There are some ways in which I will never be able to remember what life was like before the pandemic: not to feel naughty, transgressive or like I’m courting danger to go to an indoor concert in a venue filled to capacity; not to have a 6 ft bubble that I live inside etched in my brain every time I go out in public; not to have to remind myself to remember my mask on my checklist of things I simply cannot leave the house without… not to have the knowledge that multiple people I knew and loved might be alive today had it not been for the political opinions of those they were physically surrounded by. A lot has changed in this world in the last 3 years.
Concurrently with the pandemic, I have been exploring, growing into, beginning to embody my autism. My diagnosis came to me as a form of escape valve from a work situation that had quite possibly threatened to set me on a path that could have resulted in my death, or at least a serious career abortion. I was quickly coming to a point of such severe burnout with absolutely no vocabulary to describe my experience or identify or communicate my needs. I was drowning.
In one way, the pandemic saved me. All I had asked for at my job was to work from home full time, and I would have accepted less. I put out the call and asked directly for help in that specific regard. My request was denied for a total bullshit reason: making schedule changes is unfair to others in the department. Some people in my department were already working from home full time and I had proven I could do it in the past. Staff around me hadn’t changed, but nobody saw my pain and anguish having to try to stay productive in the new open office floorplan. Nobody was on my side and nobody believed me.
Except my therapist told me that I am autistic. And everything I subsequently read on the topic made me feel like I had just come home. Things began to click into place. I started building my vocabulary and started advocating for myself. With diagnosis paper in hand, I got a different, but still contentiously negotiated modified schedule so I could work from home half time which relieved some of my stress. I was able to limp along, still learning about myself through blogs, podcasts and books. I even signed up to go to the Spectrum Lights conference, hosted by Marcelle Ciampi in her home in Olympia Washington that fall. The experience filed me with such joy and just lack of all the dis-stress I had been living in for years, I ended up choosing to stay an extra day, missing out on a wedding I was scheduled to go to back home that weekend. I met people, I connected, I got incredibly jazzed about what every presenter had brought to share because they were sharing their life’s passion, whatever it was. When a topic is presented with true passion, it is absolutely contagious; it touches your soul, if you let it.
So much to learn on this earth, so little time.
Then before we knew it, I remember the date: March 12, 2020. It is so hard to believe we are coming upon the 3rd anniversary of the onset of an assortment of life-altering, but life-saving public health measures as a result of the spread of a novel coronavirus, COVID-19. I remember the date because the night before, on March 11th, the band Tool played a concert at the Rose Garden (I’ll never call it the “Moda Center”) and I had seriously considered getting a last minute Craigslist ticket. This was a late addition of dates at the end of their 2019-20 Fear Inoculum tour, announcing them only weeks earlier. The March 12th date in Eugene was postponed.
Part of me REALLY wishes I had sought out that ticket, but another part knows that I would have an awful time of beating myself up for taking the risk that I had no real way of knowing was a risk at the time if I had gone. My mind just works that way. I thought today that one of my core philosophies of life is that I will take no action if there is even a moderate chance that my future self would look back on that action with true regret. I live a regret-free existence because everything I have done in this life has put me where I am now. I may only be here now in 2023 precisely because I did NOT go to that Tool concert. Who really knows?
And here we are now, 3 years later. The pandemic isn’t exactly over, but most people have chosen to go on with their lives no longer thinking about COVID every day. We still have a mask mandate in health care settings, but that’s about it. The 6 ft bubble-marking stickers are starting to disappear at the grocery stores… we are collectively moving on.
But let me take a step back… I have now been working from home for the last 3 years, as have most of the people at my day job company; leadership decided after early pandemic productivity results were in that they would rather save money on their office leases and make the commute optional for everyone and so far, they have stuck with it. I’m not going to lie; I work in my pajamas more often than not. Rolling out of bed at the last minute to log in, who do I need to get dressed for? Some might say “for whomever is in your meetings who has to see you,” but I say nope… not doing the camera thing. Never liked having my picture taken, never sought the spotlight, and the only performing I do is with a saxophone strapped to my body. For the most part, my intransigence on this point is now met with resignation by my department management and peers and I get to function in meetings rather than spend most of my cognitive energy worrying about how I appear on other people’s screens.
So in some ways, it’s like I’ve been in a cocoon for the last 3 years, like a caterpillar. I was ready for something new, something drastic to happen, for a BIG change to occur, but I didn’t know what it would be, how it would present itself or what it would look like. Would I be presented with a high-stakes life choice? That’s a sure fire way to make me retreat into the fetal position in bed with dread over potentially making the choice I will regret later. I need the decision to be made for me by the time, place and manner of the circumstances surrounding the options available. Those are the situations I can read and navigate with ease and grace.
But as a caterpillar, in 2020, the pandemic kickstarted my metamorphosis. My life prior to my diagnosis was but a larval phase. And the period of time that followed was enough upheaval to shake nearly everyone to the core. I had not come into my own; I didn’t even know what I was coming into.
Wikipedia defines Metamorphosis as a biological process by which an animal physically develops including birth transformation or hatching, involving a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change in the animal’s body structure through cell growth and differentiation. While any references to metamorphosis in mammals are purely metaphoric, the parallel is clear.
So, for the last 3 years I have been writing more or less creatively, exploring new (to me) ways of connecting with people, reassessing my priorities and altering my schedule to allow myself to focus my time and energy where it is most in alignment with my skills, interests and others’ needs. I have found myself through concerted random acts of generosity. I have become involved in multiple online communities of similarly oriented folks where we support each other’s businesses and artistic projects. I delivered donated food boxes to people of color in my neighborhood with my husband for a year. I have been writing consistently in what is essentially an online journal for 36 months and it hasn’t felt like a struggle or an obligation or triggered any sort of pathological demand avoidance. I am in the process of becoming a different person every day.
Chrysalis phase nearing completion. I am almost ready for some really huge decisions to be presented to me and to have no trouble at all choosing a path because one will be so clearly marked as the “no regrets” option. That is when I know it is time to emerge, break out of the proverbial shell and slowly spread my wings as the butterfly I was always meant to be.
Coming soon, in 2023. You should probably be watching. You won’t wanna miss this.