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A day in the life of an extrovert in isolation

Sarah Balchin is the Associate Director for Community Engagement and Patient Experience at Solent NHS Trust. She’s currently shielded at home, and is going to share her experience of being an extrovert in shielding isolation.

Monday 23rd March at 2.06pm, my phone pings – it’s what I have fondly termed the “text of doom!” I knew that I was at increased risk from Covid-19 as a severe asthmatic, but it’s very well under control. At my most recent check-up I was told my lung function was the best it had been for six years. I have previously had extended stays in critical care but right now I feel very well.

"You are at risk of severe illness if you catch Coronavirus, please stay home for 12 weeks"

This text of doom was ok to start with, but an onslaught of messages that followed were stark: "you can open a window but do not leave your home...stay three steps away from others separately, use your own crockery and cutlery...use a separate bathroom if you can...try not to be in the same room as others in your household."

I received about three texts a day to start with, each reminding me in no uncertain terms what I could and couldn’t do. All of a sudden, the freedom that I take for granted, that I hold dear physically and psychologically, has been taken away. I’m a true extrovert and I get my energy from people, being in their presence, connecting with them physically and emotionally. I’m a hugger (with permission of course) and the last eight months of my life I have thrived, both health-wise and emotionally. I'm working with an amazing team, connecting with our local community, recognising what we could do together. My office contains a backpack, a good pair of walking shoes and a fully working sat nav to help me negotiate the raft of community centres and community group bases that I connect with each day.

Now I am at home, with a list of rules and no physical freedom for at least 12 weeks. I can’t go out until almost July, and there's no guarantee that is when it will be either. No more exciting collaborations with inspirational community groups from all walks of life. No more meeting for a coffee or creative and challenging conversations. No more extending the amazing network of friends I have had the privilege of working with since last summer.

Emotions have kicked in. The phrase ‘melt down’ comes to mind but firstly, shock. I knew I’d be considered 'high risk,' but I didn’t think I’d be labelled 'extremely vulnerable.' Why me? There was no information on how this decision was made. Have they got it right? Am I on the list in error? I don’t cope well with not having the full information.

Then, panic. I’m the carer for my elderly Pa who lives on his own, half an hour away by car. I manage his medicines, organise food and shopping, take him to appointments and generally keep an eye on him. He was recently diagnosed with dementia, and I’ve promised to try and honour his wish to stay in the home he shared with Mum up until her death. How am I going to do this without seeing him? He doesn’t use a smart phone and is quite deaf but extremely mobile. He was very poorly at Christmas and once back at home, I spent time getting him to accept some care at home, for which I am now really grateful. At least we have some support to keep him safe.

I’m finding that I’m anxious – my other half and I have been together for 35 years but how can we live separately in the same house? How will I cope without hugs and cuddles? How will I cope not seeing our sons? What about my small but perfectly formed group of friends now that breakfasts out are banned? How on earth will I cope not being able to go outside? I love my garden, we cook outside all year round; I have a food smoker in the garden and smoke and cure meat, fish, cheese – how can I not do that for the next three months?

Sometimes these emotions turn into anger. Not angry at anyone, just angry (impotent I suppose) feeling a complete lack of control over what was happening to me. The rational side of me knows that this is the right thing to do, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

All of these emotions swirl around constantly and rapidly; it’s exhausting and upsetting, and the tears have taken over at times. You know when you cry so hard, you can’t see - your face ends up sore from the tears, and you end up looking very similar to a bright pink version of Shrek! That has been me a few times lately. And I’m not allowed a hug.

Sarah would like everyone to know that despite the emotion of this blog, she is coping and okay. She’s keen that others in this situation know that it’s okay to be finding it really difficult. She’ll be back with her next instalment soon.


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