Opinion: We are all valuable and vulnerable in our own ways
Vicci Livingstone-Thompson, Coproduction Group Member and CEO of Inclusion Gloucestershire, reflects on our ‘Valuable AND Vulnerable’ project and explores the language of ‘vulnerability’ in relation to COVID-19.
For the most part, I hate the term vulnerable if it is used solely in terms of my disability. I am strong, independent and successful and I don’t want to be seen as anything else, just because one side of my body doesn’t work and I can’t talk or walk as well as some people. COVID-19 put me in a position in which I was at risk of being defined by my impairments, rather than my personality or the things in my life that I have control of.
In the early stage of the pandemic, I vehemently rejected any suggestion that I may be more at risk. I wasn’t on the shielding list and I clung to that. I was at the frontline, trying to lead an organisation of 40 staff working with disabled people, through the pandemic. I was regularly in the office and the business need came first. I felt that I couldn’t justify shutting myself away when funding and jobs were on the line, as was the wellbeing of those we support (many of whom were ‘clinically vulnerable’). Adrenaline, naivety and a little denial kept me going. I, of course, encouraged and supported my staff to shield and avoid the workplace as needed, and was under no pressure from anyone but myself to not stay at home, but this was a little bit of my identify that I was trying to maintain.
As the pandemic wore on it came closer to home. We understood it better and saw people we knew suffering, including those who were perfectly healthy. I still rejected any suggestion that I may be vulnerable, I just wanted to be valuable, but the memory of recurrent bouts of pneumonia that I suffered as a child weighed on my mind a little more, as did the knowledge that my neurological condition makes it harder for me to clear my chest. I compromised by avoiding shops a bit more and reluctantly (but gladly) accepted priority delivery slots for my Tesco online shopping and swapped my guilty pleasure of long trips to Home Bargains for more Amazon Prime deliveries.
I work alongside many incredible people who are valuable and vulnerable, the latter to varying degrees. I have seen one close colleague feel really disempowered to be told to shield, despite understanding the reasons. Her condition is not visible and I think it must be hard for it then to be so publicly defining. Others were not officially ‘vulnerable’ so not entitled to all of the support available, but have struggled through in total isolation with very real fears of death and frustration at not being considered ‘legitimate’ in their conditions.
I think that one thing that the pandemic has taught us that we are all valuable and vulnerable in our own ways, and that is okay. People who aren’t traditionally ‘vulnerable’ have at times found themselves very vulnerable to COVID-19, and others who might not have thought themselves valuable have stepped up and done amazing things.