The New Norm…? 

In my previous blog entry from April, which feels like a solid decade ago at this point, I confidently mused that by the time I got round to writing my next entry, all this Coronavirus nonsense would be “firmly in the rearview mirror”…

words from news paper about coronavirus

…oh to be young and naive again!  

Yes, I now find myself firmly at the stage where, with no miracle breakthrough on the horizon, rather than considering when we’ll get on top of this virus, I’m considering if we’ll get on top of it. 

Life, although severely altered for the foreseeable future, must go on however, and last month saw the start of lockdown easing; as the likes of shops, hairdressers, gyms, bars and restaurants all began to reopen. This gradual re-opening also coincided with the end of the suggested 12 week shielding period that the most vulnerable had been placed under, a list that comprised of many people with disabilities, including yours truly. 

And so I’m writing this blog entry from a post-shielding perspective, as one of the many who has recently emerged pale-faced and bleary-eyed from their shelter, gazed up at the sky, breathed in the fresh air, and cautiously begun to reintegrate into society. Okay so that may have been a tad dramatic, it wasn’t exactly a stint in Guantanamo Bay, but you get the gist!

Man enjoying being outside in the rain
Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’…

Joking aside, I will admit that, similarly to those who are locked up, or from a personal perspective, similarly to when I was in hospital after my injury, lockdown has seen me become a little institutionalised. After my initial panic and dread at the thought of being trapped at home, I soon found myself adapting and settling into my new routine. Online deliveries became the norm, my mum popped round twice a week to provide me with some human interaction, I handbiked from my kitchen five days a week, did an alcohol fuelled Zoom quiz with friends on a Saturday night and continued to work from home for Active Hands. Plus, with enough video games and streaming services to fill up the evenings, it was surprisingly easy to forget about all the things I would have been doing otherwise.  

The Lockdown Lethargy Legacy

I am, and always have been, a creature of habit. I find the idea of change quite intimidating. As a child, even when I was getting bullied, I turned down the chance to move schools, as the idea of leaving the only educational environment I’d ever known and starting somewhere completely new proved too daunting a prospect. After my injury, it took me years to fully adapt to life on wheels as I felt nervous and self-conscious whenever I was outside. So when life as we all know it changes, and we are suddenly forced to do such things as queue and wait our turn to enter shops, follow a set route round and be constantly aware of staying clear of other people, one can’t help but feel a tad frustrated and long for the good old days where you could nip to the supermaket for a couple of essentials and be done within five minutes, or enter hand to hand combat with another customer for the last Iron Man onesie in Primark!

man in an ironman onesie
To the victor go the…ahem…”spoils”!

Long a staple of many a Saturday night, I am stunned to admit that, since the pubs reopened, I haven’t been once; instead choosing to have a few drinks at home whilst testing my quiz skills on Zoom. I’m not saying I don’t miss the bustling social atmosphere of the pub, quite the opposite in fact; as it is largely the idea of appointmented hours, fixed seating and table service that is vastly lessening the appeal to me. For what is a pub without crowding round bars and seats, striking up conversations with strangers and having the freedom to congregate wherever you please? 

In no way am I saying that all of the measures being taken aren’t completely valid and necessary, they clearly are. I’m just saying that, once again, it’s going to take some time for me to “fully adapt” and accept this as the new way of living. In a way, it feels like a mourning period for the loss of what had always been taken for granted, and I’m sure I can’t be alone in having this melancholy sense…

Surprisingly, out of all the changes that have occurred, the one I’ve had the least problem adapting to is the one that seems to be causing the most uproar – namely wearing a mask. I certainly don’t feel like this small piece of cloth is violating my civil liberties in any way; the only major downside being that, when worn in conjunction with glasses, the fog effect leaves me looking like a cross between Mr Magoo and legendary disabled highwayman Crip Turpin!

Gareth in his mask with steamed up glasses
Anti-fog lenses – a mist opportunity!

I don’t mean to paint a picture of doom and gloom here. I’ve not become a bitter house hermit, staring longingly out of the window whilst singing Barbara Streisand’s The Way We Were, a single, solitary tear running down my cheek! There are plenty of activities I am looking forward to getting back into, a couple of scheduled trips planned and several ways I’ve already taken advantage of the lockdown easing.

Pensively Planning Out Productivity

On the social side of things, since lockdown began to be lifted, I’ve seen a couple of friends on their birthdays, been to a barbeque and gone for a wander along the coast with my mum and her dog, Bertie! In the coming weeks I’m looking forward to socialising with more friends, resuming my regular cinema trips and getting back to wheelchair rugby training. And with a couple of mini excursions to Scarborough and Buxton on the horizon, it’ll be interesting to see how different areas are coping and to what extent this is affecting nightlife and tourist activities. 

A shameless flaunting of the two metre rule by Bertie!

In terms of the more mundane side of things, with opticians and barbers appointments both ticked off the list, the dentist is the next one to organise, although that definitely comes with the higher risk of the three as you literally have someone peering and prodding in your mouth. As will be the case for many people who have either been furloughed or worked from home during lockdown, my job at college will also resume next month and I’m genuinely looking forward to getting back into the building and working face-to-face so to speak. I quickly found out during the previous term that supporting students from home and getting so much as a peep out of them was something of a nightmare and in complete contrast to being in a classroom where you often couldn’t get them to shut up!

Everyone is different though and I think the important thing is to only do what you feel comfortable doing, especially in terms of social and non-vital activities. Socially distanced outdoor activities such as drinks in the garden or walks in the park come with a much lower risk than indoor activities such as going to the gym or cinema (which circulate air all around them). Whereas hospital and dental appointments are often necessary and unavoidable, the likes of hair and beauty appointments are much less vital. There are ways of greatly lessening the risk involved, but no activity involving others is completely risk free in this post-corona world we now live in, so it’s important to plan accordingly, think of others and take it slow.

An Existential Fork In The Road 

From a personal perspective I would say that, although I am very much aware of the differing risk levels involved in the various things we are now allowed to do once again, I don’t want my life to be dictated by fear. Yes, it will certainly be in the forefront of my mind the first few times I go back to the cinema, and yes, I am somewhat hesitant to return to the pub under the new guidelines; but I also know that I’ll almost certainly embrace both once again in the coming weeks. 

By far my biggest concerns are whether Covid-19 is even able to be eliminated at this point, the longterm effects it will have on our way of life, and whether things will ever be able to go back to how they were. For many of us with underlying health and mobility issues who already faced difficulties getting out and about, this virus has made each trip outside a potential life or death gamble; where fear of leaving the house can lead to anxiety, depression and an overwhelming sense of isolation. 

There are so many small freedoms you take for granted and don’t fully appreciate until they’re gone.

To do or not to do. To live or not to live.  

Gareth out with his friends before coronavirus

Not wanting to end on too bleak a note however, I will say that I would like to think most if not all of us will have had at least one positive experience come out of lockdown. Whether it’s spending more time with your children/partner, learning a new skill, improving your baking, overhauling the garden, reading the entire 50 Shades saga, writing your memoirs, or just having a bit more time to relax – there will hopefully be at least one positive you can focus on.

My main positive is that my lockdown exercise routine has seen me reach a level of fitness not seen in years! This is something I am desperately keen on retaining in the longterm and hope to stick to my schedule of exercising at least five days a week. Unfortunately, my current level of boasted fitness is all stamina based, so whereas I may have the endurance of the Duracell Bunny, I have the strength of the Andrex Puppy, all the while continuing to look more like one of The Muppets!

A hairy Gareth next to Animal from the muppets
I’m just saying, have you ever seen Animal & I in the same room together…?