It is well documented that I have been shielding since March. Four months of my life mostly spent inside, barring daily isolated dog walks for the last month. On 1st August, shielding is being paused here in England. When this news broke I claimed that it wouldn’t change my approach, that I would continue to shield for my safety until a vaccine was available. Two weeks on from that announcement, it’s clear that is an impossible stance to uphold and it terrifies me.

The weight of expectation

Genuinely. I had zero interest in coming out of shielding come August 1st. I had told my employer that I’d be working remotely until the end of the year. Especially given that I have had no infections in the period February – today, July, when between October 19 – January 20, I had six (and this still applies, why put myself in an environment that makes me sick again?). The nursery had been told that Dylan wouldn’t return until September at the earliest and my wife was shielding at home with me for the foreseeable future.

Changing attitudes

Then, a few days after the news of shielding being suspended broke, employers expectations changed. My wife had been given a return date for the start of August. I was inundated with messages on my Facebook Page from people who had been told within days to return to the workplace. Then nursery sent out communications about children returning to more relaxed ‘bubbles’. A week in, as pubs had started to reopen (let’s face it, more for the economy than any reasons of public health) and dates given for the green-light of sport, gyms and hairdressers to reopen; the inevitable questions and expectations of family started to appear.

Within days of the announcement, people were assuming that I would go from completely shielding from this genuine threat to my life, to back to normal. Unlike others who chose to shield, I am on the high-risk list. I didn’t make these sacrifices by choice, I made them because my doctors made it crystal clear what could happen if I was exposed to Covid19. Especially off the back of a torrid year with multiple infections. My suppressed immune system would simply ignore it, within days, it would most likely be too late given my treatment’s two-week cycle.

So imagine my anxiety when a fleeting news briefing changed my situation from one of a maddening, depressing imprisonment void of any crime but secure and protected from the chaos outside nonetheless – to one where all of that effort, all of that sacrifice is tossed away to return to relative normality.

Within a few days, shielders had lost all empathy and respect and the expectation was for us to “stop worrying now and get on with it” as somebody so kindly told me.

There is no choice

The advice is that from 1st August, I should meet people outside and maintain the two-metre social distance rule that all non-shielders are familiar with. Yet the reality is that this is completely impractical. Borderline farcical.

My wife is a nurse, if she returns to work, then she is exposed to 100’s of people, some potentially being treated for COVID.

If my son returns to nursery (because my wife is no longer available to help care for him) then bubble or not, he is exposed to possibly a dozen other snotty-nosed 18mth to 2 year olds, plus staff, plus those kids families and whoever they have been in contact with over the last 7 days and so on.

By this point, I might as well already attend a football match tomorrow with 30,000 other people. I should also mention that just like me, Dylan has not had a single cold, infection, virus etc. during the lockdown. Through no fault of his own, he is just as likely the entry point for my infections as my work environment is.

Back in May, I was interviewed by the BBC about my thoughts on lockdown measures being relaxed

I have already observed the change in attitudes on my dog walks, the general public are now starting to ‘close the gap’ with social distancing. No longer crossing the road. Some, a minority, no longer even move over on the pavement.

Social pressure to return to normal

I feel like I have to attend family gatherings now because everybody expects you to. There are no restrictions so ‘why are you being unsociable?’, ‘don’t you want to see us?’ and ‘you need to get out of that house, it’s not good for you’ such are the comments I now get. How quickly things have been forgotten. Lessons that could have been learned discarded.

But how do I go to a BBQ where everyone else is no longer social distancing? Where all of my family are inter-mingling, working with other households, helping each other with childcare? Do I urinate in the corner of the garden since I’m not allowed inside another house!?

The new shielding guidance vs what’s happening in the real world now are completely incompatible.

Take a moment to imagine

You’ve spent four months on virtual house arrest and with no gentle re-introduction into society, no easing back into normal life like the wider public have had over the last few weeks, no seeing all the changes at shops with your own eyes, then…BANG, you’re back out in the world. With the 1st August being no different to the 31st July.

After months of having this constant stream of fear drilled into you from your doctors; your own government. Suddenly, you’re expected to do everything again. Yet there is no vaccine. No cure. COVID hasn’t disappeared off the face of the earth as Swine Flu did in 2009. In fact, in the USA, parts of Africa and South America, it’s raging more than ever.

Nothing has changed but come 1st August, for me, everything will change.

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Arthritis and Psoriasis Patient Advocate, Writer And Consultant. Owner Of The Pain Company.

I share my story of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis to raise awareness and specialise in pain, parenting (with disability) and the mental health impact of living with chronic illness. I write and campaign for leading charities and organisations. In addition, I provide patient experience consultancy for both charities and global healthcare companies.

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