This is what it’s like to be a young person who’s shielding right now
‘Easing lockdown for us right now feels like a recipe for disaster’
You’d be forgiven for forgetting that people are still shielding. Boris only mentions them once every… uh, three weeks? If that? In fact, you’d be forgiven for forgetting what shielding even means – that’s how little attention is paid to this group. Shielding is where your immune system is especially vulnerable to the threat of the virus, and so you are made to stay inside and take extra precautions to avoid any human contact except that of your household.
Young people and students have suffered in lockdown, no doubt. The university response has been abysmal, online exams have been a mess, year 13s through to second years have no idea what their uni experience will look like come September and we all really, really miss the pub. But the reality is: people who are shielding are unable to even go for walks. They cannot leave their houses. One of the students I spoke to has had to make her dad sleep downstairs for weeks, because he’s a key worker and she’s shielding. He cannot be within six feet of his daughter within their own house. It’s a whole other world to socially distanced park dates with your mates and dreaming of the days you’ll get to sit in that pub garden again.
Here is the reality for young people shielding right now, who feel much further away from normality that being limited to a few tinnies in the park:
‘I can barely go out for walks because it’s so risky’
Molly is 17 and has been shielding since 16th March because she is diabetic and has hereditary spherocytosis, an abnormality of red blood cells. Molly told The Tab: “I got my letter about a month after I first started shielding actually, and the biggest struggle would be not being able to see the people I was previously seeing every single day at school, I’m so glad I am able to call and FaceTime them however it’s just not the same. Shielding for so long has made me forget what it feels like to have a normal life, and I feel like socialising will be a lot harder as I haven’t been able to do so for so long! I also didn’t realise how important small things like going to the shop and going on walks are, as not being able to do these things have been very difficult to deal with.
“I think they’ve been very vague, and the easing of the lockdown has come out of the blue. I think they’ve left far too much up to personal interpretation, as on their website it still says we should shield until the 30th June. Also, we have only started receiving government help boxes last week, which seems so delayed and some people, such as my nan, haven’t got any yet which seems very unfair. It feels like people like me who are shielding are a government afterthought and it makes me very frustrated. I also feel left behind considering I’m a year 13 student which is extra stress for me. I’m very lucky to live in a village and have spaces to walk where I won’t see many people (if any) but not anyone has this luxury and easing the lockdown measures for us seems like a recipe for disaster.”
‘If someone coughed in the house I’d be terrified’
Sophie has lupus, and has been shielding since the 18th March. A week before this she went on her final nights out, trips to the gym and pub nights with her uni mates – not that she knew they’d be the last. She grew more and more uncomfortable as the virus started to spread, obsessively cleaning her flat and then eventually feeling so compromised she was picked up from uni and taken home by her parents. She hasn’t been anywhere else since because, well – she can’t.
Sophie said: “It’s been very weird and I’ve been up and down a lot. At first I was really anxious. If someone coughed in the house I’d be terrified. My condition is Lupus, which is an autoimmune disease where basically my immune system is overactive and it starts to attack itself. It’s made a lot worse by stress and I’ve definitely felt the effects of the stress I was feeling in the first few week. During my online exams I really wasn’t feeling well, sitting my first one (ironically on World Lupus Day – I’m very on brand) from my bed, in the dark with sunglasses on bc of a migraine and heating pads on all my achy joints and muscles.
“Lupus also impacts each person with it in different ways. I’ve also had a history of lung involvement which I’ve had to be admitted to hospital for in the past, which makes the threat of corona all the more scary. It’s been a few years since I was that bad, but it’s scary that lungs seem to be my weak point.
“The government handling of it has been really frustrating. At the beginning communication was very slow with some people not receiving letters or texts for weeks. Then it feels like we haven’t been kept in the loop or even mentioned since. They extended the shielding until the 30th of June but to my knowledge never properly announced it and it was just an update to the website which was annoying. Now it feels like they’ve eased lockdown at the wrong time for us, just as everyone else is going out more too and there’s fear of a second spike. I’ve chatted to a lot of people who are shielding about it and most aren’t feeling comfortable with leaving the house despite the measures being eased.”
‘I’ve been inside for so long I’m anxious for when lockdown actually ends’
Dan had chemotherapy when he was younger, and is immunocompromised and needs to shield as a result. Dan told The Tab: “For me, it’s been ok. I have only been shielding for a month because my letter was sent a month later than the original letters were sent. So for the first month, despite being classified as ‘vulnerable’, I went to work.” Dan is a key worker in Tesco.
“I have my mum for company and the particular reason for my shielding means that I’m not that vulnerable, considering I was very young when I had the chemo. So I have been going for walks away from others and I’ve been doing a lot of reading and stuff. I think it has been a lot harder for people with serious immunological disorders/immunodeficiencies/people who actually have cancer. But it’s still gonna suck when all my friends are able to meet up in groups of six and I have to stay inside, especially as I still have one month to go.
“I’m yet to lose my mind because I have so much to do at home, but I’m certainly beginning to feel isolated, and recently I’ve started to feel anxious about the lockdown ending because I am so used to being inside all the time. I’ve become used to the safety of my home and being ‘stagnant’. When it all starts up again I’m going to have to start trying to build a life from the rubble of what was in place before. I’m now deferring my masters placement and am going to have to search for new work, which I’ve been told is going to be really hard. That’s what I’m anxious about.”
‘My dad has had to sleep downstairs and stay six feet away from me in our house’
Grace, who has a condition called JIA (juvenile idiopathic arthritis), is shielding because of her condition and the medicine she takes for it – making her immunocompromised. She told The Tab: “I feel like I’ve been handling it ok, all things considered. It has been difficult, but I’m very lucky to get on really well with my family, so that’s helped a lot. My dad is on the frontline as a stroke consultant, so distancing from him within my own house has been one of the hardest things; he has to stay six feet apart from me at all times and sleeps downstairs. I think the biggest struggle being inside all the time is not being able to go on walks. I thought I’d be fine as a I live in a pretty rural bit of the Peak District but unfortunately there are too many tourists for it to be safe for me anymore.
“One of the things that I’ve found the most worrying is that my medical treatment, which I rely on, has been put on pause, which has taken quite a big toll on my health. At the start of lockdown this prevented me from getting a lot of uni work done. I felt really disappointed by the lack of support I got from the uni during that time. I think the governments provisions for continuing medical treatment were really poor and left a lot of vulnerable people, including myself, feeling stranded. I still don’t know when or where I’ll next be able to get my treatment.
“I’m equally concerned that the easing of the lockdown has left a lot of people in my position feeling scared, and like it’s all happening with little concern for our welfare. I would really like to encourage people to continue social distancing, you don’t know who your actions are impacting.”
‘I feel neglected, even now lockdown is being eased. It feels rushed’
Natalie is shielding because she has ulcerative colitis and is therefore vulnerable, so needs to stay inside as much as possible. Trouble is, Natalie received her letter telling her to shield weeks after other vulnerable groups received theirs. She said this meant she was shopping and going out for walks as if she was not extremely vulnerable. When she received the letter, it did not detail why she had to shield, and she had no contact from her GP in regards to this. She had to Google why she was vulnerable, then began shielding.
Natalie said: “I haven’t been super strict in it, but that’s because I live near lots of fields and a country park so it’s been nice to go on walks in evenings with my dog when it’s quiet as it can be. I feel like I’ve completely lost my independence other than that though – I can’t go to the shops to buy myself food, I can’t go get my prescriptions. It’s little things like that are driving me mad. I’m also really finding it difficult to see friends meeting up and not social distancing because they think they’re invincible. It feels a bit like rubbing salt in a wound but then I don’t know if I’m being a bit sour about it.
“I’ve also missed out on returning to work with everyone as I work in a school and right now I don’t think I’ll get to see the class I work with leave their year group. I’m just getting irritable now more than anything I suppose. I also was really angry when I got my letter, there was no information on it regarding why I was shielding and also because it came late – the news was saying we’d reached our peak by that time also so I felt kind of like ‘what’s the point now?!'”
“One thing that has always got me through this was knowing I had an end date – but yet with some research it seems this end date differs from the 13th/15th to the 30th June. There’s no clarity in it or any routine – why would you stop some people shielding two weeks before others?! Also I’ve seen a lot of people receiving text messages to say their shielding is over just out of nowhere. I’m quite lucky my work has been good and said anyone with any underlying health conditions is to carry on working from home but imagine if it hadn’t been? It could have been the case I could have got that text and been made to go into work the next day.
“I definitely feel neglected. My local council have been good, they’ve phoned a couple of times to see how we are and if we need anything at all. I just want it to all be over but also for everyone to be safe with it all. I’m probably more angry with the government prioritising the economy over peoples lives. We’re still having hundreds of death per day, why are we sending kids back?! Especially little ones who can’t social distance! It just feels rushed it really does.”