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What It's Like to Be 'Clinically Extremely Vulnerable' During the Pandemic

As I look back at 2020, it is of living a life under shielding. A tough and difficult year led largely within my four walls, watching the news each day with increasing fear around the events unfolding and hope for a positive change.

Back in the spring, I recoiled with horror and tears when I received my shielding letter. Shielding is a U.K. initiative where “clinically extremely vulnerable” persons are identified and given advice on how to protect themselves. To begin with, we were offered support, although this largely waned as the months ticked by. I thought it was a temporary situation of a few months when that letter dropped through my letterbox. Perhaps I was naive, perhaps I was being hopeful. At the moment, my hope is largely lost as it seems that 2021 will also be characterized as a life under shielding, or at least to begin with.

The Beginning

The beginning of my life under shielding was completely astonishing. I was astonished at the global situation which seemed to take hold so fast, astonished at those denying it and astonished that I was considered clinically extremely vulnerable. Tears, many tears, were shed and I was incredibly anxious for many weeks, perhaps months. That anxiety is bubbling up again as the U.K. situation worsens day by day.

Life under shielding was also the beginning of one thing that characterizes the daily life of those of us more high risk, and many who are not: cleaning. Everything that enters my home is sprayed with abandon with antibac, and depending on the object it may then also go into what I call “garage quarantine.” This physical jail for my deliveries houses everything from cans of coconut milk to a pair of migraine glasses to my medications. It’s like the world’s weirdest bric-a-brac shop, with the “entry date” of said items noted on my calendar and when they can be released back into society (i.e. my home!).

Perhaps others will be even stricter with cleaning than me, others less. But any form of risk is a risk, and for me just not worth a throw of the dice. On a lighter note, perhaps others will have become experts, like me, at opening doors and drawers with an elbow or toe when our hands are “dirty” and need a good scrub with soap. A friend told me she can open a tin can with one hand after touching a “suspect” package. I suggested she may just want to wash her hands first!

Changing seasons

It’s very odd being inside for so long, and time seems to go quickly and slowly all at the same time. A tree in my back garden symbolizes time as it ticks through the seasons. As the pandemic took full force, it was covered in delicate white flowers, and looked so pretty against the blue sky. Those leaves fell to the grass and green leaves took their place. The harsh summer sun slightly scorched those leaves, and they soon turned brown and fluttered to the ground as autumn brought chillier air but beautiful sunsets.

Seasons came and went, and that tree changed so much. I didn’t feel as though life was changing at all, though. I was still home, and doing the same routine of work, clean, work more, clean more and the at-home workouts we all grew to half love and half hate. But, like that tree, life will change for us all. It’s going to take some time, and a lot more time than I think any of us ever envisioned, but it will change for the better. We just have to have patience, a habit I am bad at but have no choice but to learn in 2020 and 2021.

Lessons learned

I think lockdown has been revealing for many reasons. It has taught me patience. Well, perhaps I should re-phrase that to “it’s teaching me patience” as I may not fully be there yet! But it has taught me to be very self-reliant, that’s for sure. Not seeing friends or some family members for close to a year now is isolating and lonely at times. Thank goodness for all the antics from my cat to keep me smiling.

We have been creative and come up with ways to stay together despite being apart. A favorite game via Zoom with my nieces is a sort-of Pictionary, and we do “family spellings.” A couple of times a week I set my 6-year-old niece at least three spellings, which she prefers to be themed.” We have done a summer version with words such as island and suncream, and festive-themed with the names of Santa’s reindeer. She then gives me spellings back, ranging from the word ‘gel’ to names of dinosaurs I haven’t ever heard of. Consistency with the difficulty of the spellings given to me is rather variable!

The continuity of chronic illness symptoms

Chronic illness symptoms continue to grace me with their presence. After all, that’s why I am living a life under shielding in the first place, and they definitely don’t let up just because we are in the midst of a pandemic. My usual treatments of Botox for chronic migraine and bladder instillations were stopped for quite some time, and while I could go now, it doesn’t seem worth the risk of train journeys and hospital visits. So those symptoms are taking center-stage more than usual.

It is interesting to see that my fatigue is perhaps slightly better since staying home. I can only think that my prior life of frequent medical appointments, work projects and seeing friends and family was taking far too much out of me. I guess I probably should have guessed by the collapse-on-the-bed moment I had every time I got home and that making dinner or even just getting ready for bed felt like running a marathon with lead boots on.

So that’s some of my experiences with life under shielding in 2020, and now into 2021. There is so much more to be said about this hard and difficult experience, but I hope so much that this new year will be brighter for all of us. Take care everyone.

This story originally appeared on Through the Fibro Fog.

Getty image by BY Studio.