A Winter of Shielding

What a strange year! 🙂 Aside from a few weeks of freedom in the height of summer, Phil and I have spent the last thirteen months shielding from the coronavirus. Staying in to stay safe. Between March and July, and between September and March, our home and village have been our whole world. No catch-ups or shops or exercise with friends. No day trips or Christmas bubbles or leaving our area. All social interaction has taken place over the internet, all shopping delivered. A year of finding fun on our doorstep, a year of making our own entertainment, a year of trying to keep our sanity. Scary and exciting and lonely and relaxing and bleak and reflective and exhausting and thankful. What a paradox. What an experience!

On paper, our second bout of shielding should have been easier. Many of the causes of my stress and anxiety when we first locked down, were barely worries the second time. Supermarkets had proved they wouldn’t run out of food, priority slots guaranteed us a delivery, and the Tesco basket limit was increased (it’s 115 now! 🙂 ). There were no longer shortages of pasta and toilet roll and yeast, we still had our emergency food, and our local brewery and butcher and miller and milkman continued to deliver. Queues to enter websites were less common, couriers delivered on time, and masks and hand sanitizer were easily sourced. And our local pharmacy began delivering prescriptions. No more relying on friends!

Furthermore, when we shielded the second time, the virus was no longer a complete unknown. A brand new monster. With growing research about its transmission, and with Phil able to work from home, thus shield with me, we felt more hopeful that we could avoid it. We continued to social distance from neighbours and dog walkers, and chatted to couriers through windows- we no longer felt embarrassed. And we felt comfortable to stop quarantining post and parcels and food deliveries- instead just binning packaging and washing hands thoroughly afterwards. Yay- I hated waiting for my Amazon treats! 😛 After a while we also stopped washing food tins and boxes, as they would be stored before use. But we persevered with washing fresh food… until last month. After a year of drying wet apples for hours on the kitchen table, it was driving me mad! I never thought I’d be thankful for plastic packaging! And we felt safe enough to have takeaways- if we reheated it and used our own plates. Fish and chips Friday again! 😀

Moreover I stopped obsessing over the news. Although I still kept myself updated, I no longer followed every coronavirus story, read every related article, watched every government briefing. I no longer made a note of the daily case and death figures! And I felt much better for it. Less anxious. During the winter of shielding, my every thoughts were no longer solely about the virus.

What’s more, in the second half of the year, my health was monitored better. Although non-essential hospital tests continued to be postponed (I’ve a backlog to do eventually!), and most medical discussions continued to be done virtually; more services found safe ways to start up again. PPE and masks and vaccines and fewer patients. And so consequently I was less anxious about seeking medical care. I had a couple of hospital meets with my Pulmonary Hypertension team, and some GP in-person appointments for practical tests and the flu jab. And happily, as I could now self-monitor my INR level at home, I could take my warfarin at the right dose! 😉

But although many of the causes of anxiety and stress from the first six months of shielding, were thankfully solved and less worrisome during the second bout, I still found the winter of shielding much harder. Much much harder. The cold and dark and cold and dark were difficult backdrops to life under lockdown. The wet weather and low temperatures and lack of serotonin-inducing sunshine affected my health directly. As usual my physical health deteriorated- I needed more oxygen, was fatigued, and found daily tasks more tiring. My usual winter blip. And my mental health skydived down. My mood is enormously affected by weather; so without sunshine to boost it, I struggled to keep storm clouds at bay. Depression quickly took a hold of my head and heart.

The weather during the winter of shielding, also directly affected everyday life. Many of the activities that had kept us happy and sane and entertained during the first lockdown, were not possible in the second. The ground was too solid for gardening, the weather too wet for neighbourly chats, and it was too cold for astronomy. Although we went on a dog scoot or walking practice daily, my lungs rebelled if outside for too long, and the boggy fields stopped us exploring far. Consequently our world got even smaller. The latter six months of shielding were largely spent inside. We watched a lot of box sets, listened to podcasts, and fell in love with jigsaws! I worked on photobooks, Phil built fences and decking in the garden, and we played some new board games. And amazingly, wonderfully, thankfully (and unbelievably), we raised £17,000 for the PHA from our walking and running challenges! 😀 Our social life was conducted through a screen- with regular quizzes and game nights and catch-ups. And through Zoom we watched more live theatre shows, listened to some talks and debates, and completed a couple of learning courses. And we tried a new recipe every week… homemade butter and bacon and hot cross buns! But without the structure of a job, and without the weekly Clap for Carers or Theatre Thursday like in Spring… for me, the days very quickly became indistinguishable from each other. Weekdays and weekends merged into groundhog day. Monotony ruled.

The highlight of the second lockdown was adopting Kepler, our Patterdale pup. He gave me a purpose and a job and a focus. Suddenly life was devoted to helping this little whirlwind. Training him, teaching him, helping him to settle. My days revolved around him and his needs and his strict timetable. It was exhausting and constant and full on. I’ve never needed so many early nights or cups of tea! 😉 The months of shielding worked wonderfully in our favour. We had time aplenty to fully and completely focus on helping him. And time for him to trust us, learn a routine, calm down; before being introduced to the bigger world. We’d never have taken on a rescue puppy with such intense needs, if we hadn’t been locked down. Kepler made our winter of shielding harder, but oh so much better. 🙂

After 335 days of shielding, I’m really hoping that will be the last time. There’s a big exciting world to introduce Kepler to! 🙂

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