During COVID-19, I Have to Do More Than Social Distance

Cat Parkinson
Woman sitting on the couch reading a letter.
Woman sitting on the couch reading a letter.

Near the end of March, I received a letter from the U.K. government. It was a letter no one wants to receive, a letter highlighting the imperfections in myself I usually try to hide. It told me I am “clinically extremely vulnerable.” It told me I had to be housebound for at least 12 weeks. It told me I had to begin shielding.

I wasn’t sure how seriously I should take the letter (letters — I actually received two!) at first. I didn’t think it truly applied to me. How could it? I’m fit(ish) and well(ish) apart from my chronic illness. I’m still young(ish) and healthy(ish), so shielding seemed excessive to me. The words stared up at me and I laughed. How could I be extremely vulnerable? I would be fine, I thought.

And then something odd happened. A few days into shielding, I became the most ill I’ve ever been (no, I do not think it was COVID-19) for a whole month. I am still not fully recovered now. But the odd timing of my illness proved something to me. I realized for the first time just how vulnerable I truly am, just how unable my body is to fight infections and illnesses. It made me realize just how seriously I should be taking shielding.

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But that doesn’t mean I’m OK with it.

Once again, as has happened so many times in my life due to my chronic illness, I feel isolated. I am made painfully aware once more of the impact this illness has on my life.

I know shielding is in my best interest. I know my conscious decision to stick to the rules is helping the NHS and preventing me from contracting a fatal illness. But that doesn’t mean I’m coping with it.

Who wants to be told they cannot leave their house, not even to go for a walk? Who wants to be told they must eat in a separate room to others they live with, as though there is something wrong with them? Who wants to be told they cannot share a bed with their partner or even sit next to a parent? Who wants to feel isolated in their own home?

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I certainly don’t.

While the whole of the U.K. and many parts of the world remain in lockdown, there is an odd comfort and solidarity in knowing everyone is in the same boat. But shielding and social distancing are not the same things. Shielding takes it to another level.

I know in sticking to the rules, by completely isolating myself from the outside world and the people I love, even those I live with, I am protecting myself and the NHS. I know it’s right to do my part. But I want to stress to anyone who has received a letter, who has been told they are “clinically extremely vulnerable” that it is OK to not be OK about it. It is OK to admit this is difficult and it is OK to stand up and scream from the confinement of your isolated room that you are not all right.

Because I’m definitely not.

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And that’s OK.

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