Agents of Shielding
Coronavirus has dominated life in 2020. Normality feels both a long time ago and a long way away. Whilst the lockdown has been easing, I have been shielding for the last five months.
As the MS Trust explains, this was due to my immune system being suppressed by a disease modifying therapy.
A small number of people with MS are considered extremely vulnerable and are advised to shield. This includes people who are taking certain disease modifying drugs which suppress your immune system and significantly increase your risk of infection.
I had such a treatment in mid-February and was largely avoiding contact whilst my immune system recovered. This rolled into the wider shielding advice in March, initially for a 12-week period which was then extended to the end of July.
A Welcome Announcement
So after essentially five months of shielding the Scottish Government announcement on 23rd July was very welcome news. As of the following day, the rules on shielding would be relaxed. All being well, shielding will be paused entirely on 1st August and I will then follow the same rules as the general population.
From 24 July, those who have been shielding can meet indoors with up to 8 people from 2 households, as long as physical distancing is observed.
They can also meet outdoors in groups of up to 15 people from a maximum of 4 households per day…can also choose to go to pubs and restaurants with outdoor spaces, though it is advised that busy places are avoided.
Shielding and Isolation
Apart from home visits to get blood taken and a couple of friends just after my treatment, the only person I have seen since February is my wife. I may have driven her nuts as I climb the walls.
Through the wonders of Zoom and Facetime, I have been able to see friends virtually if not in person. This has been general chats, virtual pub trips (with real beer) and online martial arts practice.
There is no doubt that the lack of in-person contact has been difficult. Is it a great hardship to stay indoors for five months? Given the risks, not really but it is very dull and isolating and has taken its toll mentally.
I was made redundant in March which coincided with the start of shielding. Not ideal timing. Like so many others, I found myself without work, unable to go out or see people. Job hunting in a quiet market or binge-watching Netflix is not the most satisfying way to fill the day. As an aside though, if you have Netflix watch Stranger Things. It is fantastic.
Without work or my usual activities, the days, weeks, and months became interchangeable. There have been times when I have been extremely down about the whole thing. Sometimes I find the need to shut down and scowl at the world for a while whilst I regain a more positive mindset. I think that is the introvert in me.
Run to the Hills
Fortunately, in mid-June shielding rules were eased to allow for outdoor exercise and I was able to resume running. It took a month or so before my fitness started to recover but my mental wellbeing recovered more quickly. As with martial arts, I find running a good way to unwind and decompress so the freedom to do so again came when I really needed it.
With this week’s announcement I hope to get outdoors even more, assuming the Scottish summer cooperates. The general population is a few weeks ahead of the shielding group and my martial arts club has been holding some small group, non-contact, distanced outdoor sessions. I am really looking forward to joining them.
Having avoided groups, shops, and people in general for so long, I am quite nervous about returning. I do not expect to visit any cafes or restaurants for a while yet but there is no rush. I suspect I might have agoraphobia.
This is a good article by the BBC’s Elizabeth Quigley, who also has MS, about her fears of re-joining the outside world.
Shielding has been a slog, albeit a necessary one. My respect and gratitude to everyone that has come through this. We have all played our part in reducing the virus and kept ourselves safe. As I plan my first tentative steps outside, I will put on a mask, maybe visit a local shop, and see some friends. Normality still feels a long way off but coming out of shielding will bring it just that little bit closer. Good luck and stay safe everyone.
Shielding cartoon: BMJ 2020;369:m2443