Well, it’s been two and a half months since my city started quarantine, and like for so many people, it’s been a real shitshow here at the Mari house. I have a hard time even figuring out where to start. Between the social isolation, loss of employment and income, disruption of the routines that I need to function… it’s taken a real toll on my mental health. I have autism, which means my problems with COVID-19 are different than for most people and that they don’t get talked about nearly as much.
Almost as soon as my city started the “shelter in place orders”, I got laid off from the bookstore where I had been working as a cashier. This was sort of a blessing and a curse. Having to interact with so many people at once was giving me major social anxiety, and the store manager made it worse by belittling me in front of my customers (which I never saw her do to the other employees). I’m relieved not to have to deal with that toxic environment anymore.
But mostly, it’s just sucked. Money problems are always scary, and there are a lot of barriers for autistic people to get a job in the best of times. (It’s hard to nail an interview when you can’t stop fidgeting and avoid making eye contact…) Losing my job also meant losing my daily routine, which I really need in order to feel like a functioning human being. And it cut me off from my coworkers, who were the only source of positive social interaction I would get most days. It’s made me feel empty, and lacking in purpose.
I’ve tried to fill in the gaps the best I can. To make up for the loss in income, I’ve had to start delivery driving for DoorDash and PostMates until I find something more stable. But this hasn’t helped my anxiety, as now I’m worried about being out too much and getting sick. The pay is pitiful, and you don’t even get health insurance. So as much as society calls food service workers “heroes” for risking our lives through all of this, it feels like a hollow compliment. Does anyone really care about us?
The loneliness of social distancing has also been hard, but this is where I think I actually have an advantage over some people. I’m pretty used to loneliness and isolation at this point. I’m an introvert, and this combined with my trans identity and difficulty understanding social cues has made it hard for me to go out and make casual friends. I don’t really miss going to bars or social events the same way extroverted people do. If anything, this pandemic has actually made me more social – with everyone online so much, I’ve had more opportunities to reconnect with old friends, watch anime together, and commiserate about this whole terrible situation.
But this is still a mixed blessing. All the stress, loneliness, and isolation we’re feeling from social distancing these past few months – I’ve been feeling it for decades. All of those articles about how Zoom calls make communicating more exhausting and frustrating are weirdly ironic for me, because I find it exhausting and frustrating all the time. We are in an unprecedented global crisis, but for people on the spectrum, every day is a crisis waiting to happen. Is it any wonder so many of us are neurotic and miserable?
So yeah, my mental health has not been great right now. I’ve been trying to do the best I can to stay productive and keep the demons at bay. I’ve been reading a lot more, and trying to work on new music on my computer. But being on the spectrum also means I struggle with executive functioning. That’s a vague and overly clinical term, but it basically refers to your ability to get shit done: to start tasks, organize and plan your day, and stay focused on what you’re doing.
My executive functioning ability varies wildly depending on the day. Sometimes, I have a ton of energy and can manage my work, chores, and creative projects fairly easily. Other times, I’m so dysfunctional that even brushing my teeth feels like a Herculean task. It makes me feel like a miserable excuse for a human being. I keep thinking, “everyone else can do these things without thinking about it. So why is it so hard for me?”
I keep trying to tell myself that I’m not the only one struggling with these things, that I have a disability, and that a lot of these problems are not my fault. But it’s so hard for me not to feel alone and invisible right now. And not enough people are talking about this. Most of the articles I’ve found about autism and COVID-19 is about how parents are struggling with their autistic children. Not to discount those problems, but it can be really disheartening when you’re looking for some support for what you’re going through and all you see is how difficult it is for other people.
I don’t really have a good way to end all this. I’m just not doing well right now. I had a bunch of cool posts planned for Pride Month, but I may have to put some of those off until my mind’s a little less shaky. It just sucks to be struggling so much, to have to expend so much energy just to be in the ballpark of normal every day. I’m honestly thinking about just deleting this blog entirely because I don’t know if I really can do this anymore. I’m not sure if I can live much longer like this. I’m not doing OK.