Lockdown has been difficult for most of us, but for some, staying inside as much as you can and washing your hands just isn’t enough. Mansi Vithlani gives us an inside look into what lockdown is like when one of your loved ones is at high risk.
My lockdown experience so far has been very different from the average person in the UK. One aspect that I’ve noticed in the media is the lack of stories about those who are vulnerable during COVID-19 or those living with someone vulnerable. Many families over the UK have had to adapt and change their family lifestyles drastically in order to keep their loved ones safe, especially when they are at such a high risk.
My brother has major underlying health conditions. He has a congenital heart condition and has had surgery twice as a child and countless medical setbacks during his life, including suffering from sepsis. We are living through a global pandemic where COVID-19 could severely affect him and it has changed his and our family life completely.
The beginning of lockdown
On March 18, my dad came to London to move me out of my university halls to go back home, as he knew a lockdown was imminent. At this point, there were no specific lockdown rules for anyone, no shielding for vulnerable people. Life was ‘normal’, except for the panic buying, until this changed on March 23.
I self-isolated in my room for 14 days for precautionary reasons. I had been in London where cases of coronavirus were high and we could not risk anything with my brother, especially if I was a carrier.
The isolation was rather strict and intense. I ate all of my meals in my room, I was only allowed to use one bathroom and I didn’t go downstairs for two weeks. There were times where I was worried that I had the virus and that I could be a threat to my brother.
During this time, we received a letter from the NHS as my brother falls under the vulnerable sector, and so, we have had to make guidelines in our home. One of them was shielding. Shielding essentially means my brother is not allowed to leave the house, and we must “minimise all non-essential contact with other members of the household”. My brother hasn’t left the house since the beginning of March.
We had to implement many new rules. My brother mainly spends time in his bedroom, isolating and working there, using a bathroom of his own. He has his own dining set and we have been advised to use the dishwasher all of the time. To minimise going to shops, we have been using delivery slots. We keep two metres’ distance at all times, especially with my brother, to avoid any risks. In the beginning, it was difficult to get used to, but 10 weeks later, it has become a routine that I think will stick around for quite a while.
A new lifestyle
Adjusting to this new lifestyle hasn’t been easy for us, but we’re getting on with it despite all the frustration as we want to fight the virus. Although it was difficult, to begin with, we are now finding ways to keep ourselves busy. This is especially true for me, since our exams and assessments were cancelled.
Like everyone else, there are many things that I miss. Being able to eat as a family, getting a hug or just having a physical touch. However, I have enjoyed being innovative with Zoom calls and connecting with friends virtually. Living with someone with underlying health conditions really does put everything into perspective and I have learnt a lot during this time
In the last week, guidelines in the UK have changed. Many disagree with how fast the lockdown is being lifted. People are now allowed to meet six people outdoors and those who are vulnerable are able to leave their homes for exercise. However, many, including my family, have questioned if it is safe enough to do so and therefore have chosen not to take the risk.
Although at times it can be upsetting seeing your friends meeting up without you, or not even being able to go to the shops, 10 weeks later, I can say that I have adjusted to this strange lifestyle. However, one thing I have been craving, and still am, is a hug!
What I’ve learnt
I have seen this time as a blessing in disguise. It is a time to relax, do all of the things I usually wouldn’t have time for, focusing not only on my mental health, but on others’ too. I’ve learnt that it’s okay to slow down, especially after being in London, and have lazy days. This is also a time where not just myself, but my friends have also been creative. It’s given us a chance to think more about our future and what path we want to venture on next.
I think having a break from normality helps to put your life into perspective and essentially lets you think with a clear mind. I have learnt to take a break from social media and tried to minimise my screen time as this can make you feel more productive and help improve your mental health.
Overall, it has also taught me to appreciate the time spent with friends and family more and to live in the moment (once this is all over, of course). I don’t think we ever expected to live through a global pandemic, and I think everyone has learnt something new. Whether it be a new skill, something new about themselves or just generally widening their horizons.
Life after lockdown
Personally, I have no idea what to expect. As we are patiently waiting for a cure to be discovered, it’s a matter of continuing to stay safe, minimise going outdoors and meet others. I constantly think about the future, going back to university and what that would mean if I wanted to visit my family back home after being exposed again.
My family and I are worried about how the new normality will be now that people start going back to work and schools and businesses gradually start to reopen. I think people will be worried, which is understandable, but also excited as the life they crave ‘begins’ again. This strange time we are living in has certainly been an eye-opening experience. Although it has been daunting, there have been many moments where I have been thankful to slow down.