Rachel Purcell writes about being in a high risk category during a pandemic, and leaving Dublin to move home to Tipperary…
If someone had told me going into 2020 that I would be living back home in Tipperary by the end of the year, I would have laughed. Not that I was completely against the idea, but I was really happy in Dublin and had no intention of moving.
But, then Covid happened.
The move didn’t take place straight away, and it wasn’t an easy decision to make. I’d been living in Dublin since 2013 and loved the convenience of city life, from the amazing food spots the city has to offer, to how easy it was to meet up with friends.
I had just moved into a new house in Sandymount with my boyfriend. We couldn’t get over how lucky we were to find a place to rent right in the heart of the area; a friendly, buzzing suburb. We were so excited to explore our new neighbourhood and enjoy our first place living together. As it happened, we got to enjoy 2 weeks of normality before everything shut down. Looking back, I really wish I had made more of those weeks – I would have eaten out every night if I knew what was coming.
I had first heard about Coronavirus in early January last year; I remember seeing reports and reading stories about how quickly this new virus was transmitting and causing panic. I watched videos in shock but didn’t think for a second it would travel from China to Ireland. I just naively thought they would have a cure within a few weeks.
I did continue to keep an eye on the news, and as the weeks went on, I thought the chances of it travelling across the world were becoming much more real. I remember talking about it at work, trying to imagine if it came to Ireland what would happen. My sister, who is a bit of a hypochondriac, dropped in face masks to me in my office one day in February, and people were laughing (including me) at how ‘dramatic’ she was being.
Five years ago, I was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia, a slow-growing cancer of the blood which affects myeloid white blood cells. CML can stop white blood cells working properly, leaving me more at risk of infection or of feeling tired and weak. However luckily, with the right medication, I can manage it and lead a normal life.
For me, it’s become my new normal.
In saying that, it was a big adjustment at the start. From weekly hospital check-ups, bone marrow biopsies and trialing different medications to see which one my body wouldn’t reject and cause severe side effects – there were a lot of ups and downs. Thankfully, the third medication I tried worked for me and I’ve been on that for 3 years. I do get some side effects, but I’ve learned to manage them.
I did become more conscious of my health when I was diagnosed in terms of listening to my body and not trying to keep pushing through if I felt tired and run down. I learned to be more aware of infections as I knew how much easier it was for me to pick something up because of my medication and immune system.
I’d planned to travel to New York to run my first half marathon on St. Patrick’s Day in the middle of March last year. I had been excited for months, not so much at the prospect of running 21km, but at the thought of exploring New York with my boyfriend and my sister and her boyfriend.
In the run up to the 13th, the day we were due to fly, I was keeping a close eye on Covid updates. It crossed my mind that the half marathon could be cancelled, but I didn’t really believe it would be. My sister and her boyfriend flew to New York a few days ahead of us, and they said everything was ok over there, which gave me a lot of hope.
I had a hospital check-up three days before I was due to fly (there had been a small number of Covid cases reported in Ireland at this stage) and I asked my consultant if she thought I should fly. She said she would advise against it given there were so many unknowns around it. The next day, they announced the New York Half Marathon was cancelled due to Covid. At that point things had started to become more serious in the city, and my sister was looking into getting an earlier flight home than she planned, as potential flight cancellations were announced.
On the 11th of March, I left the office where I work for the last time. We were all told to work from home for the next week or so following government guidance. That week, Leo Varadkar addressed the nation and things got serious.
Initially I thought lockdown and Covid would last a month, if even. We naively set up our workstations in the kitchen together, thinking we’d be back in the office and normality would resume in 2 weeks. Needless to say, that set up didn’t last long when we realised this would be a lot longer than we anticipated.
During the first lockdown, the only time I left the house was once a day to exercise, either very early in the morning or late at night, to avoid people. When the HSE released their list of vulnerable people, I was on it because I have a type of blood cancer. That meant I had to cocoon.
I’m a pretty active person. I love being outdoors and always on the go, so it felt very much like I was being locked in. It really wasn’t easy to change that and become housebound, but at the same time I was nervous about coronavirus and definitely had a fear of contracting the disease.
It was an extremely isolating and worrying time. I didn’t really talk about it to anyone, as I didn’t want to seem ‘dramatic’, even though it wasn’t at all. My boyfriend used to do our weekly food shop at 7am on a Saturday when he knew the supermarket would be quiet and he sanitised everything that came in the house. He was 10 times more worried about it than I was; he was terrified of me getting coronavirus.
A few friends moved home at the end of March, but they all kept paying their rent in Dublin, afraid to give up their places.
My parents kept asking me to move down to Tipp saying it would be safer, but we decided to stay in Dublin. I thought it made more sense to stay near St. James’s Hospital and my consultant just in case anything happened.
Having lived a relatively normal life from when I got diagnosed with CML, it was the first time I felt really exposed. As the months went on, coronavirus triggered stress and anxiety. I had good days and bad. I resented my CML at times. Even when restrictions eased, I had to be extremely careful and keep my circle small. I continually felt bad for my boyfriend, Kev, because my vulnerability has impacted him directly; he has barely seen his family in the last year and he worries so much.
In April, my sister who lives in Tipperary had had her first baby during lockdown and the reality of restrictions and living in Dublin definitely hit harder, not having the freedom to travel home and see them was devastating.
During the summer months, a few friends decided to bite the bullet and give up their Dublin homes to save money. This did make me consider moving back to Tipperary, and to think about how much we could potentially save, but still, I wanted to stay in Dublin. It was an easy decision to make during the summer months; when we had some freedom again as the restrictions eased, it began to feel a bit more ‘normal’ which was reassuring and hopeful.
However, come September, we started to seriously think about moving home. We realised coming into the winter months things would be harder, the restrictions would be back, and we’d be isolated from friends and family. We also really wanted to save. We were paying €2k a month on rent for somewhere we really weren’t getting to enjoy to the full and a location we didn’t need to be in for work. When we worked out the numbers, it made complete sense to move home and save while we could. We’d be stupid not to.
I was finding the demands of working from home really overwhelming. Like everyone else, I found I was working long days, without switching off. There were a few months where I felt on edge daily, and would break down in tears regularly. Everything seemed to pile on top of each other. I quickly realised something had to change or I was going to have a breakdown.
At that point, my boyfriend and I made the decision to move to Tipperary. It made sense financially for us to move to save (the plan was to move into my grandparents’ house) but it was also comforting knowing we’d have support around us. Moving home definitely helped me to create healthier habits in terms of what I was consuming about Covid. I limited my time on social media and watching the news, and I started to recognise what triggered my anxiety.
In saying that, we were extremely lucky in that my grandparents house was free so we could move in there and still have our own place. I know a lot of people aren’t so fortunate and if it was a case where we had to move back in with my parents I don’t think we would have made the decision to move.
It wasn’t a straightforward decision to make. There were a lot of lists, examining both pros and cons. I worried about how hard the move could potentially be on my boyfriend Kev. It was easier for me to move home as it’s moving back to my family and somewhere I’m so familiar with, but it was a totally different story for Kev. I must have asked him, ‘are you sure though?’ hundreds of times. My home house is very rural!
Although we both managed to get along pretty well all throughout Covid and working from home just the two of us, we were pretty excited at the thought of being able to see and talk to others face to face.
We moved down to Tipp at the end of November and we haven’t looked back. It was a great time to move as it was coming up to Christmas, and it was so nice to be around family. We’re now living in my grandparent’s house right beside my parents’ house and my older sister and her family. We both laugh at how much everything changed from what we planned.
There are a lot of pros and cons to moving home.
One of the biggest pros is actually being able to see people, like my family. As I’m high risk, we really didn’t see many people at all while living in Dublin; it was very isolating at times. I also get lots of bonding time in now with my nephew, Finn, so I’m loving that. Obviously, another pro is saving money. We don’t spend half as much as we did in Dublin, making it a lot easier to save.
Initially, it was an adjustment to not have everything on our doorstep. In Sandymount, we were spoilt for choice. Now, it’s about a 15 mins drive to the shop. We need to be way more organised when doing a food shop these days.
One thing I do find hard is that my other sister still lives in Dublin; I miss being able to see her.
It is like an escape here. Strangely, I don’t feel as high risk as I did in Dublin. When I walked out of my door in Dublin, I would instantly be met by people, as we lived on a main street. Here, when we leave the house we barely see anyone. It’s easier to switch off from the news and I don’t feel as stressed.
Although Covid has brought a lot of stress and anxiety it’s also brought lots of positives for me. It made me reassess what’s important to me and reminded me to not put things on the long finger as we literally don’t know what is around the corner.
Moving home has also opened new opportunities for me too, and without Covid I wouldn’t have left Dublin. I’d never say never when people ask if I would ever move back to Dublin as we don’t really know what will happen, but we’re so happy here for now and I definitely wouldn’t want to move again anytime soon.