I'm Struggling with the Pause on Shielding
Euan’s Guide London Ambassador Tina shares her experience of coming out of lockdown and what impact it has had on her.
For each of us who have or continue to shield, we each need to work out what is best for our own individual situation. This is my story.
I had a hysterectomy in 2019, after a diagnosis of womb cancer. My sole aim for 2020 was to get through it without any new health worries. When Covid-19 came, voluntarily shielding and being at home felt safe. However much we want it, many disabled people know that at the moment we can’t just resume what we used to do. What the average person might view as a low or acceptable risk, has potentially dangerous consequences for those of us who are medically more likely to be seriously ill or die if we get Covid-19.
I feel those of us who are disabled have been left between a rock and a hard place. By and large we have been forgotten by our society, and have been left to make hard, complex decisions on our own.
By early August, I had not left my home for five months. Video calling and online events have been brilliant for me. However, I live on my own and I hadn’t had a proper face to face conversation with anyone since mid-March. The isolation and loneliness got to me. It grew into anxiety and depression. I reached out and contacted my GP. They were very responsive and arranged to bring forward my counselling appointment with the cancer hospital. I also started reaching out to close friends to say how difficult I was finding things, which for me was very hard to do, but thankfully I found my friends were very supportive.
I felt if I didn’t do something, we would be back in winter and I could be shielding for well over a year. I didn’t think that would be helpful to my mental health and felt I needed to push myself into going out. I decided to do something which was low risk. I walked along my street at a time when I knew it was going to be quiet. The next time, I walked a little bit further and the third time I made it to the local park. Before I went out, I had built in some scenarios of what to do if certain situations arose. For example, if someone approached me and didn’t show any attempt to social distance, I would try to walk round them. I found this helpful when I went out, having a plan rather than having to think on the spot. I also made sure I had hand gel and my face mask with me.
I was surprised how many things looked the same as before. However, I’m deeply concerned that some of the changes that have been made to street layouts and public transport appears to have been done with little consideration to access need. I find going out at quieter times, wherever possible, is less stressful.
I have a mobility disability and going out has led to increased pain and fatigue levels. I have discussed this with my GP and I have been given some stronger medication to help me with that, while my muscle strength and stamina levels improve, and this is helping.
I’m not finding it easy going out as a person with a visible disability. I have been stared at in the street and on one occasion told “Don’t worry we’re not going to f***ing kill you love”. Disabled people seem to have been disproportionately targeted by some members of the public either for wearing or not wearing a face mask. It feels that there are a few who think we should just continue shielding or should be dead by now.
I’m not exempt from wearing a face and this was something I had to get used to. I decided initially to buy one mask and see how it fitted. The first time I put my mask on it felt weird. I spent some time wearing it for short periods in the house. Initially it was just a few seconds, then a few minutes. Then I wore it outside. Yes, it was a bit uncomfortable and I wanted to keep touching my face and keep checking how it looked. However, the more I wore it the easier it’s become. There are lots of different type of masks made out of different materials and designs, some fit better than other. I’ve started my own fun face mask collection, with clear masks, different patterns and even a Poirot mask.
I stopped shielding after 148 days. Although I have returned to work, I’m continuing to do very low-key activities, don’t travel very far and I’m careful with who I meet up with. However much care I take to protect myself, I’m only as safe as how those around me behave. I can honestly say, I don’t know if I am doing the right thing for me, only time will tell.
Thank you Tina for sharing your experience with us. Voices of Covid is a blog series where disabled people can share their Covid-19 stories and raise awareness of topics that are important to them. Please contact us if you would like to find out more.