‘Welcome to my World’, so said my youngest, V, when lockdown struck.
Almost six months on, I have a deeper glimpse into V’s world. But this is not a temporary world as for most of us.
For V this shall not pass. Not so much.
V was diagnosed ten years ago at eighteen with Asperger’s Syndrome (a high functioning autistic spectrum disorder – ASD). V struggles with aspects of social communication, such as reading certain social cues. Chronic anxiety, depression and the need to retreat means V is socially avoidant outside the home. Online is where V’s world exists, with friends of many years.
How can you have real friends you’ve never actually met? Such was my worry, before I started blogging. Now I know…we can and we do. Heck, I met my husband online…but that’s another story.
Lockdown world over means confinement to our home and garden (if fortunate enough to have one), leaving the house only for essentials and no socialising with anyone outside our household. Now we are keen to relay our lockdown tales of where we walked, how we ate, what we did or didn’t, how we coped, what we binge-watched (Ozark, anyone?).
Safe to say, a good few said sod the toilet roll, so long as there’s gin…
But lockdown brought a dark side. A shocking rise in domestic violence. A seeping loneliness for those isolated from their loved ones. And a hard toll on mental health for many.
The internet became our refuge, our place to keep in touch and communicate. But imagine if your social life is always online and not just for lockdown? Watching the world before you achieving, doing, laughing, playing. As some say, living your best and so-called perfect life.
And V cannot do any of it. This does not mean V is a social misfit, whatever that actually means. If it means not being the same as everyone else, then I know which I’d rather be. I wonder how much lockdown has changed us all in a world those like V know too well.
A doctor once told V they were “special” with a “gift.” I wish I could have brought that doctor home with us so she could have heard V’s enraged and wounded response.
If feeling like I’m drowning means I’m special, then I guess I must be.
V wants a life, of course. And I think about my life now, too. The longer I stay home, the longer I don’t want to go back out there. I don’t like the world out there. Our beaches are overrun. Our roads are chock full of traffic, walkways too narrow and difficult to socially distance.
As for pubs, no chance.
Finding myself housebound (broken ankle) on the heels of lockdown easing, threw me for a loop. Only now, nine weeks later, I am starting short walks outside, unaided. Very soon, I hope to drive again.
But I’ll let you into a little secret: a part of me can’t wait, but the other? I’ve lost confidence, I’ll admit. I don’t want to go back to navigating busy supermarkets with a facemask steaming my glasses, getting covid rage all over again when someone invades my space. I don’t want to people-dodge all over again.
‘Now you know how I feel, every day,’ said V.
V is right. Now I do, but only a little.
And there is light. Always light. V’s world never fails to surprise in different ways.
For example, masks are now compulsory in the UK in shops and of course anywhere medical. But V wore masks long before Covid-19. Having read a couple of years ago about a high risk of a SARS-like virus soon to invade the west, V purchased a large pack of masks from Japan and wore one to a hospital appointment last year.
You bet it raised some eyebrows and quizzical stares.
This might sound odd to some, but it made perfect sense to V, who not that long before had been struck down and admitted to hospital with an unknown virus. Why risk a repeat?
Thanks to V, we already had our masks at the ready when Covid struck.
Who knew? V did.
And something else: a mask serves dual purpose for V.
‘I feel safer with a mask, more secure’, V recently told me. ‘It makes eye contact easier, I don’t have to worry what the other person thinks…I’m not so anxious about them or myself…’
This reminded me of part of V’s diagnostic testing for Asperger. Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test, developed by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, which “…assesses the extent to which people are able to attribute thoughts and feelings to people based upon the expression in their eyes.”
The mask hides our facial expressions, so we “neurotypicals” are at more of a disadvantage reading subtle changes of emotion in others. For V who for instance, can’t tell the different between worry and anger, this is perfect. V has discovered help with social anxiety. This warrants further exploration, I think.
Ten years after diagnosis and our current crisis aside, V seeks to find a way out of permanent lockdown to pursue a love of travel, learning languages, of Japanese and Nordic culture, and of their art.
Pretty heroic, I would say, at the best of times.
While bringing her memoir, ‘Stranger in a White Dress: A True Story of Broken Dreams, Being Brave and Beginning Again’ to publication, Sherri’s articles, short memoir, personal essays, poetry and flash fiction are published in national magazines, anthologies and online. She invites her readers to share the view at her Summerhouse blog and is a regular contributer and columnist at ‘Carrot Ranch’, an online literary community. In another life, Sherri lived in California for twenty years, but today, she lives in England writing stories from the past, making sense of today and giving hope for tomorrow.