On Monday 23rd March 2020, the U.K. went into a nationwide lockdown in response to the coronavirus outbreak. This meant that non-essential shops, some restaurants, cinemas, theatres, leisure facilities, hairdressers, beauty salons and places of worship were temporarily closed in order to slow down the spread of the virus. People were also advised to stay at home unless they went out for essential shopping; one form of exercise a day such as walking, running or cycling; caring for a vulnerable person; and going to work, but only if they absolutely couldn’t work from home.
When it came to going to local essential shops, I feel grateful to have some close to me from the convenience store below my flat to those in my nearest high street. Pretty much all the local essential shops I went to had safety measures in place such as only allowing a certain number of people in the shop at any one time, having a one-way system, socially distanced floor markings and Perspex screens at tills. Even though I’m content with these measures (they make the shops somewhat less crowded and minimised panic buying) apart from having to queue outside of my nearest Tesco Extra (which is a little further afield from where I live, but I went there because I couldn’t get an online food shop delivery slot then and I was worried about being stopped by police had I gone to a supermarket in the high street) for quite some time, there was the occasional stressful moment such as people not seeming to observe social distancing, especially a man who touched me on my shoulder when he told me I was going the wrong way in the vegetable aisle in Tesco Extra without me realising it. Due to my autism, I don’t like unexpected touch anyway, but I was worried about catching the virus if the man had touched me, especially if I can’t tell if someone has the coronavirus just by looking at them. I even hoped that the man had washed or sanitised his hands. I also had the same concern when a woman bumped into me in my local high street as she walked past. Some of my trips to the shops and the post office were especially stressful after my grandad died.
In the first week of lockdown, I noticed that someone was wearing a face mask when they entered my local convenience store. This made me wonder if I should be wearing one whenever I go to the shops. In the same week, I was checking my e-mails when I saw that I had received one from Wowcher that included deals for reusable and washable cloth face masks. I liked the idea of these because I thought that they were better for the environment than the disposable face masks that medical staff wear in hospitals for example, so I placed an order with the deal. The masks arrived the following week. The first time I wore one in public was when I went to Tesco Extra. I continued to wear them whenever I went to other shops. Upon returning home from the shops, I put my face mask straight in my laundry basket and wash my hands. One initial concern I had about wearing a face mask in public was wondering if people could hear me when I spoke to them or not due to the mask potentially muffling my speech. While most people could hear me with my face mask covering my mouth, especially shop assistants, there were four occasions on which people asked me to repeat myself, much to my frustration. The first was when I was in the post office and I told the lady behind the counter that I was buying a greetings card for myself rather than posting it to someone else. The second was when I was queuing for a prescription in Boots and the lady in front of me asked me if I was okay because I hyperventilated when another lady appeared to be standing very close to me when she was trying to find where to queue for prescriptions. The third was when I told the lady behind the counter in my local convenience store I wanted to pay for my shopping with my membership card. The fourth was another time when I got my medication from Boots and I told the lady behind the counter that my house support staff put in the prescriptions, which are electronically sent from my GP to Boots, for me (for more information on the challenges I have faced with my diction, please read this blog post). Although wearing face masks on public transport became compulsory in England with a few exceptions on Monday 15th June 2020 and it became compulsory in other enclosed public places such as shops from Friday 24th July 2020, I have been wearing them in public before these dates as a matter of personal choice. I have also been wearing them as a way of following authoritative rules (please read this blog post about me taking things literally such as authoritative rules and instructions).
Even though wearing face masks on public transport is mandatory for a small number of passengers who use TFL’s services and customers who visit shops for example, some people are exempt from wearing them such as children under the age of 11 (even though children in general can wear face masks from the age of 2 in other settings such as at Walt Disney World in Florida, USA and I did see some children who appeared to be under 11 wearing face masks in public on the day that wearing them became mandatory), a physical health condition such as asthma, or those on the autistic spectrum if wearing a face mask is a sensory issue for them (even though I have autism, I don’t find wearing a face mask a sensory issue, but people are different). Those people can download, print out and carry a card that says they are exempt from wearing face coverings that can be found here. They can carry this card whilst using TFL’s services.
Further to people with autism and face coverings, Dan from The Aspie World YouTube channel made a video to discuss whether people with autism need to wear a face mask or not. He said that they may find wearing a face mask scary if it doesn’t fit in with their routines besides having sensory issues with them. People on the spectrum who choose not to wear a face covering in public can carry an autism alert card along with the TFL face mask exception card to explain their situation to authoritative staff. They might also be able to carry a face mask exemption card especially made for shops and other enclosed public spaces. Those on the spectrum who would like to wear a mask can go for those that have cool designs on them such as from Etsy shops or boohoo.com (search for face masks) for example (see above for my boohoo face masks); use an app called tiimo that reminds them to put on a mask before they leave their home and to remove it when they return; and try different kinds of material to work out which one is the most comfortable for them to wear. Those who do not want to wear a mask can wear latex gloves instead (although I do not wear latex gloves outside myself because they tend to make my hands sweaty – I carry hand sanitiser with me instead); avoid touching their faces and eyes; wash their hands for 20 seconds with soap and water or use hand sanitiser (they can also wash their face and then their hands again); maintain social distancing; and avoid crowded public places or social gatherings.
One thing I feel I have become obsessed with during lockdown is social distancing, also known as physical distancing. This made me ensure I was at least 2 metres away from others outside of my flat. Upon returning from an early morning walk to my local delivery office and the shops, I ran into a member of support staff who I hadn’t spoken to in person for a long time. She kept a safe distance from me as we caught up. Some moments in which I was particular about social distancing were when someone else offered to help me carry my shopping because they thought I was struggling (I declined their offer) and when I went to the staff office in my block of flats to collect a printout of a receipt I needed to send with some trainers I was returning. After that, I avoided going to the staff office by asking staff to leave my birthday card from them and other tenants in addition to my surprise birthday parcel from my family outside my flat for me to collect; asking staff to place a consent form I needed to sign for them in my letterbox; and offering to collect my medication from Boots myself rather than have support staff collect it for me (although I’m still content with them putting in prescriptions for me when I ask them to).
Since Tuesday 10th March 2020, I have been volunteering completely from home. I had good intentions to go to the office the following Monday, but early that morning, I visited the NHS 111 coronavirus website because I was coughing on and off during the week of my last office day. The website advised me to self-isolate for a whole week. Also on the Monday I visited the NHS website, one of my colleagues had sent out an e-mail to say that those who came to the office agreed to work remotely until further notice. As of July 2020, I am still volunteering from home and I would even consider continuing to do so when the lockdown is over because I am thoroughly enjoying the routine of working from home (for a more detailed account, please read this blog post I wrote for my agency). Not only am I avoiding public transport as well as noisy and verbally aggressive people by working from home and eating my lunch in a separate room from where I work, but I also feel that I can concentrate better in my own space rather than in a busy open-plan office and I am saving money by not using public transport too. On my office days, I would get up at 6.30am, leave my flat between 8.30am – 8.45am and I wouldn’t get home until around 7pm at the earliest, which was tiring for me. On my current volunteering from home days, I usually get up between 8.30am – 9.30am-ish and I am able to start winding down from around 5pm, the time I finish my volunteering for the day.
Even though I miss seeing my family, friends and colleagues for the most part, one case in which I feel more relaxed in this situation is my friend from down my street not coming over to my flat and me not going around to hers. Earlier this year, I only saw her twice due to her being physically and mentally unwell, her spending some time with her brothers and me self-isolating. My friend and I would normally meet up on a Saturday evening, but due to the lockdown, we cannot visit each other’s flats until further notice. The thing that makes me the most relaxed about not seeing my friend is having more time to myself on a Saturday for editing YouTube videos, writing blog posts and Skype video calling my family.
In summary, there were some ways in which I found it easier to cope with the lockdown than others. Although I was mostly okay with going to local shops for essential food, toiletries and household products, wearing a face mask in public, having more time to myself on Saturdays and getting into a routine with volunteering for my neurodivergent recruitment agency from home, I found it hard not to see my family, friends and colleagues for the foreseeable future most of the time and I developed an obsession with social distancing. I also had to cancel my plans such as staying away with my family, going to the theatre and going to Butlin’s Bognor Regis.
Wowcher (search for face masks): https://www.wowcher.co.uk/deals/shop
Dan (The Aspie World)
My other lockdown/COVID-19 inspired posts