People on the autism spectrum can find change to routines and structure difficult to deal with. We caught up with autism blogger Alex Manners to see how he was coping with lockdown. Read on to see how Alex worked to change his mindset and become more spontaneous, less rigid with his plans and happier too.
How the lockdown helped me become a mentally stronger person
Six months on from the UK going into lockdown, I am happy to say that I am mentally in a much better place now than when it was first announced.
I am having fewer meltdowns and fewer panic attacks. In fact, I have only had about one of each in the past six weeks. At the start of the lockdown I was having them at least every other day! As I write this article, I have already been to my first two football matches after over five months without going to one game. I cannot begin to tell you how amazing it felt to be back watching a live game. Whilst there are still lots of rules and restrictions in place, which at times can be difficult, I wanted to think about all the things that I have learnt since the start of the lockdown.
First of all, I have started to value the little things in life more. My uncle used to tell me that “the best things in life are free” and because I take things very literally, I did not understand him. Things like going on a walk with a friend or visiting my grandma are much more important to me now and I shall try my hardest never to get stressed again when going to my parent’s house. My life was so busy before lockdown that I never had time to go on so many walks. Because of the lockdown I have been able to explore places that I had never been to before.
As well as going on lots of walks with people, I have also had more time to spend speaking with them on the phone. My aunt and I for example try and have a facetime call every day. Before the lockdown we only ever used to phone each other about once a week and never via facetime. I also speak to others via facetime and when I do so it feels like I am with them in the same room.
These are just some of the things that I would like to carry on doing after the lockdown and the restrictions have ended. I may not have time to call as many people or go on as many walks, but I believe the things that helped me get through the lockdown, will definitely help me going forward.
A lot of the things that I normally do such as playing squash, going to football matches, and travelling across the country presenting talks, have been cancelled during the lockdown. Instead of worrying about not being able to do those activities I have been replacing them with activities that I can still do. These are things that I really enjoy but did not have much time to do due to my other commitments. So, although I have not been able to go to any football matches for ages, I have been playing golf instead. I am replacing one enjoyable activity with another.
Something else that I have learnt is to accept change more easily and to be more spontaneous. Whilst I find planning is very important so that I can have things to look forward to and clear my mind of any uncertainties, being spontaneous can have its advantages. One such advantage is that it stops me from missing out on things. Before the lockdown started my dad told me that I would have to become more spontaneous in the near future or else I would miss out on doing things. He was right!
The lockdown is like nothing I have ever experienced before and, because everything is so uncertain, people have not known what they are doing each week. A great example is when I had arranged to meet my mum the following day for a walk. As rain was forecast, she suggested changing the plan and meeting that afternoon. I will admit that I was a little bit stressed about the change, but I did not want to miss out on seeing her. So, I chose to see her that afternoon which was far better than not seeing her at all just because I was unable to be spontaneous!
Not only am I now more spontaneous but I am also less rigid with my plans. My routine before the lockdown was to work on my computer during the day, go out of an evening and go out at the weekend. If someone had asked me if I would like to go out and do something with them during the week, I would have always tried to arrange it for an evening. Because most of the talks that I present have moved online, it means that I can earn the same amount of money without having to travel anywhere, giving me more spare time. So, if someone can only see me during the day then I will now think to myself, “Okay, I will go and see them and do my work in the evening.”
Again, this way of thinking has helped me enormously and stops me from missing out on spending time with my friends and family. My dad says that the lockdown has served as a catalyst towards me becoming mentally stronger and more able to cope with the challenges life will throw at me in the future. Ironically, rather than break me, the lockdown has empowered me! After a rocky start, I was able to adapt myself during the lockdown so that I could enjoy my life more. I have altered the way I react to situations by becoming less rigid in my thinking and more spontaneous. Evolving my mind in this way has enabled me to live more and worry less.
As you can tell, I have learnt quite a lot from the lockdown. My mindset has changed and I am now working, planning and thinking in different ways. When the lockdown is over and my routine goes back to normal, so too will a lot of the ways I work, plan and think. However, I will still be keeping in mind all of these things that have made it easier for me to handle the difficulties I have faced. These newly acquired life skills have not only assisted me during the lockdown but will help me throughout the rest of my life.
You can learn more about Alex by visiting his website, watching his YouTube channel or reading his book.