Covid Considerations: Food, phone calls, yoga and volunteering – a personal account of lockdown

| Anna Eaton

This blog is part of our Covid Considerations series and is written by Ametrine, a middle-aged autistic woman who struggles with living independently at the best of times, without appropriate services or formal support. She lives in a social housing flat in a village in Yorkshire, with three furry people and a number of prickly plants. Ametrine was a founding member of Autscape. She enjoys singing, Yoga and other meditative movement, Pennine walking, Buddhist chanting, and attending her local Quaker meeting. She has been volunteering for several years in charity shops for Oxfam and her local hospice. Ametrine writes here about her experiences of lockdown.

Lockdown for me has been surprising in various ways.  I coped very well for the first few weeks, which surprised me as I’d felt I was very dependent on the weekly structure of activities I’d built up for myself, so I thought lack of routine and not seeing friends would be really hard.  In time some routine has built back in anyway, via scheduled Zoom sessions for Yoga and Quaker meetings, plus occasional singing Zoom sessions.  

Phone calls, food and getting to the shops

I’ve had to accept that phone calls must be seen as a good thing in these times, if the other option is no contact at all with some people. I still generally can’t initiate calls, so I rely on friends phoning me, and it’s noticeable how much less all (without exception) have phoned me as the weeks in lockdown have mounted up. I think some of that is a general burnout/fatigue after many people made special efforts to communicate with as many friends and family as they could as often as they could early on. Now we know there will be months and months more of some aspects of all this.

At first when it was pretty much impossible to get a Tesco delivery, I struggled. It was particularly upsetting because I have been a delivery customer of theirs for a lot of years now, but they weren’t catering for anyone with special needs other than the most vulnerable Covid group. They now have a lot more slots, though I still need to try a few times before I can book one. They eventually expanded the special needs service – but you have to do it by phone, so I can’t do that. It’s amazing how many disability accommodations and services require phone calls to access them, especially some autism and other neurodiversity services.

For myself, like a lot of other autistic people, it’s necessary to have certain foods of certain brands, and Tesco’s limit of maximum three of most individual items is still making things difficult.  It’s crazy that I can buy three each of several different brands of soya milk, but not my usual 8-10 litres of the one that works for me.  I have an eating disorder (EDs are common in autistic people), so this makes it even harder to eat well, when I can’t get the foods I understand, and am used to and rely on.

Recently I’ve gotten into a bit of a panic about the shops. I’ve not been going into shops at all, as the queueing outside and social distancing inside make it difficult for those of us who need to shop quickly and then just go back home while we’ve some reserves left to Get Back Home. But I’m realising the longer I don’t go into shops the harder it will be when things get more normal and I’m trying to resume life somewhat as it was.

Medical appointments, emergency plans and public transport

A friend from the Quaker meeting is helping me to try to access support for these things. I don’t have my regular 4 weekly GP appointments now, so no one is monitoring either my mental health or my physical health (and especially my eating disorder/weight) so we’re going to see what can happen about that… 

My current GP is going on maternity leave for a year – TIMING!!! – so I’m beginning with a new GP, most likely by phone. It is not going to be easy and I feel it doesn’t bode well, unfortunately. I had a telephone consultation instead of my regular appointment about two weeks into lockdown, and I was so disconcerted by it that I said everything was fine, when it wasn’t, and so my GP was left feeling good that everything was OK… It’s definitely time that people with communication difficulties should be given access to alternative communication in healthcare and services, such as being able to email your GP, or talk via text on Skype or similar.

My friend is also helping me with having plans in place for emergencies, as I’ve been concerned about what would happen if none of my friends is allowed to drive me anywhere. I don’t drive for both autism and environmental reasons, and I struggle with buses especially – even in normal times. I also need to have an up to date special needs “passport” for things like emergency hospital services, and to clarify other details like next of kin.

The National Autistic Society (NAS) have told me autistic people won’t be required to wear face coverings on public transport or in shops, but even so I don’t feel I could take the hassle some people would inevitably give, unless I had a supportive person with me. The NAS also said that autistic people are allowed to have support people closer than the standard two metres – but in reality this will depend on the risks support people are prepared or allowed to take. And, of course, on getting appropriate support in the first place!

What I miss the most

Volunteering is one of the things I miss the most. Volunteering is probably the thing that makes me feel most useful in the world, as a person on long term disability who often needs way more than I can give back.  So not being able to volunteer at the moment isn’t great for my mental health either. Volunteering helps to connect me in with my local community, and I’m feeling the loss of people I usually speak to briefly when I’m about town, or working in the shop, who I’m not seeing at all now, and who I don’t have connection with in other ways ie not knowing them well enough to keep in touch deliberately by phone or email.

So, at the moment I’m quite a bit more stressed than at the beginning of lockdown, but I have got some informal help to clarify things and hopefully do something about it. I’m doing Yoga related sessions by Zoom at least three days a week, which helps with managing stress, too. My Yoga teacher has been a life saver to myself and others, in continuing classes by Zoom, plus adding in some extra free weekly classes, and some longer Saturday morning sessions some weeks.  There are many unsung heroes in among all this!

Photo by Jessica Lewis

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