When covid-19 arrived, I have to admit, that I reacted out of fear. In the past I have usually been able to be somewhat prepared for a crisis before everything goes up in flames…
whenever I get bad news from the docs I had felt the shadows of the damage long before the test results, and shock was never really part of the equation
But when March came around, everything happened in a rush, and I ultimately locked myself up in my house within days of the first few hundred cases in the UK. What was even more surprising, was that for once, I was prepared to go above and beyond to protect my health, with no questions asked and no time spent dwelling over what I would lose.
I also definitely hadn’t expected for it to go on this long, and as a loyal and old-fashioned immigrant, when summer arrived, I instinctively felt the need to go back home to the motherland. And this time around it would not be simple. I have never spent a summer without either being in Switzerland or Italy in my life. I am usually pushed to take that holiday because ever since I was a captive of the school year, the summer breaks were the only opportunity for me to go through the big medical check-up that happened once a year.
In early April I was meant to be going into hospital for usual tests, however in late March, I had gotten news from my doctors saying that there would be no check-ups for patients that weren’t coming in for covid-19. This was the first time that doctors actually cancelled appointments, in my life. It cemented how surreal the pandemic was for people who were vulnerable, it frightened me. But now that hospitals in Switzerland have started taking patients again, I was being summoned once more.
Except this year, I had no idea what the trip would look like. I could not rely on what I have been doing in the past. So, I needed to start planning for something completely different.
My first tick due on the to-do list was to figure out which country I would be going to, to stay in long-term. I knew I would have to go to Switzerland for the hospital, but at the beginning of the discussion we considered both countries.
I have been trying to follow the pandemic through the WHO Situation Reports so that I would have one stable source to go back to as the situation developed, to at least have a clear picture of patterns even if the numbers did not reflect reality entirely. As I had expected, the numbers were fluctuating in the hundreds in Italy, whilst Switzerland had kept all her stats under 100 new cases a day for a while.
they even successfully had 0 cases for a few days in June
What made me decide, was that a long time ago I said I would never be hospitalised in an Italian hospital ever again, so miss corona felt like the absolute wrong reason to go back to la dolce vita.
Switzerland it was.
Next duty was to find a safe haven.
I was going to continue my personal isolation even when the situation calmed down because it still wasn’t going to be stable even when the numbers decreased at first, so it simply wasn’t safe. Because of that it had been important for me to locate somewhere that I didn’t need to share with others, except for my immediate family, I trusted them to apply rules even within our own home.
they have been doing it their whole lives after all
The chosen nest ended up being my grandfather’s house. He had passed at the beginning of the year, in a time where I was too sick and felt too weak to travel mid-winter, which meant I hadn’t said goodbye to him. So, in a way this was my chance to have a moment with the last thing that remained of his, staying in his house now felt like his last hug. His last moment of protection.
My extended family were kind enough to promise no one would use the house until I went back to the UK for good again. They were supportive, and when I arrived they tried to understand my boundaries and ways of social distancing. They asked questions and listened even though they sometimes didn’t quite grasp the seriousness of my situation.
A little too often the 2m distance accidently became 75cm to pass me the cheese, or masks fell and uncovered noses with no reaction. “I’m only coming close to you for a second, just passing by!” was commonly said, regardless of mistakes, they tried to remember as much as they could. And in hard times, that’s enough.
My routine was simply a bit much for a society that saw the coronavirus as a little flu that only lasted a few days. Dare I say that I heard the words “herd immunity” be said in my direction by a cousin I love deeply. And I can’t say it didn’t hurt.
they respected my boundaries when I spoke up, and again that’s enough
The third big question was how the hell would we get to Switzerland from London? 574 miles. 924 kilometres. I was terrified of flying; between the idea of being locked into a metal tank with other people with no way out, and going through airports with thousands of others scared me so much that the plane option was never discussed further than that one mention of it.
I considered doing the journey by train, it would have consisted of 3 or 4 trains over the span of 15 to 17 hours when you included the waiting times. However, there would be some strict rules during this journey. One of these rules was that I would not be allowed to take my mask off until I was in a safe space. Which was either a field, with no one around. Or my grandfather’s house. So, realistically I would be wearing a mask from my front door to his. No drinking, no eating. All day.
breathing was optional at this point…
The second important rule was that I would not be able to use any public toilets, unless it were mother nature herself. And that is a promise a CF belly simply cannot make. Essentially if I felt sick onboard, there would be no way out, in every sense of the term. The more I thought about it the more I realised that if I chose to do it that way, I would simply have to be uncomfortable and deal with it, however shitty it would have been at the end. And I have fainted of pain before, I know there is a point where my body switches off to deal with pain. That is simply not a helpful attribute in a travel buddy.
I was also in a pretty bad mood already after the first isolation, that I didn’t feel like testing my patience that much…
So, I decided against trains.
The only option left was driving. I loved driving, and it also felt like something I could do for myself, a first amidst isolation. The freedom with this solution was that I would be travelling with my own bubble of safety, in my own time. Within the car I would be allowed to take the mask off and eat or drink whatever I had prepared for the journey.
I ended up eating some curry on the way, and it was fabulous
With disinfectant in every door, it felt like a feasible option. Mother nature would still be the only toilet available, but we would be able to leave the highway when needed, there was no timeline, and considering the unknown challenges that would inevitably arise on the road, making our own path and our own time felt like a freedom I hadn’t experienced in a while.
extra benefit of the car: I would be able to bring the fur babies!
The mode of transport was decided. We took the Eurotounel to leave the UK, and stayed inside the car during the 35 minutes (this was the rule for all passengers due to covid-19). And the rest was in the open and completely up to us. It said it would take 9 hours.
spoiler: it took 13 because of closed highways in Switzerland for the last 200km… was not fun…
I am now writing this from my balcony, overlooking the lake and London feels like a different life. When thinking about my planning now, I think I made the only right choice that didn’t make this journey an added torture to 2020. And that was important to me. I was leaving the UK to come somewhere I could breathe again, walk through my little town with a mask, poke my big toe (only) in the still very cold Neuchâtel Lake. I couldn’t start this new chapter of isolation frustrated, in pain, and ultimately in danger.
Which doesn’t mean it wasn’t a challenge either, but it allowed us to do it humanely. To stop in parking zones, or in wooded areas to set up a picnic in the sun to break up the drive. I got to explore forests to find dark and fairy-like places to squat down. My mother and I sang the loudest we could to Adele’s Someone Like You. We could not have been more relaxed on any other other public transport.
The driving part was easy, and I didn’t see time go by because of how amazing it felt to have a mission in the outside world. Despite the north of France being very flat, we admired it and gazed at wind turbines that had never looked as mighty and powerful. To be honest, it just felt good to put clothes on and be outside. Wearing shoes instead of slippers felt special! It might sound childish, but I spent 120 days inside my home, that is 17 weeks and 1 day, completely secluded. Everything outside my home felt like something I needed to discover again.
The kittens were also an interesting touch. They began in a shared caged, however, halfway through France their meows became so intense (mainly to my ears and heart) that I gave in and let them out. I had brought their little blankie and had put it over the luggage in the backseat, as soon as their little paws felt the familiar fluffiness, they settled down. They did occasionally fight to go sit on my mother’s lap, but they were very calm and angelic travel buddies.
I am a lucky fur mommy
I was really worried about travelling anywhere this year, I had given up on the idea entirely at one point in mid-May. I didn’t want to feel the weight of the travel on my mental health because I didn’t think I would have been able to handle hours of stress and fear.
And considering how many meltdowns I have had in public since arriving in Switzerland, I commend myself for being so aware of the shattered emotional ground holding my life together before the travelling even started.
really shows some type of maturity
However extreme it may sound to some, every insane thing I did, I did out of fear for my future. However right or wrong, the choice was and still is mine. I don’t owe anything to anyone, and as much as it poisons my life, I don’t want to just go back into society to have a panic attack as soon as something I didn’t plan, happens.
In life, I accepted a long time ago that there were restrictions as to how, but not as to what I could do. Isolation was a reminder of that, but also a confirmation that I could really get through anything, differently than others, but I can get through anything. There are alternative lives going on all around us that we aren’t aware of, that are coloured by creativity, wit, and originality. There is a saying that says all roads lead to Rome… the phrase was coined because the Romans designed their empire so that every road radiated out from the capital. What it suggests is that all methods of doing something will achieve the same result. Or in other words, all paths lead to the centre of things.
if that isn’t explanatory of how a CFer manages to live a sort of pretend or parallel life to others, I don’t know what is…
I spent my life following my family to third world countries with suitcases packed with 6 months’ worth of medication instead of the books and games my brothers carried. I flew in the peak of winter with a mask when my family flew without. I have hidden heat patches under my clothes to control my pain, in order to follow my friends into festivals that lasted all day. I took breaks and skipped out on mini-adventures to made sure I had time for therapies and self-care on weekend trips to Paris with my best friends.
Despite all the difficulties, I still did all those things. I still went to all those places. This summer I was planning to go to Portugal with friends and attend 2 three-day festivals, with a group of friends who care enough to give me the space to take another road, but to be dancing with them at the end of the night regardless. And that’s how you’re going to win the battle with CF. Aiming to eradicate or deny it, will stop you from incorporating it into your actions and your path in life. It’ll become a barrier. That’s just going to feel like a war within yourself. And it might just be a war you won’t win in the long run. But I’ve had my glass of champagne by the lake since arriving and I feel like I won this battle. The fight is still going on, but I got to my little slice of heaven on earth despite a rampant virus that specifically targets my weaknesses.
I hope you Cysters and Fibros find a way to have a change of scenery in this time without having to risking your health for it. Or if that doesn’t interest you and you have created a bubble of epicness in your own home, I hope you continue to enjoy that.
This is a fucked off year, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to lead a certain life despite this pandemic. Maybe we can drop the act that life is perfectly dandy, for one year? We’ve been interrupted, if we just accept it and make a new normal for however long this thing lasts, we might be less disappointed or disillusioned by our present.
If you’ve been able to travel and go explore safely despite the pandemic, tell me about it! Let us all dream!
I hope you’re having fun somehow, somewhere.
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