In April 2020, when the Netherlands just entered into a “smart” lockdown, I wrote the following blog for the Art of Autism website. It offers an autistic perspective on staying at home, and now that we seem to be opening up again, it also serves as a reminder to myself, to create a “new normal” with all I enjoyed during the lockdown. Of course, my experience of lockdown was a very privileged one, on many levels. Still, I hope to contribute by sharing my story.
“We’re in this together! Together we’ll get through it!” my sensei speaks to me from a small rectangle in the middle of my computer screen. My training buddies are surrounding him, nodding approvingly, each in their own box of the screen, their faces serious and determined, their lips clenched together. They’re having a hard time with this lockdown. And to be honest, I can hardly imagine how that must feel.
For me and many other people with autism #stayathome is a relief. This is a quarantine report of an unpopular opinion.
It seems wise to start with a disclaimer. Don’t get me wrong, of course I find it terrible that so many people get so sick or even die. I, too, am concerned about the weak in our society, have respect for our politicians and am proud of our caretakers.
But that’s not my point right now. My point is about my surprise (perhaps even shock) that being alone at home is experienced as a dull, repetitive existence. Whereas the lockdown in the beginning was still described as something heroic and dramatic, a world that united in this war against an invisible enemy, social media are now full of uplifting memes and messages like “hold on!”, because people are bored to death. And I don’t understand an iota of that.
Of course it’s a pity for me that I can’t go to the dojo, not to the equestrian center and not to my choir. But no more than that, pity, just bad luck, these things are on hold just like in the summer holidays.
The fierce emotions of many others in my circles are alien to me.
I am a little ashamed to admit it, but there is no sense in denying: I have never been better off than in these times of Corona. And I’m not the only one; in the online autism groups I’m in, I read similar stories. Yet there seems to be a taboo on our happiness. You’re supposed to hate that we’re in lockdown, you should constantly Skype with all the people you know and cry together that you miss everything and everyone so much. But why should I? I say thanks to Saint Corona, because life’s wonderful for me.
I finally have a considerable amount of time every day to devote myself to my special interests. Within the structures I self-define, I put my collections in order, play my musical instruments, learn new languages, read about the Middle Ages and neuropsychology, and write on my blog. I follow all kinds of MOOCs, make a record with live guitar music, kill the darlings in my dissertation and work on a new translation of The Witcher.
I can spend whole days in my onesie, chatting low key with friends, picnicking in the teepee with my cat, doing crazy dances and playing games and Netflixing without being outdoors.
Tout le malheur des hommes vient d’une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.Blaise Pascal
I don’t have to do anything, don’t need to go anywhere and do not worry about unexpected visits. If I don’t feel like tidying up I leave my games and craft stuff on the floor in the middle of the room. I have breakfast with chocolate pudding, decorate my home and do YouTube fitness every day. Corona life is party life for me.
Whereas I had to adapt my whole life, I can now finally be myself.
The time when strangers insisted on touching my hand or – oh horror – even wanted to kiss me before I could get to know them in the first place may even be behind us forever.
Many neuro-typical friends entrust me with the fact that they have trouble keeping in balance – but I feel like I’ve only just found balance now. Because not everyone, including myself, is always pulling in all directions. No longer do I numb myself by running from one to the other until I fall asleep numb and exhausted. To be able to repeat it the next day.
Without all those impulses from the outside it finally becomes quiet inside.
There is room to listen to what is going on in my inner me. Only now I notice how much the “normal” non-Corona life asks of me, or rather, how it overwhelms me. Suddenly I no longer have a headache every night due to overstimulation and complicated social interactions. Days, even weeks, go by without me crying due to unexpected changes. Thanks to the lockdown, all sorts of things that complicated life for me now solve themselves.
Planning, for example, I can hardly do that. My executive functions are a drama.
Cooking has therefore always been a challenge for me. Most likely, it always will be, but it makes a huge difference if you don’t have an end time due to other engagements. Sometimes I’m in the kitchen until well past ten to try out new recipes, sometimes I’m ready in half an hour. But every day I learn to do it a little bit better and enjoy the peace and timelessness, of being in the moment. And of the feeling that I can do it, as long as I have the time and rest to do things one after the other – and don’t let the pasta burn while the vegetables are still hard, for example. No one will check whether I (don’t) do something by the book, no one will complain when have to go to the neighborhood supermarket for the third time halfway through cooking, or even start all over again. I follow my own rhythm and speed, and proudly app the pictures of my homemade meals around.
I also like working from home. Feeling cheerful and inspired, I write articles, essays and songs, I draw and make collages, and I record music videos to send them to my students.
They like it and practice well, and I don’t have to wear shoes – not even underwear if I don’t want to – because I’m not going out for the time being… to go through the chaos of the city full of smelly exhausting fumes, so that I can only stand on their doorstep at a time that doesn’t really suit me, in order to have to watch the clock, and no, sweet pupil, you have to tell that story about Rabbit Muzzle another time, because the next pupil is already waiting for me, and oh, dear, did I actually bring the right book for that pupil or do I have to go back home to get it and I’ll be late anyway, or can I do something from another book with him/her or… You get the point: working at home saves me a lot of stress.
Now I cycle at my own pace, through the polder instead of next to the cars, and concentrate on the activity and not on the destination. No need to hashtag #Coronakilos , which to me seems like a rather problematic hashtag anyway. The fact that, even in a global crisis, you apparently still have to actively think about your weight/appearance makes me sad. Nonetheless, in the confinement of my own home, I just keep on training, just like a cosmonaut in space. What could be nicer than budo in your own house, surrounded by all your favourite stuff and fluff? Besides, you don’t have to queue up at the shower.
In addition, this pandemic solved my (luxury) problem – that I have more friends than energy. Normally I never manage to see/speak to them all on a regular basis and I constantly feel guilty about that. But now all of a sudden I can, because where I get over excited after a single coffee date with a girlfriend and am exhausted for the rest of the day, I can easily chat, app or make video calls with three or even four people.
I have space, calmth and time to give them all the attention they need. And I can help them with my tips to have fun on your own, to be your own best friend, to be productive and stay happy and healthy. Because under these circumstances, suddenly, I became the one who can do this best of all – Die Umwertung aller Werte.
Of course I have to add a note to this jubilation story: I write from a privileged position. Everyday, I am aware of that and I count my blessings. My cosy apartment in Utrecht, only for me and my cuddly cat Boris. Piles of books, my beautiful antique piano, a cupboard full of 20 year old game consoles, my stuffies and fluffies, an ATM card with enough savings on it and last but not least, the online trainings with sensei.
I’m deeply grateful for that.
But that’s not my point. I’m still below the minimum wage, and I see a lot of people with a lot more material possessions and a lot more to spend barely manage to stay mentally upright.
It astonishes me that it is so difficult for many people to stay inside, even to the extent that they take irresponsible risks for themselves and others, because they are up against the walls at home. How can it be that whole tribes don’t have enough of their own company, that they are apparently so addicted to outside stimuli that they get serious withdrawal symptoms now that they have to spend some time alone? I don’t know what this says about our society, but I do know that for me now it feels like I’m living in a world designed for me, instead of for neurotypical people.
The COVID-19 lockdown makes me the best version of myself.