20 Mar 2020

Opinion: How self-isolation could change New Zealand

3:52 pm on 20 March 2020

By Rose Young*

Being told to isolate meant absolutely no change to my current lifestyle - I'm one of those 'vulnerable' people they have been talking about. I have a failing heart that's killed me a few times and has caused me chronic pain which in turn has lead me to being unemployed for the past seven years.

woman staying up late relaxing at home watching tv and eating pizza

File photo. Photo: 123RF

Luckily somehow my brain was preparing me for this isolation and blessed me around a year ago with agoraphobia - the fear of leaving my home. After being put on a heavy duty drug that caused memory loss and meant I got lost in the city I have lived in my entire life, staying home seemed pretty safe. So when I was told I would need to lock myself away I was totally fine with it, the only thing that has changed for me is having to witness my friends' lives and jobs crumble in the process.

When talks of self isolation came up, of course memes followed.

"Introverts! It's our time to shine!" they read. "I've been preparing for this for years" with photos of sweaty gamers behind computers. But what also followed was fear and sadness among the chronic illness community. A Facebook chronic illness group I belong to began drowning in posts of fear of not only getting Covid 19, but just not being able to get regular things like groceries delivered and medication that we require every week.

Able-bodied people can take grocery deliveries for granted, but for me it means avoiding being in pain for two days from carrying the weight of the bags. So when my chronic pain friends are scared of not getting groceries delivered, they are actually scared of the toll it will take on their fragile bodies braving the current aggressive shoppers.

And then came the event cancellations. Festivals, concerts, weddings, parties, baby showers.. the waves of sadness and disappointment, not just for the loss of income but for the missing out. Miranda Hart brilliantly tweeted: 'This is a really good way for people to understand those who suffer from chronic illness. Particularly the many who are housebound. As well as dealing with illness there is daily grief on missing out on the simplest things people take for granted. A cafe. A walk. A bus ride.' I recently couldn't attend one of my dearest friend's wedding because my heart is too weak, and that was devastating for me.

The next few months, maybe years, are going to be hard but I also hope they are going to make New Zealanders more empathetic people. Empathetic to the chronically ill, the disabled, the elderly and also to those on benefits.

I have lived on a supported living benefit since I had to retire from copywriting seven years ago and though it isn't much I make it work for me and I am blessed to have a family and community who help me. Seeing that the government is giving us a bit more money is great, however it is sad it took a pandemic to admit that beneficiaries put their money back into the economy anyway.

Living on an income support benefit will hopefully be a wake up call to some, (and it is much more than main benefits) that living the way we do is not a choice, it isn't fun, it's actually pretty miserable and stressful and it can happen to anyone.

There is something that I find oddly comforting about emergencies like this one, or natural disasters, or last year's terror attack. When things like this happen people talk to each other. They stop ignoring each other on the street or in the lobby of their apartment building or in a lift at work and they say "how are you?" "Do you have everything you need?" neighbours meet and people show their best selves.

For every a-hole selling hand sanitizer at ridiculous prices on TradeMe, there will be 100 good people checking on friends, cooking for grandparents and making sure their loved ones are safe. The human race has survived much worse than this, my body has survived much worse than this and people often say to me that they don't know what they would do in my position - I tell them they would just survive and that you really have no choice but to keep going, be patient and that being kind is a lot easier than being defiant.

* Rose Young is a Wellington-based artist whose work can be found at Tiny Portions.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

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