The toll of lockdown for the disabled community

12 November 2020
After several months in complete lockdown in Melbourne, the emotional and mental toll that it has had on many of us is indisputable.

I’ve lost track of the conversations that I’ve had with friends, family, and colleagues – where I can see the exhaustion plastered on their faces through a screen, and the conversations echo constant disappointment. 

As someone with cerebral palsy, the COVID-19 epidemic created a scenario where I was told I had to work from home. In a pre-COVID world, it had rarely occurred to me to negotiate to work from home, as I was someone accustomed to long and tiring commutes to work. 

Suddenly, services like telehealth appointments, classes, even social outings were made accessible to the public through online platforms. While the public readily adapted – the disabled community were left asking ourselves, ‘why wasn’t this offered all along?’ We were simultaneously elated and confused. 

For a certain portion of the cerebral palsy population and their families, there is a grizzly truth that some people with cerebral palsy experience weakened immune systems. For the first few months, families of those living with cerebral palsy were anxious about exposing their loved ones to anything outside of an already carefully constructed bubble. 

People with cerebral palsy are generally private; we’re homebodies by nature. My sister joked that I had trained for this pandemic my entire life. Leaving my home can feel enormously overwhelming as it requires a certain level of psychological preparation. We are constantly met with inconspicuous gazes and unsolicited approaches from strangers. I would be lying if I said the idea of staying at home and not dealing with all of that wasn’t incredibly compelling.  

“You want me to stay at home? If you insist! I’m all on board for being the good civilian,” was the internal dialogue that went through my mind for the first two months of the rigorous lockdown.

The lockdown was not without its advantages in those first months. I was saving massive amounts of money, not missing the time-consuming commute, and I felt the constant pressure that the outside world can often present – begin to lift.

But something else was happening. There was a gradual realisation that the restrictions on leaving my home had a destructive impact on my mobility, something that my weekly physiotherapy sessions were not enough to curtail. 

Like most other people, I gained weight. Aside from not fitting in any of my jeans, I knew that cerebral palsy and extra weight are not a good combo. There’s an infamous scene in The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy comes across the Tinman for the very first time. In it, Dorothy is startled to discover that the Tinman has been left in a seemingly neglected state, incapable of moving. That’s how it’s felt to be a person with cerebral palsy in lockdown. More generally it’s how all of Victoria felt – one majestic yet neglected state at the mercy of a health crisis it can’t control.

Every day I felt my muscles getting stiffer and tighter, and by the time our Premier announced that he would be extending the lockdown in September - the news was quietly devastating. People with cerebral palsy are terrified of premature ageing, and like everybody else, this year seems to have aged me.

I compared notes with others who have CP, and the consensus is in. We are physically struggling in a way we haven’t before. People close to me have observed the difference, which has been confronting. 

Now, as I emerge from my apartment to experience greater freedom, I feel my body desperately readjusting, unsure of when things will feel back like they were, pre-COVID.

Written by Natalie Corrigan, CPSN Membership Services Officer


 
 

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