What the coronavirus pandemic has meant for me as an Autistic person

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Eli Kurs-Lasky. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

As an Autistic person, change of any magnitude completely devastates me. It prompts a palpable feeling akin to my body free-falling through time and space; a near-immediate fallout of my ability to process words, thoughts, emotions and physical sensations; and the disintegration of all these “easy” tasks into burdensome and draining. 

Suddenly, I become seemingly inept at dealing with even the smallest of deviations in my day. Everything feels like more, and sensory input feels louder and, honestly, physically painful. I begin to notice everything, like the way the fluorescent lights in the East Liberty Target flicker 120 times every second, stinging my eyes, and leaving me on the verge of tears. 

The task of adjusting to something entirely new and entirely unpredictable feels almost unbearable. To mitigate such disruption, I maintain a very predictable schedule, as the routine helps me better integrate in, and fully participate with, my surroundings.

Initially, I hoped if I stayed blissfully unaware about the coronavirus, maybe I could will it from being as devastating as I feared it actually was. But, as the list of activities and events that were postponed and then canceled grew by the minute, I realized how unrealistic this hopeful ignorance was. 

The changes multiplied rapidly and my own panic grew as I watched others’ panic do the same. I dreaded each small change, and the inevitable anxiety they caused me, each more than the previous one. As much information as my brain tried to hoard about the pandemic, whether through news outlets or via social media, I noticed a major absence in the coverage: Nobody was discussing the effects of this pandemic on disabled people like me.

I began hearing from my various medical providers that my appointments were either canceled or switched to remote “telehealth” appointments for an undetermined period of time. Ironically, all the precautionary measures that were being implemented to keep myself and others safe also were the ones that were leaving me feeling helpless and frustrated in the intense anxiety and uncertainty.

The structure I had worked so tirelessly to create and uphold for my own well-being was being stripped from me. On top of that, I was losing my independence. As a disabled person who doesn’t drive, my ability to go anywhere was limited by where I could walk or where someone close to me (who I knew was healthy) could drive me, as the advice of health officials to stay away from public spaces, like buses, became increasingly urgent.

Navigating a bunch of successive changes, one right after the other, felt unbearable. It felt like my brain was suffocating, trapped by the constant increase in limitations. Every aspect of my daily schedule slowly crumbled as I felt lost by the lack of routine.

Two years ago, in January 2018, my doctor gave me a homework assignment: write a list of constants in my life.

She said this would help me realize that, even among the most change-filled times, there were some things that were still the same, and that it was possible to garner comfort in those things. 

I recently unearthed the list in my phone, remembering her suggestion for the first thing on my list: no matter what changed in the day-to-day world, I knew gravity would always be a constant.

At the time, I found this ridiculous and admittedly still kind of do, but as I return to this list during this pandemic, I am trying to find the comfort in finding at least one thing that will never change.

Eli Kurs-Lasky, a Pittsburgh native, typically experiences Pittsburgh through writing, photography (self-taught) and traveling wherever his ConnectCard takes him. He can be reached at eli.kurslasky@gmail.com.

PublicSource has a special page dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for the Pittsburgh region. See it here and sign up for our newsletter to stay informed. We hope you are following the news and, if your situation allows, social distancing guidelines.  Have a tip or an idea? Please email mila@publicsource.org.

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