Space as Sanctuary

Image is a hand-drawn floorplan of a railroad style apartment on graph paper, with rooms labeled Transition, Eat, Rest, Work, and Play.

Written by Laura Z. Weldon

As an autistic person with hypermobile EDS and other chronic conditions, the world can often be an uncomfortable place. Having what Florence Neville refers to as a “safe-space to retreat to” is essential for my wellbeing, and I have designed my entire home to be such a self-accommodating sanctuary. It is the one place in the world where I can feel at ease in my body without thinking about it. Out in the real world, I am very much in support of visible/any and all accommodations, but I want my home to be a place where I do not have to be reminded of my body’s challenges. 

My home is where I work, live, and spend most of my time. The things that make my space suit me (and my partner and dog) are seamlessly integrated: every room has a place I can sit with my legs supported, adjustable lighting with red light bulbs, salt lamps, and candles, and a soft place for my dog to lay beside me. 

I grew up hearing my mother, a historic preservationist, repeat these words from William Morris, “Have nothing in your home you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I aim to have as many pieces be both as possible. For example, my physical therapy equipment is easily accessible, but tucked away in a beautiful antique cedar chest.

Almost everything in our home is a found-treasure or a hand-me-down, and everything is curated to remind me of places I’ve lived and traveled, and friends I love. I like to say I am half-Polish, half-Kentuckian, and I think many of the accents in our space reflect that mixture of Slavic heritage and Southern hospitality.

In a railroad-style home (no separate hallway, each room connects to the next), it is easy for each room to fade into another, but it was important to me that the spaces feel distinct. I set up each as a zone for a different way of being or doing. I love having a “transition zone” to take off the outside world before stepping fully into our home. When my body can be cued by the space to be in a certain “mode” – resting, eating, working, playing – it is easier for me to flow between activities and decreases the cognitive load of simple tasks like making tea or brushing my teeth. When I step into our living room “play” space at the end of the day, my body immediately knows that the workday is over and my mind begins to unwind.

The best practical purchase we made for our space is the office daybed. I work from home as a naturopathic physician and take meetings at my desk, but do admin work on the daybed with a lap desk to rest (and it doubles as a guest bed). I am grateful every day for a career I find deeply fulfilling and can do without putting undue burdens on my body.

The front porch, on our quiet street where the birds are louder than the traffic, is entirely taken up by my hammock. Spending regular time in nature is essential for me to prevent autistic burnout, but with busy days as a physician, I can’t always make it out for a hike or to sit in a park. Having this place where I can look up at the trees, watch the passionflower vine grow, and listen to the birds after work is wonderful. I try to bring nature inside, too. There are houseplants in every room (I use an app that reminds me when to water, fertilize, etc, to cut down on the executive functioning load).

My partner is also neurodivergent, and he appreciates that our home is low on clutter, but rich with patterns, textures, and art that make every view engaging without being overwhelming. Finding the right balance of stimulation in our space was key.

In my home, I do not have to mask or push past my physical needs. I can show up fully as myself and be comfortable, energetically, emotionally, and physically. It took a lot of time and support to create this space (and even to understand how we needed it to be), but it has improved my quality of life drastically. Since moving here I have not had a meltdown, and shutdowns have been rare. I could not overstate how essential an accommodating home is for my well-being. Everyone deserves access to spaces like this, in our homes, and maybe even one day out in the world.

Laura is a naturopathic doctor, writer, and neurodiversity advocate on the Autism HWB team who lives along the rivers of Kentucky.

Dr. Weldon’s telemedicine practice provides naturopathic consulting services to neurodivergent and chronically ill clients: You can find them on Instagram @neurodivergent.naturopath and
Twitter @neuronaturopath.

%d bloggers like this: