Some tips for dealing with isolation

 

I did a little chat to video for my healthy, mostly able-bodied friends because crips like me are old hands at handling isolation so we can share some tips that might help. [Hmmm, Tips from Crips, maybe that should’ve been the title? Crip Tips?] Aaaanyway, then my friends all asked to share it so here it is in written form because the audio was not always that clear…

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Admittedly it’s initially been hard to deal with the healthy folk not coping with their, what is to us, very brief and temporary isolation with their mostly functional bodies. We’ve continued at the periphery being referred to as ‘other’ through the “only” the vulnerable will die phase, then people buying everything leaving the vulnerable without, then people not staying at home to protect the vulnerable and finally only doing so when it seemed to be important to them personally and now they are at home and we’re finally being risked less – we’re hearing a lot of complaining about how awful it is being stuck at home temporarily whilst able-bodied.

And I’ve shared about this for insight because healthy people can look at their current experience and try to imagine what that’s like as a forever situation because that could mean more awareness and care for people like us out on the periphery, but what I don’t want is for people to feel shamed into hiding their frustrations because ‘so-and-so has it worse’, that’s not helpful at all. Your frustrations are valid, even though we’re jealous of you because even in lockdown you are capable of all the things we would like to do at home but either struggle to do at all or simply can’t.

Picture of a tiger growling underwater with the text: "When life gets harder...you must have just leveled up"

When life gets harder, you must have just leveled up!

But we do have a lot of experience dealing with isolation so…

First of all – yes, being stuck at home sucks. The early stages are particularly potent as we go from living a faster paced life to what feels like a standstill. Over time you’ll settle into it more but let’s see if we, the long isolated chronically ill lot, can help with that transition at all.

Not all of our experiences are relevant to you. When we first found ourselves where you are we had lost our identity because we could no longer work (amongst all the other things we could no longer do) but what we do for a living is key because that is how we’ve been raised to define ourselves. The standard “and what do you do?” question that we get all the time because the assumption is that everyone does something, and we do, but what we do doesn’t ‘count’, as it were. Even after no longer being able to train for a career, work to earn an income, do the things we used to do and go out to see friends, go on excursions, to events etc we still don’t actually do “nothing”. Our time is filled with pain and symptoms and finding ways to cope with that on top of the frustrations of not being able to do stuff. So we will spend hours trying to build our body up to trying to get some food, trying to have a shower etc.

This is obviously not how your time is being filled. You are mostly able-bodied, used to being on the go and suddenly find yourself stuck indoors. You’re most likely really frustrated and because you can’t go out you and we’re all only human, you are probably wanting to do all the things that involve going out.

So here’s the trick, and when we (the chronically ill) get told this initially it sounds really  offensive until we understand it better but as you don’t have the health issues getting in the way it might make more sense to you earlier on…the trick is… “acceptance”. <shudder>

Yes it sucks. We haaaate this one! But the key is that this is not about ‘giving in’, not at all, it’s simply about acknowledging the parameters of the situation because once we’ve done that we stop bashing our heads against them and are freed up to think about what we can do within those, admittedly sucky, crappy, horrid parameters.

So…seeing as you’re stuck indoors, what is there indoors that you could do?

Yes, all the cleaning and DIY etc

But, also

Who are you? What do you enjoy? What have you been putting off or not getting round to that you’d like to do or try? Not work related stuff. You related stuff.

Who were you before the adulting?

Art? Books? Writing?

This is your time. To be you. Indulge in yourself.

We try to do this but it’s hard because we mostly still struggle to do any of this stuff. Managing to get to the toilet has to come before doing something for us. And doing something for us always renders us in more pain/with more symptoms etc so it ends up being a rare thing indeed, but you have this opportunity here because you’re not restricted like we are. I’m not saying ‘ooh look we’re worse off than you’, what I’m trying to say is… you have the opportunity to really run with this in ways that we can’t. This could be pretty awesome!

At first it kinda feels like you’re at school and have been told it’s ‘indoor play’, ugh!

The trick is to re-frame it – it’s not so much like indoor play – as getting to go home early! You can play, it’s guilt-free time to just ‘be’. And you can do it in your house with all your stuff. So be you.

No-one else will see… your drawing, your poetry, your writing, your new attempts at recipes with the random ingredients you’re having to work with! No-one will see your home-made videos (unless you choose to share any of these afterwards of course). No-one will see your fort (oh yes, adults can totally make forts too). The decision is all yours.

One key tool that we use is not to look too far ahead into the future. So rather than looking at the potential weeks at home stretching out ahead of you the trick is to think of a thing you’d like to do and focus on that instead. We rarely know what day of the week it is because unless we have a doctors appointment they are basically the same Groundhog Day over and over. If we acknowledged the days going by without us we’d be a forlorn mess. All those people living their lives when we no longer can. In this instance though you’re not getting left behind because everyone is in the same boat. Or most people anyway. Most people are having to isolate and not do what they usually would be doing. So you have an opportunity to play without getting left behind.

Re-focusing helps with worries about the future as well. Income is a concern for many. We understand this concern, it is ever present in our lives and unless we could step back from that we would never cope. We don’t just block it out, what we do is what we can for now – get that set in place. Then what is out of our hands is out of our hands. Worrying about it would send us doolally with the stress about the resulting impacts that would bring. So once we know we’ve done all we can for now, we step away from that as well and consciously focus on something else. For our own sanity. This is crucial. Do what we can then shift focus.

Stopping to notice the little things. People don’t usually do this unless they’re are on holiday. It takes some time to wind down and slow down enough to do this. Work on it. Have a cup of tea, look out of the window, notice the sounds, the feels, acknowledge anything that you like. Let it make you smile. These little things pass us by usually but when we’re isolated they become a quality part of our lives.

Keep in contact with others. You’re used to seeing people every day and suddenly it’s not happening. The silence can be deafening. Check in with friends. Send messages, silly pics, make video calls, have a laugh. Contact friends who live alone or are chronically ill, the former are currently extra isolated and the latter are always isolated and are suffering from years of this. You will make their day just by saying hi. Trust me!

Keep some semblance of routine though so that your body doesn’t rebel too much. Sitting around in jammies all day is okay for the first couple of days but then we really need a focus or things can easily slide. If they do that you can find yourself without a coherent sleep cycle or decent nutrition and if you do get ill your body may not be so ready to deal with it. So keep clean and get dressed, have mealtimes still, look after your body and be you.

So to re-cap, some tools we use:

  • Accept the parameters (they’re shit, we don’t get to choose them)
  • Re-frame it as an opportunity
  • Don’t look to far into the future: prepare as much as you can for eventualities and then re-focus
  • Get in touch with who you are on the inside, regardless of job, positions in society etc
  • Look for possibilities within those parameters that might make you smile
  • Take time to pause and notice the little things
  • Keep in contact with others (we have the technology)!
  • Keep a routine so that your body has enough sleep, nutrition, exercise etc

So…what do you feeeel like doing? What do you have in the house? Are you gonna put a tent up in the garden and listen to the birds? Are you gonna do some drawing in secret just for your heart’s content? Do you feel in need of putting on some music and having a really good dance-like-no-one’s-watching moment? Awesome! Do it! Not sure what your focus will be yet? No worries, stick the kettle on and have a think. That’s part of the process. Rediscover who you are on the inside and allow them out to play. You might find one thing you want to do or you might find lots of little things along the way. You might prefer to make gifts for other people to make them smile. It’s all good. Let your inner you take you on an adventure.

xx

 

 

 

Why healthy people’s panic responses to COVID-19 perplexes the chronically ill

I wrote this the other day and it’s very rough around the edges but as this is a window on current events I’m posting this during the time it’s happening. Here is why The Spoonies are Baffled…!

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The stuff healthy people have been panicking about has seemed kinda surreal to us Spoonies. It’s just so far from our reality. That’s not to say their concerns are less valid than our own, everyone’s concerns are valid, but they can be very different indeed and from a broader view there is a distinct difference in scale of risk e.g. ‘I’m worried I might run out of food’ on the one hand and on the other ‘I’m worried about my heightened risk of death, I need to isolate for my own protection but am having to go to the shops even more than usual to try to find food because everyone else seems to have bought it all’.

Elle and the Auto Gnome, Brain fog

A cartoon sketch of me looking utterly perplexed.

Magic Dude is having to come home via the supermarket more often, not less, because he has to keep checking if the essentials that weren’t there have been re-stocked yet. This is the complete opposite of what he should be doing as he has a vulnerable partner at home. We live in an individualistic society, I know everyone looks after themselves first, but buying up all the supplies so that the most vulnerable can’t isolate feels pretty personal when you’re one of the ones being put at greater risk.

Healthy people will have to be at home for awhile. Anyone who does this will save lives. We generally cannot do all the things that you can do at home. To us you have a superpower, a privilege of relative health and able-bodiedness. You have time at home during which you can do stuff that we battle our bodies to do once in a blue moon.

Seeing as our worst case scenario from catching SARS Co-V2 is death… running out of loo roll is pretty meh to be honest. We have cloths and a washing machine. I’d rather that than die. No biggee, right? Stuck at home for a few weeks, meh, try decades, we’ve got this! Having to explain to people why they shouldn’t put others at risk, weeell that’s an extension of endlessly having to explain our conditions anyway, we even have to explain our specialist conditions to non-specialist doctors so it’s basically same-old same-old. But none of these are easy. Having no toilet roll is, well, shit! But more so when you’re chronically ill and less able to do washing. Being stuck at home but being unable to do anything owing to the chronic illness is sucky beyond description. Having to explain why we have a right to treatment/life is indescribably exhausting and demoralising. But when my bruv called me the other day and asked how the lockdown was going I said “same as always!” and laughed, because this is my life. It’s not going to pass. Everyone else will go back to the Great Outdoors and Doing Stuff and we will be left living our lives silently behind closed doors again. Forgotten about once more.

A lot the stuff healthy people are currently worried about and experiencing to a lesser extent, for the most part, also creates a chance that maybe, just maybe, some people will get an insight into how they are aspects of our permanent, daily lives.

An ‘ah-ha moment’ could potentially happen!

How long they’ll remember that is a whole ‘nother thing, but still… a moment of understanding from people usually outside of comprehending our reality can be important. It can strengthen or recreate a connection to those friends who don’t really keep in contact, who don’t visit even though they always say they want to, (a typical impact of chronic illness is loss of friends and occasional empty promises of seeing a 3D human are initially thrilling but often ultimately devastating). We’re so isolated pretty much all of the time.

For years.

We see doctors and sometimes family.

And.

That’s.

It.

Each year I can count the exceptions to this rule on one hand and still have fingers free to hold several biscuits at once. (This may of course be a bonus)?

So yeah, this is kinda like my experience growing up in the countryside and getting snowed in by 6’ snowdrifts a couple of weeks per year, then moving to a city and witnessing the carnage and panic caused by a mere dusting of snow. It was so beyond my comprehension that anyone would act that way in what, to me, were such minor circumstances that it was truly surreal to behold! The chronically ill community and our carers are seeing the healthy population do things that we find utterly bemusing under the circumstances. Magic Dude has often been lost for words to describe his befuddlement over what he’s been seeing and experiencing when he goes on essential food runs. There’s talk amongst healthy people of how it’s not surprising because people are under so much stress, and yet we’re still utterly bemused because we are under at least that much stress all the time and we can’t comprehend how it would cause that behaviour. To us it looks like a madness of sorts.

Then there’s the angering behaviour. Some crafters have been smugly showing off their finds online as if there’s nothing wrong with buying the last bottles of alchohol swabbing stuff from the diabetics stock. Seriously? How is this acceptable in any shape or form? I can’t imagine what kind of people would see such a post and cheer at someone effectively saying “I can craft at the expense of a vulnerable person’s health. I did this by choice. Yay me, bet you’re so impressed/jealous!”? Or at least, I don’t want to imagine those kind of people. Or those moaning about how the vulnerable customer hours at supermarkets are filled with ‘normal’ people when, you know, invisible illness is the majority of chronic illness and these people are very vulnerable. We’re as invisible and deemed irrelevant as ever it seems. In the UK we had weeks of ‘oh it’s okay, only the elderly and chronically ill will die’. Oh. That’s okay then. (Arse).

So… we have to look out for each other because in our extensive experience pretty much no-one else is going to.

Fortunately, the UK is now catching up with what we knew was coming weeks ago and did nothing about. The government has advised we remain at home and only go out for essentials such as procuring food or medicine. Magic Dude has fiiiinally found that places he’s getting sent to for work are no longer packed with people. He has been designated a ‘keyworker’ and can’t work from home so he can’t fully protect me (or himself, he has asthma) as he has to go out into the world and he has to come home to look after me. We need others to protect us by not going out there. Humans shed coronavirus for days before even starting to show any symptoms, so not feeling ill has no relevance to whether you are spreading the infection to vulnerable people. He was working in a hospital the other day and overheard someone say “I realise it’s real, now”.

<headdesk>

Meanwhile, here’s an insight to what’s been going on in the chronically ill community. First: it’s… well… a community, so it’s not so extremely individualistic because we strongly identify with each other. We’re part of the same tribe. Broadly speaking there is support and information being shared, a good support group can be invaluable to a patient. There are differences and personalities that clash but when the shit hits the fan we band together. Unlike in the healthy population the main go-to is not ‘save myself’ individualistic values. The main theme is information based – we want to share it to protect each other and the information is even more important to us because we are far more at risk from complications, but not everyone is trained on assessing source reliability. Sharing anything we see without checking the source is how unhelpful / incorrect information gets spread. This is an issue for healthy folk as well but a) it doesn’t risk their lives to the same extent and b) it seems to be secondary to Buying All the Things.

We know what it’s like to be without. To be restricted. To not have health support. To need meds and not be able to get them. The majority of help and information-sharing that I’ve seen in my social media network of both chronically ill and able-bodied has actually been from the chronically ill. Those who are most limited and most vulnerable are being most pro-active about protecting others. ‘At risk’ people still recovering from the coronavirus reaching out to share crucial information with fellow patients. ‘At risk’ people in hospital reaching out to their fellow patients because they know those are the people who understand the risks and complications and can offer relevant info or advice rather than empty encouragement. ‘At risk’ people sharing information to protect their at risk friends and extended family.

The other type of friend in my social media world who have been sharing valuable information are my science friends. Some friends are both ‘at risk’ and scientists. (Yes, we can be both highly qualified and intelligent while also being chronically ill and even cognitively impaired).

The general kinship of the chronically ill is often online because that’s where we live. Social isolation is nothing new to us, it has been our bane for years, often decades. For me, getting to a Tai Chi class was the most social event I got to go to. Since I deteriorated post-fall over 3 years ago my social gatherings are pretty much only with headphones and a laptop. We get to know each other, we get drawn to people who have the biggest overlap with us in a Venn diagram of who we are. Friendships are made and then this happens…

There are tight knit online networks of dear friends who’ve seen each other through thick and thin for yeeaars. Shared with each other details which we can’t share with our healthy friends coz the majority have enough trouble coping with what they know about our illnesses already. Risks of surgeries get discussed in reassuring but practical ways around the condition in question. Health hiccups get posted with questions and the ill-friend network answers. Research papers get shared to inform confused GPs. We can be honest about severity and risk factors because we ‘get it’, we aren’t phased by the severity of everyday issues because that’s our daily experience too. Severe and in-your-face-real is what we have been dealt by our conditions and fellow patients are best placed to understand and support each other even though we’re each up to our eyeballs already.

Along comes another threat to our health. Only this time it doesn’t just threaten one person in the group at a time, it threatens all of us at once. But other than that, it’s ‘just’ another threat to our health. Admittedly it’s a big one, but the point is that this is what we Do. This is what we live with. All the [hecking] time. The risks we face with our health, our treatments, our meds etc on a daily basis are constant and continuously fluctuating and morphing. So we’re not only having to deal with this continuously but also having to endlessly adapt and be flexible to the shifts and changes because they change the problems, complicate them, force us to learn more to understand the science so that we can explain it to our non-specialist doctors. If we don’t we’ll go under. We’d get taken down by the severity of our symptoms, our meds side-effects, our lack of treatment, our lack of medical support and/or understanding. It is relentless.

In light of this insight into the differing responses of the well and the ill, it is hardly surprising that there were initially memes all over the chronically ill community about how when the ‘normies’ are ill we should suggest thinking positive and trying yoga. This is amusing to us because….we get told that shit aaaall the time. Sometimes people will go out of their way to specifically write us a message about the wonders of [insert magical cure here]. Having to repeatedly point out that stuff that helps with certain issues to small extents cannot magic away a neurological condition gets old fast. So after all the yeeeaaars of getting this repeatedly from sooo many people…this is darkly amusing! It’s cathartic!

Elle and the Auto Gnome, health comments on a scale

A seesaw diagram leaning down on the left of the fulcrum. On the right are a few postive comments from medical practitioners (including “There’s nothing left I can teach you”). Weighing it down on the left are a lot of uninformed and damaging comments from others e.g. “Here’s a book about thinking away your pain”, “You’re doing physio so you must be getting better” right through to ” It’s all in your head” on the far left.

And when people are complaining about getting bored at home we’d like to point out that we’re soooo happy if you’d like to swap awhile, you can manage this crap for a bit whilst we finally get to paint and DIY and garden and Tai Chi and bake and and and….all the things we could do at home if we only were well enough.

Of course we could resort to that other age old claptrap we get and start telling people that “it must be sooo niiiice to be at home aaall the tiiiiime”! (Spoiler: it isn’t). (Especially when you are ill and it’s forever).

We use humour to cope with yet another threat to our health (and potentially to our lives) because there are so many of these over the years that a somewhat dark and twisted humour becomes a survival tool of sorts. But what we really want is for no-one to ever say this crap to us again. That maybe they will get some insight to our lives through how much they hate having to stay at home for even such a short time, how bored they get when that’s not even a drop in the ocean yet. Or maybe, and here’s a thought, they might actually stop buying aaaall the Things.

Our healthy friends won’t ever truly know just how relentless that stuff is so they’ll never know how much of a relief it is when they don’t undermine our entire existence and everything we battle through 24/7 with one ignorant, offensive comment. But this health-scare experience might mean a few additional people realise how inappropriate that stuff is. Every little helps, right?! A few less comments like these to deal with would reduce the amount of daily crap we have to deal with. Which would be nice, right? So I can hope, right? (Magic Dude says my most annoying trait is how ridiculously optimistic I am, but I need it to survive so it’s staying).

We love our friends who don’t come out with the Stoopids. To them we say ‘thanks for not being dicks, we The Spoonies appreciate it!’. They’re probably the people who aren’t panic-buying everything from under us, too.

Maybe now that the reality of the threat is sinking in we might see a change in behaviour to something more sustainable to get us through the next few weeks or months. Over-burdened hospitals means that people with no virus but who need to be treated for car accident injuries or a heart attack, for example, may not get the treatment they usually would. Their risk of death is higher because having more critical patients than ventilators means that choices have to be made. Those more likely to survive will be the lucky ones prioritised for treatment. In other parts of Europe we are hearing from nurses openly saying that patient age is currently their first decision maker. Whilst this goes on everyone is at risk, not just those vulnerable to disease complications from the virus. And as people realise this they are finally staying indoors, because now it affects them instead of ‘just’ the vulnerable. <sigh>

As Terry Pratchett pointed out we can be pretty intelligent individually but get us in crowd mentality and we can be pretty stupid. Everyone for themselves and reacting en masse. We see a difference in the underdog groups though. By definition we need to come together to survive because as individuals we don’t count. And we do that as best we can in the face of whatever the masses are doing.

Those chronically ill patients that are also ill with potential COVID-19 are reaching out. Some are in hospital, some at home. Those of us that have any info on potential mitigating factors are sharing them, and there’s a whoooole lot of unconditional support between crip besties. It’s still not quite feeling like spring yet though and winter beats us up to a desperate symptomatic heap of non-functional. Many of our pals haven’t come out of winter shut-down yet, they’re still trying to get to a level where they feel they can communicate. We see posts from them before we get messages. If there’s posts we are reassured, when even those go quiet we know they’re having a ridiculously tough time. Suicidal thoughts are not uncommon for people living with such endlessly intense issues impacting on them, we are used to talking to each other about such stuff. I post stuff regularly and know that my pals are reassured by that. My healthy pals have a different concept about that than my fellow patient friends, they tend to see this as a sign that I’m ticking over okay or at least mostly coping. The latter group know how much I’m struggling not because I tell them more, but because their insight into the reality behind my posts is razor sharp as a result of their own experience. I’m not saying I get suicidal btw, I’ve been there and come through it by my own decision (those that have been revived by medics or talked out of it by others have a high risk of recurrence whereas I’m a stubborn old bint who made a Decision, damnit!) But I’m saying that it’s not uncommon for the chronically ill, and understandably so. And then the government and media declared that it’s okay, only the vulnerable will die. It’s okay. It’s only us. We have no value. No worth. And here’s that other uphill struggle. Where society says our value is in ‘what you do’ in society, for a living, to earn money. It’s bollocks of course, but it’s internalised and takes some (a lot of) routing out. We have to band together to acknowledge each other’s worth, lift each other up, encourage each other. “Keep going.” ” I’m here.” “You can do this.” and that gem of a friend who says “how can I help?” , listens to you turn down their help numerous times with very sensible reasons and then does their own well-informed damage assessment of your situation and, when required, says “tough, I’m helping you anyway!” We have to counterbalance the damage that general society does to us, by sidelining us when they’re not actively punishing us for being ill (I’m not getting into that here, but trust me, benefits assessments are not accurate, people who look ‘normal’ can have genuine need of a disabled parking bay, not being allowed to events because they haven’t made buildings accessible to everyone etc, it’s very restrictive and punitive for a group who are already being punished 24/7 by their own bodies)!

So yeah.

Suffice to say being chronically ill a) sucks, b) results in invisibility / disregard / exclusion and c) stop buying all the Things!

I need tea.

Anyone else fancy a cuppa? Kettle’s going on (when I can physically get to it) xx

making-tea-with-near-fainting

Pencil sketch of me with crossed eyes determinedly trying to make tea. The thought bubble says “must…make…teeaa”.