Co-founder Jasmine Belfiore shares her experiences of chronic illness and consent in this moving personal essay. A must-read to understand the viewpoint of those shielding.
We don’t typically consider consent too much outside of our sex lives, but now we need to think about it more than ever.
You hug your close friend hello, shake hands with a client, open the door to the postman. Typically these kinds of interactions are not the kind where consent comes to the front of your mind (assuming that you have already established that your friend is a hugger). But now, every interaction we have is a situation where both individuals must consider the risk.
Both individuals should get to consent to the risk of potentially coming into contact with the virus. Not wearing a mask and entering someone's personal space without their permission is a violation of their safety. Especially if the person in question is at risk. And it's not always easy to tell; we can look the same as anyone else. It’s not just your grandma and the sweet little lady next door. This could be anyone. After all, there are 11 million of us in the UK, and anyone can develop a limiting long-term illness, impairment, or disability at any point in their life. Even you.
About a year ago I was in a long-term relationship. We had been dating for a long time, and even before then we had been friends. This was someone I trusted. They had been with me when I got my Lupus diagnosis, and had seen all the chemotherapy, medications, and physiotherapy I had been through since. This person knew I was at risk, and they knew that a quarter of people with Lupus die from an infection. I had made this explicitly clear on multiple occasions. But they still chose to sleep with someone else without protection on more than one occasion, and then lie to my face about it. I’m not going to lie: that stung. Hard.
I was very angry for a long time that my rights to my own body had been taken away. That after all of the hours I had put into taking the right meds, making sure to wash my hands (sound familiar?), and taking all necessary precautions, my safety was still stripped from me by the either careless or malicious actions of another. But most of all I was scared. I booked an emergency appointment with my GP and had my tests rushed by an extremely concerned nurse (bless you), who waited with me to find out if I needed to be rushed to hospital or not. Thankfully, I did not.
I went to counselling for PTSD, anxiety, and depression for a long time after this. It took a long time to say the word 'rape'. Because that’s what it was: rape by deception.
I have come a long way since then: I have the career I’ve always wanted, some damn good friends and most days I can say that I’m happy, but the thought is never far from mind. I had just started my current job when the pandemic hit. I was in London for training, and remember the fear of being on the tube, immunocompromised, in a pandemic.
That was the last time I’ve travelled anywhere further than my living room since. For almost 5 months now, I have been trapped inside my two-bed flat. I go out to get necessary blood tests taken and I answer the door (wearing a face mask) to deliveries. And that's it. For 5 months. I can no longer safely go outside without risking running into someone who is not wearing a mask and who is not sticking to the 2 meter limit.
The current attitude of ‘only those at risk need to take precautions, we need to get back to normal!’ cannot continue. These necessary precautions are in fact trapping thousands of people in their homes for the foreseeable future. We are looking at next year at this point for some of us.
This has to be a community effort. We all have to wear a mask and social distance for this effort to be effective. We all have to share the weight of this burden in the short run, so that this doesn’t become a state we have to live in forever. I hope that by sharing my experiences you can understand the weight of this situation for a lot of people out there and understand just how important it is to wear a mask. My life is once again in the hands of others, so I’m asking you, on behalf of every at risk person out there, to not be careless with it.
Your sick af friend.