Loneliness and Covid - an Autistic view
Hi, my name is Conor. I’m 23 and an autism advocate, public speaker and occasional mental health consultant. Yeah that last one still amazes me at times, actually they all do. Below I speak a little about loneliness which has been a near constant companion for me throughout the years, though less so in the last couple - at least before Covid… thanks for that! This world is hard without having any disabilities or cognitive variations, so being autistic as well as having suffered from depression, anxiety, self-harm, and body dysmorphia for a while, it wasn’t exactly easy getting through. I’m not asking for sympathy here for we all must play the hand we’re dealt; I am simply trying to tell you a little about me, where I’ve come from, and why I am writing this. You will undoubtedly have had your own challenges and you’ve made it through every day to reach now; you’ve fought battles most will never know about and won. I suppose I’m saying you’re not alone. You’ve got this, I’m proud of you. Now onto the article.
Loneliness is a dreadful word. I don’t honestly think any others can compare to it. It’s a goodbye without the see you later, the shadow of an embrace and the memory of warmth on a cold night.
For many loneliness is something that comes and goes. We all have times where we feel lonely, yet for some it hits harder. Right now, amid a national lockdown and with no clear ending in sight loneliness has lumbered, weeded and insinuated itself into the foreground of our lives more than ever before. And hit harder than ever before too!
It’s natural to feel lonely now and then, but this situation isn’t natural.
A government survey of adults from August 2016 to March 2017 (1) found that just over 21% openly admitted to feeling lonely always, often or some of the time. That was for a whole population view. For those aged between 16-24 it was 33%.
Worrying figures, aren’t they? Keep in mind that was pre-Covid. A recent ONS survey taken between 3 April and 3 May (2) found that people aged 16 to 24 were more than twice as likely (50.8%) to have experienced “lockdown loneliness” as those aged 55 to 69 (24.1%).
Please remember this was a general survey. For those with autism, anxiety, ADHD, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, learning disabilities etc it is known to be even more prevalent and hard hitting.
So what can we do about it? Here are several tips and tricks I’ve found help.
- Take up a new hobby: it doesn’t have to be something spectacular and grandiose; anything from gardening to crocheting can be a great help with loneliness. You surround yourself in peace, and while there may not be anyone else there, I often find myself talking to the plants. It helps!
- Facetime/Zoom calls: Be it with friends or for work, establishing a time - preferably at a regular interval - where you all set aside a couple of hours to sit down and have a chat and you can see one another is a great help. My ex and I used to have dinner dates every Wednesday night via Facetime when we were apart. It helped to keep a routine going and made us feel that bit closer when in reality we were hundreds of miles apart.
- Set a routine: Keeping yourself busy and focused on an objective helps the hours to fly by – and you feel accomplished! I know when I sit still, I am more likely to feel lonely and trapped in this crazy new world. A routine helps give some control. And you’ll get to know yourself better and what you can achieve… after all there’s no one you’ll ever spend more time with than you.
- Play a game: if you’re a modern gamer you’ll know Minecraft, Fortnite, Animal Crossing, or maybe even Doom, and have likely been using these to fend off boredom and loneliness. If you’re a slightly older individual or even a newer gamer there’s snake, solitaire, chess, Fifa or many other variations! It’s quick and easy to get online and meet new people for a friendly game these days. Just avoid gambling and micro-transactions as you’ll leave feeling ripped off.
- Escapism: Read a book, fly a kite, watch a movie or even binge watch the whole of Netflix as a bit of escapism from reality. It can be of great benefit in helping us forget about loneliness for a while and be freed from our flats’ four dominating walls. People need adventures - and this is a great way to have them while keeping safe from Covid.
- Notice your emotions: This one sounds counterintuitive as it’s a lot of introspection during already troubling times (and for many of us we could dig up something unpleasant), but it’s essential to know right now these emotions are natural and normal. Accepting yourself as you are and working on unconditional self-love goes a long way towards defeating loneliness. For if you have your own peace of mind and company it’s nowhere near as lonely.
- Be kind: We get out of life what we put in, well most of the time anyway. Being kind to strangers in passing, wishing someone a good day from a distance, maybe even drawing a game of hopscotch onto the pavement are all little ways we can make others happy and be kind. You’ll be amazed how quickly people start smiling at you and waving back. It’s certainly kept me smiling through the days!
- Volunteering: You’d be amazed at how many ways you can volunteer online! From helping run virtual teen clubs to knit and natter sessions making hats for newborns. There’s plenty of ways to use your newfound time productively and meet new people online. So drop that charity a message and see how you can help out. They very likely need it!
Now, to be realistic here, these ideas may be too intimidating or simply not possible for you. There’s no shame in that. This is just what’s helped me and finding what works for you is the most important thing.
For all of you who’ve read this blog I wish you nothing but the best of luck to get through this time. You’ll find your rhythm and own your lockdown. Just remember there’s no shame in coming out of this without developing a new skill, hobby, or qualification - just survive! You’re doing your best and that’s all anyone can ever ask of you. Stay strong and see you on the other side. ��
Author: Conor Eldred-Earl, Autism Advocate and Public Speaker