Some names have been changed upon request to protect peoples right to anonymity. There are mentions of pregnancy, stillbirth, terminal illness and COVID related death which some readers may find triggering and upsetting.
Hi everyone, I hope you’re all well.
Today, I am sharing with you something a bit different to what I normally post. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the effects of coronavirus on human lives, specifically the effects of lockdown, and the real humans behind that. The people who have lost jobs, suffered with their mental health, and each day was an almighty struggle to get to the end. And on the other hand, the people whos businesses thrived, who got more time with their children, who repaired marriages which were crumbling in their hands. I wanted to speak to real people, and not just quote statistics. I wanted to share raw, unedited stories of what life in lockdown was really like.
Lockdown was announced on 23rd March 2020, by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and with that, the country was told to only leave their homes if absolutely necessary; for work if they couldn’t work from home, for food, for medicine, or for 1 hours exercise per day, with your household only. The nation was rocked by the sudden change to our everyday way of life; pregnant women, cancer patients, parents who aren’t together and share children, the people on the front line – the list is endless. I am so honoured to share with you the below stories, and I hope they bring you some comfort, and also shine a much needed light on mental health, the crippling effects of loneliness, and the amazing work that our key workers, NHS, and frontline workers have done for us during the pandemic.
”I’m a paramedic in Brighton” said Anna, aged 29. ”I live on my own and worked throughout lockdown. I was doing 12 hour shifts at work and then coming back to an empty home. My family live locally but I was too terrified to even talk to them through the window – the thought of giving them the virus was a thought that bounced around my head daily. I was so scared I might catch it and pass it on to someone I loved. At work I was making decisions I’ve never had to make before – we were essentially the blind leading the blind! Policies were changing everyday, and it was so hard to keep up with what was ‘right’ and what we should and shouldn’t be doing. We were dealing with very sick people and having to take them to hospital without their loved ones – and everyone knew they might not physically see them again. It felt so wrong. Coming home to an empty house was hard – it was the silence that got me. I normally live with my boyfriend but I had to physically drag him out of our house because I didn’t want to make him sick. We had so many arguments over it, but I think deep down he knew I was doing it because I love him. The only contact I had with anyone was at work – so thank god for that! My boyfriend moved back when lockdown finished but I’m still so careful. I take my uniform off outside, then it goes straight in the wash. I shower and scrub until my skin is raw. Only then will I say hello to him! It’s tough still, but getting worse and I’m genuinely scared about what’s ahead of us for the coming months.”
”I’m a physiotherapist and worked in Intensive Care at the Royal London Hospital throughout lockdown” said Ellie, aged 24. ”Lots of people think physio’s are all about giving you exercises for an injured knee but we actually have a huge role on respiratory wards. We advise ventilator settings, change oxygen devices, provide chest clearance and rehab patients. East London was badly hit by COVID; within our trust here there was over 650 deaths. Initially, it was really scary. Wearing head to toe PPE was horrible and there was a shortage so we had to do 5 hours straight to preserve it. There was no water allowed, no toilet breaks, and then we would break and go back in and do the same. My worst day was when I had to treat one of my colleagues on a ventilator. I saw a lot of death in those weeks. Eventually, it did start to get better. Seeing people that had been ventilated for weeks taking their first steps was the best feeling ever. Our last COVID patient was finally discharged this week. It makes me so upset to think people won’t follow advice and are willing to endanger other peoples lives, when I felt I gave up so much to help people. I live in a shared house with my friends; one of them moved out during lockdown to be with their partner and the other moved out because she was worried about catching COVID from me. Even though I was on my own, I had great support from my family and friends. If there’s another lockdown, which is quite likely, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to working on the frontline.”
‘‘I worked for the entire lockdown in East Surrey Hospital” said Kat, aged 24. ”I was looking after COVID positive patients – most of whom died. I worked on every single ward possible, including ICU, where I had to wear an astronaut helmet type thing for 12 and a half hours per day, which was so heavy, hot and painful. I ended up with bruises on my face and loads of spots from constantly wearing a mask – but it was so nice coming home to my boyfriends family making me dinner and handing me a gin when I got in the door from work. I had a lot of anxiety driving to work everyday though, worrying about giving COVID to my boyfriend and his family. Luckily, they said it was fine for me to go to work, but I got changed out of my uniform at work and then again into something else at my door, wiped all my car down, and then I’d shower and wash my hair straight away with surgical wash because touching anyone, and then put clean clothes on. Uniform and the other clothes had to go straight in the wash. It became a routine, but I did get sick of all the time it took up after a 12 and a half hour shift. I actually had COVID and never knew about it. When the antibody tests became available for NHS workers I did one, just to see and it said detected. Luckily, I never had any symptoms and my boyfriend didn’t catch it either.”
Almost one quarter of UK adults have experienced loneliness due to coronavirus, and more than four in ten of young people aged 18-24 have experienced the same.
”At first, I didn’t like it, especially being stuck in and even more so with my bad knee but I got used to that after a while” said Iris, aged 82. ”I was due to have my knee replaced and it got cancelled a few times so I found that quite hard and frustrating. At first, I only saw one or two people so that got a bit lonely not having someone there to talk to all the time, but I picked up the phone whenever I felt too lonely. I started to go and sit up in the garden or do some gardening for half an hour each day to ‘get out of the house’ for a bit. I started doing a bit more knitting than I was before lockdown, and I’ve started to knit small squares so I can sew them all into a blanket when I have enough of them. I finally had my knee done a few weeks ago, and at first I was slightly worried about if I was going to catch the virus or not but my neighbour reassured me I would be okay so that helped me not to worry. I’m now having more visitors and I’m able to walk around a bit more so hopefully I can start to get out of the house more if there’s not another lockdown.”
Thousands of women in the UK were either pregnant or giving birth during lockdown, adding even more stress to what is already a difficult time for many. Having to attend scans alone, and partners not being allowed in until labour had progressed to a certain degree; for many women, this was a nightmare they could never have imagined.
”I gave birth on June 6th” said Beth, aged 21. ”During my third trimester, I was in and out with reduced movements, and every time my partner wasn’t allowed to come with me so I was alone and waiting to make sure nothing was wrong with my baby. He wasn’t allowed at the growth scans I had to have as my bump was measuring small. On June 6th, I was admitted at 2cm dilated and my partner was told to go home and wait. The staff refused to examine me as I didn’t seem to be in enough pain, because of this I laboured on my own for 9 hours until my waters broke at 10.41am and my partner was finally allowed to come up. Because of where we live in regards to the hospital, he didn’t arrive until 10 minutes before our daughter was born, so I was even pushing on my own. The midwives were kind enough to let us stay in the delivery suite for 3 and a half hours after birth, so he didn’t have to leave but if they hadn’t, he would’ve had to have left as soon as we were moved onto the main ward. Visiting was an hour a day so for the 2 days I was in there I was alone for 23 hours a day and can honestly say it was the most horrific and lonely experience of my life.”
”We had a baby during lockdown on the 12th April” said Nicole, aged 25. ”Things were changing every day with what we could and couldn’t do. I had my first and only panic attack worrying that I’d be giving birth on my own, but luckily for us by the time we got to the birthing centre my husband could come in. There is a huge gap in maternity support through all of this and lots of women I’m sure are having an awful time and still having to attend appointments alone! For us, we have been blessed with a healthy, happy baby boy and my husband is a teacher so he had a lot of extra time at home with us. We didn’t let anyone see or hold our baby for ten weeks and it was awful; first grandchild, great grandchild and even great great grandchild and our family just saw him through the window! For us, the unknown at the beginning was unbearable but we have been very lucky in many ways and just wish there was more support for people struggling.”
Losing someone, and grief, is a tremendously difficult and isolating experience at any time, but many people experienced this even more profoundly as they grieved during lockdown, and receiving support from loved ones in person was nearly impossible.
”I was 7 months pregnant during lockdown” said Beth, aged 29. ”It was already a complicated pregnancy, and I had to have various hospital appointments in London during lockdown without my partner being allowed in which was difficult enough. I was being told difficult news about my baby’s health whilst I was by myself. I then had to be away from my family during lockdown when I needed their support more than ever – but I thought we could get through it, hoping that lockdown would have eased by the time our baby was born, and that we could at least mix with our parents so they could meet him and help us out. Sadly, that didn’t happen. At 34 weeks our baby born was stillborn in early June. We named him Harry. He was absolutely perfect in every way and just looked like he was sleeping. What made it even harder for me was being in the middle of a pandemic, meaning nobody was allowed to be with me in hospital apart from my partner. I needed my mum more than ever, but she wasn’t allowed in and couldn’t meet her second grandson, nor could my eldest son meet his baby brother. This is something that I will have to live with for the rest of my life, knowing that no one could meet our son apart from us, and I will one day have to explain to my son why he couldn’t meet his baby brother. Since Harry died, we have been left alone by the hospital. They have made us wait over 3 months for our hospital review into what happened to Harry, and delayed it because of COVID. We have had to spend months waiting for some answers.”
”At the beginning of lockdown, my dear god mother was told her two year fight with pancreatic cancer was coming to an end” said Gracie, aged 32. ”She called me so frightened that she bravely fought cancer for two years and now, because her immediate family were based in America, she will have to go to a hospice and die of COVID. I didn’t need to think twice and dropped my job in a London hospital to let her die at home. For 9 weeks, it was just her and I. As time progressed, the physical and mental burden became harder. We didn’t leave the house, we didn’t let anyone in. 9 weeks in she peacefully slipped away and I had to wash her and prepare her to go to her place of rest. Alone. She was taken to the chapel by two men dressed in hazmat suits. Lockdown was lonely even though I wasn’t alone. I took on many roles just to keep my godmothers wishes with minimal help. I then returned straight to my frontline work and I’m exhausted. I’m horrified that this is just what someone had to go through on a small scale. People still do not take it seriously. I’m still exhausted, I’m still deeply saddened and have not had anyone to talk to about this experience. I don’t feel like anyone can understand. I still feel alone, even back at work surrounded by other people, I’m still alone. Because I’m healthy, my problems are not as bad as the sick so I won’t complain or moan; I’ll just keep helping through this pandemic however I can.”
However, some people thrived during lockdown, and had an opportunity to rediscover themselves for potentially the first time in a long time.
”I really found lockdown a positive change to my life” said Tracy, aged 46. ”I got to work from home and had time to really enjoy my own company and find out what I enjoy. I changed so much as a person, and I had often suffered from anxiety, especially since leaving my husband 5 years ago, but the anxiety eased during lockdown. Since leaving my ex, I was always so busy trying to survive, but during lockdown I actually began to live, and doing things I never had time for. All in all, I enjoyed lockdown, and still live a semi lockdown life”
For many, a chance to spend more times with their partners and just enjoy a slower pace of life left them feeling incredibly anxious to get back to life without lockdown.
”When I was in lockdown I honestly loved it – I was genuinely happy, laughing every day” said Sineal, aged 28. ”I have the worst ever, ever time sleeping and I’m usually wake until 4/5am every single night with the worst anxiety, but I slept perfectly every night. I know people say that couples would argue etc, but my husband Tom and I got on better than ever. Then, the day I got told I had to go back to work, my entire persona changed. I was awake all hours panicking – I had to take Kalms on my first day back at work and I’m now miserable, crying all the time, and I cannot sleep at all. I gave myself a migraine that was so bad I made myself sick from it all. I’m praying for another lockdown”
”I genuinely didn’t mind it” said Billie, aged 27. ”I chose to work from the office, and worked through and because I work in gas and heating, I suffered a lot of verbal abuse in my job. I live alone too, so I think people expected me to hate it and struggle but I genuinely didn’t mind it. I actually found it quite relaxing if I’m honest; there was no pressure to be out and everything was done in my own time.”
Eleanor Roosevelt once said ‘A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water’ and the same can be said for relationships during lockdown. Many struggled under our new way of life – and some flourished.
”In what’s been a horrible time for lots of people, I have found something amazing” said Lauren, aged 24. ”I started seeing someone at the start of the year and when lockdown happened it meant I couldn’t see him for 6 weeks! It was obviously extremely difficult, especially for something that’s just starting out but instead of just giving up we spoke everyday and had FaceTime dates. Having that time meant that we really got to know each other because all we could do was talk and I think it has honestly created such a bond and shown how much we care, because I saw so many relationships that broke down due to lockdown. We are now together and recently had to self isolate for two weeks as his mum and sibling had coronavirus, but luckily we did not become unwell so the two weeks I really just saw as a chance for us to spend some time together that we wouldn’t usually get.”
Others had health reasons that added another dimension to the situation, and a layer of worry that many of us haven’t had.
”I had my spleen removed in December due to ITP (a disorder which prevents your blood from clotting) just in time for the pandemic, so due to having a weak immune system I’m now in the highest risk group” said Hannah, aged 26. ”I had to shield alone for the first two and a half months. I didn’t leave my flat for nine weeks I was so scared. Looking back, I can’t believe I stayed inside that long. The health anxiety was so real – it still is a bit. Now I’m much better and roaming around more but at a distance and feel like my life is super restricted in the sense that I don’t feel safe in bars or inside anywhere. I am seeing my friends live a lot more normally. However, I’ve got super into hiking so loving that, and I’m starting my own pet portrait business after leaving my job in June so lockdown has given me opportunities in that sense. Alongside this, my boyfriend is from Argentinia and ended up living with my family instead of me for the first two and a half months because of going into work, but he’s with me now.”
”My boyfriend, who’s 31, had to shield from March to July as he has Ulcerative Colitis which means he has to take immunosuppressants to manage his illness, which puts him in the extremely vulnerable category” said Sophie, aged 27. ”He didn’t step out of the front door once during the whole time and on the days that I had to leave to get food shopping, I had to shower, wash my clothes and wash everything that I brought into the house as soon as I got home to avoid cross contamination. The icing on the cake is that we were due to get married on 6th of June 2020. We’ve been engaged for 3 years and we’ve saved every penny we have and spent hours upon hours planning our dream wedding. Right up until March we still had everything crossed that it would still be going ahead as planned, but then Dan got his letter at the end of March saying he had to shield for 12 weeks, which from that point was up until the end of June. From there, we knew we had to postpone so it’s been moved to next June. To be honest, we’re not even confident that will go ahead either. We’re also supposed to be in Bali for our honeymoon right now. It’s been a nightmare of a year, but spending 4 months inside together and constantly worrying that he could get really poorly but not having a single argument in that time has shown us that w’ere choosing the right people to marry – eventually!”
Many people were in relationships and had to make a quick fire decision on whether to lockdown together – even if they hadn’t lived together before.
”I had to move in quickly with my partner, and for me it wasn’t really a decision as we both work for a care home, and my parents said they didn’t want us there as they didn’t want to get COVID” said Bryany, aged 21. ”They didn’t really give me or my partner any choice, or let us discuss our options, which we were annoyed about. Luckily, my partner lives on his own so that meant I could stay there without potentially giving it to anyone else. It has been very testing, especially when you have only been together a year and have never lived with anyone before. It’s also been a massive learning curve for both of us, as I went off sick with depression and my partner had to deal with that plus his own family stuff and work. On the plus side, we have really learnt a lot about each other and became closer as a result. It has shown me that I really want to spend the rest of my life with him. It has prepared us for living together now as we are officially moving into a new house together which is so exciting.”
Others share children with someone they are no longer with; despite the lockdown rules imposed, it was made clear that children were allowed to see both parents, and the usual arrangement parents had in terms of custody, was allowed to be maintained.
”We have a little girl aged 3, and my partner shares a son with his ex who lived outside of Brighton” said Georgia, aged 22. ”During the first few weeks of lockdown when everything was all up in the air, we had contact via phone calls and FaceTime. His ex partner is a single mum of two and things got, understandably, a bit too much for her. Their son, who is 5, came to stay with us for a week and then every other week after this to give her a break and to have some routine and normality. We usually use public transport to get to and from their house to ours, but this wasn’t an option at the time. Different family members from both familys drove an hour each way to collect and drop him off. They have now moved down here due to the strain of it. I feel all the children suffered considerably not understanding fully why we couldn’t go to the park and do normal things. We spent most of our time together on the beach and in the forest. My partner was furloughed too, which was actually lovely. All in all, it was a struggle at first but it was nice to have a break from normality in a way.”
The economy crumbled under lockdown; the hospitality sector came to an almost complete standstill, with businesses rapidly having to change their business model and practices; offer takeaway rather than dine in, create queuing systems, keep staff socially distanced. Many businesses, such as nightclubs or leisure centres, were unable to open at all. The aviation industry took a huge hit, with thousands upon thousands of employees losing their jobs – even those who have worked for an airline for decades. There was barely an industry that wasn’t hit – and hard, and as a result, millions found themselves either unemployed, or if they did manage to keep their job, financially crippled for a myriad of reasons, such as having to take on all of the rent, bills and outgoings due to a partner losing their job. Those entitled to benefits such as Universal Credit, and self employed people, were forgotten about and encountered issue after issue simply trying to receive help.
”At the start of lockdown I was living with my boyfriend and we broke up very quickly” said Aisling, age 24. ”I then lost my job as a nursery teacher. I moved 200 miles back to my parents house and wanted to help however I could. I applied to be a covid tester online and I got a call to ask if I would be happy to take a ‘trainer role’, where you train up new testers and monitor standards on site, because of my teaching background. I was worried for my parents as my dad in particular fell into the shielding category, but he insisted I worked to keep my mind off things. I was very cautious coming in and out of the house, changing in the garage and running to the shower immediately! Lockdown was a small blessing in disguise as I had lots of time to think regarding the breakup, and work was a good distraction. We had (and still have) great banter on site and very quickly became like a family. It was long days and quite stressful with patients obviously being very scared. I feel so blessed to have found a secure-ish job during the pandemic, and really proud to have done my bit. I won’t ever forget it. It was zombie-film like at times, as the site was a rugby stadium transformed with cones and portacabins and people wearing full PPE. It felt like the end of the world sometimes. I have genuinely fond memories. On the whole, people being tested are friendly despite being terrified of the swabs. We work in the assisted lanes, so administering tests, and I had the chance to work with people I never would have before – pharmacists, the army, cabin crew, engineers. It was really beautiful to all come together for the collective cause. The situation has encouraged me to apply to be a paramedic, and my training starts in two weeks!”
Children across the country, unless their parents were key workers, or children with additional needs, were made to try a new kind of learning; homeschooling, as schools across the country shut their doors. Teachers were made to teach in a way that they hadn’t before, and things went online.
”I was shielding across lockdown with my mum who is extremely vulnerable with chronic asthma” said Heather, aged 22. ”I’m a primary school teacher so while my colleagues were in school teaching in bubbles, I was responsible for home learning for Years 2 to 6. Some children really enjoyed the home learning but only for a short period of time. They became really demotivated and the vast majority didn’t even access the home learning. The parents really struggled with motivating their children. We made a move to use Google Classroom which worked quite well, although obviously not for the children from poorer backgrounds. The government said laptops would be provided for children but I didn’t witness this happening. My mental health was badly effected for many reasons, including guilt of not physically being at work and living with my mum who also has severe anxiety and depression. As a result, I came to terms with the fact that I had my own problems and issues that have happened in my lifetime. Lockdown forced me to be alone with my thoughts and so I have therefore started counselling as a means to address these. In some ways, lockdown worked in my favour as it forced me to get help, but equally it has left me feeling confused as to where I am in life and how I feel about this. Since coming back to school, the children have actually responded really, really well. We’ve had a huge focus on wellbeing rather than normal lessons. We also had to make regular contact with the children whole at home as welfare and safeguarding was obviously a huge concern as you can imagine.”
Thank you so much to everyone who shared their story with me for this post. I had hundreds and hundreds of stories, showing the true grit, resilience and selflessness of people. It has been really humbling reading everyones individual experience of this once in a lifetime experience, and I will be working on more posts to share peoples stories, as I really want to get everyones experiences out there.
Stay safe and I’ll speak to you all soon.
All my love BGP xx