Brick by Brick

How Covid Changed My Perspective

As an almost 18-year-old suffering from chronic and mental illnesses, this lockdown was never going to be easy – throw in a mum and sister who are also health-compromised, a dog, two cats, a guinea pig, and a hedgehog, and you have one heck of a household – but what I didn’t see coming was how Covid could change my life for the better.

This year seemed to be going well. I was studying journalism at college, I’d made new friends, my braces were due off, and I was close to taking my driving test. Standard teen/young adulting stuff for most, but for me, it marked a shift in life that was quite a big deal.

Since around 12 years old, I’ve been suffering from what clinicians have called, as an umbrella term, ‘chronic widespread pain’. This also includes fatigue, dizziness, restless legs and memory loss. I’ve ended up doing what a lot of people do, researching what’s wrong myself to find answers.

I’ve ended up doing what a lot of people do, researching what’s wrong myself to find answers.

For a while I’ve been aware, everything points to me having Fibromyalgia, a condition my mum has, that’s characterised by all of the above issues. I’ve ticked every symptom box. I’m currently in limbo between child and adult services but even so, they don’t like to diagnose Fibro in kids. Now the occupational therapist and the psychologist are starting to agree, it’s likely what I have.

What I’ve dealt with for the last 5 or so years has been really tough. It’s hard enough going through your teen years, but with pain and fatigue, your mind is constantly consumed by a heavy weight that never leaves you. You accept a lot of limitations about the life you can lead.

But as I said, things were definitely looking up. Although I still had battles with myself daily, my pain continuing to restrict what I could do, and it was still a struggle to wake up every morning (or afternoon), I had managed to strengthen my stamina and build a routine after years of fighting. This was a real milestone. I felt like the wall I had put all my energy into breaking was slowly coming down, brick by brick.

This was a real milestone. I felt like the wall I had put all my energy into breaking was slowly coming down, brick by brick.

Then, from nowhere, there was suddenly something new and dangerous behind it. Something even scarier than the torment my brain created – Coronavirus. Everything ground to a halt and I was back to being home every day like I used to be, re-living pyjama days, eating biscuits for breakfast watching This Morning, feeling imprisoned in my own home. I had lived that way for years and now I was back in it.

We were shielding from the beginning of lockdown because my sister is immune-compromised. From the off, I struggled with a lot of unpleasant thoughts from the past resurfacing. I saw flashes of me running up the stairs and locking myself in the bathroom so I didn’t have to go to school, I felt the anxiety of bracing myself for my mum coming in in the morning asking if I was up to going in that day – the answer was always no.

My mind was playing games with me, but I knew I had to move away from how I was feeling and vowed to shut the lid on my box of self-hatred. My main focus and worries were always my mum and sister; they’re my rocks and I knew we were more vulnerable to the virus, so I just hoped my fears would never become more than figments of my imagination.

When you have a condition that causes constant pain and fatigue, it’s hard to know if you’re suffering from another illness, or if it’s just a flare-up. I guess we just held on to the hope that our mum had a really bad chest infection and it wasn’t Coronavirus. It couldn’t be, right?

Things changed in a flash; the sudden turn from coping to her struggling to breathe, calling 111 for advice, then following the paramedic’s instructions and taking her to A&E. I remember sitting in the car checking my phone every minute for updates, feeling hopeless and returning home to check on our pets, crying and praying while clutching the cross on my necklace. Eventually, we got the good news that Mum could come home.

Those days were some of the hardest of my life. My sister and I had to try and look after everything ourselves while helping Mum as much as possible. I remember breaking down on the kitchen floor, asking why me? and creeping around outside her bedroom when she finally got some sleep and pressing my ear on the door to make sure she was still breathing.

Thankfully she slowly started to recover and normality began to return. The after-effects of the virus are brutal though, and still cause trouble for us all – my sister and me fortunately got away with having mild cases too.

So how has Covid then changed my life for the better you might ask?

Well, certainly not the disease itself, but how it changed my thinking and really shifted me to face the future I’m determined to have. Through the rainstorm of anxiety, this frightening experience, when everything I have, and everyone I love, was no longer stable, it awoke in me a fierce desire to live, and to see all the reasons why, despite everything, I’m still lucky and grateful in many ways. I come from a household of strong women, there’s no dad or husband, it’s just us and we all have health conditions, but we are here and we have each other.

It was the kind of epiphany that can only come from recognising what we might lose and how precious that is. Depression has pretty much ruled my life for the past five years, making it incredibly difficult to feel like a good person who deserves a beating heart and a happy life.

Depression has pretty much ruled my life for the past five years, making it incredibly difficult to feel like a good person who deserves a beating heart and a happy life.

But the thought of my life and world being pulled from under me made me realise just how much I wanted to be here. It’s made me step back and think about everything I still want to do and how my story really is only just beginning. I thought about how far I’ve already come, and how I want to get back on that road the moment the outside world lets me.

This feels like a breakthrough in my psychology. The last piece falling into place. While I wish Coronavirus had never happened, and my family (and so many around the world) weren’t impacted by this awful disease, it’s given me the time and mind-set to work through past regrets and decide that I do deserve to live. And to hold onto the future that I can see more clearly for the first time, to be excited and hopeful for it. Every day is still tough, and things aren’t just suddenly okay, but I’m now walking through daylight and I’m back taking down the wall again, brick by brick.

By Erin Memmott

Erin Memmott is a 17-year-old student studying Journalism and Social Media Communications. She’s an aspiring journalist passionate about hard-hitting issues such as mental and physical illnesses in young people and politics. In summer 2020 she was a guest editor for the Sheffield Star newspaper. Follow her on Twitter @MemmottErin