Hello, my name is Niamh Costello. I am 21 and I was diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis when I was 3. Having JIA for most of my life, I have learned over the years what triggers a flare up and how to prevent one. Stress is most definitely one of these triggers, so the Covid-19 pandemic did not help matters.

Covid-19 arrived in Ireland around March 2020. Our country immediately went into full lockdown with the closure of outpatient hospital appointments, colleges, schools etc. I was in my 3rd year of university at the time so all of our lectures went online. This was another added stress.

I was quite nervous at the beginning of the pandemic as there was not much known about how Covid would affect people with underlying health conditions who were on immune suppressant medications. I took the decision to cocoon in my house along with my family with only my Mum leaving the house for food shopping. It was a very worrying time and the stress of everything set me into a bad flare up of my illness. Most of my lower joints were affected and my left knee was so swollen that I could not bend or straighten it for months. I felt quite alone and worried about joint damage, as all clinics were virtual or over the phone. Therefore nobody could see my joints and how swollen they were. I had to use crutches to get around my house and completed most of my college work from my bed. I eventually received an emergency outpatient appointment to see my consultant in May. This was my first time out of the house in months and I was very nervous at the thoughts of entering a hospital setting considering the risk of contracting Covid. My consultant started me on a new biologic injection that day, drained the fluid off my joints and assured me that I would get through this flare eventually.

I continued to cocoon until June and I was so glad to be able to meet my friends again, even if it was socially distanced. I did lots of physiotherapy at home to get my knee moving again. Swimming is something that helps my joints hugely and it is one of the only forms of exercise that is not too much impact on my joints; so the closure of swimming pools and gyms due to Covid-19 was another contributing factor to my flare up. A year later swimming pools are still yet to open here in Ireland so I can’t wait for the day I can get into a pool again! However, we are currently back in level 5 restrictions here in Ireland and the vaccine process is quite slow. I am hopeful that I will be vaccinated before the summer months as I am graduating from university and will be entering the workforce then and I would be worried about teaching in a classroom with 30+ children unvaccinated.