As an autistic person, social distancing and self quarantine are my preferred existential state. My internal experience, and the way I intake what most people breeze past automatically without giving any notice, is extremely intense. In a controlled environment with low sensory input, just living in my mind is stimulating enough so that I never experience boredom.
So what do I do with my time?
It’s easier to explain what I don’t do. I don’t play video games. I don’t watch television or movies. I don’t talk on the phone.
But, I realize that the neuronormal majority will struggle the most with being on lockdown, not hanging out with friends, family, and loved ones. I am perfectly content to interact virtually, through text, and find it can lend itself to more meaningful interaction than the face-to-face most people find so rewarding.
Why are so many people afraid of solitude? Do you find it intolerable?
What you find there, in the silence and the unwitnessed expanse of time, is that unshakable fear of the unkown.
When you spend enough time alone, what you will find will be yourself.
If that’s not enough, then you have time on your hands to author a new self that is more than just the sum of your social identities. You can take advantage of this opportunity to become someone you enjoy being alone with.
One thing that neuronormal folks tend to miss out on is the ability to live in the moment. Your overscheduled lives leave little room to just exist in the present, and you miss out on the thrill of experiencing each second in such high definition that it is its own rhapsodic symphony, basso profondo and crescendo from the power of its simplicity.
So, my hope for you is that you will use this time to learn how to live in the moment, to find each second alive with experience, and to learn to ground yourself in the present. The point of this exercise is to quiet your mind, learn to focus on what is within your control, and to stop allowing fears and worries to dominate and cloud your mind.
If you can learn to take control of your thoughts, you can find out who you really are and what you want to be outside of the distractions of a world where its normal to see over 5,000 advertisements in a day.
Washing the Dishes
So, my hope for you is that you will use this time to learn how to live in the moment, to become so attuned that you when you are washing dishes, you can see the tiniest bubble in your sink pop. You hear it like an explosion. And then you hear all of them popping. The sound becomes so interesting that you have to stop washing the dishes. You find a rhythm in it, realize the frequency and vibration depends on the size of the bubble.
Brushing your Teeth
Take out your toothbrush. Look at it, rinse it. Be mindful to not waste the water with a powerful stream when only a brief, gentle trickle is needed to wet the bristles. Feel the paste sliding under your thumb as you depress the tube to dispense some toothpaste.
Before you brush, pay attention to the filmy texture inside your mouth and how unpleasant it is. Once you start brushing, pay attention to how that uncomfortable thickness of “morning breath” begins to fade and dissolve as you brush. Note whether your mood is lifted at all once you begin to feel more clean. Notice how refreshing it is, and if you feel more energetic and even if your sense of self is temporarily improved.
Making the Bed
Before even making the bed, inspect your sheets. Do they smell crisp and clean? Has it been a while? If so, wash your bedding. If you have some unscented dryer sheets or felted wool balls, add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to them so that your linens are inviting. As you put them on the bed, take extra care. Smooth out the wrinkles in the sheets.
Take time to experiment with ways to get the neatest tuck of the corners so that your sheets stay in place while you sleep. You can even wash most pillows in the washing machine, so check what type you have and do those as well (if you can). Clean up the area around your bed and arrange your room to be an inviting sensory sleepscape.
Notice your mood throughout this–and all– tasks. When you start to think about pandemics and financial stress, remind yourself to focus on the bedding. The only moment that exists is the present. Control what you can, and let go what you can’t.
Listening to a Song
Most people don’t listen to music, really. They hear music. Practice listening, instead. Choose one song, lie still, close your eyes, carve out alone time, and use noise cancelling headphones (or quality headphones) if you have them. The goal is to reduce sensory input so that your mind can invest more resources in the sound.
Listen to the song, trying to isolate one instrument. Focus on that same instrument from the beginning to the end. You’ll do this later with other instruments, or with the contours of the lead singer’s voice.
Try to visualize the sound however your mind finds it easiest. It might look like equalizer bars, or pulsing colors, or a dot that moves perpetually forward and rises and falls with the pitch, creating an effect similar to a heart monitor that rises and falls with the heartbeat.
Mindfulness v/s Catastrophizing
If you find yourself wanting to catastrophize, worrying about the impending apocalypse, know that those thoughts in no way prepare you to deal with difficult circumstances. While it’s healthy to be realistic, to take all the necessary precautions, and to be emotionally prepared, catastrophizing about the potential for future hardship– even if the fear is logical– does nothing but degrade your quality of life today.