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Thursday Connectors: Home Truths

by Farzana Hakim

Hi all, I can’t believe its Thursday already and we’re meeting again so soon. I hope your week has been good, well as good as it can be during these weird and, frankly, depressing times. I promised a tiara and tutu last week but honestly, I didn’t feel like dressing up. My heart’s just not in its usual contented place…

It seems there’s sadness all around me and I’m sorry for sounding so glum but what else can I do?

The effects of the coronavirus are hitting home, hard. I belong to a close-knit British Asian community in the heart of east London. Here, we all know each other. Most of our families are extended, with members ranging from the first to the fourth, even fifth, generations of migrants originated from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. We’ve grown up together. We’ve been to school together, played together, worked together and shared all our happy and sad moments together.

Therefore, to many like my mum, connecting to family and friends, face to face, on a daily basis, is the way life has always been. My mum’s no good with speaking her thoughts over the phone. After the initial hello, she’s always lost for words to speak. She’s equally terrible with anything WhatsApp, Facetime or Skype. Face to face verbal communication is the only way she’s known. For Mum, how her best friend (my auntie) of over 35 years is faring, is a constant worry. Auntie lives next door and, many times  during the day, Mum will go out in her back garden and look over the fence. If she sees Auntie’s back door is open, she’ll relax, say a prayer for her and come back inside. My auntie is fighting cancer and the state of her health is one of my mum’s constant fears and worries. Corona has become a barrier for her; a barrier stopping her from expressing her love and care for her friend.

My sadness doesn’t end here. Our closest family friend, our most beloved and dearest Amma, passed away this Sunday. Covid-19 denied our circle of relatives and friends the chance to mourn her the way we would mourn the loss of a loved one. In normal circumstances, the death of a dear one brings members of my community together. We hold each other closely. We make sure the bereaved have eaten and are coping. We all help with the funeral arrangements. We offer prayers at the Mosque, at the cemetery and in the home of the deceased. We pray and pray, because this helps us to heal. The family members are never given the chance to feel lonely, because we are grieving together. This is how my relatives have always mourned a death. But I couldn’t go to see Amma’s children, my childhood best friends and family, in order to hug and kiss away some of their sorrow. I couldn’t sit around her body and pray for her. I wasn’t able to see her angelic face one last time before she left us forever.

Corona did this. Corona denied me my right to see my amma and say goodbye. My dad loved Amma like his own mother. He went and stood outside her home, crying like a baby for his mother to come back. My mum couldn’t hold back either. She wanted to share some of her own despair with Amma’s distraught family, all the while conscious of the invisible enemy lurking everywhere.

Corona has hurt my family. It has brought grief to my friends.

Corona is gradually breaking my community.

My dad mourns not only our amma. His sadness extends to the Mosque, which he hasn’t been able to attend for over a month now. Last week, one of his close friends rang him, telling him he had breathing problems, asking what he should do. The next day, his friend who he’d seen several times a day at the Mosque for prayers, reminiscing about life’s ups and downs as they walked together, had been taken to the hospital, where he passed away and returned to Allah. This week, another friend and frequent visitor to the Mosque, familiar since childhood, also perished. So how can I don my tiara and tutu today, when corona has given me and my community so much to cry over?

I’m afraid Thursday Connectors is not about the closures of beaches and parks and libraries this week. It’s not about the panic buying and the lack of toilet rolls and pasta in the supermarkets, either. Neither is it about home schooling, or working from home survival tips. It’s much more bitter than that. This week’s about the home truths; home truths we can’t deny any more. The coronavirus is here and it’s hitting us where it hurts.

Please forgive me. Allow me a moment to take a deep breath…  Aside from this article, I haven’t written anything at all this week.  I guess my bunged-up, locked-down emotions  just needed a platform to flow out from my heart. Aren’t emotions a strange thing for a writer? No matter the context we are writing in, the words will eventually find a way to escape, allowing us to express ourselves.

So, before I spread too much gloom, during what is fast looking like the Spring of discontent here, I ought to let you all connect with Holly King from Whyteleafe, in Surrey. Her story is about how she deals with her diabetes during the lockdown. I find inspiration from it, because it radiates hope. Many of us are striving to balance this new and hopefully temporary way of life, with illnesses and health issues that have nothing to do with the virus. It pleases me greatly that Holly is able to remain so positive. In her story, she shares how connecting with her social media family on Facebook has helped her to deal with the crisis in her own way.

A big Hi to Holly. Let’s connect…

 

Finding Hope From Home 

by Holly King

We are invisible. From looking at me you’d see a healthy, fit 28-year-old woman who can banter with you, pay my bills on time and run for the train just as fast as anyone else. You’d only notice something was different if you heard a loud beeping noise, or went out to eat with me and saw me pull my insulin out to give myself a shot. No, I don’t go to the bathroom to inject. 

The thing is, unless we’re having low or high blood sugar level, or about to eat, you won’t see anything different about us; until something has gone wrong. When I became an adult, I realised how much I needed my own community of people who understood, who knew immediately what it was like to have hypoglycaemia instead of relying on my explanations that I hoped weren’t over-dramatic, while still explaining the gravitas of my situation: that I do not have the energy (glucose) required for my body to function properly. Literally, my organs do not have the energy required and, untreated, I could die. But there aren’t that many of us; also, we don’t tend to congregate anywhere other than hospitals. 

That’s where Facebook came in. In the last two years, I’ve been an administrator for Type1 Low Carb UK Group *. While only a handful of them live anywhere near me, through an online community, I am able to connect with people from across the UK and beyond daily, which is even more important, considering the current government guidelines. 

As the name suggests, this means we do not eat starchy foods that are classed as carbohydrates. This means no pasta, rice, bread, wheat, potatoes, root vegetables, pizza, beer-battered onion rings, KFC, chips, noodles, biscuits and anything with sugar in it (except to treat low blood sugar levels). So, when everyone was stockpiling pasta and rice, I was still placing fresh meat and green veg into my basket without any issue. 

That was three weeks ago. 

Since then, people in my group have posted that there has been little meat or fish and no frozen vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower. While everyone in Britain has had to adjust their diet in some way due to panic-buying, the fear for my group is the inevitable change in our blood sugar levels if we aren’t able to get low-carb foods for a while. You see, if our blood sugar levels are high, our immune system is compromised, which makes us more susceptible to the virus, and any other illness, plus we feel like rubbish. Eating high-carb foods causes my blood sugar levels to go on what is known in the community as a ‘rollercoaster’, because if you look at the glucose graph you’ll see lots of rises and dips. It’d be great to go on that ride in a theme park, but scary when it’s going on inside your body. 

So, my community has the issue of whether we are classed as vulnerable or excessively vulnerable; of being turned away in the ‘vulnerable hour’ at supermarkets because our illness is invisible; of getting our prescriptions; of keeping our blood sugar levels under control and of getting enough of the types of foods we need to help us do this. 

Our Facebook group is a safe haven for people who want to manage their diabetes in this way and to get support, and this now extends to dealing with the current situation. This group shares updates with the Government’s stance in relation to vulnerable people (it’s hard to get people to specifically mention ‘Type 1’ diabetes, as we only account for 10% of those with ‘diabetes’), and we’ve had lots of posts from members asking about safety measures, preventative remedies, food supplies, and how to keep themselves or their Type 1 child safe when they need to take so many trips to supermarkets to get the right food. 

People are scared. On top of everyone’s daily lives being altered, we potentially have to alter our diabetes management as well. As diabetics, we’re always thinking a little ahead in the future day-to-day, because at the very least, we have to think about how the food we’re eating at this moment and the amount of insulin we’ve just injected will interact in the next five hours, and whether any activity (from an unanticipated rush for the bus to a stressful meeting) will impact this. Now there are additional unknowns: we don’t know that we’ll get the types and amounts of food that we previously could (do not underestimate the number of eggs we eat). We don’t know whether there will be any fresh vegetables or how quick they’ll go off or how far we’ll have to travel (and I don’t own a car). We don’t know that the pharmacy will have every item on our prescription or how many times we’ll have to go back to them before we get it. We don’t know how many hypoglycaemia treatments to stock up on because shops might shut down or people who never knew what a Dextrose tablet was, suddenly start stockpiling them. We don’t know how much worse off we might be if we were to get the virus, when compared to someone without an auto-immune condition. And, we don’t know what media to believe. 

My community helps to ground me. As humans, we’re a species able to forward-think. This has been instrumental in our evolution but it can cause anxiety when we’re faced with so much uncertainty in a world where statistics, data and definitions are regularly on-hand and relied upon. 

Therefore, I believe it’s good to take things day-by-day where you can, so that your focus is on the most important things: such as food and medication. With 1,600 members, we have a variety of people posting, from the ever-topical Covid-19 updates to baking, meal ideas and even memes posts. When the inevitable ‘what if?’ questions come up, they aren’t met with total despair. Our members give multiple options and avenues for people to consider,  reiterating the importance of controlled blood sugar levels – which are achievable even in these times – and answer questions with facts and evidence. Speaking to my community and seeing us support each other keeps me grounded and not allow myself to panic unnecessarily. 

Our online community has helped us see the state of affairs across the country and beyond (some members are from Canada, France, Spain, etc.). The one thing we have in common is diabetes, but our members are all different ages, have different jobs and financial situations, families and other auto-immune conditions, so each of their lives is impacted based on a multitude of these factors in conjunction with managing their type 1 diabetes. We’ve had a member and her child, both type 1, who caught the virus, and she’s updated us all on how they’re dealing with it (glad to say they’ve both made a full recovery without the need to seek medical assistance). Hearing from all of these people helps to build a bigger picture for me on what it’s like for everyone together and as individuals and it helps me maintain empathy at a time when it’s easy to focus on what you need to preserve as much comfort and stability in your life as possible. 

My community is doing what it was created to do: come at an obstacle with research, practicality and togetherness, to support as many people as possible. We are openly sharing updates, tips on how to keep yourself safe and how to ensure your home is clean, NHS guidance, and initiatives and articles we come across, because each of our members wants to help.  

In a time where broadcasters are reporting vulnerable people as expected to die, as if that makes us any less human or part of society (of the deaths reported in any article, how many of them end with something about the person having ‘an underlying health condition’, implying you ‘normal’ people will be fine, phew), it’s uplifting to know I am still part of something, that people understand my specific concerns and, despite the panic around us, we are looking at each day rationally and determined to do our best for ourselves and each other.

***** 

I’m glad Holly shared this with us. My earlier emotions had me forgetting one of the most important things  shining through during this pandemic. Unity. All over social media, we are seeing positive examples of the generosity of people who are going out of their way to help the vulnerable. Councils all around the country are supporting and teaming up with all sorts of organisations, charities, businesses and volunteers, from all walks of life, to look out for the helpless: dropping food parcels, medicines and grocery to the elderly and sick. People from all communities are pulling together. This gives me hope. It gives us all hope.

Perhaps I’ll wear my tiara after all, later on tonight, when I stand outside my front door to applaud the NHS, the real heroes of this whole calamity.

 

And finally…

At home, this week has been one of uncertainty and sadness. Our Prime Minister was in intensive care. The Nightingale Hospital was opened. Many, many, loved ones were taken away from us amidst the rise of coronavirus patients. National celebrities like Eddie Large died due to the coronavirus. Senior Doctors and nurses lost their lives whilst contracting the disease from their frontline of work. Our Queen also came on air to address the nation, to give us strength and a boost of morale during this terrible and anxious time. It was a nice feeling watching Her Majesty on the television.

Hopefully by next week’s Thursday Connectors, we’ll see some better days. I look forward to hearing what Dan Cross, an associate editor at Write On! has to tell us about how he’s doing in Columbia.

Here’s an extract to whet your appetite.

” Bogotá is familiar and unfamiliar at once. It is interesting and boring, exciting and mainstream, developing rapidly and not rapidly enough. It is home and it is not home, and it is where I was when the virus outbreak began!

One of the reasons my life has not been quite so significantly impacted by the outbreak of Covid-19 is because I am a full-time remote worker. Every morning, I help my wife to feed and clothe our infant son, I kiss them both goodbye as they head off to my in-laws, just a few streets away, and then I move into my office to start work.”

For now, I’ll leave you with a few words of hope from the Queen’s speech:

“We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”

 

*Disclaimer. Holly is not a medical professional and draws attention to  the Facebook group as a support group. Diabetics should always consult their health care team in any management decisions they make.

My community helps to ground me. We’re a species able to forward-think, which has been instrumental in our evolution, but it can cause a lot of anxiety when we’re faced with so much uncertainty in a world where statistics, data and definitions are so regularly on-hand and relied upon.