In 2005 I was diagnosed with a chronic illness – M.E. Only the people who are really close to me, or friends who also have this illness have any real understanding of what this means and how it impacts on my life. Other people see me only on my better days and the rest of the time probably don’t think much about it. When they see me I seem fine so that’s how they know me. They might know that I ‘feel tired’ a lot or that I have to ‘take care of myself’ but other than that they might think about it only when it impacts on them – when I have to cancel plans or I’m not able to turn up for an event or gathering, or I don’t visit as often as I used to.
One of the major ways M.E affects my life is social isolation. I had to leave my job as a teacher, sell my home and now spend long periods of time at home, often on my own. This isn’t about me looking for sympathy. This is how my life has been for a long time now, and in spite of all of this it’s a good life – and luckily I enjoy my own company!
Right now people all over the world are being asked to self-isolate to help slow down the spread of Coronavirus. It’s a scary time as we all face the unknown. People’s lives are being disrupted. They may have to stay at home, maybe work from home, maybe even lose income because they can’t go out.
I know the big changes that are being asked of people right now are really difficult and I want to say that I get it. I understand how huge uncertainties about work and your health and even the security of your own home can induce massive anxiety. I understand that you might feel angry about having to cancel your plans, or stay at home just as the weather might be starting to brighten up a bit (in some places at least). I know the worry you’re feeling about how long this might last or when life can get back to normal.
I’ve been through all of this (while at the same time, having friends, colleagues and doctors questioning the reality of my illness) and continue to go through it on a regular basis, so I empathise with anyone finding this time hard (I am too). Change and uncertainty are difficult and frightening, and we just want someone to tell us that everything will be OK.
I know you might also want to do something that is physically active, to feel like you’re helping in a practical way (and no doubt there’s a place for that too), but sometimes doing something quieter and more passive can be just as important.
Self-isolating can be really hard and I’m not saying this is going to be fun, but it is an opportunity for you to protect yourself and others from becoming ill, which is vital and a big responsibility. It won’t be easy, believe me, but it won’t be forever. And I wonder if it might provide you with an insight into what everyday life is like for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, especially those who are completely housebound and who grieve every day for the things they have to miss out on (trips to the shops, meeting a friend for coffee, even going to work). And I wonder if when these restrictions are lifted from your life, you’ll be able to hold on to that insight and empathy.