Happily ever after?

It’s been almost three months since I last wrote here. Seeing as my last blog was about the birth of a special interest, I’m conscious it looks a bit like all my productive time has sunk into the Royal Blood YouTube rabbit hole, and I can confirm that this is absolutely true. More seriously, I’ve been working on a bigger project: a very, very gradual transition back to my flat in London, learning and re-learning as I go, a few days at a time over months until I felt ready. In a few days’ time – pending a negative test and barring any other last-minute disasters – I’m moving back in properly. Almost 18 months after the world fell apart, I fell apart and I had to come and stay with my parents “for a few weeks”, I’m finally going home! WOOP!

This is a huge milestone for me and one I’ll be posting about a lot, so I wanted to acknowledge from the start that this is not some big wholesome happy ending. For one thing, I am immensely lucky. I am very privileged to have a family who could take me back in for so long at such short notice. I am very privileged to have the means and ability to use online platforms to communicate, and friends who have stuck by me on those platforms even when their offline worlds opened up. I am very privileged to have had really easy access to two vaccine doses. I am very privileged to have an employer that “gets” disability and neurodiversity, with pre-existing infrastructure for working from home and no arbitrary pressure to snap back into a busy London office before I’m ready, and to not have to juggle work with homeschooling or other extra caring responsibilities. Being able to keep working meant I could keep the flat, which in turn meant I could take the gradual approach I needed rather than moving full-time straight away (which I wouldn’t have handled well). If any piece of that jigsaw were missing, I don’t know what would have happened. The best case scenario would have been a continued “lockdown plus” – my first steps in May were largely things that were never taken away from most abled people, even under full lockdown. Many people are still there, with no end in sight, and society accepts this because isolation is seen as normal for autistic people; and more widely, because exclusion is seen as normal for disabled people.

During lockdown, mental health was thrown around a lot in debates about re-opening; but now that everything is open, there seems to be very little interest in actually supporting those whose mental health has suffered to re-enter these spaces. The problem didn’t just magically disappear when lockdown lifted; frankly, there’s a lot to be said about the lasting impact of not being able to trust “things are getting better” and “follow the Government guidance” when we were so misled last summer. For a variety of reasons, we’re all a little bit broken right now. And in the absence of adequate services, how are we supposed to support each other or reach out to each other when we’re all so busy trying to keep our own heads above water? When everyone’s in difficulty, whose needs get to take priority? More often than not, this will play out along existing power imbalances, and the inequalities that have widened throughout the pandemic will stretch even further.

Lockdown discourse being as polarised as it is, if you go looking for support and advice, you’re quickly faced with a false binary of “go back to 2019 now or else” and “you should always be staying at home indefinitely anyway”. The mass response to mental health difficulties right now is to either outright mock them or actively feed them, depending on whether and how they align with your own view of the pandemic – and unsurprisingly, neither are effective supports. Abled people get to make their own choices right now – let’s face it, many never stopped – so how can we support disabled people to do the same, rather than making assumptions about what’s best for someone? The phrase “it’s okay, you don’t have to come” is really important – we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, after all – but it also has an illustrious history of being used to avoid responsibility for making a space accessible. Where is “if you do want to come, let’s figure out what you need to get there”? How do we support people to move forward as and when they want to – not necessarily from the continuing pandemic, but towards “not feeling like *this* anymore”?

In hindsight, it’s easier to recognise how bad things got. On paper, I’m moving back into a similar situation to the one I had to leave – there’s still a pandemic, there’s still a threat of future lockdowns, there’s still a lot of uncertainty. But in practice, I don’t feel like *that* anymore – though that too could always change – and while it’s harder to quantify in graphs and statistics, this is what I’m aiming to move forward from.

This is not a happily ever after; it’s just the next chapter, and I’m hopeful that it will be better than the last. I’m really proud of myself for getting to it – I honestly thought I never would – but I also recognise that there’s a lot of luck involved. It doesn’t mean that everything is suddenly okay; it means I can get going on the journey towards being okay. The real test starts here!


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