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'Lockdown, disability and me': One man shares his thoughts on the Covid-19 shutdown

James Rickard has Cerebral Palsy. He says this shutdown has reminded him of the importance of connection.

James Rickard

HELLO FROM DUBLIN’S Docklands where the streets are eerily quiet, and all the normal activities and the regular hustle and bustle have stopped.

Reflecting on the weeks that have gone by as I work alone in my office, in the front room (the parlour, as it was called when we were kids), the cranes are still motionless in the clear sky and the roads are empty.

This was a special room where the family greeted relatives and friends but was normally not used for our day-to-day activities.

This room holds particular memories for me because it was where, as a child I used to watch children on the street play, knowing that I could not join in, because of my inability to walk, run and be part of the normal rough and tumble of childhood.

In recent days, I finally stepped out of the house and moved my daily view beyond the four cranes from my front window.

This was not without fear. The fear was not of the virus, but I allowed my thoughts to focus on the possibility of falling or, for some other reason, not been able to get back home again.

Growing up, as a person with a disability, I always attempted to keep up with my peers, be one of the lads. Being involved in political, social and community activities was second nature to me.

At one time, I was more likely to be found in O’Neill’s of Suffolk Street, or Mulligan’s of Poolbeg Street rather than at home, and even if that was some time in the past, the need for interaction is still strong.

Since this coronavirus outbreak, I find my previous notions of independence, or should I say inter-dependence, being called into question. I reflect back to a time when I would have taken exception to the offer of help to board a bus, or to carry my shopping, now with the current restrictions, support is a wonderful gift. 

At times like this, where we are all asked to isolate, it is commonplace for all of us to feel a level of stress and concern. Such worries for me include:

  • Fear of self or a loved one becoming ill

I realise if I become ill, self-isolation would be near impossible. Even the process of washing my hands is made more difficult by the stiffness of my fingers and the rigidity of my hands. 

Other day-to-day functions would be extremely difficult. I need to keep well so I can get the assistance at home which I need, and the support of my colleagues and friends to get through this.  

I find myself feeling more anxious as more consideration is given to re-opening the economy. Will we all be asked to wear a mask (which I think is a good idea)? If we are, I myself would have great difficulty managing to get it on and off.

  • Fear of separation from loved ones due to social distance

As a single person, I live on my own, so apart from normally meeting people for lunch, coffee or going to concerts at the National Concert Hall, which forms a big part of my life, I rely on my phone and social media to keep in touch. This is the same for most of us. In this respect, my friends have been great. I don’t feel isolated, and I feel connected.

Over my adult years, I have always relied on a strong network of friends to enable me to pursue my interest and dreams. I was aware from my early years that things would be different for me, I know that the ‘normal’ progress from school to work would not follow the usual pathway.

The idea of stepping into work after school was a fantasy, and I in some way had to prove (to others and myself) that I could compensate cognitively for what I could not do physically. My dream came true when I went to college.

Of course, there was the doubt in my own ability to be successful in college, classic examples of ‘impostor syndrome’ (a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud”) but I realised this feeling exists in many students with or without disabilities.

In my undergraduate years, I had to depend on a network of friends to take notes at lectures for me and be a support to get coffee or lunch. 

During those years, I learned the importance in building strong interpersonal relationships to share positive as well as negative experiences, so we can understand the events which impact on us, and we can cope together, and continually nurture our support networks which are critical for all of us to develop ourselves.

  • Fear of losing employment and financial implications

I am working from home and hoping that my contribution to the teams at Rehab, and to our work community to assist our common aim, is of worth. I am aware I am in a privileged position, and how this coronavirus must have upended a lot of people’s lives.

I hope when this ends, and it will, we will all help to create a more engaged and inclusive work culture. 

An anxious mind can outrun, outpower and outwit rationality and logic any day of the week. What we must try to do is harness the strength and power of that fiercely protective mind and use it to work for us instead of against us. Trust yourself. You are strong. You are resourceful. You will cope. You always have.

We will get through this, and we should be optimistic. I know that I have not been through such uncertain times before, but personally I have experienced darker times, and I have got through them.

  • Feeling powerless in a pandemic

I remember from my studies in psychology, the concept of the ‘locus of control’. Locus of control is the degree to which people believe that they, as opposed to external forces, have control over the outcome of events in their lives.

The concept was developed by Julian B. Rotter in 1954 and has since become an aspect of personality studies. A person’s “locus” is conceptualised as internal or external. Individuals with a strong internal locus of control believe events in their lives derive primarily from their own actions.

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In the current environment, most of us feel that we have little or no control over the present situation. My own strategy is to be aware of what is still within my control, such as how I structure my day, setting out what I can do or have to do in a particular day, and realising my own limitations.

I think it is important to keep it in the day, and not be thinking too far into the future. Look forward in hope, but concentrate on today. 

  • Feelings of anxiety, boredom, restlessness and loneliness

I am fortunate I have a passion for classical music and literature and they are my go-to activities when I begin feeling any or all of the above. Be kind to yourself, indulge a little. I feel this is not the time for hypothetical thinking. This is, what it is, live in the current realities, and try not to be overwhelmed.

Having so much free time is fertile ground for negative thoughts to break loose. The fear of the disease and its consequences can become a double-edged sword that makes us assume a hyper-vigilant attitude, which will make us exaggerate the symptoms and imagine the worst possible scenario; don’t allow space in your head for these thoughts.

Remember Seneca’s wisdom:

There are more things that can scare us than crush us; we suffer more often in the imagination than in reality.

I know all this will be much harder for some people, especially parents, who have reported being bombarded with wonderful free resources and tools from schools but also feeling overwhelmed and guilt-ridden for failing to keep up with home-schooling activities. 

In addition, others have been thrust into a primary caregiving role for sick or older family members which has a particular level of demand as external resources may not be available or indeed may be restricted by concerned families due to risk of exposure. 

The dual demands of responding fully to a public health crisis and the need to keep working mean that it is imperative for us all to follow the guidance of health professionals and do everything in our power to protect the health and wellbeing of all individuals. 

I hope these few thoughts make sense and some of you can relate to them, and by having such conversations may help us to feel more connected and less isolated. Take care of yourselves and others and we will get through this together.

James Rickard has Cerebral Palsy and is the Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Rehab Group.

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James Rickard

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