Photographs and writings documenting 4 years of non-stop solo travel by an autistic female

Tag: mental health

COVID19 and Autistic Individuals

COVID19 is here and spreading rapidly. This is a health emergency and everyone should be concerned.Neurotypical people who have rarely felt anxiety, now feel a sense of dread and paranoia.  Some are selfish. panic buying all the food at the supermarket. It is not easy for anyone. However, for autistic people it can be especially hard. Many of us thrive on routine and are comforted by certainty. If we are thrown off of our routine , life can become scary and overwhelming for us.  Many of us can not live comfortably without routine and familiarity. It may even cause panic in some of us more prone to anxiety.

Empty Subway during the COVID19 Era

Now, along comes COVID19 and cities start to shut down for the sake of social distancing. We understand that this is important to prevent the hospitals from being overwhelmed but it throws off our routine .  The places that we used to go are now shut. Schools and workplaces are shut and nobody knows what will happen in the coming weeks or even months.  Everything that we know has been shattered . It is like throwing a domesticated dog into a pack of wolves.  It is terrifying.

Another factor is many of us obsess over things.  Many of us will obsess over COVID-19 just as I have been doing. We are also less likely to be blindly optimistic and pretend things are okay like some NTs seem to be doing. Our tendency to hyper-focus could cause us even more anxiety.

It is also not uncommon for people on the spectrum to be hypersensitive to our surroundings and feelings.  This means that we can strongly sense the panic in the air and we are disturbed by it. The feeling of mass hysteria around us may overwhelm us more than it does the general population. I am more afraid of hoarders buying up all the soap and pasta than I am of getting the virus. The “Everyone for themselves ” mentality that has surfaced may make many of us with disabilities feel isolated.  Not everyone on the spectrum is capable of going to a crowded supermarket where people are panicking and fighting so that they can take it all for themselves.  Many of us are not pushy and can not shove ahead.

Since we often have difficulty making friends, our canceled  ASD support group may be the only social event we have.  It may our only support system. This will also be gone.

There are multiple reasons why this can be hard. We are also more prone to following instructions and listening to the recommendations of health experts.

I have had contact with a number of autistic adults online who are having a just as difficult time as I am. It will be hard to get through such uncertainly.  There are many worries. Will we run out of food? will we run out of soap?  Will there be a curfew? lockdown?  if we need the hospital, will there be beds available?   If my job drops me, will I be able to afford to eat ? Will I go homeless? After the crisis what the hell is going to happen?  It is just an overwhelming amount of unanswered questions and fears.

 

How can we cope? 

This is hard for me to answer since I am not coping very well with it.  The most important thing is to realize that this worry is valid. This is a reason to be concerned. We also need to take a look at statistics. We likely won’t die as 80 percent of cases are mild.  It is best to listen to expert advice but not hyper-focus on the topic.

This is the time to get absorbed in our interests and hobbies. For instance, if your interest is The French Revolution, read a new book on the topic. Watch shows that you like. Listen to music, learn a new language. Just try to find something healthy to hyper-focus on.    Creative expression is healthy such are drawing or writing.If it gets really bad, don’t be afraid to call a crisis line if you have nobody else.

 

How is it affecting me? 

I am not doing too well. The advice I gave above is hard for me to take.  It has caused me a tightness in my chest and self-harming meltdowns.  I am not dealing well with the uncertainty or the feeling of panic in the air. I do not have sick pay and am expected to work until I get sick. I have to be out all day making myself more likely to be exposed.

 

If you know someone on the spectrum who is distressed by this, offer them understanding and comfort. Understand why it can be more distressing for us on the spectrum. Listen to them and recite facts to them.

 

Why American Culture is Toxic to People with Autism and Mental Illness

People think that travel is difficult for someone on the spectrum but i do not believe this is so. Travel was so much less stress than working a meaningless job that you hate.  When I traveled full- time i would work for food and a place to sleep. I did not feel too attached to the job because I knew that I could always leave. The whole point was to do a work exchange for a month or so and move on to the next place.

Now that I settled , I feel like my life is meaningless. In America people often have to work numerous jobs that they hate. Many employers will not hire full time labor due to the fact they would have to give them benefits and treat them like human beings.  For someone on the spectrum that can be very difficult. Many of us hyper focus and have difficulty focusing on things that do not interest us.  Another issue with working with autism is that we may have a harder time dealing with pressure and time limits.  I have faced burnout in as short as a month at some jobs.  It is nearly impossible to find jobs as an adult that will accommodate your needs as an autistic person. You are forced to mask all day and for some that results in a meltdown or shutdown.  Most of the government funding goes to school aged-kids and even that is ridiculously low. Adults get cut off  and throw into a world that is way too overwhelming for many of us to thrive. For me this  can result in suicidal ideation and low feelings of self worth.

Travel can provide an escape from that and a sense of relief. Some cultures are not as fast paced as American culture.  As an oversensitive person with autism ,I feel more at ease along the Mekong Delta or Southern Europe than i ever will here.  Whenever i am down or depressed , I consider giving up all of my belongings and leaving again.  Other than Autism, i have sever anxiety, OCD traits and bouts of horrible Depression.  I have panic attacks on occasion.  I had not had one panic attack during my time abroad. My conclusion is that It is a direct result of the culture in America. A culture so competitive seems toxic to me.

In America there is so much to worry about. If you are sick and can not work, you worry about being able to eat. The housing cost is so high and pay is so low.  I have Medicare and it is hard to find doctors that accept it. I have no vision or dental insurance and the copayment for therapists are so high.  If i would be physically injured, i could not work and very well end up sleeping on the streets.  Many of us on the spectrum can not hold down a job and are so burned out when working one that we shut down when we come home. By shut down, i mean have no energy to speak to people. For me i stay in my room for day under a blanket and do not come out.  I usually cry when this happens and sometimes wish that i were dead.

I wish America would slow down it’s pace a bit and not be so angry and competitive. The toxicity of this culture has claimed the lives of countless people. Their lives were lost to health problems triggered by stress or suicide . The truth is many of us with autism develop mental health issues because we can not thrive in such a culture. This has to change but sadly, i doubt it will.

 

 

 

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