Illustration by Jess Aleo
Last night, I had a Zoom chat with other girls who have chronic illnesses. I finished chemotherapy a year ago and am in remission now, but I still have long term side effects. The one that affects me at a time like this is being immunosuppressed, which means I am at high risk if I catch Coronavirus. I went into this video chat a bit nervous that people would talk statistics, focusing on the ever-growing number of cases. I always have to leave the room when my parents watch the news because the death count is constantly on show. However, about an hour into this video chat I realised that there were other people who felt the way I did. Isolation is critical to the daily life of many people with chronic illnesses. It’s a norm that I - and all those in the chat - have experienced before.
I already spent five months of isolation during chemotherapy, so in some respects this feels uncomfortably comfortable. Low immunity during chemotherapy meant that my house was already equipped with masks, gloves and hand sanitiser dispensers drilled into the walls. Although this time was trying - as it is for everyone currently - it has left me well versed in finding things to do at home. After watching everything Netflix has to offer, you need to get inventive.
In a time where it has been hard to access my support system - from health workers to a gentle hug from a friend - I found that structuring my life helped me maintain some normality. Usually life might be structured around the workday, waiting for the weekend or that 6pm glass of wine. Instead I have a calendar filled with personal projects, exercise and making my go-to comfort food. For me, yoga in the mornings and watching isolation friendly home workouts have rallied me a little, showing how people are coming together to support each other from a distance. I find myself wishing that I had these things accessible to me when I was going through chemotherapy. During that time I created bucket lists instead, which included a mixture of realistic and farfetched goals. Dancing on stage with Lady Gaga fitted into the latter category, but improving my surfing is getting ticked off in just a few months. I do appreciate that I am writing this from a place of privilege, as I am able to live with my family and not have to worry about where my next meal will come from. For those in a similar position to me and with the means to support charities, doing so should be at the top of everyone’s list at this difficult time.
The hardest bit for me about going through isolation again is the constant misinformation about COVID-19. An astonishing amount of texts have been forwarded to me saying, “A friend of mine was told...”. Even if that friend of a friend of a friend is a doctor, medical advice is so easily shared through social media now that has not been fact checked. WhatsApp has now limited how many times you can forward a message for exactly this reason. It is scary to be in a high-risk category but we are fortunate enough to have our NHS that provides the correct information online, which I recommend you all stick to be safe.
Although the situation is daunting, there have been some moments which have warmed my heart as people come together in support of those who need it. Family and friends have dropped off supplies to our doorstep. A group of my friends are sending me photos of the art they made that day. Social media is proving to be an incredible tool where people are providing free entertainment in the sheer hopes to cheer people up. Paloma Wool has been doing a live Instagram video daily featuring different performers including spoken word poets and dancers. To even get out of bed and engage in some of these things while in isolation is an achievement. There was a day during treatment last year where my friend came over and showed me a Fortnite dance that they had learnt just to make me laugh. Dancing our way through isolation could just be the best way through.
Written by Ameera Mian