The story of Annelies (The Netherlands)

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Lecturer at the University of Amsterdam

Annelies is 27 years old. In 2018 she graduated cum laude from the University of Amsterdam, and the University offered her a position of a junior lecturer. She was thrilled to accept this position, and started working there with enormous enthusiasm and energy. The students loved her, the colleagues were giving compliments to her expertise and her ability to create a friendly and creative atmosphere in her class. 

Then COVID-19 broke down. All the education moved online. In the beginning, everybody was confused and stressed with new online settings, but not Annelies. Being from the generation of ‘digital natives’, she helped more senior colleagues with technical problems and using online teaching tools. She was working hard on recording video lectures and giving Zoom tutorials to her students. Still, she felt she was not doing enough, so her working days became longer and longer. She did not go outside and sometimes forgot to take a lunch break. Day after day she was sitting in front of her laptop in her tiny Amsterdam apartment, talking via Zoom to her colleagues, to her students and to her boyfriend who was stuck in Greece because of the lockdown. 

Then it happened. Somehow, even though she was going out only to buy groceries, she became sick. At first she was not worried. After all, she was a healthy fit young adult. According to all the medical information she followed fiercely, she was not in any serious danger. But the illness was nothing compared to a “normal” flu she had occasionally caught in the past. She felt extremely tired and unable to move. Making a cup of tea made her breathless, as if she had climbed the stairs to the 10th floor. 

She could not visit her doctor, but she could chat with her on the phone. The doctor explained to her that it is normal for Corona patients to feel this way, and she just needed to wait for recovery. She waited, and waited, and waited, but her condition was not improving. For months after her illness she felt extremely tired, distracted and unable to concentrate. 

Fortunately, her boss was understanding and offered her a part-time contract. But doing even half of the work she’d used to do before Corona was hard for Annelies. As an overachiever, she felt terrible for not being there for her students and colleagues 100% of time. On top of fatigue and loss of concentration, she developed symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

At that time medical researchers did not yet identify long COVID as a specific route this disease can take. But her mother was worried about Annelies and insisted that she talk to a mental health professional. The psychologist she met online started asking questions about what had made her happy when she was a child. Annelies was first surprised, but then she remembered that she was always passionate about art:

“As a child I was always busy with arts and crafts, I was most happy with a paintbrush in my hand and some paper I could mess around on. That continued as an adult, I always had some kind of creative hobby that would get out of hand: from baking and decorating cupcakes, to making and selling my own jewelry, to brush calligraphy. After some time, I always got bored and went on to the next thing”.

After just one conversation with a psychologist, Annelies took the paintbrush and started painting again.

“It was love at first sight and I haven’t looked back since. I get a lot of energy from experimenting with new creative ideas. I go back to my childhood in which I can just throw paint on the paper and play around”. 

After a year of combining her part-time teaching job with her artistic hobby, Annelies decided to follow her artistic career full time. She is now selling her artworks online and runs a creative workshop to inspire others to follow their artistic ambitions. 

“Having a creative outlet in your daily life can really help to release stress and get positive energy. Creating art is my mindfulness practice, it’s like creative therapy to me. I started doing art during my academic appointment. Being very analytical by day, artwork was the perfect outlet to release stress, since it was the exact opposite of my day job: going with the flow, not having to follow the strict rules of academia and just being entirely focused on the process of creating”. 

What happened to her extreme fatigue and other symptoms of long COVD? They are now completely gone. Annelies is feeling herself again, maybe more herself than she felt since her childhood. She is full of energy, inspiration and creative drive. 

“What inspires me? I get inspired by nature, flowers, the ocean, landscapes, anything I see around me when going outside. But even more so the process itself inspires me. Often, I start with some paint on my paper and by starting to move the paintbrush around, an idea starts to emerge and going with the flow, the artwork starts to take shape. This process is mesmerizing and is what I love doing most. I get so much positive energy from making the artwork, and I hope my work can bring some of that positive energy to others, either by having one of my pieces in their homes, or by inspiring others to discover the magic of art by themselves”.