Faith's story: Surviving a pandemic with disabilities

Faith Martin 7 January 2021

Faith Martin explains how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected people who identify as disabled, particularly with regards to their mental health. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many issues that disabled people face in everyday society such as access to food, sufficient healthcare and loneliness. The little to no support or acknowledgement from the government on these issues has meant that the mental health of many disabled people has deteriorated drastically since the first lockdown in March 2020.

As a wheelchair user myself, when the first lockdown hit the safest option was to cancel all in-home care to avoid household mixing. However, this increased loneliness and feelings of emptiness as I slowly watched the world around me shut down. Daily briefings become a formality on every television screen, but it the lack of support for disabled people led to the destruction of my mental health at just 19.

woman in a wheelchair looks out the window

Whilst a study by the Mental Health Foundation found that 37.6 per cent of those with a severe mental health disorder also had a physical health condition, out of the 30 per cent of people with a long term health condition in the UK, over 4 million will experience a mental health issue at some point in their life. Despite these striking statistics, disabled people have been pushed to the side throughout the pandemic, with little to no guidance surrounding shielding, in-home care and access to basic daily essentials. 

The world became a scary place with restrictions and rules muddled up in piles all around me and the idea of leaving the house I’d taken refuge in became a living nightmare that manifested in my mind. When I scrolled through social media, I was greeted by positive affirmations and useless “things will get better posts”. I found myself wishing for someone to express the same feelings I had, almost selfishly hoping that somebody else couldn’t cope in order to feel like I wasn’t fighting a mental health battle all by myself. 

"Disabled people have been pushed to the side throughout the pandemic"

With the aid of funny podcasts, comforting music and the occasional video chat with friends, I managed to stumble through the first lockdown as restrictions were lifted and meeting friends at a distance became socially acceptable. Eating out in restaurants was actively encouraged by the government and I was able to safely introduce my package of care back into my routine. This meant that I was able to have regular showers and perhaps a most importantly, conversation with someone other than my father who has his own health issues. 

coronavirus social distancing street sign

As Britain started to introduce snippets of normality back into the streets, I was affected by my most common issue as a wheelchair user. The electronic power chair that I use every day in order to have my independence had broken, meaning it once again became impossible to leave the house though this time for a completely different reason. Due to the pandemic, a wheelchair that would normally take at most a week to fix took over two months to be safe to drive again. Just as freedom was on the horizon my local area was put into Tier 4 restrictions, meaning that we couldn’t meet others, all non-essential shops, restaurants and bars were forced to closed and everyone was ushered back into their houses. At this point, moderate depression, therapy, and hair loss became normality in my everyday routine. 

"I felt as though I was making everything up in my head, that my mental health issues weren’t real"

Suddenly everything in my world was saturated in darkness, and the notion of showering or changing out of my pyjamas became the most impossible tasks to tackle. I felt as though I was making everything up in my head, that my mental health issues weren’t real and that no one would ever believe me if I uttered a word of the lump I felt rooted deep into my chest. After all, I’m the happy-go-lucky teen who has been smiling through it all. I started spending weeks on end in bed feeling helpless and almost as if I didn’t exist. This pit of despair led to starvation as I’d struggle to eat even child-size portions. The black hole in the depths of my stomach took away any desire to eat. All my energy was reserved for fighting off fatigue and crying when my body would allow. 

Read more: How to cope with female hair loss

stay safe message in a window

One day I’d managed to gather the smallest slither of motivation to force myself to shower. That’s when I noticed it, the clump of my hair sat prominently on the bathroom floor. Alone in the house I shut my bedroom door and broke down, wrapped in a beige towel, shivering from the cold and trying to process a life that was once filled with colour and excitement, now in complete disarray. I’d reached the very lowest point in my life. No amount of funny podcasts or comforting music could fix this—my mind was in pieces all over my bedroom floor and every day more and more of those small, delicate fragments would disappear.

I frantically googled what resources there were available for disabled people during the pandemic and well, the screen may as well of just come back blank. The search reaffirmed my belief that anyone in any sort of power didn’t care about some of the most vulnerable people in their society despite a survey conducted by the office for national statistics finding that 13.3 per cent of disabled people reported that they felt lonely 'often or always' compared to just 3.4 per cent for those who do not have a disability. Surely more robust measures of support should have been put in place during a time where social interaction was scarce and in some cases frowned upon? 

It seems that disabled people are once again being treated like collateral damage, seen as unworthy of respect and forgotten entirely by the very people who are supposed to care. 

If you are struggling with loneliness or mental health concerns, please reach out by calling the Samaritans on 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org. There are also lots of resources available through the Mind website.

Read more: Doll therapy in dementia care

Read more: How to be better off in 2021