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Life in Lockdown – an article by one of our Ambassadors Thomas Henley

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My name is Thomas Henley, I am a podcaster, YouTube creator and public speaker. I have been apart of AKO family for a while not and during that time I have been involved in a number of projects with Anna Kennedy.

Today I am here to talk about my experiences in lockdown; the struggles, the triumphs and overall impact it has had on autistic adults.

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The 1st Lockdown

Due to the nature of my mental health conditions, I tend to have periods of high severity for a couple of months during the year. At the start of the first lockdown, I was at a high point.

Although the large changes in my routine were incredibly disruptive, I managed to devise a plan to cope with these changes. I had the focus, positivity, and energy to adjust my life and deal with the anxiety that change naturally comes with. I was knee deep in work I was doing on my documentary ‘Aspergers In Society, so there was a lot to keep my brain active and many positive opportunities on the horizon.

Most autistic people I knew from my social media work, podcasts and interaction with my local community had mixed reviews on the lockdown. Some loved the lack of contact and space from others, whilst others were sad to see their social adventures halted. In the UK, I think we all are banding together to make the most of the lockdown, and that bonding – no matter how distant – seeped positivity into everyone’s isolated lives.

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As the first lockdown progressed, it became harder and harder to cope with. Many autistic I knew became very distant, negative about the future, and highly anxious.

Being autistic, we have to keep the level of interaction with have with others in order to maintain our social skills and mitigate social anxiety… lock down made it difficult for many of us to wade away loneliness.

The uncertainty around the rules, and a somewhat distrust in the government left many health-conscious individuals terrified of the outside world.

Depression often comes with a lot of helplessness, lack of functioning ability, and negativity about the future.

Many, many people on the spectrum struggle with this horrible disorder, so it’s easy to see why lockdown has been so destructive.

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Once the hype of my documentary died down, I was left without the coping mechanisms I had developed to manage my conditions. The gyms closed, my writing spot was barred, and I had almost no social relations in my local area for socially distanced interaction. It felt as if all the positive/constructive things were out of reach, and I was left to stew in the harsh reality of lockdown.

On my podcast, I interviewed a lovely autistic woman called Anna. She struggled immensely with OCD and germaphobia prior to lockdown, but on its implementation, her levels of functioning and general mental health dropped massively. The lack of support in place left her father the sole supporter during these times, and it’s painful to think about where she would be if she didn’t have that supportive network.

The problems autistic people have faced, and the consequences of the rules in place are, of course, universal issues we all have to work through. I guess for those who already struggled with social isolation, mental health issues and a high dependence on routines… the overall effects of the lockdown we’re amplified and harder to progress through.

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2nd Lockdown

With the inception of the new lockdown, the attitude towards it had shifted drastically. The first lockdown was fuelled with support and positivity, whereas the second brought an intense feeling of hopelessness. The tiers brought a lot of controversy of course, but it also brought a lot of hope for the future.

It felt like we were thrown back into a state akin to what we experienced in early 2020; a lot of people experienced a large disruption in their life plans, and finding a stable job now seems almost impossible for the time being. Most of my friends, family and acquaintances all felt very deflated and negative about the whole situation.

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Personally, I have just come out of long 3-month period of severe depression. Due to the state of the world, and its interaction with my mental state, I have found myself lacking the motivation to get back to my normal self.

The first lockdown threw my plans for my career out the window. I had a lot of options for starting my media career and got very far into interview processes; that was all wiped clean then, but I felt positive about 2021. Whilst in Tier 2, the gym was open, and I was starting to build my routine and functioning skills back up.

The new lockdown came down hard on me, and it has taken me the better part of a month to reclaim my stability. I had to increase my anti-depressant dose due to my state of mental health, and with that came a lot of irritability and mood swings… things that my routine and exercise regime would help with – if they were available.

In general, I experience a lot of dissatisfaction with life and a lot of dread about the future. In normal life, I have options to go to when things become too much, or I need to reignite that love for existence.

The variety and structure found in simply changing locations, helps me cope with depression and helps me transition during my day. It makes it harder to shift your mental state when the tedious and monotonous aspects of life are the only things you can are able to experience.

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Sure, I’ve been creative; I’ve developed a home-workout routine, started interacting with friends on video calls, been on LOTS of walks, and focused on developing my online career further. All of these alternatives make my life easier, but it never quite gets me out of my own head enough. It never quite shakes me out of the existential dread this lockdown brings, and isolated life has prevented me from reaching a better state of mental health.

There are numerous challenges autistics face in our society that really have not been addressed properly; mental health, loneliness, social isolation and bullying to name a few. In the new lockdown I expected to see some adjustments made for us, or at least some exceptions for those with severe mental health conditions.

Everyone is struggling and everybody is likely sick of the boredom already, but more needs to be done for vulnerable people. Charities and organisations have likely been working tirelessly on these matters, but they need the support and funding to make a real difference.

We need better awareness from supporting services, guidance during times of instability, and/or exceptions for people who can’t function due to these changes. Due to the nature of autism, interaction is hard. The high rates of mental health illness make autistic adults an extremely vulnerable group, and we can’t always expect them to seek out the services they need. More active effort needs to be taken by social services and governing bodies, or the state of instability will progress further beyond repair.

I hope my testimonial will help others understand the impact of lockdown on those with mental health issues, and on those who are autistic.

Visit my YouTube channel or podcast to learn more about how COVID-19 has affected autistic people and support my work through these tough times.

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YouTube Video: 
Depression During COVID 19 – Dealing With The Decline

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Spotify Podcast: 
Germaphobia During COVID-19 – Autistic Woman’s Struggle With OCD

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