to a promising tennis career, having played for as long as she can remember.

She competed on the ITF circuit, the UK Pro League and reached the Junior Championship Wimbledon in 2018.

But in June 2021, Dissanayake’s career was curtailed when she caught Covid. She immediately knew that something was wrong:

“I knew I had it worse than my friends because four of us had it at the same time, they had all the usual symptoms, but I was struggling to breathe after walking a few metres.

“I definitely didn’t think I’d get long Covid from it. I thought I would recover within two or three weeks max and get back to the tennis court, get back on tour, get my life back.”

Since then, 11 months have passed, and she is no closer to recovery. It is not just Dissanayake’s tennis career which has been affected.

“Up until December, I probably pushed myself too far. I decided to do a short cancer specialisation course online to keep my brain ticking until I recovered because I genuinely thought I would get back on the tennis court.

“Even just talking to you, I had to rest for the whole of today and yesterday to prepare. So, I can’t do anything, I can’t study, can’t train, can’t socialise, can’t clean, can barely shower.”

Not only is it an arduous physical battle for the 20-year-old, but it has also been tough for Dissanayake to cope mentally.

“I can’t even describe how tough it’s been. I’ve always known that I might not have tennis in my life forever because you can get injured and anything can happen, but I always thought I’d have my studies to fall back on. But now, I can’t even read more than half a page without getting a headache.

“It’s not something anyone can ever prepare you for. One day, I was healthy; the next day, I wasn’t.”

Embed from Getty Images

In the UK, two million people suffer from long Covid. Not alone in her struggle, Dissanayake is worried that she and others are being left behind as the world returns to normality:

“Covid is such a new thing, so no one knows what causes it, which means they don’t have a treatment for it, especially now with the world forgetting about Covid in general.

“I think everyone has started to move on with life, but for me and millions of other people, our life is centred around Covid. It’s our everyday reality.

“So, I want to get more people talking about it because I don’t think people understand the severity of long Covid. When I say long Covid, you or other people mainly think you’ve got a cold, but for longer. Whereas it’s so much more than that.”

The most devastating thought for Dissanayake is not knowing whether she will ever be able to return to some semblance of the life she lived before long Covid:

“What scares me the most is not knowing when and if I’ll get better. I’ve accepted that it’s probably not a life or death situation. But what I’m doing now is not really living either.

“So, what scares me the most is that I may never have the freedom to go out whenever I want, to see my friends whenever I want, go to the gym and have the same freedom as everyone else.”

Tanysha Dissanayake at the Junior Championship Wimbledon

However, Dissanayake has been able to connect over her struggle with Maia Lumsden, another British tennis player affected by long Covid.

“I had heard of her before we got long Covid but hadn’t spoken to her. Then I got in touch with her five or six months ago, as we were in the same situation, so I could have someone to talk to, and she’s been amazing.

“Now we speak almost every week, exchanging how our week is going, exchanging things that we think might help each other and being there for each other, which is the main thing.”

Lumsden, a former 250 ranked player, has recovered from her bout with long Covid and is now back competing on the ITF circuit.

For now, Dissanayake is aiming to get a conversation about long Covid flowing to help raise as much awareness as possible:

“The ultimate goal is to get enough people talking about it and the right people talking about it to find a treatment at the end of the day. But I guess that’s a very big goal. So right now, the more people that speak about it, the more that they can spread it to other people. ”