“This time of forced self isolation we are having to face is a valuable insight to the lives of people who live with chronic illness. The struggles and difficulties people are talking about now (the lack of certainty, the fear of catching infection and it leading to death, being restricted in what you can do in your day to day life) is something that people with chronic illness face every single day.”
If you want to know how to survive six months in self-isolation, speak to Siobhan. She has been self isolating and social distancing since October due to a severe flare up of her illness, but has come out the other side with a shiny new perspective on life and a proud acceptance of herself.
Siobhan has Crohn’s disease, and whilst she is no stranger to the condition, having being diagnosed with it at the age of 17, the recent flare up brought a multitude of new, debilitating symptoms and also some of her darkest days. After a hospital admission, she was signed off indefinitely from her job as a senior history teacher, and needed her mum and husband to meet all her basic needs. Eating was painful and unenjoyable, showering and dressing became too much of a chore. She was at her lowest point, both physically and emotionally and as her condition worsened, she began to withdraw more and more from the rest of the world. So much of her identity was steeped in her career, and not being able to work made her question who she was without it.
Self-isolating when the rest of the world isn’t, is a very different experience to what we’re going through at the moment. There was no solidarity, no camaraderie amongst friends and colleagues, no video chats in the middle of the day or pop quizzes on Zoom; everybody else was at work and busy getting on with their day to day lives. It was a very lonely time for her.
After a few moths of living like this, her treatment started to work and she slowly found elements of her old self coming back. Day by day she started to heal. She reflected a lot on her illness and her time at home, and drew positives wherever she could.
When she started to feel able, she took free online courses, read the books that had always sat on her shelf, cleaned the house, exercised, cooked and ate healthy food; all the things she could begin to enjoy again and that she had previously taken for granted. She wrote lists to help organise her day and set herself challenges and tasks. Every day there was something new to try and a sense of achievement to be had.
“I saw this time of being in isolation as a chance to better myself. It gave me the chance to press the ‘reset’ button on my life and a chance to reflect on what I was taking for granted.”
She draws parallels with people forced into isolation amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, and how it brings an opportunity for people to grow and change – not just as a society but on a personal level too.
“I hope that this is giving frontline NHS staff a new level of respect that they have always deserved and I hope when all this is over they are fittingly rewarded. I desperately hope that the world keeps hold of this renewed compassion, that we become less judgemental and that we hold on to what is truly valuable in life.
I love that the arts must be getting a huge boost at the moment, and that when people think about this stretch of time, it isn’t about stocks and shares or data and targets, it’s about reading books, watching movies, listening to music, drawing and writing. I can’t wait to see the amazing works that will come out of this time.”
Siobhan was due to return to work after Easter, but seeing as the schools are closed, she will begin to work from home for as long is necessary. I asked her if she felt frustrated that just as she was feeling well enough to venture back into the outside work, the outside world became closed off to her. She doesn’t see it that way.
“I am not afraid of a further period of self isolation; it’s the rest of the world who should be afraid because when this is over, I am going to be unstoppable!”