As one of the UK’s 1.5m people considered most at risk from coronavirus, Dominic Franks is shielding once again during the third lockdown.
Last year he shielded for 12 weeks, but if anything it’s harder this time around, he said.
“It’s weird because you’d have thought that I would feel better this time and whilst I definitely understand it all more now I actually feel more anxious than last time.
“I sleep better but I worry more and I do feel that with the rising numbers it’s like the virus is coming for me, like it’s spreading across the UK and I’m in its path and I don’t want to be just another number. Sounds quite dark, doesn’t it? I’m a relatively cheerful person to be honest so this isn’t every day.”
The reason the 50-year-old is on the government’s extremely vulnerable list is because he has an autoimmune disease, vasculitis, which lowers the immune system and puts him at greater risk of infection.
Since being diagnosed he has overhauled his lifestyle and has given up his stressful day-to-day existence in London for a rural home in Lincolnshire.
Distraction techniques have raised his spirits and he spends his free time focusing on three activities: cooking, exercise and what he calls “trash time.”
He said: “My biggest passion is food and cooking. For years I have written a recipe blog Belleau Kitchen and it had always been in the background but during the pandemic, it gave me a lot more time and now I do online tutorials on Instagram twice a week.
“I am working with food brands and it’s gone from a hobby to work but I absolutely love cooking. Lots of people say it’s so great you get to eat all the stuff but for me, it’s the actual process of cooking. I find it quite meditative,” said Dominic, who runs an events production company with his partner Andy.
Homely comfort food, including stews, soups and cakes, is his speciality. “It’s quite basic, nothing fancy or too pretentious. I love being in the kitchen. I get really restless if I’m watching TV – I have to go into the kitchen and cook something. We’re surrounded by incredible produce and suppliers and I’m inspired by the seasons. My mum is a very good cook and my grandma was an amazing cake baker so it’s all following on from that.”
He counts his blessings that he lives in the heart of the Lincolnshire Wolds, in Belleau, a hamlet near Louth, where there are miles and miles of rolling countryside, which gives him the freedom to go outside.
“They say you can’t have contact with anyone but encourage you to exercise and go outside if you can. I can go for walk for an hour and not pass another soul. I do feel really lucky. It’s one of the things keeping me sane.
“If we were still living in London we’d probably feel it more trapped in a flat but I look out of my window and we’re surrounded by fields and go for lovely long walks. I feel really privileged in a way we have that.”
When he’s not walking, he’s doing an online HIIT workout and recommends the London Fitness Guy on Instagram.
“He is absolutely brilliant and it’s free as well. I try and do as much exercise as I can but I’ve got to enjoy doing it.
“It’s so good for your mental attitude to have adrenaline and endorphins in your body. When I got ill I lost a huge amount of weight, I’ve put it back on now, but it’s made me focus on what is important and how you only do as good as you can do. You can punish yourself for not having the perfect body but you get to a certain age and realise your priorities have to change and you have to try and become comfortable in the person you are.
“When we first started lockdown last year and we had a really lovely spring and it was easy to work out in the garden. It got to a point over Christmas which was quite difficult but having someone shouting at you down the phone was quite good.”
His third tip is to have “trash time” – read a trashy novel or watch a weepy film.
“It doesn’t have to be the most intelligent thing in the world, just something you can lose yourself in, almost like a guilty pleasure but isn’t really. Losing yourself in something utterly mundane is really important because you have to disconnect your brain from the everyday madness,” he said.
And don’t feel weak if you need a good cry. “Watching a trashy film or a weepy is really important as it allows you to have a good cry. Anything can set me off… the Green Mile at the end gets you going.”
He has lived with vasculitis for two years, where the body’s immune system attacks blood vessels instead of defending them against infection.
As well as daily immunotherapy medication, he has to take steroids and other drugs for the condition, which started with painful feet and joints and worsened over time.
Seven months down the line after a stint in A&E, intensive care and a raft of tests, he suffered a blood clot in his arm and was finally given a diagnosis.
He said: “Doctors said one of the triggers is stress. I can’t pinpoint what it was but I do know leading up to that I did have a very stressful life.
“I loved my work, we still do it in so much as we can in this environment. Whilst this pandemic world we are living in is dreadful for many, many people, there is an element for me that is almost like a blessing in a way. I’ve had to stop being that stressed person and it makes you reassess the things that are important.
“I miss every day little mundane things. Someone asked me the other day which restaurants I missed the most but actually it’s just something silly like Pret a Manger. I just want to go into a shop and grab a sandwich.”
Dominic is taking part in a series of live chat show style self-care talks helping people to combat the New Year blues.
“It’s really lovely to reach out to people and if there is anything I can share that’s helpful to other people, even if it’s just a little bit of information or a little bit of my story, it’s good to know that someone else is in the same boat.
“One of the things is that we’ve all been in the same situation. There’s no fear of missing out. It would be different if it was just Lincolnshire or just the UK but it’s the whole world that it’s affected.”
Dominic will discuss his experience further in Fortis Therapy and Training’s online event on February 4.
In the free weekly talks, a range of speakers, including celebrity chef Rachel Green and gift-wrapping queen to the stars and luxury brands Jane Means, will be giving tips on what they do for self-care.
The talks have started just in time for this year’s Blue Monday on January 18, the most depressing day of the year, when the financial pressure of Christmas hits home, the weather is at its worst and enthusiasm for losing weight starts to wane.
Last January more than one million people contacted NHS mental health services alone, not including private services or businesses.
Hosing the talks will be managing director Alexis Powell-Howard on the main Fortis Facebook page.
The idea came from the successful men’s mental health initiative, The Westerly Club, which launched in October 2020 and hosts guest speakers every week.
Alexis said: “We wanted to be able to talk about a variety of aspects which feed into the wider sense of mental health. From what people do to take care of themselves and why they feel it is important, to any mental health issues they have faced, how they’ve recovered from them and why self-care has become an important part of their lives today.”
The next talk will be on Thursday, January 14 at 7.30pm with Katie Buffey, owner of eco-jewellery brand Salt + Silver in Cleethorpes, who has Aspergers, ADHD and Tourette’s which often lead to anxiety.