Note: I published this, then deleted it because I thought it might be a inappropriate or get misunderstood to write how I’m having fun so far in self-isolation while esp. people who are in a worse economic, family and/or health situation experience major upheaval. This is not to belittle the issues of others though (incl. autistics who are miserable now) … it’s just describing some ironies of how some things are suddenly turned around and normality can be “relative”. It’s just one, momentary subjective experience (momentary as it’ll probably evolve also for me). So I’ll still publish it with this disclaimer and hope it offends no one.
I have so far avoided writing anything regarding the current social distancing measures, even though I’ve of course been reflecting on them.
I was in Poland when the border closures started, but decided to get stuck with my partner in Berlin in case of lockdowns and travel bans. So here I am now, stuck in Berlin. Berlin hasn’t enforced a curfew so far, just banned meetings of more than 2 in public space (except for people who live together) and requested citizens to keep a distance of 1-2 m with everyone except the people who live with you. People are also encouraged not to meet others outside their family or cohabiting unit except for work or mutual aid.
So, here comes the autistic part. My initial reaction to the restrictions was basically “no big deal”. No big change. In fact, my partner and me started these measures even before the government officially enforced them, because why contribute to spreading the disease if we don’t have to.
In practice, I meet perhaps 2-3 people per week live. My closest friends (not numerous) live in other countries and I call or write them anyways. As a super sensorily sensitive autistic in a big city, I don’t leave the house for purposes other than a walk in nature and unavoidable shopping anyways. I don’t take public transport anyways. I don’t go into crowds anyways. I work from home anyways because I can’t focus with others in an office or handle a commute. So, basically I switch the tea hour with the 1 or 2 acquaintances I meet per week to Skype, and that’s it.
And frankly, I didn’t even really feel the need to, because since my partner is working from home now, too, well, I didn’t really feel lonely enough to miss hanging out with more people. I guess I will at a point, but at two of isolation, the moment hasn’t come yet.
What was pissing me off initially was that while the government shut down shops and cafes to stop people from hanging out in groups in public, our usually rather quiet area suddenly became busy – with folks taking walks, jogging, being out with kids and dogs. Most of these people didn’t even try to keep the then recommended and now required 1–2 m distance, which did piss me off. Still does.
On days when I read too much news I get paranoid about getting infected with who knows what by breathing someone’s droplets, but on other days (when I’m more level-headed and realise that risk is fairly small, and even if I did it’d probably turn out fine) I get really pissed off just about the lack of respect and care that I sense in not even trying to keep the distance. Sure, my health risk even if the careless passerby spits on me while speaking is probably rather small, but the fact is that s/he doesn’t know that – doesn’t know my health history: I could have HIV or who knows what, they wouldn’t know, and still act careless and endanger others. So, one thing I learnt is how infuriating I find carelessness – more than any risk in itself, I realised how deep perceived lack of respect cuts into my psyche and how hard it is to shake off.
A moment to reflect on values; but the bottom line is that because of the emotional annoyance this causes me, I end up going out less and rationing it to the early morning hours when Berliners sleep (or do who knows what). Being someone who needs to walk (or otherwise move outdoors) for minimum 2 h per day to not flip out, that is a change in my routine; but still, it’s really not worse than having moved to the city in the first place (which gave me daily nervous breakdowns for the first couple of months, but … yeah, I guess for me that’s “no big deal” at this point).
I envy people with gardens. If I had one, I think I’d basically be happy about the lockdown, in a selfish way: I’d just turn it into a 3 month (or however long it will take) meditation retreat, and that’s it. Done similar things before, out of necessity. I know I’ll be Ok as I’ve had to work out strategies for not going nuts under confinement and isolation before (for years). (The confinement came from just not having suitable-for-sensitives places around, and esp. living in cities.)
Not having a garden, I get pissed off at people who don’t keep distance, as a matter of principle. But apart from that, I’m ok. For the first time I’m kind of happy about this apartment, which I used to dislike, simply because it’s big (compared to anywhere I’ve lived before). The fact that I’m quite fine now is built in part on privilege: having a big apartment, both me and my partner being able to work from home, and both me and my partner being calm and peace-loving introverts and having no issues being locked in together (in fact, I’m kind of happy as I’m generally happy to have a being I love around all the time and don’t really understand why anyone would not – but I know not everyone is like me). On the other hand, it’s also kind of built on lack of privilege: I’ve experienced so much social isolation and lack of accessibility in public space (basically the only public space that’s truly accessible to me is tiny villages or just nature) or other issues with going out (e.g. supermarkets) that I’ve got not just a toolbox, I have a lifestyle built around avoiding all that stuff but still finding meaning and connection somehow.
Paradoxically, on a symbolic level I feel less isolated than normally: just because now suddenly I’m not the only one living this lifestyle, but everyone has to do it. Suddenly, for a change, I kind of do what everyone does (and, annoyingly, everyone suddenly does what usually only I do, like take outdoor walks in my area – rather than sitting in cafes or shops or whatever they do normally, heaven knows). Suddenly, the government has enforced my lifestyle on the entire nation – down to the details.
It’s kind of funny, if humour is allowed given the difficulties this poses for many.
I realise that I usually walk only with 1 other person anyways, and I keep 1–2 m distance from strangers instinctively because if I don’t, I tend to pick up their emotional vibes or get unpleasant intuitive hunches about the diseases they have (the virus thing also makes me think, maybe the latter is because I pick up physical particles rather than “energies” from them).
So ya, it’s funny and ironic to see my hermeneutic … hermit lifestyle enforced on the nation. It’s ironic to see people freak out when they have to do this. What’s there to freak out about? What’s so hard to handle? But it also makes me think, is this my chosen lifestyle – was this always easy? Or is it the fruit of decades of adapting to not fitting into the modern world, its speed, its social structures and its sensory onslaughts?
Would I actually prefer to not live that way? And the folks who can’t deal with it (that now tempt me into compensatory feelings of superiority) will live differently after this is over, but I won’t?
I kind of had a fight with an acquaintance over that yesterday, who didn’t get that point. She’s freaked out that her “normal” is gone; I guess I should have shown empathy, but pointed out that her “normal” is at least as unlivable for me as the current state is for her but at least she has the comfort of a “normal” (designed for some neurotypicals) to go back to.
And of course she has to work (in a grocery store) and I also have friends whose livelihoods are threatened or friends who are functionally homeless (as I was before this big apartment fell on my head) and while these have the skills to cope with isolation, they are in hell on other levels. I’m of course also aware of the people who can go home only to dysfunctional family units, or to no one and nowhere.
Still, taking in the right to take small delights from philosophical ironies and reversals. From what’s “normal”. From how I complain about the streets here being too crowded now during the lockdown as people suddenly rediscover walks (still, the quiet somehow feels so “normal” to me). From how my partner now under self-isolation says they need alone time and want to “isolate” in the other room. A friend joking how us autistics complain about a lack of solitude now under self-isolation. How I feel less isolated when suddenly everyone has to isolate. How suddenly my lifestyle is the new normal and how suddenly I’m a good citizen, having no trouble to obey … norms.
I still wake up sometimes at night with panic, or sometimes obsessively wash my hands. But suddenly these behaviours are so … normal. I don’t think I experience significantly more panic and insecurity than at other times (though again, owing mostly to my partner’s job). And yes, I sometimes binge news, but how many years ago is it now that I’ve learnt to ration my media and social media exposure to protect my mental health? 10 years? 15 years?
In times of seeming stability, I was usually on hyper-alert and not trusting the predictability anyways. At those times I was just paranoid and you could say perhaps having PTSD, or just being a bit nihilist or grave about things. I used to think about death and loss, and all these things, study Buddhism. I still do, and presumably will doing this after this is over and as long as I’m around. But now (temporarily) I don’t feel like it’s odd or inadequate – to some degree I kind of feel “in my element”, when suddenly people even in the most privileged countries think about death, love and existential questions. It’s strange to realise that one has, to some degree, a mental fit with these kinds of times.
What’s the point of this post (asking also because I got interrupted innumerable times while writing)? It’s not belittling other people’s issues. It’s not really competing over who has it worst (I pass, certainly not me). It’s not belittling the general issues and global insecurity that will at some point presumably affect the massively privileged as well. It’s more about, as mentioned above, allowing the philosophical pleasure of noticing how little changes for some – not speaking for autistics in general here, but some – some folks, some of us who live in isolation and in mental preparation for who knows what may come anyways, maybe those of us whose minds and bodies are to some degree attuned to crisis-mode also during “normality” (for me that’s true to a lesser degree than some others) and how odd it is to really notice the fit when you kind of don’t have to go to crisis mode.
That includes not just routines, but even emotions. Discussion with another friend on how we’ve had so many panic attacks and anxious times, and my own explorations of grief and loss – we aren’t that scared of the intense emotional territory. Not at a loss in it anymore, like years ago (how I’m glad this didn’t happen years ago – also re emotions, nods to Karla McLaren). Yes, things terrify me, but how many other things have terrified me literally to death before? It’s not super-easy, but there has been experience. At the very least, there has been anticipation.
Though if this gets worse, I expect it to shift to places I haven’t been. On the other hand, if we’re honest, how often have we gone to places we hadn’t been before?
After a short FB discussion with a bunch of autistics on this topic, I feel like one thing this has so far taught me on a very personal level is that I don’t actually miss all the stuff I usually down myself so hard for missing out on. Again, that’s certainly not true of everyone, but my personal reflection at this moment: I go through so much obsession, guilt, dilemma, pressure, sensations of life-skill inferiority and mental agony related to how I don’t participate in social events that I could or should participate in, especially here in a city with an abundant alternative social life. But heck, when they get forbidden, what I feel is mostly relief. Will I miss that stuff at a point? If not, maybe that really means it’s time to be honest and go live in the middle of nowhere, replacing traffic and crowds with hills and pampa or such.