So luckily, I made it back to Wales just in time to be locked down for months, just in time to miss beginning my Masters course in person, just in time to really get acquainted with the inside of my new home. I should be mad. Most people my age are. They’re protesting, rioting – why can’t we go out, just because some old people might die? It’s not really affecting people our age, is it? It’s the nanny state trying to control us, obviously. Yes, I’m perhaps irked that the plans I had for moving home have been postponed. My holiday earlier this year was almost instantly cancelled. I’ve never met any of the people that I talk to at university.
Yet, I’m thriving. The thing is, now that everything is online or remote, I can actually participate. Take my undergraduate. I barely took part in anything. The first year, pre-disability, I think this was just because I was overwhelmed and also going through a heck of a mental health crisis. The second year, I tried, but the onset of disability meant that I was constantly exhausted. The final year? No chance, I was on my way out of there and the online provisions were minimal.
It might be hard to explain to someone without a disability, or a mental health problem, or chronic fatigue, but for the most part, taking part sucks. Not the actual events or meetings. Those are brilliant. I’m talking about the waking up, the figuring out if you’re going to physically be able to shower, the impact that the weather may have on how you’re going to get there, the plotting of public transport, the careful logistics of alarms so that you leave the house in time, the waiting whilst on the bus or the train, the getting off of your transport and finding your way and then finally getting to your destination, where all of your mental energy will suddenly deplete and you wonder how on earth you’re going to get home, hope to God that whatever transport assistant you encounter will take enough notice of you to get the ramps out and that you can find something to eat when you get home that won’t involve much energy (cereal is always good). Maybe it sounds silly, but I was getting exhausted just writing that list. That’s how much planning would go into me getting to a meeting, a class, a lecture or even just to go for a coffee with someone.
So how has it changed since lockdown? For a start, if I don’t feel good, I can reach my arm out, grab my laptop and join a meeting or a class without getting out of bed (I haven’t yet, but I could). If I’m too exhausted to shower, they can’t smell me (gross but true!). I don’t have to plan, to constantly deplete my mental energy in the getting-there part, which often causes me physical deterioration for days afterwards. Instead, my energy is going into actually completing all the reading for my classes, even doing extra on top. I’m managing to watch films, gritty, educational or artistic films and analyse them, pay attention and enjoy them, without falling asleep. I am able to take better care of my health, because I have the new found energy that I can use to get on top of my doctor referrals (has anyone ever had a sleep study? Stay tuned for a review of that!) and I’m even remembering, with the help of a nifty alarm clock, to take my day time medication instead of forgetting and skipping it. My classes are online, so when I go to them, I’m not so exhausted that I can’t take part. I actually can contribute and form a relationship with my professors. I’ve been to meetings, so many meetings, simply because I can, because I want a wide range of advice and no longer have to choose one out of five meetings simply because I can’t afford the physical toll it will take on me to travel to all of them. I’m even on a council as a representative for post-graduate students, because I know that when the meetings happen, it’ll all be via Microsoft Teams and I can happily contribute that way.
The virus is awful, don’t get me wrong. If we could go back in time and stop it from happening, believe me, I would. I just can’t help but feel that for the disabled and chronically ill, accessibility of life itself has become unrecognisably better. What was being called ‘unreasonable’ or failing to take part two years ago has become normality now. I’m not saying that no one should ever go to an office ever again, but now that the option has been created for work from home, Flexi-hours, you name it, I don’t think we should ever lose those options. The argument could be made that working from home is unhealthy and unsociable, but I think this definitely comes from the idea that work has to be the be all and end all of a person’s life. Maybe if people expelled less energy on their commutes, they would be able to spend more time with their families, explore their hobbies, take up a sport, even get a pet if they knew they would be home often enough to care for it. There would be fewer cars on the road, so for those who have to physically be at work, their commute would be much smoother, probably saving on transport costs. Public transport would be less congested, so you probably would have less of a chance of catching flu every time you step on a bus.
It’s not for everyone, I get that. But before, it wasn’t for anyone. If you couldn’t physically be there, you were excluded from it. Now, there’s the option. As a disabled, chronically ill person, I hope these tech changes are here to stay (if corona could go away though, I would be very appreciative).
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