Coming out of shielding

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12 August 2020

What shielding has meant for me

So, the UK government have now decided it is safe for the high-risk clinically vulnerable to return into the big wide world. I have strange feelings – Covid-19 is still leading the death cause each day, and I am still immune suppressed, so it is hard to feel that returning into the world is the best option for me. But I understand that at some point I have to get out there and go into a shop. I cannot continue to wait for a delivery to be left on my doorstep with the man standing two metres away.

Jane Edwards explains what has shielding meant for her

As a family, we went into lockdown before the government advised people to start – my husband and I have both been lucky enough to be able to work from home. So, we started hiding before official guidance got issued. We managed to get food deliveries – thank you Sainsbury’s for being there when we really needed you. For the first eight weeks, I didn’t leave our house/garden at all; I sat on the front-drive to speak with neighbours, but I didn’t venture any further.

But, being confined to the house started to feel strange. I’ve been on steroids for eight years, and I am aware that I need to do weight-bearing exercise to make sure my bones stay strong and do not get damaged by the prednisolone. Eight weeks into lockdown, and despite a few ‘Joe Wicks’ PE sessions, I was starting to seize up and felt my hips beginning to ache. So, after family discussions, I decided I needed to get out and walk the dog. For the next month or so I woke up at 6:00am four days a week and went out for a walk in a quiet area where I saw a maximum of five people, all from a distance significantly greater than two metres. I was happy with this and don’t have any desire to be closer to people.

Slowly the walks have gone into more populated areas. However, I still haven’t been inside other buildings, except for two trips to the hospital, a friend’s BBQ and neighbours coming to our garden.

More positives than negatives?

The start of lockdown was tough mentally – the uncertainty, the feeling that I felt so vulnerable and having the family around 24 hours a day really left me mentally drained. Physically I spend a lot of time on my own, and I’m not used  to having company all the time. So, I thought that I wasn’t going to be able to cope with three months of lockdown without my usual ‘downtime’ while my husband was at work and the kids in school. I really dreaded this time; I had just started to recover from my latest flare of vasculitis, and an intensive treatment regime had left me fragile. I honestly didn’t believe I had the energy to cope with this battle on tpo of the others I face every day.

But slowly we found a routine, a way of all ‘working’ in the house together; a way of starting to get to know each other without rushing to dance class, or netball or swimming. We found time to cook together, we ate every meal together, and when I was brave enough, we walked the dog together. We started playing board games after the evening meal. We just started to be together as a family without rushing. We found our groove. I learnt more about my husband and my children, and I really got to know them. And we were all pretty good together.

Please don’t get me wrong, the kids fell out regularly, my husband ‘hogged’ my office, I got bored with picking what food to eat. We all irritated each other … but somehow it made us a little closer.

Terrified to go back into the world

Covid-19 hasn’t gone and it will still do severe damage if I do get it. But the world needs to move on, and money needs to be made, shops need to open, my favourite pub (Kings Head, Stamford) needs to begin serving. I know this, but I cannot understand how one minute I am so at risk that I need to social distance from my own children, but from 1 August I need no extra protection. Now that plays with your mind!

I don’t know how much I want to risk it, and I don’t know how I will feel going into a busy place, I’m not sure I want to return to the life I had. I am quite happy in my little distanced bubble.

I have so many questions. But very few answers.

I have been lucky to be able to work through this from home. However, ‘shielders’ have to make a horrible decision now that the protection that shielding gave us, financially, medically and practically (shopping deliveries, etc.) will be gone. People will have to go back to work and go into shops, but what has really changed between 31 July and 1 August for us ‘clinically high risk’ people? (There is a petition if you would like to sign: petition.parliament.uk/petitions/330279).

I've learnt so much about myself

I have worked from home for a long time, and I didn’t think I would be able to cope with having the family around 24 hours a day, and for the first few weeks, I did struggle and felt so exhausted. However, as we settled into our routine, I noticed that my mental health improved immeasurably. Now, this was a surprise for me; I really hadn’t realised how low I had been feeling being at home all day on my own. So, I have this trade-off – family around and I am happier but physically more tired or family not around, and I feel lower but have more physical energy. Over time the physical energy increased. I have found a positive balance.

Going slow, and definitely not returning to everything.

As the guidance for us clinically high risk is quite blunt, I will make changes, but I will make these in my own way!

I will continue with my early morning quiet dog walks. I will continue with my food deliveries and will meet up with my friends outside. Then, maybe, as the year turns into autumn, I might start to consider actually going inside places. Maybe.

But for now, I pray for beautiful weather and the continuing support of my employer to allow me to stay distanced from all but still functioning.

How do I feel about the children going back to school in September, well that I cannot comprehend at the moment, but I will need to deal with that nearer to the time.

Jane Edwards is an author of ‘Chronic Illness: Learning to live behind my smile’, about a journey of learning to live with a rare, invisible chronic illness.