Table 1

Themes and subthemes

Main themeSubtheme
‘Just shove them over there in the corner’—feeling different to others and left behind.‘Fast tracked to the more critical’—feelings of vulnerability and a change in self-perception.
‘A real sense of loss’—living with long-term changes.
‘A long and lonely road’—psychological isolation heightened by a lack of understanding and empathy.‘You have to prove yourself all the time’—having to justify shielding behaviours.
‘Nobody’s checking up on me’—feeling abandoned.
‘You can’t just flip a switch’—the difficulty of getting back to normal after shielding.‘I didn’t recognise myself’—the struggle to stay physically and mentally well.
‘Work through it together’—the need for a collaborative approach to recovery.