Globetrotting Colchester DJ bedbound by long Covid says condition cost him his career, friends and mobility

Rowan Clarke faces chronic fatigue and cannot move around anywhere near as much as he used to after contracting long Covid
Rowan Clarke faces chronic fatigue and cannot move around anywhere near as much as he used to after contracting long Covid -Credit:PA

A young globetrotting Essex DJ “living the dream” before he suddenly became bedridden for a year with long Covid, has “lost his career”, most of his friends and predominantly spends his days lying down.

Rowan Clarke, 32, a part-time video editor and sound designer from Colchester, contracted Covid-19 in 2021 and progressively got “sicker and sicker” to the point where he was in constant pain, could not remember his own phone number and could hardly walk.

On top of this, Rowan had constant headaches, meaning he could barely work and look at his emails, and ended up having to close his recording studio. At the time, Rowan was the fittest he had ever been, running 15km a day, and was preparing to take a fire service exam to become a part-time firefighter – sadly, he also had to give this up because of his condition.

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When he went to the doctors about his symptoms, he said he felt like they were “medically gaslighting” him, and was told there was “nothing wrong” and it may just be anxiety – one doctor even asked him “Do you want me to wave my magic wand?” After going back and forth to the doctors for a year, he was eventually diagnosed with long Covid, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, and prescribed low-dose naltrexone (LDN) to manage his pain and fatigue.

In recent months, he has been experimenting with alternative medicines, including a small earpiece that sends electrical signals to his brain, but he still spends “most of the day lying down” and admits he has lost a lot of friends since being unwell, and has almost given up “trying to explain it to people”.

Rowan said: “I spend most of the day lying down, but I work now, not full time, but I can do that. It’s changed my entire life – I’ve lost a lot of friends from it, I’ve lost my career, I’ve lost everything. [At the beginning] they told me it was just anxiety, they denied that anything was wrong with me – the mental toll of that was awful, it was like medical gaslighting.

Rowan Clarke faces chronic fatigue and cannot move around anywhere near as much as he used to after contracting long Covid
Rowan Clarke used to run 15km a day and was training to be a part-time firefighter -Credit:PA

“Immediately the doctors were like ‘There’s nothing wrong with you’… the more I just listened to them, I believed them. I had one doctor tell me ‘Do you want me to wave my magic wand?’ I just couldn’t believe it, I just thought ‘Why would I be here?’ You know, why would I quit my job and quit the fire service? It just didn’t make any sense at all…You think having headaches every day for a year they would do brain scans or assume things would be taken seriously.”

Before the pandemic, Rowan was “living the dream” travelling the world, DJing internationally and even presented television shows in the Philippines. But this soon came crashing down – in 2021, he contracted the delta variant of Covid-19 despite being vaccinated. At first, he had the “usual symptoms” of a sore throat and a cough – when going to the doctors, he was told he may have an allergy, but after doing a Covid test, he realised he had the virus.

“I tried going back to normal but I just got sicker and sicker and got to the point where I was completely bed-bound for a year, it was very confusing really,” he explained. “I was in constant pain – I had a headache for like a year straight and nothing worked at all. It felt like my muscles were pushing out of my body… I couldn’t remember my phone number, I couldn’t remember people’s names.

“I was out of breath, like I couldn’t walk downstairs and I’d wake up and it felt like I had been hit by a bus. It was just the most scary thing.” Rowan could also “not look at screens or deal with sounds”, meaning he could not look at emails and struggled to get any work done, so ended up closing his recording studio.

On top of this, around a month into being sick, he was meant to take a fire service exam as he was planning to become a part-time firefighter, but this also had to be put on hold. Rowan said: “[Just before getting sick] I was running 15km a day – this was the fittest I ever was… it was something that I really wanted to do for a while, and I didn’t know if I could be fit enough to do it. So I was like, really pushing myself and I just thought I’d get better like everyone does.”

Rowan Clarke in his previous life as a globe-trotting DJ
Rowan Clarke in his previous life as a globe-trotting DJ -Credit:PA

Over time, Rowan unfortunately had to accept that he was not able to train as a firefighter, and decided to go to the doctors as his condition was not improving. He said: “You’re so scared thinking you’re going to die, and then you’ve got medical professionals telling you that there’s nothing wrong with you and I think even the strongest people mentally, it is so hard to just be solid.

“I mean, it’s ironic that they said it could be anxiety to begin with but then I went on to develop it.” A year after Rowan first got sick, and continued going to the doctors, he was finally diagnosed with long Covid, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.

He said: “I was referred to a long Covid clinic but the advice was mainly just to pace myself which didn’t really help at all. My life is built around pacing myself, I try to have some kind of life. Like right now it’s a beautiful sunny day and I really want to go for a run but I feel like I’ve been hit by a car. It’s like prison. You give up trying to explain it to people, and it’s been hard trying to have relationships.”

However, Rowan has a girlfriend of one year, Rosie Helliwell, 27, and said: “She’s known people with similar illness and could understand it so I was quite lucky to meet her I think, but you can’t keep up with the expectations of a relationship, to be honest.”

Rowan has since been privately prescribed low-dose naltrexone (LDN) to help with his chronic pain and fatigue, which has made him able to move around a lot more, but, he has still not been able to go on a run since contracting Covid. Over the last few months, he discovered Nurosym, a small earpiece that sends targeted electrical signals to the brain via the vagus nerve, and he claims it has further helped his symptoms.

Rowan Clarke with his girlfriend Rosie Helliwell
Rowan Clarke with his girlfriend Rosie Helliwell -Credit:PA

“I felt like it was like a miracle – I was really sceptical because it’s expensive as well but it feels like meditation and acupuncture at the same time, like, in my opinion, it’s like a legitimate medical treatment at home,” Rowan explained. “It has helped me so much, I use it every day. If I start to get symptoms coming on like blurred vision and shaking, I use it and it calms them down. Obviously, I’m not going to say it’s cured, but it is definitely the best weapon I have available to me.”

Looking to the future, Rowan said: “I have mixed emotions [about the future] because I’m disabled and so much has changed, I’ll never have the life I previously had. But on the bright side, it looks like there’s a lot of research coming out about long covid. There’s a lot of people in this community that are very upset, angry and depressed but I just think you have to look at everything positively as much as you can.”

Asked whether Rowan will one day get back behind the decks, he said: “I don’t know because I couldn’t stand for that long. I hope so, but I really don’t know.”

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