Photo by Austin Chan
Yes, I am usually unqualified to write a post entitled “normal.” But occasionally, my inability to assimilate emotion and information, something that has been ascribed to my autism, is useful, maybe even necessary.
This is one of the those times.
So here goes:
The coronavirus is not going away. Vaccine or no vaccine, cure or no cure, it will be with us for many years–yes, years–to come. Based on what I’ve read, from various primary and non-primary sources, this is how things are now. We are not going to go back to what normal was before this virus exploded across the globe. That normal is gone.
What we are experiencing right now, social distancing, masks, limits on group events, and quarantine “bubbles,” is the new normal. This is no longer an aberration. This is life.
Admittedly, it’s incredibly depressing to realize that the lives we took for granted around four months ago are completely gone. We didn’t get a chance to do the things we would have done if we’d known, like hug our grandparents or nieces and nephews, or take our kids to the park, or go visit that friend who lives two or five or ten hours away that we’ve been meaning to take a weekend trip to see. Didn’t get to go to one more football game, or basketball game, or any kind of game. Didn’t go to a parade. Didn’t go to a party. Didn’t answer the door for trick-or-treaters (OK, that’s probably just me). Didn’t have a cookout with our neighbors.
And now we can’t. Not can’t for now, not can’t for the next however so many weeks or months. Just, can’t.
It’s painful. But it needs to be said. For us to move on, mentally and emotionally, we need to recognize that our lives have drastically changed, seemingly in an instant, and that change is permanent.
Conveying this information is useful because it provides certainty where there wasn’t any. I can’t speak for other autistics, and definitely not for non-autistics, but for me, uncertainty is the hardest thing to deal with, mentally and emotionally. And being able to admit to myself that I am not in suspended animation, that I have stepped off a bridge onto a new place and that the bridge that got me here only goes in one direction, has been surprisingly reassuring.
I found the realization that I can start making plans in this environment because this is how things will be for the foreseeable, to be a relief. I mean, I’m not jumping for joy or anything, but acceptance has allowed my anxiety to start edging downward.
This is another situation where autistic voices can be important. Our ability to face hard truths and eschew ambiguity, our mental flexibility in the face of new information, and our natural tendency to compartmentalize, to deal with emotions and information discretely, means that we are uniquely equipped to provide unpleasant but necessary information in no uncertain terms. No “might.” No “suggests.” No “supports the idea.” Just a basic, raw, unvarnished piece of data.
If we are to accept that autism is not a disease or a disorder, and that autistics are not robotic geniuses but just a different version of person, and that non-assimilation of cultural and social norms as natural is not just a real thing but an occasionally useful one, then stepping forward in times of crisis where we can be useful is an important function.
While this does wade into the dangerous territory of defining people by their usefulness, we can insist that isn’t necessary while still being useful. I am an autistic person with science-based post-secondary education who edits primary research for medical and life-sciences journals. As someone who does this, I feel a social responsibility to contribute to the well-being of those around me, if possible. This feels like an opportunity to do so. It might [sic] not come across that way, but hey, this is what I got.
Usually, it’s really hard to be myself. In this instant, at least, I feel like being myself is necessary. It’s a nice feeling.