Experiences of 2020
Since the beginning of Spring 2020, we have been using this space to share regular blog posts from women across many walks of life in Scotland. We hope to give a platform to voice how the events of this year are affecting you; your family, relationships, work, education, home life, mental health, wellbeing, and many more aspects of life.
The stories shared allow us to give evidence to decision makers at all levels, ensuring women's experiences are focussed on throughout the Coronavirus response and into the 'new normal'. We hope they'll also provide a form of support and solidarity to others in similar situations, or educate our wider audience about their role or position.
Click below to select individual stories, or scroll down to read them all!
My name is Hayley Paku, I am a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, Chair of the West Dunbartonshire Youth Council (WDYC), a keen advocate for mental health & an aspiring politician.
The beginning of the national lockdown threw us all a blunder; shops shut, work wrecked and education ground to a halt. With the blink of an eye, life was put on hold. I consider myself very fortunate as a young person, I did not face any of the gruelling circumstances that have swallowed many whole. During the pandemic, my education was affected. - Students were put on the back burner for the sake of the nation’s health., For this I do not grudge the amount of time spent indoors. It wasn’t easy learning from home. It was hard to engage and hard to stay focused on the tasks given, but my teachers still appeared on my screen everyday with words of encouragement. I received grades that I am proud of, though I woefully underestimated the jump in difficulty from National 5 to Higher. Perhaps it would’ve been easier to handle had we experienced the full year. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that exams may not be the best indicators of a young person’s academic ability.
Throughout lockdown, I became increasingly aware of the decline of young people’s mental health. As a collective, our mental health budget is underfunded and faces cuts regularly. Little support was on offer for those who were struggling. Many charities shut over the months and many were working with very few staff members to deal with the mass increase of young people accessing these services. I was one of the campaign leads for the WDYC’s mental health campaign Small Talk. I ensured we posted a weekly flow of resources and information online for local young people for 10 weeks during lockdown. We were also able to send a mental health resource booklet to over 300 vulnerable young people as part of the Youth Alliance Summer Programme pack. On top of this we worked alongside our Youth Workers to arrange mental health training throughout Mental Health Week which seen local young people attend via Zoom. It may not be much, but if it helped at least one young person then our work was worthwhile as far as I’m concerned.
Lockdown has been hard. We have all been dealt our fair share of hardship, but if it’s taught us anything it’s that as a nation, we work better together.
In December of 2019, I went out on a whim and left school early to spend 2020 doing everything I love and enjoy before travelling 120 miles away from home for university.
I didn’t get any of it done.
I always thought 2020 was going to be the big year. End of high school, a long, warm summer, and then the start of university. A year of promises of excitement, friendship, family, and parties became the endless months of Netflix, sleep and chicken soup.
The lockdown was the easy part. No schoolwork, unable to get a job, meant I had 24 hours a day and 7 days a week to myself. I very quickly got into the habit of staying up late and spending most of the days in bed. To me, this was amazing.
The problems started when the restrictions started to lift, and I moved. The constant fear of catching COVID mixed with student accommodations becoming hotspots has been enough for me to hibernate in the flat. The fear caught up to me the morning of my 18th when 1 of my friends phoned to say they had tested positive. Luckily, due to my nervousness of catching COVID, I had not been in contact with them in over 2 weeks. This was the first time I’d had someone I knew test positive and show symptoms. And from the way they describe having it, I do not want it.
My flatmate turned to me the other day and said “imagine this court (referring to the central outside bit of our accommodation) once social distancing is lifted” and I think that is my motivation. The thought of the change the day we no longer must stay 2 metres from each other. I see COVID as a long, dark winter. Everyone bundles down into their homes and they stay in there until the spring comes. So, I think of the summer to come.
I can’t wait to hug my nana again. I can’t wait to hear blaring music out a flat nearby having a party without police cars on the street for the next hour. The first warm day when me and my friends can have a day on the beach together. The first time we can sit in the kitchen till 4am chatting.
The light at the end of the tunnel does exist. COVID will not be forever. I think of all the things I took for granted before, that I can’t do now. This isn’t permanent.
At 18 years old, I lost all of my central vision overnight, due to complications arising from my primary medical condition, hydrocephalus and realised that I had to face the future with blindness. In the ensuing six years I have experienced many peaks and troughs. It is fair to say that, for me, the lows have been truly low but the highs have been spectacularly high! When one experiences rapid sight loss, especially when young, there is often a temptation to retreat from the world, to enter a deep freeze, to put up the shutters and engage in a form of self-imposed lockdown, if you will. I fought this impulse and sought to make the most of my situation. Fast-forward 6 years and I was faced with a lockdown of a very different kind – a lockdown that was mandatory, open-ended and very bleak.
Covid-19 was a very real and present danger in my family circle. My mum works as a nurse at the Inverclyde Royal Hospital and, during the peak months of the pandemic, had volunteered to work additional shifts, triaging people coming to the hospital with all manner of ailments, including Covid-19. Inverclyde was named Scotland’s ‘Covid Capital’ and each day I wondered if this was the day that she would bring it home with her. My dad was doing the shopping for his mum (my granny), who is 93 and who is bed-ridden and has vascular dementia. Four times a day my granny has carers coming into her home to tend to her and each visit by the carers or my dad with the groceries was like playing Russian roulette. Lockdown meant weight-gain from less exercise and more eating to relieve the boredom; less social interaction, leading to the concomitant feelings of isolation and loneliness; over-indulgence in the chewing-gum for the brain that can come from television, the internet and social media, all of which lower the mood and lead to thoughts that everyone else is making more of lockdown than you are and that your life is passing you by; feelings of listlessness and ennui and, possibly worst of all, too much time to think!
However, positives can be found in even the bleakest of situations and the lockdown was no different. My dad has worked from home for the duration and that has provided me with a lifeline when human contact was necessary. Not having been born blind, I have often struggled with adapting to my ‘new normal’ and I have found it difficult to truly gain independence and self-reliance. Lockdown has presented me with new opportunities to work toward my goal of being fully independent. Recent improvements in technology have meant that I regularly use Zoom, Teams and Skype to keep in touch with friends and family and it has allowed me to engage in virtual choir sessions, forums for blind and partially-sighted football fans, sittings of the Scottish Youth Parliament, meetings of disability rights groups and my women’s speakers club. I have been able to conduct interviews with celebrities and inspirational people that are put out as podcasts on RNIB Connect Radio. Prior to lockdown, I had a motion on mandatory sight loss awareness training passed at the Scottish Youth Parliament and it has proved to be quite a challenge to bring my dream into reality. A personal highlight was voicing my concerns about how blind and the partially-sighted could adhere to social distancing to Professor Jason Leitch and forcing the admission that the Scottish Government had not given this any thought … as it is at any other time, life for a disabled woman in lockdown was about little victories!
I started becoming worried about COVID-19 when I saw the news reports of hospitals in Italy struggling to cope with the number of patients with COVID-19. My panic was further reinforced by the fact that my Papa was in the hospital due to his foot at the same time that people were starting to panic buy and there were rumours of a lockdown floating about. Me, my Mum and Dad had to start doing my Papa and his wife, Maureen’s shopping for them, as Maureen was told to shield and Papa was in the hospital. The seriousness of the pandemic hit home even more when the day after Papa was released from the hospital, visitors were banned from visiting patients in hospitals. We felt very lucky that Papa had managed to be discharged just before the ban on visitors, as he would've been very lonely in hospital without being allowed anyone to visit.
After Papa was discharged, we continued doing Papa and Maureen’s shopping for them because Maureen had to shield due to her COPD. We would then drop off their weekly shop and video call them on Saturday evenings. It felt awful knowing that we weren't allowed to visit as normal but we accepted it because we wanted to protect them.
Once I had completed all of my university assignments for the academic year, I applied to volunteer for a local charity that matches vulnerable elderly people with a volunteer who calls them once or twice a week, as I wanted to make a positive difference to someone. I know how hard it was for Papa and Maureen to shield even with regular video calls from me, Mum and Dad and other family members. To know that there are vulnerable people without anyone at all to chat to broke my heart and I wanted to volunteer as it sounded rewarding. I've been in contact with my match and it’s so satisfying to know I'm helping make a small difference. I've also organised virtual events for the charity, and it's been great seeing the clients become pals with each other and grow in confidence using technology.
I've spent a lot of time using video calls to interact with family, friends, attend uni and meetings. If lockdowns mean that people won't die of a deadly virus, then I’m more than happy to play my part in protecting people by staying at home. It's a challenging time, but people need to adhere to the rules otherwise we’ll be living with COVID-19 for a lot longer.
*Trigger Warning: This blog includes reference to suicide.*
Since I was born I feel like my life has been on pause, I had to
spend 7 years trying to get by in primary school and a further 6 years in high
school, I loved both of my schools but throughout my combined 13 years in school
I felt like a fraud, I didn’t feel like *Deadname* Quigley and I hated that
name, I loved being C-Jay Quigley. At the time I didn’t know who C-Jay was, I
just knew it was who I wanted to be.
I thought once I had left school, I’d finally get to live my life. Free from the worries of being bullied but once again I felt as if my life had been put on pause. Because as much as I was free to be who I wanted to be, I still had to go through, what turned out to be, a 6-year transition.
If you haven’t guessed from context, I’ll introduce myself, Hi, I’m C-Jay Quigley, I am a transwoman, which means I was assigned male at birth but realised in high school that I was actually a woman.
This transition was a lot tougher than I had thought, the physical, mental and emotional toll it had on me was something I had never expected. I had lost people who I considered friends because of their ignorance. But even the ones that stood by me, their lives progressed, they got in relationships and even engaged, they passed college and university, got amazing jobs and houses while I still felt like my life was on pause. I felt like all the friends I had were now at different stages of their lives.
I was 6 months after having the toughest operation I have ever had and I felt like I missed my chance to have a normal life, I was on the brink of suicide. And suddenly I felt like finally I had a guardian angel looking over me as I got the chance to go on a trip with my local youth council, where I met my now flatmate and one of my best friends Emily who helped me finally have a normal life. Granted it was a few years late, but I got to do all the things you are supposed to when you first leave school. I got to go to Freshers, I got to move in with a friend, I got to have a group of girl friends who were there for me. I got to be the girl I finally wanted to be, and I felt like someone hit play on my life for once. I had hopes for the future. Going to see Camilla Cabello, All Time Low and going on holiday with my new friends.
Then the dreaded COVID-19 hit and I felt like once again someone pressed pause on my life. My concerts were cancelled, the idea of going on holiday was cancelled and my hopes of having a normal life were put on hold once again and we don’t know when it could end.
This year was supposed to be one of the best years of my life and now it’s one of the worst. I’m 25 having only lived 1 year of my life and I don’t know when someone will press play again.