During the seemingly never ending Covid lock-down, one of the news articles that’s stuck in my mind reported a huge spike in interest in moving to the countrysidei. The BBC cited figures that across the UK, there had been a 126% increase in enquiries about buying a home in a village during June and July 2020. Some of the key drivers for this trend were given as:
- wishing to pursue a quieter life
- a change in priorities
- easier access to outdoor space
Rural living is often portrayed as an idyllic way of life. But for those of us living with a chronic condition like fibromyalgia, there’s a lot to consider because a rural versus an urban life could affect the opportunities we have, how we manage our condition and how we live our lives generally.
First of all, there’s no doubt that country living can make it harder to get to places. Many rural villages are not served by any form of public transport and it can sometimes be hard to access a taxi service, depending on location. Even if you do drive, the nature of fibromyalgia means there may be days when pain and / or fatigue will render driving impossible, forcing you to miss out on social events or activities unless you have family or friends who are able to help out.
Popping out to pick up forgotten supplies may involve a significant drive rather than just walking around the corner to the local shop, perhaps requiring activities such as food shopping to be well planned out. This can be easier said than done when battling with fibro fog however…
For those of us living with fibromyalgia, it’s likely that we will be frequent visitors to primary care providers. But levels of access to primary care also vary significantly between rural and urban areas. For example, within England, it’s reported that 94% of urban dwellers reside within a 20-minute walk of a GP premises, but for rural areas, this figure is only 19%ii. This will obviously vary from area to area but nonetheless ,it is an important factor when you’re living with a chronic condition and reliant upon primary care support.
Despite the seemingly unstoppable rise of technology in all of our lives, broadband speed, in the UK at least, can still be an issue in rural areas, although not as much as was once the case. Ofcom iii reports that the percentage of rural lines receiving at least superfast broadband (30 Mbit/s and above) in peak times rose from 44% in 2018 to 56% in 2019. However, in general broadband speeds in rural areas still lag behind those in urban areas. This could prove to be an issue if you are trying to work from home or wishing to join online support groups or meetings. It’s certainly something worth considering as it can make a big difference.
It can be hard enough finding employment which is compatible with a life with fibromyalgia but this could be even more difficult in a rural area where the employment options are likely to be limited. Many village inhabitants commute for work to the nearest town or city, which may or may not be realistic for people living with fibro.
Depending on what you’re into, it can be easier to pursue certain hobbies and interests in the bright lights of a city or a town. A quick browse of what would typically be on offer this evening in my nearest town reveals a plethora of options including hot yoga, salsa dancing, painting and pottery classes as well as cinemas, gyms, swimming pools and pubs. With so much on offer in urban places, it can be much easier to find your niche and build a social network with others who share your interests.
On the flip side to all of this, a 2015 YouGov surveyiv found that rural dwellers are much more likely to know their neighbours and within rural areas there’s generally stronger sense of community and neighbourliness. So this could mean building a social support network of a different type. Rather than work colleagues or people you’ve met through hobbies and interests, your neighbours can easily become your primary social network in a rural community.
Access to nature was one of the aspects of rural living which fuelled the spike in interest in a move to the country during lock-down and again this is especially relevant for those of us with fibromyalgia. These days, it’s widely reported that interacting with nature is important both from a physical and mental well-being standpoint. A 2015 month long studyv which took place in the UK showed scientifically significant improvement in health markers after participants had interacted with nature every day over a 30 day period. In general, it’s much easier to immerse oneself in nature in rural environments and having access to wild nature spaces directly from your door can facilitate these interactions. Whilst nature isn’t a miraculous cure for illness, it is proven that access to nature can help to control both physical and mental symptoms of illness, in conjunction with conventional medication.
There are other plus points to a rural life – lower levels of air pollution, less crime and a longer life expectancy to name a few.
A final point to consider is the legacy of Covid-19 which will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on how we live our lives. If working from home most of the time, virtual coffee mornings, online classes and video appointments with medical professionals become the “new normal”, then this could make escaping to the countryside a more realistic option as it does allow for the ties to particular location to be loosened, provided that your broadband is up to the job in any case!
Ultimately, in terms of urban versus rural living it’s a very personal choice. In some ways, urban living and all of its services, facilities and opportunities could make living with fibromyalgia easier. On the other hand, if peace and quiet and access to nature are more your thing then the rural life may appeal. It really all depends on what makes us tick, what’s important to us as well as financial and family considerations.