Support our Libraries: Poetry workshops help Long Covid sufferers to 'reconnect' their brains

Scots with Long Covid have been able to ‘reconnect and retrain’ their brains through writing poetry, with workshops offered by the Scottish Poetry Library.

The library launched a series of workshops in September 2020 and June this year, run by writer Lesley Macniven, who also has Long Covid.

Participants were invited from a Long Covid support Facebook group, with sessions once a month over Zoom.

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Brighid Ó Dochartaigh, 48, has attended the workshops for the last year.

Ms Ó Dochartaigh, a geologist, has had Long Covid symptoms for almost 18 months.Ms Ó Dochartaigh, a geologist, has had Long Covid symptoms for almost 18 months.
Ms Ó Dochartaigh, a geologist, has had Long Covid symptoms for almost 18 months.

The geologist, from Edinburgh, caught Covid in February 2020, and has suffered from Long Covid since a relapse about six weeks later.

Previously fit and active with a love of the outdoors, she now finds herself with fatigue, chest, and muscle pain and heart palpitations. Her condition has improved in recent months.

“The most important thing for me is the chance to do something creative and nourishing, and to express my feelings through writing within this group of people who are all going through the same really difficult time,” she said.

“We all know where each other is coming from. We don't have to pretend to feel positive all the time, we don't have to explain what we feel."

Brighid Ó DochartaighBrighid Ó Dochartaigh
Brighid Ó Dochartaigh

She added: “It has also been therapeutic to write down my feelings through poetry.

“It's not a treatment in any way, but it's a help, in the way that any kind of therapy like that helps you deal with what quite a hard emotional strain, living with this illness.”

“Writing the poetry, even just that one bit each month of scribbling, has helped me feel that I can still be creative,” she added.

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Ms Macniven believes this creativity can empower participants, especially around a return to work, for which she says there is not enough support from employers or governments.

The Scottish Poetry LibraryThe Scottish Poetry Library
The Scottish Poetry Library

“The fact people can write creatively and produce something of value and something really powerful, it's given them confidence that they are still in there, and that they can still do work,” she said.

“If they went into an employment situation and said: ‘I can’t travel into work, or do 12-hour shifts, but my brain is still working and I’ve got a laptop,’... if they could have a really gradual phased re-entry into the workplace, then that’s absolutely what we’re advocating for.

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“There's a parallel between that bigger journey and this specific thing, which is giving people lots of benefits including showcasing they're still able to be useful and that their brains are still in there.

“I think the writing helps people's brains to reconnect and retrain to be able to do things when the brain fog seems to have got in and scrambled things a bit.”

Asif Khan, director of the Scottish Poetry Library, said one of the reasons for the workshops was anecdotal evidence that writing for pleasure could help those with Long Covid, alongside concrete evidence that it can benefit other conditions.

“Quite often libraries and cultural organisations are the first point of entry for people to start self-reflecting on their experiences of living with a condition, or with a family member who has it,” he said.

“Public libraries are in the heart of communities and free at the point of use, they can bring people together and support their needs… they can be a place of respite as well.”

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