“Lockdown definitely taught me not to take anything in life for granted.”

29 June 2021
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James has rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Here he shares how the last year has been – the good, the bad and the surprising.

“The last year has been pretty crazy and exhausting.”

I’ve been shielding alone in my flat for 14 months and I only went outside a few times. These were for blood tests or getting my vaccine.

The good aspects have been that I’ve been safe, healthy, kept mentally sane and avoided any major flare ups. I've also found an amazing supportive chronic illness community online.

I've certainly had my bad days too, although all things considered it would be more alarming if I hadn't.

“I've felt lonely at times and a bit disconnected from the outside world.”

I’ve slowly started seeing friends again since my second jab, which has been really nice. I’ve noticed that I’m exhausted for a few days afterwards, so I'm easing myself in.

I think what's surprising is how I’ve managed to keep my condition and mental health under control.

Now, that it’s safer for me to enter the real world again, I've realised just how crazy the past 14 months have been.

“Lockdown definitely taught me not to take anything in life for granted.”

I've seen how quickly everything in life can be taken from me and I’ll be more appreciative of spending time with loved ones and being able to out for a drink or a meal.

Seeing how so many people have come together (albeit mostly online) to get through this pandemic has given me faith in mankind.

I’m very grateful for everyone who checked on me, whether they were my friends beforehand or new friends I met online. It’s helped me see that there’s so much kindness and positivity out in the world.

“I definitely used exercise as motivation during shielding."

By far my best purchase was a set of resistance bands. They're really good for working out at home without putting much stress on my joints. I’ve found plenty of YouTube routines to work out to.

I also used my time to improve my Chinese skills and I started studying Spanish. And I’ve always wanted to watch the IMDB top 250 films and I managed to get through them all.

Doing things like this has helped me feel like I was being productive.

“Resting and sleeping well is crucial for battling fatigue.”

It’s important to me to have enough energy to do things that will benefit my body, such as exercise and stretches, as well as cooking healthy meals.

Getting the right amount of sleep is something I need to work on. Hopefully, now that things are looking up a bit, I’ll be able to get into a better routine again.

“Looking after your mental health is arguably the most important of anyone's journey with chronic illness.”

If you’re struggling mentally and stressed this can lead to flare ups and it can be hard to take care of yourself.

I think sharing our feelings is something us men have a hard time doing.

Arthritis is a condition jam packed with feelings, whether that is pain, fatigue, stiffness, anxiety or frustration. These things can become very overwhelming and talking is so important for keeping a healthy state of mind.

I used to be guilty of bottling things up and the negative feelings would pile up and put me in more of a funk.

“Ever since I started opening up about my condition online, I’ve found it very therapeutic.”

Sharing my experiences has helped me get a lot of things off my chest. It’s helped me accept my condition more and made me realise I am not alone.

There are so many young people out there fighting the same battle and we’re all in this together.

Talking openly has also allowed my friends to understand my situation more and they are understanding of what I can or can't do because of it.

Even if you are worried about talking to your friends about your condition and how you feel, there are so many people online who are more than happy to listen and help, so don't be afraid to reach out!

My advice to others who might be nervous about the easing of lockdown would be:

  • Go at your own pace. There’s no rush to dive straight back into what you were doing before the pandemic, if you don't feel ready yet. I will certainly be taking things very slowly and going at my own pace.
  • Don't be afraid to say no. If somebody invites you out to do something that you don't feel safe or ready to do yet, there’s no shame in turning the offer down.
  • Do what you are comfortable with. Put your own physical and mental health first and don't feel forced into doing things you’re not ready for yet.

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