This time around, lockdown has been a completely different experience. As a teenager with complex and multiple health issues I have not been back to school since March, but until a few weeks ago I had seen friends from a social distance at church, at church youth group and in my garden. Now even that has stopped. The solidarity and comradery experienced in April, May and June has dissipated, because this time very little has changed for my friends; school is open and life goes on. My sisters groan when lockdown is mentioned – for them this news went stale in the summer. In the spring I heard it said that we are all in the same storm, but experiencing it in different boats. Now it feels like even the storm we are experiencing is different.
Having spent much time in hospital I am used to missing out, but feeling ill, I never felt up to much. However, there have been times when I have been completing a course of intravenous antibiotics or visiting the hospital for thrice weekly dialysis, when the feeling of exclusion has been a part of life with renal failure. If the first lockdown brought anything, I hope it is that we’ll all have more compassion and understanding for what it is like living with a health condition, where missing out becomes part of life.
In the spring we were all so grateful of the weather, with, “thank goodness its sunny” becoming a regular refrain, often appended with, “can you imagine being locked down in winter?” So with an increasing sense of impending doom we found ourselves faced with a winter lockdown. And winter weather has lived up to par; wet, windy and wild tempered by days of damp grey nothingness. The trees have cried their leaves and stand bare and bereft in every field. Every year it is depressing and this year seemed set to be more so. Until I was introduced to an article called ‘Covid: how to survive a winter lockdown from those who’ve done it’ and the concept that rather than seeing winter as something to endure, we should embrace winter for what it’s worth. I have been in danger of not recognising or celebrating the season I am in, both physical and metaphorical. What if rather than wallowing in winter blues and lockdown frustration, I see these times as seasons? Seasons not to get through, but seasons to embrace.
How I am experiencing a winter lockdown has been transformed. On my daily circumvent of the fields in my village I’ve started to rejoice in the landscape laid before me: winter shadows; silhouettes of the trees displaying the intricacies of their structure (something that is lost when covered in leaves); the squelch of mud on my three wheeler tyres; the drizzle on my face; the sound of the buzzard pair over my head.
There is extra time too, saved by the van journey to and from school, and not waiting between lessons. Time I can utilise to learn new skills and enrol onto one of a plethora of online courses. So far I’ve studied an introduction to classical music with a professor in Yale University, completed a Leith’s cookery school course for teenagers and done an online poetry course. Nothing though beats live lessons. For my friends, these are ‘just lessons’ but for me they are the difference between dry worksheets and tick boxes, and the interaction of a teacher in the classroom; explaining, answering questions and giving feedback. In contrast to the frustration of school work, I have been very blessed that my grandfather has been giving me lessons via Skype in our shared interest in etymology. Every week since the first lockdown, and twice a week since September, we have met to discuss a book on etymology and for Grandpa to impart some of his vast knowledge in English place names. This week we are meeting for lesson 32!
Whilst I feel disconnected from sharing moments together with my friends and the banter in the corridor, I am very fortunate to have friends who include me, write me messages and play games with me on Zoom. One day when I was feeling a bit low my friend wrote me this, ‘Looking forward to being able to see you at school, it may be a very long time but we’ll always be here for you.’ If you know someone who is alone, never underestimate the power of a quick text.
Rather than thinking too much about the people I miss, I have tried to make the most of opportunities to make new connections and strengthen relationships that are hampered by distance whether we’re in lockdown or not. Unusually, I have also been able to say “yes” to everything that comes my way without wondering how I will fit it all in. Opportunities have increased with things being online, for instance last week I was in a group at Dundee University at 2pm, met a consultant in Leeds at 3pm and shared a video for UK Disability History Month at 7pm!
For me, travel has always been tricky. I don’t like sitting strapped in my chair for hours in the van and rail travel is restricted to day trips, because I need so much equipment for an overnight stay. Many years ago I went on a train to France, but I needed less than half the extra oxygen I need now and just transporting what I need for a day trip would be difficult. Flying has its own complications, because the reduction in air pressure would probably mean I spend the journey in my ventilator. Now everyone is experiencing some of these same restrictions and it’s never been easier for me to widen my horizons. The need for virtual travel is now universal.
Whilst I am locked down at the moment, I spent the first nine years of my life with my ability to communicate locked in. I would choose a year of lockdown over a day of locked in. Another upside to this season has been the ability to spread the message of my charity beyond the confines of geographical restrictions. Rather than being restrained in lockdown my voice has been amplified in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
By far the most surprising benefit of lockdown have been the repercussions on my health. In shielding I haven’t just avoided Coronavirus, but also the other seasonal illnesses which usually come my way. And my kidney hasn’t felt this happy since transplant. What my consultant agreed to let me term “my miracle time”. We both know it probably won’t last, so I’m making the most of it whilst it does.
Every season has a rhythm of its own, and whilst time outside is now reduced to the daily walk, inside my sisters and I have more time to bake and watch films snuggled together in my duvet. During the last lockdown I tried to tweet every day using the hashtag I made for the season #ThankfulNotFearful because fear was culpable in its crippling nature. From September, I realised that the equally damaging more insidious danger of resentment was becoming an issue for me. So now I tweet #GratefulNotResentful as much as a reminder to me as a potential help to others. Thankfulness and gratitude sprinkled with generous amounts of laughter will carry us through every season we live through.