“We have identified that you’re someone at risk of severe illness if you catch Coronavirus.”
I’ve heard and read these words so many times over the last few weeks. Logically, I understand why; I know my decreased immunity would impact my ability to recover from coronavirus if I caught it. I realise how vitally important it is that I follow the strict advice I’ve been given, to stay inside, shielding myself from the world for however long is necessary. As much as I miss my job, my daily routine, and face-to-face contact with people outside my household, I know the risk is just too great.
None of this makes it any easier to get my head around the new label I’ve recently acquired. Extremely Vulnerable.
I’m thirty-two, I’m reasonably fit, and other than the odd migraine, I can’t remember the last time I was unwell. To the casual observer, I don’t look at all like somebody who is at risk at the moment. I don’t naturally feel this way about myself either.
It’s so strange to me that contrary to what I feel I should be doing in these circumstances, I need to do the exact opposite, stay at home and accept help. I find this extremely frustrating, not only because I want to be more helpful than I am, but because of how it makes me feel about myself.
I haven’t always been as independent, healthy and capable as I am now. These things are hard-won achievements, and something I’ve had to fight for, both against others perceptions of me as someone ill, impaired and in need of protection, and against my own mind telling me “Are you sure you should be doing that? You are ill, after all?”
From where I’m sitting now, inside the house for the foreseeable future, trying to strike a balance between keeping up some sort of daily routine and allowing myself enough space to maintain my mental health, it’s like I’ve fallen into some weird coronavirus-induced time warp. I’ve gone back to where I used to be before the Very Big Mindshift happened and I realised I was a person with a chronic illness and not just a patient. My ill health did not have to define me beyond what I chose.
But right now, it does. Instead of independent and capable, I feel trapped, reliant and more than a little anxious. As much as I want to go out and volunteer somehow, I can’t. I’m not able to leave the house, so not only am I fairly useless to other people, I’m limited in what I can do to help myself. I’ve had to move to stay with friends who can keep me safely shielded, and register online as an “extremely vulnerable person” so I can easily access help if I should need it in future. I’ve also seen and read numerous worrying news reports mentioning “people with underlying illnesses”, “preexisting conditions” and “at-risk groups”. It always takes a minute for my mind to register that they’re referring to me. This dependence is a jarring reminder of the past life I hoped I’d left behind forever.
My self-image and my reality no longer match. My health is currently the best it’s been in many years, but I’ve also never been so at risk. Every realisation of “I can’t do that anymore.” is a reminder that even though my illness is invisible, it will never be completely absent.
EDIT: Thanks so much to Kidney Care UK for reproducing this post in the Autumn 2020 edition of Kidney Matters magazine.