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During the early years (2020–2021) of the COVID‐19 pandemic, relatively little attention focused on experiences of people with long‐lasting symptoms, particularly young adults who were commonly understood to be invulnerable to serious effects of the virus. Drawing on narrative interviews with 15 adults in their twenties and living in the UK when they became ill with long COVID, we explore contextual factors which made their long COVID illness experience, and the wholescale disruption to their lives, challenging. We propose that existing adaptations of the concept of biographical disruption are problematic for this group, and instead suggest that ‘biographical retrogression’ may more accurately reflect these young adults’ experiences. For many of these young adults, their illness occurred at a crucial stage in forming or solidifying (presumed) adult trajectories. Secondly, the recency of long COVID did not allow for comparison with an existing ‘grand narrative’ of recovery, so the future course of their illness was not just unknown for them as individuals; there was no prognostic map against which to assess their symptoms. Thirdly, the lives of people with long COVID have been disrupted in the context of global societal disruption by the same virus, rendering their experiences both topical yet invisible.

Original publication




Journal article


Sociology of Health & Illness



Publication Date



experience of illness, biographical disruption, biographical retrogression, young people, long COVID