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Self-Quarantining as an Autistic Couple During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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By now you’ve probably read dozens if not hundreds of pieces on the coronavirus, social distancing and self-quarantining. So have I.

It’s a scary time for all of us, whether or not we’re on the spectrum, and depending on where we live, our lives have been disrupted more than others. For my autistic girlfriend (H) and myself, living in Southwest Missouri, life has certainly changed, but not nearly in the way it has for those in large cities and in states like New York, New Jersey, California, Washington and so many others.

I live next to Branson, MO, a tourist town/trap full of live shows and one of the biggest, if not the biggest, family vacation destination in the Midwest. Right now we should be in the tourist season, but currently, this place is like a ghost town, with all non-essential businesses having now been closed for a week. My daughter works locally at the top luxury resort in the Midwest and as of a week ago, all their restaurants closed and as of this past Friday, the resort itself shut down until further notice.

Those non-essential businesses include our local comic book shop, which is a lifeline for autistic nerds, such as me! Somehow, I will survive that business shutting down. At least I hope I will…

Like stores all over the country, finding essential grocery items and things such as toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizer are a crapshoot at best. You go into your local grocery store, roll the dice, and hope you come out with enough food and supplies to fill a couple of bags.

Over the past few days as H and I have been self-quarantining at my place (the county I live in has one confirmed case of coronavirus whereas hers has many more), we’ve been talking a bit about how the self-quarantine mandate is affecting people on the spectrum. It’s an interesting discussion and one that we haven’t been able to definitively answer.

You see, many autistic folks naturally self-quarantine year-round. We stay home as much as possible, limit our contact with the outside world, socialize very little and when we do go out, we often do it at times when we know we’re less likely to run into crowds.

In this scenario, the self-quarantine should be no big deal to us. However, throw in the very real fear of getting seriously ill if you do go out and that changes the whole dynamic of the situation. Now there’s an all-too-real fear involved in self-quarantining and having to venture out to get the necessary supplies for survival.

Keeping in mind that many autistics also deal with depression, anxiety, ADHD, OCD, and a myriad of other conditions. The coronavirus pandemic and our new way of life can heighten any and all of these accompanying mental health conditions that go along with our autism.

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Supplies like toilet paper, paper towels, sanitizing wipes, and hand sanitizer are impossible to find, even on Amazon. Those that chose to hoard sanitizer and wipes in hopes of re-selling them at a profit need to keep in mind that when you hoard them, you’re not only being an ass, you’re being cruel to a segment of the population with a very real need for those supplies you have stacked in your garage.

Feeling anxious or having panic attacks at needing to go to your local Walmart or grocery store for food, toiletries and the like is a very real thing and one that I’ve felt, though I usually do my best to mask those fears.

Yesterday H and I ventured out to Target and Walmart because she (who can usually stay home for weeks at a time) was experiencing cabin fever and because she was in need of a new adult coloring book, as she exhausted the one I had at my house. We also needed food and other things.

We were surprised, though I’m not entirely sure why, that Target was completely sold out of adult coloring books and that Walmart had exactly two. I guess others needed something to do in their downtime besides binge TV shows and they got there first.

Target wasn’t so bad because the store was pretty empty, but after venturing across the street and into Walmart we both became a bit overwhelmed because it was more crowded than Target. We got what we needed as quickly as possible, checked out, and hurried back to the relative comfort of my house.

On a humorous note, as we left Walmart, H grabbed a couple of the sanitizing wipes they have near the door that are meant for wiping down the handle of your shopping cart. She used them to completely wipe down her cell phone (which had not been out of her possession for at least a month) and her wallet, paying careful attention to the zipper. By my count, she wiped the zipper down at least three times.

This is everyone’s new normal for the foreseeable future and we still wonder if the self-quarantine is any easier on the autistic community than on the general public. Whether it is or not, it’s still a very scary time for us all and we both hope everyone is dealing with it in the best way possible.

We asked people on Twitter how they were dealing with the pandemic and what they were doing to pass the time. The replies we received were varied and interesting.

One person commented that it was hard to get the privacy they craved. That was something neither of us had thought about because even though we’ve been together for the past eight or nine days, H lives in an apartment by herself with two 12-year-old half-blind and mostly deaf poodles.

I live in a house by myself now that my 22-year-old daughter has moved in with her fiancée, and I only have an occasionally flatulent autism service dog to keep me company. We’re both used to having our privacy and can see how being on the spectrum and being quarantined with a family or roommates can be overwhelming.

Others are reaching out to friends online and trying to distance themselves from coronavirus news and the steadily rising death tolls, which probably isn’t a bad thing considering I look at those stats way too much.

More than one person mentioned their chronic illnesses and how they’re afraid for their health because they’re more vulnerable to the virus. Those tweets made both of us take a moment and think. H deals with some health issues, but nothing that would weaken her immune system and make her more vulnerable to the virus. I’m just a hot mess.

Reading those tweets made us both realize how lucky we are to have the lives we have, even though they’re far from perfect. I have several autistic traits that can make it difficult to be around me at times, and how H has lasted as long as she has under the same roof with me is a small miracle!

How has this pandemic and resulting self-quarantine affected you and how are you coping with it? Is it pretty much life as normal or has your routine drastically changed? Have you found things that make it easier for you or are you panicking and still finding ways to cope with this horrible situation?

Please share your stories with us because we care and because what you say matters and can help others. We all need to stick together during this crisis and help one another out by being there for each other.

This story originally appeared on Not Weird, Just Autistic.

Getty image by Lyudinka.

Originally published: July 26, 2020
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