Much can be said about this hard, stressful time as we face a pandemic that has no end date, and our society has to finally address the horrible ways in which powerful institutions have repressed the rights of Black people for hundreds of years. For most of the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to the news and hearing how there really isn’t strong leadership in our federal government to either crisis. Mostly we are in reaction mode, and people are tired and stressed out. I can literally see their dull orange waves flickering and petering out, snuffed like a dying flashlight. As starting all over isn’t possible, what can we do on a personal level to make the world a little less stressful and build our human connections?

First, there’s the connection we have to ourselves and our mental health. I, for one, struggle with stress and OCD on a minute-by-minute basis, much to the annoyance of everyone in my household. I go running three times per week with my PSW [personal support worker], and am ridiculously consumed with taking my OCD medicine at the same time every day. The stress of everyone around me makes it worse. I go out so much less than I used to, and rarely see people outside my family. So I say to my fellow autistics, it’s up to you how you cope. Whether that’s cutting paper or organizing other people’s stuff, diving deeper into your mind or sleeping more to escape other people’s stress, that’s what self-care looks like for you. It’s the same for NT’s [neurotypicals], but our coping is, by its very nature, labeled deviant, so you may experience some increased scrutiny.

These times are overwhelmed by hate and intense division, and as a person who feels so much on the inside that doesn’t make it to the surface, there are days when I haven’t had the capacity to sit down and write. I like those afternoons when the music is playing and the TV’s off. We all need to stay informed, but at what cost? Parents need to keep in mind that their children are hearing everything they are watching and listening to, and undoubtedly it’s stressful for them. If you’re seeing a lot more annoying behaviors and you are immersed in the ongoing drama of politics, you may unknowingly be stressing your child out.

I must mention the role autistics have in taking care of others. Because we see other people’s moods or pick up on the undercurrent of stress affecting so many of us, if there are ways to not add to their fires, take them! We so often receive, receive, receive – services, support, and accommodations are a daily reminder of how much we rely on others. I would suggest that parents create opportunities for their children to give back. For example, I love to fold towels in a certain way. My parents would be smart to encourage my interest in laundry! 

Lastly, I want to say that it’s okay to be stressed out. It’s okay to act anxious or be annoying, and it’s okay for others to react with annoyance because not everyone is patient all the time. This is unlike any other time in most of our lives. It seems like there is no end in sight for the turmoil resulting from coronavirus and the shit show that passes for politics. Let us see how much we truly need and rely on one another. Let us see how strong we are when we allow ourselves to learn about another’s perspective and their life experience. I ask each of you to try this at least once a day. Hopefully you might grow more tolerant of differences (and vice versa). After all, there’s an election coming and a vaccine on the way! We all need to work together on a better year to come.

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