How it feels to be at high risk during the coronavirus pandemic

15 May 2020
By Emma D, Writer at Aston University

As someone with cerebral palsy (CP), the government says I’m at high risk from coronavirus.

That means that if I were to contract the virus, my health could be affected more than others. Because of this, it was clear that I needed to be extra cautious.

Of course, this has come with its own emotions. Below, I’m going to run through a few of the main emotions I’ve felt during lockdown as a high risk student.

Worry: Realising I was on the “high risk” list

The initial stage I experienced was a period of worry, which came when I first saw cerebral palsy on the list of conditions that the government had deemed high risk. I hadn’t seen the list in the first couple of weeks, so when I realised my status as “high risk”, I also realised I’d been out more than I probably should have been.

I only went to lectures, my lab slots for my dissertation and food shopping, but that still felt like too much social contact. I immediately worried about who I’d been in contact with and whether I had unknowingly caught the virus and put myself in unnecessary danger.

Life then became about stocking up for self-isolation, cancelling my upcoming lab slots that I’d booked for my data collection and settling in to shut the world and coronavirus outside. The speed at which my situation changed, from seeing myself at the same risk as everyone else to being specifically “high risk”, left me feeling quite vulnerable. This was the next stage I went through.

Vulnerability: A new kind of normal

The “high risk” status made me feel vulnerable in a way I wasn’t used to. Yes, I’ve been disabled my entire life, but it’s never really impacted my life in this way. I’ve just had to work out other ways to do the things I’ve wanted to do.

But let’s be honest, there’s no workaround on the extra impact this virus could potentially have on me as a result of CP. I’m not used to cancelling things, such as the lab slots, in order to protect my health in the way I’ve had to in the wake of the “high risk” status. I’d gone from having a disability that I no longer really thought about (having lived with it all my life) to having to pull away from my active lifestyle to protect myself in a matter of days.

Such a quick turn around in the way I thought about my disability left me feeling vulnerable about the impact coronavirus could have on me. That was probably not helped by the government’s frequent use of “vulnerable people” when talking about anyone deemed at extra risk from the virus.

Guilt: Am I actually high risk enough?

Now we reach the point I’m currently at: the guilt stage. A lot of that has to do with this term “high risk”. You’ll notice that throughout this article I’ve put that term in quotation marks, and that’s because I’m still not sure if I can actually call myself “high risk”.

I know CP is on the list of high-risk conditions, but it’s a varied condition with many different effects. The list made no mention of specific types of CP, and since I have a milder type of CP that typically only affects my legs, am I actually high risk? I’m not entirely sure. Am I going to risk it unnecessarily? Also no.

I also feel kind of guilty that I’m writing articles about my lockdown experience, like this one and the one on my own blog, when I’m not at the highest risk and in the shielding category. I almost feel as though we should be hearing their experiences over mine, particularly since I’m not entirely sure if I even have a high-risk type of CP in relation to coronavirus. It all goes back to the question, am I high risk enough?

It’s a dilemma many of the disabled community will already see in the ‘am I disabled enough’ question that can arise when it comes to writing about experiences with a disability. Basically do I meet enough criteria to claim a specific label and write about my experiences with it? So, it’s not a new dilemma, but this (and the associated emotions) isn’t something I ever thought I’d experience.

Regardless of whether I think I should be the one writing this article, it’s written, and these are the feelings I’ve gone through during lockdown as a “high risk” person. Can anyone else relate (high risk or not)?

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Emma is a 23-year-old MSc Cognitive Neuroscience student at Aston University and who lives in Birmingham.