At the beginning of Lockdown in March, once my sheer horror and fear of it had subsided somewhat, I was quite hopeful, positive even.
We were all in this together and the whole world was suddenly available at the touch of a laptop key. Everyone I had ever tried to explain the feeling of being ‘stuck at home’ to – due to MS and the treatment I had for it – now knew what I was talking about.
Excellent, so far so good. Progress?
And so it continued – local groups sprang up, offering much-needed help and support. The TV, internet and newspapers assured us we were Never Alone and I truly hoped disability rights and awareness would finally be advanced by decades, now we were all in the same boat, unable to access even the most basic services.
Now we are in June though, and I’m increasingly anxious. I’ve been fortunate to only work with one other person in a wide open space throughout this time, as well as having my University student son move back home for the duration.
However, for the last two weeks there has been a subtle but noticeable shift.
Unable to access supermarket shopping slots when I needed them the most, I’ve been queuing, waiting and working up the courage to face my MS nemesis. Before the pandemic, shopping in real life was a total no-go area for me, but now it is a necessity.
The first problem are the queues; I simply cannot queue without a walking stick or leaning on something. The second problem is the weather. I can’t deal with the heat, or Uhthoff phenomenon. Once in the shop, I’m pushed forward by the people behind me who probably wonder why I can’t decide what to buy. They jingle their coins in their pockets, sigh loudly and shift from foot to foot in an exaggerated fashion. Or they just brush past me, muttering vile insults under their breath.
My hands tremble, I lose my balance (impossible to use a walking stick and carry a basket simultaneously). Once at the queue for the checkout, it’s the same. We are of course rushed through after waiting in line and I drop most of the shopping I’m buying. I try to explain, but they’re busy and the queue behind me is growing as is the animosity.
Two weeks ago I had to ‘prove’ my disability to a man outside a supermarket, who was in charge of the queue. He had a high-vis jacket and a fat book of rules. After a loud, public conversation, and showing my MS Society card which states I have MS, plus my son’s NHS staff card, I was grudgingly allowed into the shop. The same thing happened today – I was harangued by an elderly gentleman who wondered why I was being too slow through the shop’s newly-introduced one-way system.
I can’t do it.
In many ways, I feel more disabled now than ever and I wonder why we are not being heard in amongst the conflicted messages from government . Casting my mind back to my diagnosis in 2012, I had the same fears, and without knowing it, I could kind of blend in, just about. Now, that’s impossible. My anxiety levels are rising and everyday things I once took for granted, with a huge MS exception, are almost out my reach.
So I stay in my house and study and chat to my son. My boss picks me up and takes me home again. My world is very small, despite my large Zoom window.
Once it was my MS treatment which shoved me onto the sofa, now it’s the world.