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5 Women Who’ve Been Shielding Inside For A Year

‘Shielding’ is one of the words most synonymous with the COVID-19 pandemic. Used in conjunction with the group of people termed ‘clinically vulnerable’, it refers to the extreme guidelines that these people have had to follow during the pandemic in order to protect their health. As we come up to the first anniversary of the first UK lockdown, some people will have spent an entire year sheltering indoors, without the takeaway coffees, walks with friends and supermarket visits which have helped the rest of us stay sane throughout this ordeal.For many, the typical person shielding is someone elderly; your nan, for instance. But there are plenty of young people who are classed as vulnerable, too. For these people, making up their own mind about whether an activity is ‘too risky’ to partake in is a privilege they do not have. They have been at the mercy of other people following the rules, and their frustration at those who’ve consistently banged the drum for lifting lockdown is understandable.Ahead, we speak to five young women who’ve spent pretty much all of the last 12 months indoors, shielding from COVID-19. As vaccines roll out and lockdown measures look set to lift, we asked them how they’ve been surviving, what they’ve spent the past year doing and what they hope this pandemic will mean for the future.Isabelle Jani-Friend Isabelle Jani-Friend, 22, is based in Sussex. A freelance writer, she is currently studying for her NCTJ qualification. She is also a campaigner for Just Treatment, an organisation committed to saving the NHS from private corporations. She has cystic fibrosis, osteoporosis and pancreatitis. Cystic fibrosis is a lung condition, with COVID-19 posing a huge risk. Prior to the first lockdown, she had already made preparations to shield. Isabelle has been vocal on Twitter about the misconceptions of shielding over the past year and has often received a negative response. “People shielding haven’t done anything for a whole year but our lives are still valuable, the same as everybody else,” she says. Due to her young age, she’s even had to deal with scepticism about her own vulnerability.On what the past year has been like for her, she says: “It’s been tough, which is, like, very mildly put.” She soon made her peace with the need to shield but having to field comments about disabled lives having “less value” added a nasty edge to the outside world that she has been isolating from.”I took up boxing for a little bit because it’s good when I’m angry, and I’m angry a lot at the state of the world. So that’s been quite good but I’m not really the exercise type.” Boxing was a way to cope with low moments. Screaming into a pillow was also a good coping method, she jokes.Video chats were initially a staple of shielding for Isabelle but not so much as the pandemic wore on – she prefers voice notes. When asked who she has missed the most, she says immediately: “My nan. 100%.””I think that I had this idea in my head when I turned 21 – I talk about this a lot – I thought it was gonna be like the best year of my life because everyone says, ‘Oh, you’re 21 – it’s great!’ But it was the worst year ever and that was really upsetting,” she says, remembering plans she had to travel to Australia with her boyfriend. She just wants to see her family now. “I’ve lost time with people I love, that’s the hardest thing.” The life expectancy for someone with cystic fibrosis is just 44, and losing one of those valuable years is something Isabelle has explored in another piece.On looking ahead to building a more positive future, she says: “The most important things for me are that we find the kindness to be able to share the vaccine with everybody over the world, and also that we actually look after our NHS because we need it.” Importantly, a year of shielding has taught Isabelle what she likes to do. She now thinks that she’ll never again be compelled to say yes to social events she doesn’t want to participate in. Her time is precious, it is not to be wasted. Rachel Charlton Dailey Rachel Charlton Dailey, 31, is a freelance writer based in South Shields. She is the founder and editor of The Unwritten.She has a variety of conditions including lupus, an immune system disorder. Not taking immunosuppressant tablets for the condition – which would have lowered her immune system – meant she was not on the ‘clinically vulnerable’ list. She decided to shield anyway. “You see it all the time on Twitter,” says Rachel, when asked what people get wrong about shielding. The impact this ignorance has on people is huge; she refers to several high profile celebrities who have made statements about lockdown and how “nature should take its course”. Partly in response to such statements, Rachel wrote a piece entitled “Please Stop Killing Us” and has since deleted Twitter from her phone, despite it being helpful to her profession. “Honestly, it’s been tough but at the same time I think I’ve gotten a lot closer to a lot of people,” says Rachel, citing a relationship with a relative that was previously strained. Walking and reading are staples of her daily life. “At the moment I’m reading Claudia Winkleman’s biography and I am loving it!” A sausage dog called Rusty has also been a much-needed companion.When asked who she misses most, the answer is immediate. “My nieces,” Rachel says, noting that their young age means that she’s missed a lot of their growing up.”I’ve really missed just wandering around shops,” she says, with charity shops being a particular favourite. “To be honest, I’ve let myself feel my feelings,” says Rachel. It’s been her go-to method for dealing with low moments: allowing herself to cry, calling people and cuddling her dog. For a future after the pandemic, Rachel would like to see “more accessibility” for disabled people, citing the positive impact that the pandemic has had on remote working and virtual health appointments. She adds: “I’m going to know who I want to spend more of my time with [after this] by who valued the safety of the vulnerable people.” Shona Louise Shona Louise, 23, is a freelance writer and photographer based in St Albans. She also set up an Etsy shop in the course of the third lockdown. She has Marfan syndrome, a rare disorder which has a variety of hallmarks. In line with the UK government’s new modelling of risks to those deemed ‘vulnerable’, she found herself on the updated shielding list. She had already been shielding, however. “I think my condition can be classified as a congenital heart disease,” Shona says, which is a part of the new criteria for those told to shield. She says she is glad that her situation has been recognised and felt relief at being told to shield but is angry and frustrated at the government. “When rules relaxed, especially over [the] summer, I had a lot of friends get in touch and ask if I wanted to meet them. “I didn’t feel comfortable meeting up with friends and a lot of people, not that they struggle to understand that but I think they were surprised that I was still kind of taking that precaution. “There’s this idea that the only people staying at home are older people, that [there] aren’t any young disabled people who are shielding or who are taking these precautions. I don’t think we’ve been considered in the picture of what shielding looks like. “It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster,” Shona continues sadly, with not seeing her girlfriend being one of the hardest experiences. Video chat has been a staple and the pair have set times to speak. “I’ve missed her the most,” she says.Shona has also missed trips to the theatre. Distracting herself by keeping busy and being mindful of her news consumption have helped her to cope. She hopes that being able to work from home will be considered an option for most jobs after all this is over. “I think the world can be a lot more accessible than what we’ve always been told.” Nisha HaqNisha Haq, 27, is based in Hampshire and is a wedding and commercial photographer, alongside other roles. She has asthma and decided to shield despite not being asked to officially. Nisha has found that people like to paint all shielders with a “broad brushstroke”. The stereotypes she sees are both “insensitive” and “out of touch”.”For me personally, it’s been reconnecting with nature,” she says, describing how she’s been getting through the pandemic. She’s also been getting back into music. She is a member of a choir which meets on Zoom regularly. Emotionally, she says, it has “definitely been a rollercoaster” and she’s struggled to feel settled, moving house along the way. This state of flux, with its highs and lows, has been stressful. “Zoom has been keeping me afloat with my business especially,” says Nisha, with other communication methods including voice notes, snail mail and phone calls all playing their part.”I think I’ve missed my friends the most,” she says. The togetherness of cultural events has felt particularly absent. “It’s also the little experiences, like browsing in the shops.”She’s found escapism in whatever form she can; following the journeys of TV characters has provided a release in low moments.Once this is all over she hopes for an “extra” new normal. She plans to indulge more in the arts, cultural celebrations and to appreciate the things that we take for granted. Her takeaway from shielding is that she has learned to be with herself, by herself, and be happy in her own company. Sophie Balfour Sophie Balfour, 25, is a volunteer Brownie leader and writes about health and law for TalkAbout, an organisation dedicated to connecting young people and professionals. She is based in York and has multiple health conditions, with cystic fibrosis requiring her to shield. Sophie’s heard many hurtful opinions about shielders over the past year: that they’ve been “locked up” and are “contributing little societally”. “When people hear the word ‘vulnerable’, I don’t think they think of people with medical conditions,” she says, adding that they definitely don’t think about people under the age of 25. Starting her role at TalkAbout has served as a good distraction. “I think for me, the way I mostly got through it was just by focusing on the one day [at a time],” she says. Zoom meetings with friends and having something to look forward to once a week, coupled with TV, has also helped. “I miss my family,” she says, with Zoom calls often being too chaotic an alternative to seeing them in person. Not being able to see older relatives in particular has proved painful. Experiences like freely going to a café are also missed. “These are my mid 20s and I should be living my life. I should be going to see my friends get married, or go and see family, or go on holiday with my boyfriend or something,” she says. “2020 was a rollercoaster.”What does Sophie hope for in the future? “Just a better understanding,” she says. For now, she knows she will never get over people who have said her life is worth less and that makes returning to normality feel like a scary prospect. Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?The Sexual Problem COVID Is CausingWhat You Should Know About The COVID Vaccine6 Women On What It’s Like To Get The COVID Vaccine

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