Last weekend, I ventured out of my London flat for the first time in 10 weeks.
During the UK coronavirus lockdown, I have been voluntarily extreme shielding with my 27-year-old twin sister who is categorised as high risk and clinically vulnerable.
With the NHS’ list of high risk people being vast, our situation is not uncommon. We were, however, both lucky enough to be able to work from home, have our weekly food shop delivered and enjoy the good weather on our - relatively small - balcony. We didn’t need to leave the house for essentials like some families.
Although we could have gone outside for daily exercise, it felt like an unnecessary risk that just wasn’t worth taking.
I was also aware that however frustrating I found staying inside, making the call to spend time outside my home wasn’t solely my decision. My sister’s anxieties and fears needed to be taken into account.
Therefore, it was 70 days before I ventured outside for more than just taking the bins out.
We chose a park close to home for a picnic, as, like many, my main concern was: what if I need the loo?
As for actually stepping outside? I found it more of a mental struggle than a physical one.
It’s difficult not to be anxious of the outside world when you haven't left a confined space for weeks on end. Our small flat, which is 12 steps from one side to the other, had become our ‘new normal’, our safe space.
Having been warned of overcrowded London parks and pavements by local family and friends, plus the addition of a late spring heatwave, going outside made me apprehensive.
My sister had purchased us both cloth face masks from Etsy and although the government states you only need to wear them on public transport or in confined spaces, my sister found wearing her mask an object of comfort while walking to the park. I’m sure she’s not alone in this feeling: we saw numerous other Londoners wearing masks on our way there.
However, few people we passed made a conscious effort to avoid one another on pathways or pavements, which, at first, was unsettling.
But, after a couple of minutes the uneasy feeling disappeared and was replaced with a rush of excitement.
Luckily, when we arrived at the park (snacks and hand sanitiser in tow), it was surprisingly empty, which helped us both relax and feel more in control of the situation.
After a few hours of seeing people play socially distant frisbee, working out, or having a picnic, it was clear to see that many had already adjusted to this new way of life and that everyone was just trying to make the most out of these unprecedented times.
Seeing others embrace this made me feel more confident, and we walked home feeling a lot lighter, while making plans for another outing the following weekend.