How has the pandemic affected working, social and political life for people with increased vulnerability to Covid-19 because of disabilities or long term health conditions? Our Covid-19 Community Reporter, Rosy Bremer talks to local resident David Byfield about his experience of the pandemic, as a neurodiverse member of the BAME community who also lives with diabetes.
Rosy Bremer: What led you to shield during the lockdown?
I have been shielding in the extreme, as it were, as I have Type 2 Diabetes, and I am a member of the Black and Minority Ethnic Community (BAME). I have to admit that I am terrified, although not as much as before now that the virus is better understood.
I found the best way to stay safe was – and still is – to avoid people as Covid-19 has no vaccine, nor a cure at the moment (although I am very optimistic about a vaccine being found, but it may take another year or so, according to those involved in researching it).
Interestingly, when the pandemic was at its height, I found useful guidance in the book, A Journal of the Plague Year (Daniel Defoe). Although it was written by Defoe about his experiences during the Great Plague of London, the advice and observations he gave regarding social distancing and the copious use of vinegar as a disinfectant stands true to this day, (allowing for advances in medical knowledge). I believe he was correct in his opinion that: ‘the best physic against the plague is to run away from it.’
What difficulties did the lockdown present for you, in managing both your mental health and your neuro-diversity?
The lockdown started well in terms of my mental health, because I saw people uniting against this hellish plague in a way I did not think possible (especially after all the animosity generated by Brexit). Lately, though, I have become more and more depressed as I have seen people throughout the UK develop ‘Covid fatigue’ and partake in parties, crowding on the beaches and so on.
I have also got to the point where I have been saying ‘get over it’ when I have heard people on the television complain about not being able to take a holiday, as if it were some sort of human right. In addition to that, I have quit Facebook as the comments some people made about Covid-19 and how it was ‘not much worse than the flu’ left me with the feeling that I am surrounded by idiots online. My neurodiversity, that is, my autism has kicked in on more than one occasion online and it has left me with a very bitter taste in the mouth.
Do you rely of any services that were unavailable during the lockdown? If so, how did this impact on your health? Was there anything you could do to lessen the impact on your health?
During the lockdown the only service I have used has been The Samaritans, not because I have been feeling suicidal as such, but because seeing so many of the ill and elderly being thrown under a bus by this government has reduced me to tears on more than one occasion, and I needed someone to talk to. Although it is not strictly on-topic here, I intend to stay alive to see Boris The Blustering Buffoon and Dominic Cummings have to give an account for their inhumane actions once a vaccine has been found and people have been inoculated. Given the panoply of mental illnesses that I have, getting a handle on my mental health has been extremely difficult.
How did you manage the endless stream of news and ever-changing information coming out at the height of the lockdown?
The media is something I have decided to listen to selectively in order to try and ascertain the facts about Covid-19. The statistics have been grim and did not help my mental health, but I feel I have a duty to face this horror, because I hope that somehow I can one day pass my experiences on to others. I owe it to those who have died in the line of duty to remember this horror as much as I can.
Before lockdown, did you have a routine which helped you? Were you able to establish a lockdown routine?
Before the lockdown my routine was spending money in coffee shops. I have since saved a lot of money and have found a good way to make coffee without having to shell out £2.50 every day. It was a routine that needed breaking, and ironically, the pandemic has helped me in this regard.
My new routine has been to try to get back into scale modelling, to enrol for an Open University course in creative writing, and to start drawing again. I hope that this is [a] routine that I can adhere to once the pandemic is over, as the previous routine was becoming toxic. As I am no longer able – or dare – to visit others, I have also been able to quit smoking.
Is there anything you can think of, either locally or nationally that could’ve been done better to support people with mental health conditions and/or neuro-diversity?
I am not sure what could be done to help people manage their mental health during the lockdown, as the mental health services provided by the NHS, I am sorry to say, are totally useless – in stark contrast to the NHS heroes who put their lives on the line each and every day to save others. I have been using mental health services on and off for the last forty-two years (I am now fifty), and the ‘help’ offered might as well have not been there, in my experience.
I do feel the pandemic has been handled very badly not just in the UK, but in many countries. The only way to get a handle on Covid-19 is to have timely, accurate data available, and I do not believe that that has happened yet.
Seeing how TUI allowed people onto a plane with no social distancing and no mask enforcement is beyond my understanding; there is no way I will be getting on a bus, train, taxi or aircraft until a vaccine has been found.
S&C has been awarded funding from the European Journalism Centre Covid-19 Support Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on diverse communities and sectors in Portsmouth:
- voluntary sector, including charities, community groups and social enterprises
- small businesses and self-employed people
- BAME communities
- people with disabilities
We have also been awarded funding from the Public Interest News Foundation Emergency Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on migrants, and asylum seekers and refugees.