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After the lockdowns, those of us with chronic illness suffer

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It’s bloody rough because for first time in this pandemic, as the last of the restrictions lift in Melbourne, our government policy reflects, more blatantly than ever, how much our culture values youth and health above all else.

Again, I truly hate to bring the mood down at a time when we’ve finally achieved the freedom we all craved for two years. I’m a Melbourne girl, I lived through a lifetime of lockdowns and social restrictions, cancelled my honeymoon, cried with friends over their ill-fated nuptials, and prayed for the day we could go back to the theatre, the bars or a cafe for lunch.

And now we’re here. I just didn’t expect it to mean freedom for, seemingly, everyone else but me.

“It’s bloody rough living as a young person with chronic illness right now.”

Hannah Vanderheide

It’s hard to imagine it if you’re blessed with relative health. But try to remember that with the last of the restrictions lifting, so lift the small but instrumental safeguards that kept public spaces useable to those of us at higher risk of COVID complications.

I suffer from two autoimmune conditions. One of which, (Addison’s disease) is ever present and impacts my daily life quite meaningfully. The other, (Graves’ disease), has just decided to come out of remission. Perhaps it got jealous of the newer, rarer, more fatal disease taking up the spotlight.

During this flare up, my body is not in any state to welcome an infection like COVID-19. I’m on more steroids than Arnie in the ’90s, I’m exhausted beyond belief, and I’ve had to postpone my very active one-year-old’s start at daycare.

While I mourn another temporary loss of health and vigour, I also find myself more isolated from my community than I’ve felt in over two years. In the great Melbourne lockdowns of 2020 and ’21, we were “all in this together”. We were alone together, isolating as one, to protect our healthcare system and those most vulnerable in our communities. But now, as our government tell us it’s time to throw out our masks and live like it’s the before times, those of us with chronic illness are simply… alone.

Every event invitation brings with it a simple but heartbreaking trade off. “Is this one worth getting COVID for?” We wonder.

“Is it too risky to send my baby to childcare so I can work?” For me, right now, it is.

With so much COVID in the community, there are many reasons Australians are continuing a sort of self-imposed lockdown.

According to the Australian Institute Of Health And Welfare (AIHW) an estimated 413 Australians were diagnosed with cancer per day in 2021. That’s just one of the ever-growing cohorts who are at a high risk of developing complications from COVID. Pregnant women have also been shown to be more severely affected by the virus. And besides the increased risks to both mum and baby, imagine enduring labour while also battling a COVID infection.

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To those like ol’ Scotty who are “blessed” enough not to be touched by chronic health issues; I’m not asking you to forgo celebrating your new social liberties. But I would ask you not to forget those of us around you who must. We do want to meet you for drinks on Friday. But can we rug up and do it in a beer garden?

Don’t get me wrong, I am so relieved to watch our cultural centre reignite and true nightlife return to the city. My heart aches for those with businesses that didn’t make it through the relentless lockdowns.

We’re all the walking wounded here.

I guess I just hope that as we step back out into our beautiful, broken city, we carry with us a little of that spirit that kept us going through lockdowns.

“We’re doing this to protect the vulnerable” we told ourselves. That can be as true now as it was then. Only now the choice to do so is an individual one.

Hannah Vanderheide is an actor and writer based in Melbourne. She previously starred on Neighbours.

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