Freedom Day. It’s hard to imagine a name more starkly at odds with the reality faced by so many of us.
I, along with millions of other clinically vulnerable people, have been shielding for sixteen months now. I have no idea when that will end, but it will not be today.
With covid cases in the UK very high once again, I continue to live largely as I have done since the pandemic began. I am far from alone in this: countless others besides me have little choice but to remain in a state of isolation and great caution until case numbers have fallen again. (Many, of course, have employment and other life commitments that make this level of vigilance impossible, however necessary it may be.) Whilst vaccination appears to significantly reduce the risk of serious illness from covid, even a milder case could be detrimental to those of us already severely unwell. In addition, a significant number are unable either to have the vaccine, or to mount an adequate immune response to it.
It’s not just we shielders who are affected, but those who live with and care for us too. My mother, who has been isolating with me since March last year, will carry on living a very limited life, solely for my protection. It is easy to feel overlooked by the rest of the world, and particularly by our political leaders. The restrictions being thrown off with relief by wider society would in themselves represent a life of unimaginable freedom for us.
I have witnessed such fortitude and humour among my seriously ill friends in the face of the pandemic; a pandemic which has added further complexity to already very difficult lives.
One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced over the past year has been protecting my fragile body while at the same time not perceiving threat in every contact with the outside world. Finding the balance between sensible precaution and damaging paranoia can be difficult when surrounded by so much uncertainty. I have struck that balance as well as possible, as have all those I know in similar situations. I have witnessed such fortitude and humour among my seriously ill friends in the face of the pandemic; a pandemic which has added further complexity to already very difficult lives.
Ultimately my approach to living with the ongoing covid situation is the same as with my illness as a whole. I accept my limitations, while living the best life I can within them. I mourn all that has been taken from me whenever necessary, but I cherish every small thing that remains. I gently stretch my boundaries when it is safe for me to do so, but – and this final one is very much a work in progress – I trust my own wisdom when it tells me that something is too much for me.
I may have little true freedom, but I do have the freedom to believe in my own inner strength; the freedom to trust my own wisdom.
I’ve been thinking a lot about resilience lately. Of the many things that my illness has taken from me – freedom, independence, more experiences and milestones than I could ever list – one of the greatest has to be the loss of physical resilience. The fear and uncertainty that come from never knowing how one’s body will behave (or, conversely, from knowing exactly how it will behave) is destabilising beyond words. Irrespective of the pandemic, my lack of physical resilience frequently leaves me scared and despairing.
But to focus too closely on that is to overlook something of equal, and maybe greater, importance: my resilience of spirit. I have lived through fire many times over; I have been burnt to ashes, and yet I have risen. I may have little true freedom, but I do have the freedom to believe in my own inner strength; the freedom to trust my own wisdom. Today I join hands with all those too vulnerable to return to normality, but whose spirits are strong with courage. We will come through this.
[Footnote: Freedom Day is the name being used in the UK for the 19th July, when all remaining legal restrictions related to covid are lifted.]
I have written previously on the coronavirus pandemic in the following pieces:
Life in Lockdown: What Matters When All Is Lost (April 2020)
The Uncertainty of Life After Lockdown (July 2020)
Seeking Peace in a World of Uncertainty (March 2021)
Image credit: Reaching hand by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash
Image description: Main image: a hand reaches out towards a point of light on the horizon