YouTuber Lucy Edwards - who became the first blind presenter to host a show on Radio 1 at the end of last year - says she is familiar with the crippling feelings of isolation and anxiety caused by coronavirus
On March 23, as the UK population listened to how their independence was to be stripped away under a lockdown with immediate effect. I remembered all too well those crippling feelings of isolation, anxiety and despair, as I had lost my sight seven years ago on that date.
I was 17 and a rare genetic condition called incontinentia pigmenti, which normally affects the skin, became aggressive in my eyes and meant I lost vision in both of them. Suddenly, I had to start my life all over again while feeling trapped and alone.
Years of putting the pieces back together finally got me to a place where, aged 24, I felt independent, self-sufficient and back in control of my life. That is, until lockdown happened. Now, the daily routines essential to my sanity and freedom have vanished. From taking public transport to see friends or have work meetings in London, to going to the supermarket for groceries.
My Guide dog Olga doesn’t know that keeping two metres apart is our existence now, and that made me feel extremely anxious when we went outside, in-case I caught the virus or someone with it stroked Olga and she brought it back into the house. In supermarkets I’d usually approach staff and they would take my arm and guide me round the aisles, but with contact banned I now can’t go to the shops, and spending so much time inside is making me feel quite low. Olga is going a bit stir crazy too.
I’m lucky my fiancé Ollie is able to do the food shopping for both of us. Without him I would be reliant on online delivery slots, which are currently impossible to get. He felt unwell recently – not with Covid-19 symptoms – and it made me realise that while this pandemic is ongoing I’m way more dependent on him, as we live together in Milton Keynes and my parents live over an hour away in Birmingham.
But couples who are in dual blind relationships need online food deliveries, and it worries me that they are unable to put an order in, as it is a race against the sighted. I completely advocate the vulnerable with underlying health conditions receiving slots, but there should also be a category for the blind community. Supermarkets urgently need to look into this.
I met my fiancé when we were both 16, before I lost my vision. We’re both from Birmingham and he helped grow my confidence, as my boyfriend before him told me if I went blind he would leave me and not love me anymore.
Ollie and I were due to marry on May 2 in-front of 150 guests, but of course it’s been postponed. I was devastated at first as I had my wedding dress sorted and Olga had flowers ready for her harness, but we’re fortunate to not have lost money and still have our health.
In some ways, because I have the coping strategies to isolation, I’m in a better position than the sighted community. But on some days, I remember how lucky they are to have social media memes and video call apps to help keep their spirits lifted. My sister recently celebrated her 23rd birthday and we FaceTimed. I rely hugely on touch and smell to feel close to people, and to have to just hear her through a screen was really crushing.
Normally I see a counsellor once a week, to help me move on from the trauma of my past and to keep on top of my emotions, and now I can’t. These past few weeks self-isolating have definitely been a struggle, and I’m exploring options to have therapy phone calls. That said, I’m incredibly thankful for podcasts, my family unit of Ollie and Olga and my excellent exercise bike from Amazon!
Losing my eyesight at 17 made me realise perhaps sooner than others that you can’t control your life. You just have to try to keep positive, and to make the best of the situation you find yourself in.
Lucy Edwards is working with Guide Dogs to help children and young people with vision impairment access life-changing support through the charity’s Children and Young People services. For more information, please visit guidedogs.org.uk