As a person with autism, the lockdown has been pretty unbearable. It has been absolute terror for me knowing that things are so very different – from what I knew, and from what the world has been, and should be. The terror comes and goes, but, to be honest, it never lets up.
I was initially diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder as a child, due to my stringent reliance on and obsessive need for routine. Even as a baby, I had very ingrained patterns – according to my mum, I would cry and cry if things weren’t running to a particular schedule. However, I was experiencing a lot of other difficulties – such as extreme anxiety in some social situations, and feeling overwhelmed and panicked by loud noises, to the point where I’d stamp my foot and shriek involuntarily if a motorbike passed me in the street.
At 21, Mum took me to see a neuropsychologist who was, at the time, one of New Zealand’s leading experts on the autism spectrum. She had me do a whole lot of diagnostic tests for autism – and I ended up scoring 49 out of 50 for most of them. My first thought was, “Hallelujah, it all makes sense”. Like a lot of neurodiverse people, I manage my condition through routine. I find huge comfort in patterns and repetition. A massive part of my routine involves my gym: training, doing classes in a group environment, and connecting with the network of friends I have built. Exercise is like medicine for me – the best way to cope with my anxiety is to convert it into kinetic movement. If I don’t make it to the gym, I’ll go on a bush walk. I’m also someone who craves connection, so my routine often includes meeting up with close friends.
My routine is my anchor – it’s crucial for helping me feel safe. But, with the lockdown, many of the things that I rely on to stay well have been taken away, and I’ve been thrown right off balance. Doing yoga classes as an outlet, being part of a community, hugs from friends – I never realised until now what a privilege these were.
I’ve worked hard to modify my routine during the lockdown, and keep myself grounded. I play the piano and sing. I do a lot of housework – there’s something very cathartic about vacuuming. I’ve been doing body combat and balance classes online every morning – though I did panic when the internet went down last week, halfway through a yoga session.
A big misconception about us “Aspies” is that we don’t feel empathy or compassion for others. But, in fact, we feel these emotions very strongly – on a global scale. Hearing about elderly people left to die in their beds, abandoned by their support workers, in Italy and Spain tears at my heartstrings. Every time I hear of someone dying of Covid-19 in New Zealand, I cry. I’ve spent a lot of the last few weeks crying for our world. We Aspies do feel – we just don’t always know how to express it in a typical way.
This piece was written by freelance writer Erin Kavanagh-Hall for The Spinoff. We reached out and spoke with Erin about her piece. She currently does not have a website for her writing but will soon. We will share it when she does. ~
This piece is excellent not only for the quality of writing but also for the fact that Erin has explored the experience of people who are commonly ignored or misrepresented.
You can read the account of five more stories Erin has recounted here https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/26-04-2020/a-different-headspace-being-neurodivergent-during-covid-19/
If you are interested in learning more about autism spectrum disorders this is a wonderful resource https://www.autismawareness.com.au/resources-01/