Lockdown has been a challenge to many of us. But for the people told they couldn’t leave home, it’s incredibly difficult.
My name is David Hutchinson, and I work as a Test Engineer at BPDTS. I was born with a double inlet left ventricle and transposition of the great arteries, and I’ve been officially on the transplant list since October 2018. Here is an account of my experience living in isolation and the challenges I faced when deciding to come out of seclusion.
During the early stages of the Covid-19 Pandemic, before lockdown, the media sought to reassure the general population that the older generation and those people with underlying health conditions were most at risk from developing severe symptoms. I wasn’t feeling very reassured.
A decision to make
As other countries went into lockdown, it became inevitable the UK would too. For my family, conversations about what we would do as a family began early. My wife, employed as a pharmacist in a supermarket, would continue to work. She was a risk even before COVID-19.
Following conversations with the hospital, we made the decision that I would go into isolation. My wife and 2 children who are 6 and 3 years old, moved into my parents’ house. I was left with the dog. After about 3 weeks of pining away in the kids’ room, the dog left too.
Living in isolation
The first week felt more like respite than isolation. I caught up on my sleep, watched the television series I knew my wife wouldn’t like, painted the courtyard walls of our terrace house. These feelings of normalcy, however, didn’t last.
Anxiety and melancholy soon took hold. What was once a bustling family home had become an unnerving empty and quiet space. I quickly gave up on the news as it was adding to my growing concerns, partly because of my health condition, but also because I faced a relentless torrent of information and now filter to help diffuse it.
Social media was a buzz of shared articles, statistics and theories; without my usual support network of friends and family, it was challenging to keep my anxieties in check. Not having the comfort of other people to distract me from my thoughts can multiply small anxieties into bigger knots. At times, these escalating levels of anxiety got the better of me.
The emptiness soon led to melancholy. The only time I was using effectively seemed to be the hours I worked. Work created a structure framed by ceremonies and meetings, along with looming deadlines, made focusing easier. It was the time I had to myself that felt wasted.
Despite having a list of films, books, and video games to watch, read, and play, I lacked the energy to concentrate on them. Instead, I watched repeats of movies I’d seen or TV series with episodes no longer than thirty minutes; anything requiring deeper concentration or thought was out.
Exercising also proved to be complicated. The hospital instructions were to “strictly observe social distancing”, avoiding everyone, if possible. However, living in a built-up area was challenging. By 6.30 pm, Northumberland Park, at the bottom of my street, was already busy with dog walkers, joggers, and bird watchers; the latter of whom often taking up entire sections of the park with camera equipment.
To avoid people, I got up at 5.30 am to get a 45-minutes’ walk completed before the park became too busy. I was surprised to find that I was not alone; I was one of a few people who were choosing routes selectively to avoid contact while walking around the park.
Humans are social creatures, and even the most solitary people need some level of interaction. The only face to face contact I received occurred when my wife stood behind the gate of our house, and I appeared in the doorway. I communicated with my family and friends through social media. My children preferred Facebook Messenger due to the strange filters they liked playing with while using it. Zoom was great for catching up with friends.
As time went on, and to improve my mood, I reached out to more people. My Digital Service Practice Manager, Sarah McNally, arranged a regular coffee morning catch up. I arranged regular games nights with friends, including Poker nights and Risk. We also discovered a great game called ‘Keep Talking, and Nobody Explodes’ in which one person has to defuse a bomb, while the other players have to talk them through it using a manual.
After the dog left, I was able to reassess my morning exercise. I rebuilt my bike that had been in storage for a long time. On the suggestion of Sarah, I joined Strava and started clocking up the miles. I still went out early to avoid people but being on the bike made it easier to socially distance, and over time I became less anxious about being out and about.
Working flexibly; making the most of my time
At the beginning of the lockdown, I'd tried to keep to the standard working pattern, believing that the established structure would best suit my day. However, it was more limiting. As the months rolled on and I got used to the routine of living alone, I was able to become more productive with my days by creating structures that made the most of my personal time. It was BPDTS's flexible working policy that enabled me to achieve this.
By the end of May, my average working day looked very different. I'd still get up and get some exercise; then work for an hour, taking an extended break in the morning to have a socially distant coffee/breakfast with my wife. I'd then go back to the (Mac)books and work through the afternoon, depending on meetings. I'd prioritise any work that required interaction with the team in this space. Afterwards, I'd take another extended break; eat, tidy and clean, spend some time with the kids over the internet. In the late afternoon/evening, I worked again, prioritising work that I could do without interacting with colleagues. The arrangement meant there were no long periods when I felt I had nothing to do. I felt more productive in both my personal and work life as a result.
Of course, there were still days when I felt down and unproductive. Previously, on days like this, my lack of productivity bothered me. Our flexible working policy meant I didn't have to worry so much. On days when I felt down, that I wasn't making headway, I shifted my pattern to include hours on the weekend. Changing my schedule made a dramatic and healthy shift that's had a significant impact on my well-being while helping me to maintain my work-based productivity.
Coming out of isolation
By summer, we began questioning how long we could sustain self-isolation conditions. Life at the in-laws was proving strenuous, and it was apparent that I was sorely in need of integrating back into everyday life. My wife began having breakfast in the courtyard, socially distant, of course.
We asked the hospital if they had a plan for people who were isolating. Unfortunately, the answer was no. Eventually, we were told I was to have a COVID antibody test; if it came back positive, I could start integrating.
After chasing for a couple of weeks, it was confirmed that these tests were (understandably) restricted to NHS staff and essential workers. When the R rate started to drop, we decided to take the plunge, creating a bubble between myself and my parents’ home.
Seeing my children, holding them again for the first time in months, was an amazing and emotional experience. Slowly but surely, with their help, I’m getting over the anxieties that have plagued me for the last few months.
Reintegration has created new challenges. I’ve gone from living by myself to looking after 2 children and trying to work. The Zoom calls and Poker nights are less frequent, but I’m back with my family, and that’s more important to me.
Stay safe, everyone.