Shielding, Self-Employment & Self-Acceptance
It’s been 1 year since my anxiety attack, 1 year since lockdown and 1 year on and off shielding and I’m doing okay.
Reflecting on 12 months of lockdown, here’s my story on shielding as a young self-employed woman & why we need to look after our mental health…
Shielding as a Young Woman with Asthma
It’s been a weird old year since we’ve been ordered to stay at home. Feels like I’ve experienced a lifetime of emotions in 12 months. Shielding wasn’t something I thought I’d do in my 20s but neither was experiencing a pandemic or a recession.
I know I’ve come a long way since experiencing my first anxiety attack 1 year ago when my partner, Rob and I went out for a country park walk and there were just a few too many people in close proximity that I could mentally cope with. I had never experienced my body telling me something was wrong before my mind did, but there’s always a first for everything. It’s still a strange feeling that I get a bit anxious in crowded spaces now and have to take deep breaths to calm my nerves, only a couple of years ago I was dancing & singing away at packed concerts or enjoying browsing through a bustling Christmas market.
I know my job as a wedding photographer you’d think I’m used to big events or being around lots of people and yes I am. As an extrovert, I thrive off being around people but with anything, it takes time to relearn new behaviours and disassociate old ones such as crowds = higher risk of catching a deadly virus. That is something that will take some getting used to.
The Toll it takes on your Mental Health
I’ve held off from sharing my inclusion in this Refinery29 feature by Lydia Wilkins on shielding until today. Reading the 4 other incredible women’s stories about shielding with life-threatening conditions or life-long disabilities compared to me, an able-bodied woman with mild asthma, I felt I shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath. I felt as I had chosen to shield, a privilege many of these young women didn’t have, who was I to talk about shielding?
Yes, you could think that but I’m sharing today because it’s important to know we all have our own struggles we go through, however big or small. Looking back, my anxiety attack was completely rational (though at the time I felt stupid for feeling that way.) It is a fear founded when I had experienced the flu as a child and was bedridden for a week and collapsed down the stairs from blacking out. That memory still painfully clear, I knew I didn’t want to experience that again; that was just the flu.
It’s been a strange feeling shielding as a young woman, having been so used to be being independent in my life to feeling overwhelmed at the thought of entering crowded supermarkets at the peak of Coronavirus, and having these small liberties taken away. This was difficult to adjust to and feeling like a burden on my partner/family in not being able to provide in little ways like grocery shopping (when all the delivery slots were booked up).
I realise we shouldn’t minimise our own battles especially when it comes to mental health and in fear of being judged our problems aren’t worthy of being listened to, so here I am sharing what a year in lockdown has meant for me. I imagine many of you may have felt the same way too.
The Hard Decisions Being Self-Employed & Shielding
Being a self-employed wedding & branding photographer, I was in the difficult position of having to choose between risking my health and earning money when the summer/autumn 2020 restrictions eased. I chose the latter. I took precautions and had to tell myself “I will be okay”. Though privileged to not have a severe health condition I didn’t have the luxury of furlough or ‘sick pay’ as a business owner especially in a badly hit profession such as wedding photography.
It’s certainly been a rollercoaster year running a business during a pandemic and so thankful for all the support from the best clients I could ask for, a fantastic community and all those who have recommended me, I do a happy dance every time I’m referred. Though on the whole, I’ve been keeping my spirits up, there have been particularly low points this past year:
- The first when in the middle of buying our first home and the worry the sale would fall through or our mortgage offer would expire and therefore not being able to buy a house if we were to restart the process again especially me being self-employed (we were due to complete our house purchase Mar 2021, the same week the lockdown order came in). Also at the same time, where we were renting, having strangers view our home was a particularly stressful and awkward experience where I had to take deep breaths to calm my nerves (face masks weren’t a thing back then!)
- The second being when my partner had to deploy on HMS Queen Elizabeth for over 2 months in May/June 2020 and the many stresses that came with how I was to shield living alone whilst keeping my wedding business afloat and the constant worry of my other half, Rob catching Covid-19 whilst on the ship (as they all live in close proximity). I am incredibly grateful to my amazing mum who travelled 100-miles to move in with me in Hampshire where we created our own support bubble and having each other’s company.
- The third when the Covid-19 cases peaked again in Jan 2021 in Portsmouth where Rob was commuting for work, the risk of bringing Covid-19 home got too high after a scare where he was contact-traced over Christmas so we decided it would be best I move away until the cases dropped. It was heartbreaking having to move again after numerous on-off deployments, in-between renovating our new home and constantly moving my business along with it. I lived with my mum again in Somerset, this time for 5 weeks. This took a big toll on my mental health being so far away from home which impacted on my business and wellbeing but so grateful for the support I had around me, my mum most of all.
Learning to Embrace all Parts of Me
Yes it’s been a wild 12 months and with the country on its way to being vaccinated, I’m feeling more confident going out to the local shops for supplies now having my first jab last month. I know I’m on the path to feeling great, I’m just not there yet and that’s okay. I’m working on doing the best I can and that’s all you can ask for yourself. It’s okay to be just okay and it’s okay to not be okay. Being human means we experience highs & lows, we can’t always be feeling happy & optimistic all the time. I know this past year has taught me so much about resilience & grit and helped me become a stronger woman. That’s been the most liberating thing I’ve realised this past year of lockdown as a perfectionist and embracing all parts of me.
This being the anniversary of when we went into lockdown, what have you reflected on or your biggest takeaway from all this? Are there new things you’ve learnt about yourself, are learning to love & accept yourself too? How has your mental health been impacted this past year? I hope you find solace in knowing that you’re not alone and we all have our struggles however big or small they may seem to us.
You can see the full Refinery29 shielding feature here
Need a place to escape or want to learn more about Mental Health?
Here are some resources that have helped me over lockdown:
It’s OK Not To Be OK book by Claire Chamberlain
How to Fail podcast with Elizabeth Day – Alexandra Burke episode
OK Not To Be OK – song by Marshmello & Demi Lovato
Mental Health Documentaries on BBC iPlayer
What is an Anxiety Attack? – Verywell Health
Stories & Articles on Mental Health, Wellness & Mind – Refinery29
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