You might think, from the stereotypes (and bear in mind I’m new) that lockdown might be kind to someone with Asperger-variety autism; that we prefer our own company, our own environment, and communicating through technology anyway.
Apparently not. At least in my case, it seems that I might be an extrovert who has limited social abilities and tolerance. No-one said this was going to be easy!
I expect a lot of people had the “is this really happening?” kind of feeling early on, followed by the sinking feeling that it was going to be bad. I’m off work, and get severe depression. The possibility that the this is only a reaction to autism that I hadn’t known how to handle, holds out hope. I had been making progress, getting out more, and was looking forward to a course on living with autism. Then, just about everything was cancelled.
I almost wrote something catastrophic like “my house became my solitary cell” there. Of course, it was nothing so dramatic or horrible. I am very aware that I am well off in many ways, but just because someone else has it worse, that doesn’t mean you are not suffering yourself, or that you don’t have a vulnerability or lack of reserves.
It wasn’t so bad at first. I could go out to walk along the sea front, sit on a bench and write until the supermarket was quiet. Then that became against the rules. I got (more) sick and tired of walking the same streets around where I live.
One thing I was expecting, but not so quickly and extreme, was that I started forgetting how to talk and respond to other people. They say what we call “senility” is often a lack of social contact rather than dementia. I got rapid onset. Oddly enough, it seems to have reversed a bit since. But then the memory problems came with it; the highlight was walking out of Morrisons without paying. Fortunately, the guard was understanding and knew it was an honest mistake. Just as fortunately, I didn’t realise what I’d done until after that became apparent.
Going out is especially difficult right now. It’s the lack of clarity and consistency. You can’t come within two metres of someone but, if the aisle is less wide than that, can you pass someone quickly with your face turned away? If someone comes inside your space then do you tell them off, report them, or just ignore it and stew afterwards? What if one assistant walks past you, then one further down tells you off for moving to do the same?
Anxiety grew. The writing group had kept going as a group video call. Just a one-on-one counselling session by video was hard enough; picking up social cues on a stuttery screen and finding conversation gaps to speak in was difficult. Trying to divide my attention between people in a group, cope with people I sometimes find difficult, and being unable talk quietly to your neighbour brought on what I think was a kind of panic attack. I have avoided the groups since, but my creativity dried up anyway.
The physical things started as well. I’ve always been prone to muscle spasms and pains of varying kinds. My shoulder cramped. My mouse arm ached. Then my Achilles tendons swelled up and hurt. My back, which I had been expecting to go first, was in fact the last thing to start bothering me.
I realised fast that I wouldn’t be writing that new novel, or even submitting the ones I’ve finished. I wouldn’t be doing the online exercise classes, or even keeping up with my therapeutic exercises. My ability to read a book or watch something on telly deteriorated to a few minutes. It rapidly became clear that the best I could hope for most days was to shower and eat something.
When I started feeling angry at my cats and they stopped giving me joy, I knew it was time to go back on the anti-depressants. They come with some side-effects I’m not enjoying, but they are starting to help. I’m writing this, after all.
Computer games and smoking have stopped me going mad. I don’t like the smoking, it scares me, but sometimes it seems you have to choose between something that might kill you later and something that makes life bearable right now.
One of the worst things may be a little political, but I’ll say it anyway: the sense that so much of this could have been avoided, or be over by now, and I can’t do anything about it.
Is life getting back toward normal? Not really. Having a social bubble with a friend is incredibly good, but I still miss the “inessential” quality-of-life things. It will be a long time before I can get my grouchy cat to a vet, have my feet or the aching muscles seen to, take the laptop to a coffee shop, etc. Individually none of them are life threatening, but taken together, the issues are crushing.
Just before this started, I read “Dark Matter” by Michelle Paver, a ghost story where (slight spoiler) the protagonist ends up alone in a cabin during the long Arctic night. However bright the sun, this is the image I keep coming back to.