It’s hard to find the right words right now, and it would be awfully easy to say none at all, but these are rather unprecedented circumstances. These are difficult circumstances. For some, these are almost impossible circumstances, so I must say something, like I do with all my blogs, in the hope that someone might feel just a little bit less alone. I can only talk for my own experiences, my experiences as an autistic person, my experiences as someone who has lived with anorexia for the past few years, but for ease of reading, I’ll focus on just the former.
I’ve been up visiting my boyfriend in Derby, preparing to move up here in the coming months, and I had just started to form a new routine, one that would be continuing when I finally moved here. Then lockdown was announced and the only thing I could think of to do that would become part of my daily routine was a good old cry. I have had the same routine with Rudi (my lovely pup) since I got him, and that had to change.
I was left in quite the quandary – autism makes me a firm believer in rules, and terrified to break them, but autism means this routine that was set, erring from it was unimaginable. In the end, I’ve stuck to the rules. I’ve made myself a new routine, but it feels like I’m wearing shoes that don’t fit. It feels to me like what I imagine it would feel like to a neurotypical person if you swapped round which way their doors opened. Imagine getting up, trying to open your fridge, your bedroom door, your washing machine, your cupboard. Imagine how much time that would take to get used to. Imagine how frustrating that would be in a rush. Imagine being autistic and getting up and following a routine when it feels like all the doors are backwards.
But it hasn’t just been routine. I have an old jukebox in my head of social situations. You say something, I flip through, I find out what worked last time, I reply. I have a jukebox of social situations that have happened before or that I’ve seen in movies and tv shows. Except they haven’t made a Grey’s Anatomy episode where there’s a pandemic. Meredith hasn’t had to facetime her loved ones and tried to figure out what to say. I don’t know whether it’s okay to tell people that you’re worried about them. I don’t know whether it’s okay to tell people to not stand too close to you.
Now please don’t get me wrong, even though my change in routine and not knowing how to cope socially felt distressing, I can’t begin to compare it to the distress that others are feeling right now losing loved ones, being terrified of getting the illness, being stuck in unsafe environments, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Our mental health is so important in this pandemic, and though I will stress autism is not a mental illness, living in a world that isn’t suited to your needs can take a massive toll on your mental health. There are so many other things making this harder but we could be here for days if I keep writing about them all, but next time you see someone “moaning” about how this is affecting their mental health, try wearing my shoes that don’t fit, or opening your backwards doors, or taking a moment to remember that some people need a jukebox in their heads to know what to say. Try remembering that yes, this is hard physically, and this is hard for neurodivergent people, but this is also hard for you. I don’t know how (damn it Grey’s Anatomy catch up) but I know it is, and I know we’ll need each other through this. I know that we’ll need to wear other people’s shoes a lot to understand their actions, and we’ll need to loan out a lot of our own so people can understand our feelings, but don’t stop talking. Don’t stop remembering your feelings matter no matter what’s going on in the world. Don’t stop looking after yourself.