Facts: Annah Björk
Born: 1980 in Gothenburg
Lives: In Mälarhöjden, Stockholm
Family: Boyfriend, two children and a bonus child.
Career: Culture journalist who participates in, among others, Svenska Dagbladet, SVT, Nyhetsmorgon and Elle. Has also written the books “You must move on er” (2019) and “Boat 370: Death in the Mediterranean” with Mattias Beijmo (2017).
Now reading: “The Night” by Sara Gordan.
Advice: “If I can give one piece of advice, it’s this: be sick when you’re sick. I’ve said no to jobs so many times but more than two years later I’m still getting questions from people I never thought I’d ask again when I said no”.
When Annah Björk sits down in the cafe to talk about her latest book, she knows: later that day the fever will rise again. For two years, it has been around 38 degrees every day. When she cooks or has coffee with a friend, it gets worse. If she goes to a dinner, for example, the setback is massive, with fever peaks and an acute lack of energy.
“I feel sick all the time, it’s low-intensity torture,” she says slowly.
Last time we spoke, Annah Björk had just written a book about sexism in the music industry. For over 20 years, she has interviewed world stars, commuted to the USA, been an expert judge and part of music jury groups. But two years ago, her life changed drastically, when she contracted covid-19. Weeks passed without her recovery.
— At first I tried to get started again, “sharpen myself” and train. But it only made me sicker. I kept at it for quite a long time, six months. Now I know to pull on the brakes when I get a setback but I didn’t understand it then.
Writing from within the illness
The milk frother in the cafe sizzles, china clatters and Annah Björk fumbles for the words through the loud murmur of the cafe guests. She herself is surprised that she wrote the book “I’m not here, this doesn’t happen” – which is a depiction of how post-covid is experienced from the inside. It shouldn’t have happened, she says.
— I have ten percent of the normal energy that I should have. So I can’t bear to sit, can’t bear to hold my body up, it feels disgusting in my bloodstream, and I think that’s what makes it difficult for me to think and find words, she says.
The disease greatly impaired her cognitive abilities. That the words failed was among the hardest. She tried for a long time to continue writing her articles and columns but in the end she had to give up.
“It’s almost hard for me to describe how it’s not going, but I couldn’t get my sentences together and it’s probably one of the nastiest things I’ve been through,” she says.
Her physiotherapist tried to make Annah Björk understand how little effort she can handle – both physically and mentally. It’s still hard for her to accept. At the post-covid reception, she pretended that she was a journalist on assignment – in the same way as when she wrote a book about the 2015 refugee crisis on location by the Mediterranean.
— That way I could do what I do and be out on the field but from within myself. It is also to describe and portray one’s contemporaries, I thought.
She wrote in the only way possible, in diary entries. At first she could only get out a few words or a few sentences. She set the timer for ten minutes of writing time so as not to get excited.
Stuck in a bubble
Annah Björk remembers that she herself thought that the symptoms that women told about sounded vague and difficult to define at the beginning. When she fell ill herself, she faced the same ignorance. A family doctor hissed that she should be glad she wasn’t dead.
— It was very difficult to hear then, when I was so desperate for help.
The fact that the pandemic is now more or less considered to be over, three years later, gives her conflicting feelings. She is relieved, but at the same time stuck in a parallel reality.
— I also really want to move on, I want to get healthy and get out of it. I long very much for what people have experienced, to go back to normal, to the workplace, the theater and the concerts.
TT: What do you do now during the day?
— I try not to do too much. I sit on my couch and look out the window. Then comes a squirrel who has the same round every day. And then a new bud appears on the tree. It is at that level, she says.
But when Annah Björk starts talking about how she can’t even listen to music or watch TV anymore, she suddenly gets dizzy, and we have to stop the interview for the day.
Not thinking about the future
The fact that it was extra difficult to ask for help for Annah Björk is due to the fact that her family was going through a personal tragedy at the same time. But she also notices that many have found it difficult to talk openly about their experiences. She questions that post-covid is often presented in the media as a controversial disease. Because now, unlike in the beginning, there is a lot of research, she underlines.
She herself is now in close contact with the doctors at the post-covid clinic. A brain X-ray showed reduced functions, among other things.
— And now I’m going to undergo an examination that deals with the vessels and the oxygen supply to the brain. So there’s a kind of “Dr House” detective work going on, and it’s nice to feel that you’re trying to investigate, says Annah Björk, sounding hopeful for a moment.
But then we come back to the question of the future.
— That was the question that made me giddy last time. I have found a strategy which is to not think about the future, it has been one of the things that has made me so sad, desperate and lost. Because I don’t understand what it should look like if I’m going to continue to be sick.