‘This is a bad dream for many but for me, the isolation could continue for years’: People with chronic illness on spending extended time at home
Since the start of the lockdown, many with chronic illness have been frustrated by a narrative that excludes their experiences of long-term social isolation. Sophie Gallagher talks to them
Holly Clarke hates the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It reminds the 22-year-old of missing the whole of secondary school, having her friends constantly tell her how “lucky” she was never to have to attend class and instead, spending all day in bed because of her ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), which she contracted after having childhood meningitis. “All I ever wanted to do was go out, go to school, live normally,” she says.
Clarke, who lives in Manchester, would only get out for things like a supermarket trip with her family. The amount of time she spent inside could stretch on for months at a time especially when her symptoms (fatigue, muscle aches, poor sleep, nausea and headaches) were bad. “I had to find joy in the small stuff, a song, daffodils on my windowsill, a letter from a friend because when I was forced into isolation, the rest of the world wasn’t isolating with me.”
Around 250,000 Brits have ME, according to charity Action For ME. A further 28 million people in the UK live with general chronic pain and an estimated 15 million (about 23 per cent of people) have at least one chronic or long-term health condition. Of course not all of these people will be housebound, but many will experience symptoms that sometimes makes leaving the house difficult, curtails their ability to have an active social life or commit to plans far in advance.