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  • Writer's pictureAnna Kaminski

Lockdown: a four-week anniversary.

Yesterday we reached the milestone of four weeks under lockdown. The Spanish government has decided to loosen up some of the restrictions, opening up some factories and construction work in a bid to stimulate the economy that's been dealt a massive blow by the pandemic. I think it's a mistake and I'm willing to bet that there will be another surge in infections and deaths in the first half of May as a result. I appreciate the dilemma: lives vs economy, but at the same time, I don't think an economy can function when 4-5% of the population is getting sick and dying and the healthcare system is overwhelmed.

Restrictions on the majority of Spanish residents haven't been loosened; a month spent overwhelmingly indoors is seriously beginning to grate and I feel myself unravelling a bit. I can't tell you much about my week, because I've largely sleepwalked through it. The daily schedule that I'd set myself at the beginning of quarantine rather went to pot early on last week when I no longer had a full work schedule to keep me occupied. What's the point of setting an alarm and getting up early when you're only going to migrate from the bedroom to the living room? What's the point of changing out of one's pyjamas when you're not going to leave the house? Then my daily exercise regimen went to pot when I strained a leg muscle while exercising indoors and found myself limping from room to room and hobbling to the fridge out of pure boredom. I have now put up a sign inside my fridge, similar to this one:

I'm continuing to have really vivid dreams, a phenomenon that many people are experiencing under lockdown, apparently. Some days I'm still waking up exhausted, having been fighting some dark and frightening entity, or experiencing a gnawing figure of fear and loss after coming to my parents' house and finding them missing. There's no respite from the damn pandemic even in my sleep.

Am also finding it very difficult to concentrate on any task for long. I have a stack of books that I've been meaning to read, and should be glad that I have all the time in the world to do so, but my brain is going 100 miles an hour with unpleasant thoughts, and I can't even focus on a good novel.

An edgy atmosphere prevails in the village and I find myself avoiding people as much as possible because of it. In two weeks we've gone from very few people wearing masks to the municipality officials handing out cloth masks made by the cottage industry in our very village to everyone, and when I go out to take out the rubbish (without a mask), an happen to pass anyone in the street, I get looked at askance. I've also had a sort of a run-in with a policeman while on my way to pick up a parcel from Todo Express.

- "Where are you going?"

- "To pick up a parcel."

- "Where do you live?"

- "Uphill. Camino del Jatar."

- "So why are you walking downhill?"

- "Because my car is parked down there. I promise I'm going straight home."

- "Make sure that you do."

These high levels of surveillance and unwelcome intrusion into what used to be my normal life are making me feel even more boxed in and hankering to escape. Somewhere. Anywhere. Even if I weren't avoiding people because interaction might lead to contagion and land me in ICU with a tube down my throat, I'm avoiding them because at the moment, I'm not capable of even small talk. Not even tiny talk. I skipped a virtual LP gathering because I couldn't face the idea of interacting with 30+ lovely people. It's not them; it's me.

Finally, I've found myself getting really emotional at random intervals, without any specific trigger. Under normal circumstances, I very rarely get tearful, and when I do, it's usually a good indication that I'm rundown and coming down with something, but am currently finding myself letting out an anguished howl every once in a while, apropos of nothing, and randomly bursting into tears, and am finding this new development disconcerting and embarrassing.

When the jangling in my head gets too much, I go outside if I can, and walk up and down my street to calm myself down. I've been doing that since I was in my early teens, when I used to escape from our house via the upstairs window, shimmy down the drainpipe and then walk the empty and dark streets late at night until the state of hyper-alert that I found myself in abated a bit, sometimes walking as far as my school sports field, theoretically trespassing, and lying on my back to look at the stars. Luckily, the weather in Competa this week has been rainy and misty...

...and there are very people out and about, particularly around 10pm or so. So I walk (though not far, since there's an unpleasant Alsatian locked up on the street below mine, and sometimes it gets loose and it's already menaced me once), and I listen to music (rather than podcasts, since they are too much of a stimulant at the moment), or to nothing at all, concentrating on slow, deep breathing, since my lungs have also been playing up lately. Pretty much my only interaction with a living being this week has been with a young ginger cat who lives in my street, who's also out at night, and who plays chase with me and pounces on my legs as I walk by. I'm grateful for the companionship.

One of my writer friends, who's had to have a beloved cat put to sleep this week (as if living through a pandemic isn't unpleasant enough), wrote: "Tired of Netflix, tired of drinking (cheers!), tired of crying, tired of worrying, tired of eating, tired of cooking. Tired of this fucking quarantine." I concur. Particularly about the worrying and the crying, though I'm also currently sick of the village I'm in and everyone staring whenever anyone is out and about, and I really wish I were in the wilderness somewhere, far away from any other human being.

My family is bored but relatively safe, as are many of my friends, but I worry about friends who work in the medical profession, about older friends with inherent health conditions (because this is so not the year to have to go to hospital for something other than Covid-19) and I find myself bawling my eyes out over the stories of people on Twitter who've just lost parents, or friends or spouses to Covid-19, nurses who are begging for protective gear, or have just finished a monster shift during which a colleague died, or have had to hold the hands of patients dying of Covid-19, with no family anywhere near them for their last moments. These people deserved better deaths, with loved ones around them, and goodbyes. Instead, they took leave of this world in the company of strangers and some will have to be buried in one of the new mass graves.

I find it impossible to block out other people's grief and pain and fear. It seeps right through my porous walls, erected to protect myself, and I empathise with them, and there's just so much grief and pain and fear in the world right now, and so much to be angry about - if politicians hadn't bungled their response, many of the dead would still be alive. Even though no one I personally know has died (yet), it feels like I'm pre-emptively grieving, or perhaps I'm grieving for the loss of normality, for the loss of the world as I know it, and I can't seem to stop grieving. "Asperger's is a fervent desire for the world to remain the same," wrote Tony Abbott, one of the world experts on autism, and everything seems so beyond human control right now, and will never be the same again.

[I'm a high-functioning autist, or 'aspie' (Asperger's now falls under the umbrella term of "autism"), you see, and much as I'd like to, I can't will the pandemic to end, and the order and rationality that I draw on to feel safe is nowhere to be seen.

What does it mean to be a high-functioning autist, you ask?

  • It means that I'm not Rain Man. Or Rain Woman. Much of the time, if people don't interact with me too closely, I can pass for an average human being.

  • It means that I don't really have "superpowers", as Greta Thunberg refers to it; I'm not far enough up the scale to be a music virtuoso, or a science prodigy, or someone who can learn Icelandic in a week but needs help tying their own shoelaces. Though I suppose if you drop me anywhere in the world, I'll land on my feet, and I approach life with logic. Most of the time.

  • It means that while when most people have a conversation, they react instinctively and intuitively to other person and read verbal and non-verbal cues without having to think about it, whereas I rely on conscious intellectual deduction, slowing down my reaction time. Unlike some 'aspies', I have no trouble looking people in the eye; in fact, I watch the other person for clues in their facial expression, mentally compare the experience to similar experiences in the past and try to work out whether to take what they're saying at face value or whether there are things that are not being overtly expressed. With people I know, the deductions are easier; with strangers, considerably less so.

  • It means that I find large gatherings of people rather draining, even if it's a group dinner with friends I've known forever; I prefer to interact with people one-on-one, or with a couple of people at a time. Otherwise, I find that I'm bombarded with too much information and find it difficult to keep up.

  • It means that I interact best with people who are blunt and direct, since I'm not great at grasping subtlety, or if someone is saying one thing but means something else. Social interactions would be so much easier if people said exactly what they meant with no assumptions or ambiguity. Equally, I'm rather prone to bluntness myself, which can come across as abruptness, rudeness, arrogance and insensitivity, I'm told.

  • It also means that I am rattled by unanticipated events, as well as chaos and disorder in the form of missing apostrophes or similar. Travel is mostly fine - because I anticipate the challenges and that each day will be different (though I used to get bent out of shape by transport cancellations and things not going according to plan), but when I'm in one place, I need routine in order to function well.

I've known for some time that the way I interact with the world differs from that of most people I know, and for the longest time, I saw this as a weakness. To a certain extent, I still do. However, a couple of years ago, a good friend who's known me for over 20 years, and a diagnosed autist himself, urged me to get a test, explaining to me that when he got tested, he'd already accepted that his brain was wired differently and wanted to learn new ways to manage his deficiencies better. While undiagnosed adult 'aspies' by necessity already have various coping mechanisms in place, it never hurts to learn new skills. That made sense to me, so I decided to go for it.

So I've come to learn that I'm not 'delightfully eccentric', as I've believed for most of my life (which has been a massive blow to my ego). As a run-of-the-mill 'aspie', I'm not terribly unique or special, and prone to high levels of anxiety. According to Tony Attwood's "Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome", it hasn't yet been established whether autists exhibit higher levels of anxiety than the average person because the two are genetically linked, or simply because autists spend a considerable amount of time overanalysing and evaluating their social performance and are constantly anxious about getting something wrong/upsetting other people/looking ridiculous.

Girls are also far less likely to be diagnosed with autism than boys because they display more subtle symptoms, and are far less likely to ostracised by their peers. Autistic girls often have friends who take them under their wing and explain to them if they've committed a faux pas, and they often blend in by essentially playing a role and consciously imitating the behaviour of their more socially well-adjusted peers. When I was a teenager, one of my teachers remarked to me that it's interesting that I'd never been bullied, given the fact that I was one of the tiniest children in my year, androgynous-looking, and spoke with an accent - any one of which could've made me a social pariah - and for the longest time I'd believed that to be my own achievement. Fairly recently, I've realised that that hadn't been the case; that perhaps my chosen role of "the funny/weird one" provided some protection, with my exaggerating my natural traits to comic effect, but mostly, it was because I got really lucky with the friends that I still have, who provided a buffer between myself and the rest of the world and accepted my not infrequent faux pas as "that's just Anna" and didn't hold them against me.]

But I digress. It's just been a pretty rotten week. But things are looking up a bit: the weather's improving...

...the mental darkness is lifting and while I have no control over acts of god, I do have control over my immediate environment and the structure of my day. Starting from tomorrow, it's back to 7am awakenings, serious attempts at physical exercise, and work. Even if for the rest of the day, I get no further than my living room and spend the day in my best pyjamas.

Quick roundup of Covid-19 news:

  • United States: a liberal candidate won the Wisconsin Supreme Court seat in spite of last week's voter suppression. How many people will die as a result of having to vote in person remains to be seen. Bernie Sanders gives up his campaign and endorses Biden, pleasantly surprising me, since I fully expected him to turn the Dem convention into a shitshow. Bernie's supporters, on the other, hand, are continuing to indulge in navel-gazing. At the daily press conference, Trump has made the dictatorial claim that he has "absolute authority". Uh huh, and no responsibility whatsoever.

  • UK: Sir Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty admit that mass testing early in the pandemic, like in Germany, would've been a boon. Also turns out that the government has refused three times to participate in the EU procurement scheme, when there's nowhere near enough PPE. Medical staff are dying as a result of this and there should be hell to pay. The press really needs to be asking pointed questions. Also, deadly hornets appear to be making a beeline for the UK. (See what I did there?)

  • France: Macron admits that France wasn't sufficiently prepared for the pandemic and extends lockdown into May.

  • Indonesia: Krakatoa volcano has begun erupting. Not now, Krakatoa.

  • Ukraine: wildfires are tearing through forests near Chernobyl and getting dangerously close to the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Clearly, the Almighty doesn't think that humans have enough to deal with.

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