We have decided to take a temporary break from publishing our usual posts in order to share how our contributors are handling current lockdown measures.
You may find that some of these posts may seem to put an overly positive spin on difficult circumstances but please note that in no way are they denying these exceptionally challenging times for many people around the world. These posts celebrate our autistic writers and how they are adapting to change and uncertainty.
By Alexandra Forshaw
I’m finding it a struggle to cope in the present situation, in these days of pandemic and lockdown. So many of my established routines have been impacted and so much continues to change from day to day that it can be difficult to know what’s going on and what’s going to happen next. My priority is to try to maintain my mental health as best I can.
I live alone and for me social isolation is an unwelcome burden. I’m one of those autistic people who don’t fit the introvert stereotype: I’m a people person and thrive on human contact. At least, if it’s the right kind of contact. Preferably one-to-one or semi-structured groups. Before all this I would travel around the country as much as possible to meet up with and enjoy the company of people I’ve got to know over the years.
That has now been replaced by online communication: chats on instant messaging apps, video meetings, and—in the biggest surprise of all for somebody who used to go to extreme lengths to avoid them—phone calls. I miss the comforting physical contact of hugs or even simply being in close proximity to another human being. Hearing a friend’s voice or seeing them on the screen in a video chat isn’t quite the same but it does make me feel better, less lonely.
Having fun matters. I’ve told some awful jokes to my daughter, and relished every groan and the equally bad ones she’s come back with. I’ve bought chocolate and ice cream, indulgent luxuries that I would ration strictly in normal times, because I figure that a bit of what you fancy does you good. I can be sensible once I’ve found my balance on this new ground, but for now these treats are soft cushions that protect me from the sharp edges of change.
These are big changes and it’s hard to adjust. Above all we need to be patient and kind with ourselves, and remember that this crisis isn’t going to last forever. We just need to keep going, keep each other going, and we’ll get through.
By Helen Carmichael
My body is a coiled spring, mind whirling like a dervish. I have been busy. My brain is full of tasks and ideas, but I am unfocused on my most urgent work priority. I have a high-pitched sense that I am treading water, running to stand still.
We wrap up warm – it is bright but windy – and pass neighbours’ well-tended gardens with mauve magnolias and explosions of daffodils. At the top of the hill my husband goes his own way, and I head down the deep-cut lane. I need to go further to unwind the coiled spring in my mind.
Through a tiny gap in the hedge and up into a sweeping field of glistening grass, rimmed with hedgerows. A courageous dandelion faces the sun, and I sit down next to it, companionable.
I feel the sensation of the grassy ground beneath me – I ground myself. I come back into my own body.
Grounding is a term often used in meditation and yoga, but can be hard to remember to do, and harder to explain. It is a feeling, a practice, a simple, human reset. It is not complicated, and yet it is, for many of us, difficult to remember to do such things.
For me, in the literal sense, it is getting my body in contact with the ground. Sitting on it, or standing barefoot on the Earth – be that beach, soil, grass, or in a river or at the edge of an ocean. It could be a tarmac driveway or a concrete tile in the garden.
It involves gently reconnecting with the senses.
In the field, I close my eyes and listen to the blustering wind, I watch the myriad, shiny grass stems rippling across the field. I smell the dandelion, I look at its blunt, joyful petals, and notice a subtle lime-green hue that I’ve not registered fully before. I don’t overthink it. I feel my own presence in my own body. I let myself be here, and now. I feel the cortisol ebbing from my body, and I feel thankful.
For those unable to ‘get out into nature,’ simply standing barefoot with eyes closed and imagining that you have roots that grow deep into the earth, slowing your breathing and tuning in to your senses can work. Submersion in water, a bath, perhaps scented with something comforting, in a dark or naturally-lit room, can reset a busy brain. Take your time.
I meander back, lighter, yet paradoxically feeling my own weight on the ground. Happier, yet less full of avoidant, freewheeling abstraction and more aware of what needs to be done. Now, I am home.
Alexandra is an autistic visual artist and designer, mother, software developer, trustee of Flow Observatorium (@ObservatoriumF on Twitter), and board member of Autistic Inclusive Meets (https://autisticinclusivemeets.org/).
Helen Carmichael is a video game designer. She works with her husband in their small company, Grey Alien Games, and has done a fair amount of PR dressed as a highwaywoman. Previously a science writer and editor, her writing on sensory experiences features in the autism anthology, Stim. Her interests include sustainable fashion and hedgerow herbalism.