“Adversity is the diamond dust Heaven polishes its jewels with”- Thomas Carlyle (Writer)

Let’s be frank. We’ve all had a bizarre year. Covid-19 has flipped our world and day to day living on its head, in a way we could never have predicated nor anticipated.

Yes, it’s been a hard year for a lot of us and I am no exception to this general consensus.

Pre-pandemic like 1 in 4 of us, I was already struggling with poor mental health. Lock down certainly brought on all kinds of new challenges to test and try me with these struggles. But as Thomas Carlyle once did say “adversity is the diamond dust Heaven polishes its jewels with.” That being said, what I found during periods of lock down was great strength and kindness from all around.

Yet collectively we came together more united with strength and kindness and made the most out of the strangest of almost sci-fi scenarios. It is a testament to a human spirit and its ability to constantly adapt and yet show deep compassion and kindness throughout.

Then, following lock down, we found ourselves mandated into wearing face masks by the powers that be. This brought on even more challenges for individuals such as myself.

Having a hidden disability, a mental health related one, I found like for those with hidden physical impairments such as asthma now expected by some people to explain the nature of our condition. This would have been unheard of pre Covid-19 and it just goes to show how much our society and values have flipped around in certain ways during this health crisis.

We were suddenly met with unnecessary kindness for not wearing a mask whilst simply going about our daily business in shops, cafés and even buses. This was regardless of the fact that we are exempt and do not need to prove it according to government advice. Yes some do lie and exploit the system but the majority of those without a mask have genuine reason for not wearing one. Such unkindness and interrogation about our condition would have been frowned upon pre-pandemic due to disability equality rights. I can proudly say, having lived abroad for some time, we are generally very good at respecting and upholding these rights in the UK. I make no complaints about that. We are generally very good as a nation for not only helping each other, like during the pandemic, but also assisting the disabled and showing those less able equality, dignity and respect.

However, then the government introduces compulsory mask wearing in public, unless you are exempt like me. Yet, some people start to believe that it is suddenly their right to become the mask wearing police, even when you have a genuine reason to be exempt from the rule. Some start to look down on you or criticize you for appearing different to them and others. This simply would have been inconceivable pre-pandemic for someone to act this way towards someone with a disability without societal scorn and sanction. Just one of the number of ways our society has been made topsy turvy by the pandemic. There is something about an invisible threat that removes someone’s sense of propriety.

The sunflower lanyard was devised in 2016 at Gatwick airport to help identify travellers who wished to be identified with a hidden disability and may need extra support or time. This could include autism and anxiety along with any other hidden disability, physical or mental. Tabbers Limited, alongside the OCS group UK, who provide support service to UK airports have now been involved for a few years in its marketing and now many major UK supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco as well as Railway stations actively promote the scheme. Some sites have given out a limited stock of free lanyards pre-pandemic, which is where I got mine.

Now in these Covid times, you may have seen more of these lanyards about. That is because it has become an excellent way to signal a hidden disability to staff and the public as to why someone is not wearing a mask. Not its original intention in its conception, I, however, in my experience, have generally found it to make things a lot easier for me, now that later into the pandemic, the public and staff are more aware of the lanyard’s meaning. I struggle with social anxiety which can be very bad on some of my darker days and the thought of having to then explain my lack of mask to staff would be overwhelming. Wearing the lanyard makes that task a lot easier to manage.  Yet, even after the earlier days of mask wearing where it happened more, there are still quite a few frowns encountered from the general public and from some businesses, albeit a small number, for not wearing a mask even with the lanyard on. That indicates to me that more awareness and marketing of the lanyard is needed, especially from businesses during these trying times for all. This would further help vulnerable people at a vulnerable time. It is my hope that by writing this article of my experiences will help somewhat to bring some more general awareness, at least locally.

What I can say from my perspective, the lanyard itself is a fantastic concept, pandemic or not, and I personally feel it empowers me to go out more and get help and support in the community I need during daily affairs when I am at my most vulnerable. I feel more confident going out knowing staff can identify my difficulties and help if needed. So, folks, if anything from my blog piece, please help us get the message out there on lanyards, especially to those it may benefit.

However, not everyone feels comfortable wearing one of the lanyards so please do not force anyone you know with a hidden disability to wear one, even during the pandemic. Wearing anything to indicate exemption from wearing a face mask is currently not mandatory by government guidance. Please do not feel the need to tell others to wear this lanyard nor even to wear a mask. That is up to staff to decide. It is a complete choice of the wearer to wear it and it is merely an option to make life a bit easier for people such as myself, or at least I have found it to be case when I’m having a bad day and I am judging myself for not being able to put on a mask, the lanyard avoids almost always having to give an explanation for your hidden disability and mask wearing exemption.

Above all, as with anything during this pandemic and even without it, be kind, be friendly, be respectful, to everyone you meet for you have no idea what struggles they face behind brave smiles.

Take care everyone. Stay safe!

Written by our volunteer Henna Evans

For more information about lanyards, please feel free to visit: https://hiddendisabilitiesstore.com/