When lockdown began, everything felt surreal. The threat of coronavirus had been building over the weeks, and apart from washing my hands extra vigilantly, I didn’t think it would get as bad as it did. My colleagues and I were gobsmacked when people started panic buying all the toilet roll. Even though I have several health conditions which make me extremely vulnerable to the virus, I never felt the full reality of the situation until I began self-isolating a week or so before the government’s full lockdown.
I remember seeing a friend post on Facebook that over 900 people had died in the UK that day alone. I thought she was mistaken – but I checked, and she was right. The numbers only grew as the days went on.
As someone with lung damage, asthma, a compromised immune system and other complicated health issues, the fear settled in fast. But I was one of the lucky ones – I could work from home, I had my boyfriend (who is also extremely vulnerable), we had a garden, and we managed to get food deliveries by the skin of our teeth. As medically vulnerable people, we had to shield, and this came with many mental and physical health implications. However, life settled into a new rhythm and I felt comforted by the safety of my home.
My new worry was the ending of lockdown; it had to stop eventually. I had no trust in the government prioritising health over economy. Boris Johnson missed six Cobra meetings on Covid-19 from as early as January to deal with personal issues; the government’s pandemic response plan had been long abandoned, and the UK’s PPE stores were severely lacking.
I watched headlines roll in of healthcare professionals having to choose who lived and who died because there simply were not enough respirators. Having lung damage and a rare disease, I knew that if I got the virus at the peak of the pandemic, I probably wouldn’t have qualified for one of the few respirators. My depression and anxiety, which I’ve lived with since the age of 9, engulfed me. I was terrified, and I never wanted to leave my safety bubble.
As the weeks have gone on, my anxiety has grown. On VE Day I saw the conga line of party goers on the news. With small lockdown eases, I’ve seen images of Durdle Door and Bournemouth beaches swamped with tourists. While I understand how hard it’s been to stay indoors – much more so than those who haven’t had to shield - it’s heart-breaking to see thousands of people not take precautions seriously and potentially reverse months of sacrifice burdened most by the clinically vulnerable.
I’ve always lived with depression and anxiety, but the easing of lockdown has exacerbated my conditions.
I’m terrified of contracting the disease, and even more fearful of my boyfriend getting it. While he has healthy lungs, he is still immunosuppressed by the medication used to treat his inflammatory bowel disease, so I don’t want him to risk any chances as we begin to go for small walks and drives.
In a way, it feels like my anxiety is protecting me by making me extra cautious, and I worry that my boyfriend doesn’t have this same barrier. On the flip side, I appreciate that my anxiety may be impeding me rather than helping me. It’s a confusing situation.
As I begin to go for walks around my local area, I do internal risk-assessments to weigh up the pros and cons. For example, is it busy outside? If so, how can I make sure my contact with others is limited? Can I go at a different time instead?
By figuring out the best times to get some fresh air, I can limit the impact it has on my anxiety. I’ve figured out that rainy days and early mornings are generally the best times to go for a walk, and that certain back roads and paths are better than my normal, busier routes.
My boyfriend and I also make a plan of action whenever we go out. If we drive somewhere, we plan the steps that take us from our house to the car and back again. I find that by spraying door handles with disinfectant, wearing a mask from house to car, and washing our hands before and after is a way for me to gain control on the situation and ease my anxieties.
Coronavirus has been challenging for everyone, and we have all experienced it differently. The most important way to support a loved one struggling with the changes is to listen and be compassionate.
Anxiety can be a horrendous thing to deal with. It’s scary, exhausting, and life-impacting. The worst thing someone can do when we struggle with this is to disregard our feelings. Saying things such as “it’ll be fine” or “don’t be silly!” is dismissive and makes us feel worse about ourselves.
Even if you don’t understand why someone is so afraid, be kind. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to help ease their worries and offer to create a safety plan with them. Remember that only they know how they feel, and you won’t be expected to solve their problems. Listen, be kind, and let them know you’re always there for a chat.
For people with underlying health conditions, the next few months are going to be anxiety-inducing. Personally, I understand that I need to adapt to a new way of living where Covid-19 is just around the corner. I know that I can’t protect my boyfriend in our house forever, and that he will be sensible when he returns to work. But it doesn’t make it less challenging for me or my anxiety.
I hope people remember that there are many vulnerable people at risk, or those with mental health conditions, who may not be ready to do the things everyone else is. Please be patient with us – we are trying.
To read more from Seren, visit her website