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Living with high risk

Living

STAYING THE DISTANCE Darren Cawley (left) with his wife Aoife and children Caolan and Iarlaith as they hand a Mothers Day card to Mary Mitchell, with Bernie and Niamh Mitchell watching on from inside, during the lockdown (Pic: Conor McKeown). Top right: Brian Langan; bottom right: Ciara Hughes.

Three Mayo people with chronic health conditions on coping with the challenges of life during the pandemic

Interview

Edwin McGreal

Enduring the Covid-19 pandemic has been a struggle for everyone. But for people with chronic health conditions, living through the last few months has been particularly daunting and will remain so. They are more vulnerable than most if they contract the virus and so have to be in a higher state of alert.
Three Westport people with chronic health conditions have spoken recently about the challenges of this period of time for them.
Darren Cawley, Ciara Hughes and Brian Langan all contributed to an article of patient testimonials on how people with chronic health conditions perceive Covid-19. It was co-authored by Darren Cawley and Dr Lilla Nafradi, a psychologist, author and healthcare communications specialist.
Brian Langan, who has multiple sclerosis, stresses the importance of controlling one’s own outlook in a situation that could easily become overwhelming.
“I think it’s very frightening,” said Brian. “We have to be safe and watch our involvement with people, observe social distancing and don’t panic too much. We should limit our news and social media intake. The coronavirus situation is very upsetting and there is no point bringing it up all the time.
“I rather keep myself busy reading books and doing online courses. People should and can flip the self-isolation to one of empowerment. Change the CD in their head to one that reaffirms their own power and magnificence. Have the isolation work for them by using this time for a little self-reflection. This should give people some ideas and things to work towards. Who wouldn’t want to create a better version of themselves?
“Don’t ask yourself disempowering questions, like ‘Will Covid-19 kill me if I contract it?’. Ask instead empowering questions like ‘Why do I have such control in my life?’. Finally, and of vital importance, try to be aware of some of your thoughts during the day and catch yourself in the act of negative thinking.”

Surreal
Darren Cawley, a kidney transplant recipient and and a motivational speaker, describes his own experience of life during lockdown and the pandemic.
“I find the whole situation quite surreal. The country and most of the world on lockdown. It feels (not that my generation would know) like war. Except of course that the enemy is not just dangerous but also hidden. The important thing is trying to practise the preventive measures and stay sane at the same time. It is a challenge, but as anyone with a chronic illness knows, we are very used to challenges and overcoming them.
“Due to having a transplant and taking immunosuppressants I do feel threatened and on alert. I think this is good. It shows the PR around the virus and its potential to be harmful has been effective within my ‘health community’. I have listened and I am adhering to the guidelines because taking immunosuppressants puts me at serious risk of becoming dangerously ill, if I am infected,” he said.
Ciara Hughes, who has spina bifida, says she is also on guard.
“I think this virus is detrimental to anyone who has an underlying medical condition. I feel this virus could impact me, as I get chest infections regularly. People can make their personal hygiene a priority. Washing hands is so important. From a mental-health point of view, we need to limit using social media and listening to the news, as depression and anxiety could be an issue for some during this time,” she said.

Reconnecting
Darren Cawley also has something to say about the label ‘vulnerable’.
“‘Vulnerable’ people in society are often seen as weak and defenceless. This may be the case if one is in a nursing home. The reality, especially in relation to the lockdown across most countries, is that those who have health issues or are aged have developed a great deal of resilience and coping skills throughout their particular illnesses. In other words, we may be vulnerable physically, but we do have the necessary mental and emotional skills to deal with isolation,” he said.
Engagements with family – or not being able to engage at all – has been one of the challenges. Darren is married with two kids, and keeping apart from parents and grandparents has been a particular challenge.
“There is also a difficulty in that those isolating cannot physically interact with the family. Parents cannot see their children and grandchildren; friends can only interact through social media and video calls. This begins to wear thin over time and a true sense of loneliness for interaction and the tangible use of having someone close by, for example, helping with childcare. Although families can offer great support from a distance, the distance may begin to be the difficulty,” he concluded.
Now, with lockdown restrictions gradually easing, Ciara Hughes urges people to think of family and friends who may have literally become isolated during the lockdown and to do what they can to meet up.
“What I would say to people now is that it is so important for people, family and friends, to meet with people face to face whilst maintaining social distancing,” she told The Mayo News. “We all miss each other terribly, and to get that human connection back is so important. It would be great to get a bit of normality back.
“The idea of getting the virus was the biggest challenge for me, but second would have been the lack of contact with people. This was not easy for people who like hugs! It’s been tough, but it would have been tougher getting the virus, that’s the way I look at it,” she said.

If you are living with a chronic health condition and are finding that your mental health is straining during the pandemic, tell your GP and visit HSE.ie for advice and information on the supports available.