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Coronavirus: Being named as “vulnerable”

This is a guest post written by one of our Sanctus Coaches, Rebecca Armstrong, and was originally written on 25th March 2020.

Just over a week ago we were in Scotland on holiday. This meant that we were able to watch from afar what was happening in the world, and at that point there were no restrictions but there were some confirmed cases being reported.

Because we were already out of our daily routine we were able to watch it unfold and also plan our course of action as a family. 

I was diagnosed with MS in January 2013, which places me (along with many thousands of others) in the “vulnerable group”.

We have been told to ‘stringently social distance’ and that is what we are doing. We returned home from Scotland and have not been out since (with the exception of some very careful trips to our local shop for essentials).

I am grateful that I have been able to continue with a percentage of my work at home and my husband’s employers have supported him to work from home from day 1 as well. 

My overriding emotion at the moment is disbelief, it simply doesn’t feel real somehow. It reminds me of the movie ‘The Truman Show’, where Jim Carrey was living in a movie but didn’t realise.

What I do believe is that, to quote James from Sanctus, we are living in a moment of history and to that end, I am trying to remain positive. 

Living with MS in general is filled with uncertainty, there is no set progression path for the condition and changes can be sudden and life-changing.

Perhaps that has meant that I am more equipped to cope with living in this period of uncertainty? But it also makes me more scared and in moments terrified (I had a good anxiety-induced cry only last night).

My immune system is already a bit broken, I am not on immunosuppressants which at this time is a good thing, but it does mean if I get it then I am likely to be affected more severely than I would have been without MS.

Our home feels like a safe haven but its almost impossible to not have any contact with anyone, we have fruit and vegetable being delivered from our local supplier tomorrow – what if the people who packed that or deliver it have the virus and then we pick it up when we handle the food?

Of course, we will be hand washing and sanitising but the risk feels very present. I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life where I feel so vulnerable and at-risk so I can only imagine how the people feel who are still going to work particularly in the NHS. 

I have ran a group for people with MS on Facebook called ‘MS & Work’ for many years and I am focusing on helping people who are navigating this time whilst being in the vulnerable groups (particularly MS).

We have been doing live videos in the group about the current employment guidance (I am an HR Consultant as well as a coach) and offering support to people who are feeling a wave of emotion too. I am also supporting some of the companies I work with to help them make sense of how to support their people with keeping their staff safe, managing teams remotely and their own mental health during this period. 

I believe all we can do is help each other, remain as positive as we can and keep as safe as we can. It feels like the sun is rising on a new era of work and connection and beyond this there may be lots of lessons we will learn. But, for now, we have to take care of ourselves and as someone in the vulnerable group, keep myself away and offer my help from afar. 

I often use the quote from Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

This feels very apt at the moment, I believe we can acknowledge the pain that the world is facing at the moment whilst also looking forward and being hopeful. That we can choose to be consumed with the fear and darkness or we can try to remain positive.

How I’m staying positive

  • I am focusing on gratitude: I am grateful I can work from home and maintain our payments, I am grateful I can use my skills to help people, I am grateful for being in a loving marriage and having the support of my husband, I am grateful for this additional time I get to spend with him and our daughter and I am also grateful for Disney+. 
  • I am writing, using this time to capture my thoughts and manage my own mental health (journaling helps me)
  • I am choosing to be more present with my family, setting aside time to work but also time to be completely focused at home. 
  • I am volunteering, doing what I can to help. Through my group, with the businesses I know who need help now and with the NHS volunteer scheme (phone-based side). 
  • I am reflecting on what I need in life. This is a time to strip back and come out of this with a new consciousness about life and connection. 

When I was in Scotland I found myself getting up early to capture the sun rising over the Valley of Fife. A beautiful sight but one which now feels like a metaphor for where we are, I am trusting this will pass and with time the sun will rise again and we get to choose what we leave behind and what we bring forward.