How having Long Covid has changed my perspective on working in the ad industry

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Dom Goldman, executive creative director at Above+Beyond, details how a debilitating bout of Long Covid left him reappraising the industry.

With a vaccine rollout now imminent in the UK, the coronavirus crisis in the UK is just about nine months old. We’re now starting to hear stories from people who, like me, were ill and are now living with ‘Long Covid’. The effect on my mental state has changed how I see not only life but also the industry.

I came down with a nasty virus on 14 March. By day four, we called an ambulance. It felt as though I was falling through the bed. Constant dizziness and body pains. Yet the paramedics insisted I didn’t have coronavirus, as I didn’t present the symptoms they were looking for back then. They cautioned me about being taken into hospital because as hospitals were starting to become overrun – they were a dangerous place to be.

Then indie creative agency B-Reel, where I’d recently started, announced it had to shut down its London office indefinitely due to the pandemic. The shock, coupled with my symptoms, hit me with an avalanche of stress. Proper stress. Amid a recession, the sense of inevitable doom was intense.

My symptoms came in strong surging waves. The worst was the dizziness. It wouldn’t stop. Sharp searing pains throughout my nervous system rendered me immobile, with skull-crushing headaches and strange burning sensations throughout my legs.

Desperate for relief, doctors ran a series of blood tests and MRIs but, frustratingly, they couldn’t find anything wrong. They suggested it was in my head. To take anti-depressants. Terrified, I knew they were wrong. The Covid-19 antibody test had just become available and I insisted on taking it. Positive. I’d had coronavirus all along.

Could these symptoms be some kind of long-lasting effect? We discovered a Facebook group with thousands of people suffering like me. I wasn’t alone. Long Covid was a thing. But reading their stories terrified me. Nobody was recovering. I fell into a fathomless depression. A feeling of permanence. How would I be able to take care of my young son and provide for my family?

I knew we were still learning so much more about this virus, and what Long Covid really is. Being well enough to work and provide was weighing heavily. But I was determined. To have purpose. To be useful again. I couldn’t wait for western medicine to catch up. After seven months, through a cocktail of Chinese herbs, acupuncture and other alternative therapies I slowly managed to pull through.

I have finally started work and am back into the full swing of things after joining Above+Beyond.

Being surrounded by smart and nice people in an intimate independent agency with shared values is more than a relief. The word ‘gratitude’ is so over-used but I am grateful. The role I play in employment is part of who I am, and I find some solace in being able to enact that part of my identity. My enthusiasm has returned, fuelling a joy that permeates all aspects of my life.

This experience, however, has also changed how I view the industry.

Growing up in the 80s, I witnessed the power advertising had on influencing culture. After Levis’ ‘Launderette‘ ad broke, my tribe went from wearing cream yellow Tacchini tracksuits and Lacoste socks to trying to look like Nick Kamen overnight, literally.

We raided American Classics and embraced Motown music. (Ironically, twenty years later I would work for the man who wrote it). Ever since then, I’ve always banged on about creating work that dents culture.

Truth is, I’ve barely been on the fringe of such a thing. The other truth is, my desire for recognition through awards became my goal. Arrogance and cynicism fed this agenda.

Now, whether through age, being a father, the realisation of mortality – or, perhaps, all of the above – I have enough scars now to know what’s important.

I still hope to impact culture. I want people to feel something, anything. To escape through genuine entertainment or find ways for brands to help people, really help. To be useful and entertaining would give brands purpose – give me purpose. I’m also looking forward to losing myself in the craft.

I’m a huge believer in this period of time we get to transition from logical thought into magic.

Long Covid has changed my perspective. It destroyed my mental health and forced me to reappraise my focus, direction, identity and capacity. It’s been a tough year, but an opportunity to rethink who you are doesn’t come around often. Though delivered in such a painful way, that’s something else I can be grateful for. 

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