100 Days of Lockdown: A Disabled Writer’s Experience

At the time of writing, I have now been in the house for one hundred days (except for a hospital admission). These have been horror-filled weeks for many. The deaths of learning and physically disabled people have more than doubled since this time last year. As a disabled writer, how am I supposed to write about these things? When my very being is brought into question – the value of my life lessened next to the value of a haircut – how should I respond?

As a young woman with a life-limiting illness, I’m used to being forgotten. I belong to an unseen demographic. All I want to do is scream and shout about these things in the hope enough people will listen – but as a poet I understand, the value of art is that once you create something, it’s harder to look away than if you’re being lectured (because let’s face it, no one enjoys that).

During isolation, my work as a poet has become essential to retain some normalcy and connection with the world. At the beginning of lockdown, I couldn’t write. The news felt too overwhelming, too painful. I’ve noticed this during other periods of shock in my life – for example when I got my diagnosis – like some kind of ‘tinnitus’, it’s a disorientating, acutely stressful time where life feels like it will never return to normal.

During isolation, my work as a poet has become essential to retain some normalcy and connection with the world.

By writing about my experiences of lockdown, from my PPE being stolen by a delivery driver and my dad’s sudden obsession with mowing the lawn, to the complexities of teaching grandparents Zoom over the phone, I am packaging my experiences for a very different audience. By this I mean, attaching myself to the word ‘shielder’ on the news, so the two million figure becomes actual lives. It isn’t even something I do consciously, but the level of detail poetry allows for is a stark thing, one you can’t look away from.

By writing about my experiences of lockdown, from my PPE being stolen by a delivery driver and my dad’s sudden obsession with mowing the lawn, to the complexities of teaching grandparents Zoom over the phone, I am packaging my experiences for a very different audience.

Despite all this, my social life has never been healthier. I have chatted with old friends, made new ones, attended more workshops than I have ever been able to, attended poetry magazine launches, and enjoyed a vast spoken word scene. Most of this has been free, and while I understand this isn’t a sustainable long-term option for all organisations, I hope a form of it continues.

What does all this say about the inclusion of those with disabilities in our schools and universities – when we are told online learning is impossible, then, overnight, we introduce online learning? Or how shielding MPs were quickly given the option to vote over Zoom rather than risking their lives to do so? Why has it taken a universal peril for people to take notice? I think a component of this is that people are clueless of the disabled experience until they have to live it. I certainly didn’t think about door width or dipped curbs until I used a wheelchair.

What does all this say about the inclusion of those with disabilities in our schools and universities – when we are told online learning is impossible, then, overnight, we introduce online learning?

Empathy is missing. If the past few years have shown us anything – from austerity to Brexit tearing families politically apart – it’s that we aren’t very good at thinking about things from a different standpoint. For this reason, writing, and read, can offer us a lifeline. In every poem, there is a part of the poet pinned down in ink. There is a person behind every title on every bookshelf with complex feelings and emotions. The fact we’re still buying huge amounts of books shows that we have the capacity for debate and thus change. By creating art out of experiences, by using metaphor and breaking down exact thoughts, feelings and emotions, we open the door into different worlds, and different experiences.

There is a person behind every title on every bookshelf with complex feelings and emotions. The fact we’re still buying huge amounts of books shows that we have the capacity for debate and thus change.

ALL this said, it’s important, as we slowly emerge from lockdown, that we think about the way society reopens to be more inclusive. During the pandemic, essential access for physically disabled people such as supermarket wheelchair ramps, dipped curbs and disabled parking spaces, have all been blocked to enforce social distancing. This isn’t acceptable. As individuals and organisations, we need to remember access now more than ever – because access isn’t an individual issue, it’s a public health one.

Organisations with the resources must keep streaming events online – just because some people are out of lockdown doesn’t mean that everyone is. Remember the feeling of isolation? Now think about the fact that this is a permanent state of living for many disabled people both in and outside of lockdown.

Organisations with the resources must keep streaming events online – just because some people are out of lockdown doesn’t mean that everyone is.

And I recommend reading the work of disabled authors and writers, extending your range of empathy and experiences, because disabled people are just human beings wanting the same things as everyone else. Dehumanisation is the enemy of us all. Please don’t allow us to be a tick box exercise – as we begin to reopen society let’s try to reshape it to be inclusive of everyone.

During Lockdown I’ve managed to finish writing most of my first poetry collection (now comes the editing!), and I’ve started a sequence of lockdown poems exploring an experience that is difficult to accurately document in prose. While I wish the pandemic had never happened, it has taught me that:

  1. Netflix is a finite resource
  2. The creative community is an ever-morphing and changing space, and so a resilient one
  3. Human connection is the most essential thing we have. As someone who hasn’t hugged someone for 100 days, enjoy the contact if you have it (and invest in a weighted blanket if you don’t)

Hannah Hodson

Hannah Hodson is a widely published disabled poet, editor, workshop facilitator and writer. Her debut poetry pamphlet ‘Dear Body’ was published by Wayleave Press in 2018. Hannah has over 2.4k followers on YouTube, where she discusses poetry and life-limiting illness. She a member of The Writing Squad and won a Northern Writers Award for Poetry in 2020. Find Hannah at: hannahhodgson.com