HOW AUTISTIC NICK IS ATTEMPTING TO COPE WITH WEARING A FACE MASK
A can of coke sits inside a cold fridge.
The can remains unopened.
An average day plays out.
Nothing is happening, apart from the hot sun shining.
The humidity is high, but all is quiet.
Then the news comes on and a mandatory mask mandate is bought out.
I grab the can of coke out of the fridge and slowly shake it hoping that the calming vibrations can ease my current tension.
The bubbles inside the can of coke are now beginning to surface towards the top of the can, hitting and smacking the walls that engulf them.
The news reader slowly cuts to a reporter live at the scene.
They report that this mandate has a start date but no end date.
I head into my bedroom and stare at my face mask.
It’s a repellent thing.
I despise it on sight.
The fear and anxiety begin to slowly kick in.
Racing thoughts begin to enter my head.
I am still shaking the can.
What places that I have appointments at do I need to contact to see what alternative arrangements can be, if necessary, put in place for me.
It’s a long list.
I contact my support worker; I arrange for them to drive me to work on Thursday’s saving me the anguish of travelling by train there and back. They agree.
Next, I email my other appointments and see what can be put in place so that I don’t have to wear a mask inside.
With one appointment we simply sit outside on a park bench and have our appointment, which works for me.
I am attempting to see how I go at work wearing a face mask for four straight hours.
I am aware that I have written about my discontent for them in the past, but I am going to trail it for this week only and see how things work and what issues that it may bring up for me.
I simply cannot stand wearing a mask. I want to rip the thing off my face and burn it!
It’s a sensory issue for me as on the surface, there’s the scratchy texture of fabric, tight contact where the top of the mask meets the skin, and the tug of elastic on the ears. Sensations under the mask for me are no more pleasant and include the warm, damp smell of recycled air and, I can also smell my own breath! In addition, the sensation of breathing in and exhaling air through the nose can for me feel more restrictive.
The can is still being shook. The anxiety is still high as is the stress.
I understand the rules with wearing a mask, and I have considered getting an exemption letter from my doctor, but I fear being harassed on the train and hostility from others if I am freely walking around at any indoor venue without one and they all must wear one.
I don’t want to be treated any differently but shown some compassion regarding being Autistic and the difficulty that it entails when it comes to wearing a face mask as an Autistic person.
I open the can of coke and BOOM the build-up of stress, anger, resentment, all comes flooding out in a stream of fizz and bubbles.
I take stock and remind myself that I’ve done all that I can physically do with this current situation there is no more to do, and I cannot foresee how to avoid any future obstacles or situations they will have to be dealt with on the day and at that time.
So, in preparation for wearing a mask in public I have come up with a plan for going forward with this current mask mandate.
Took Short Trips
I only wore my mask to places that I had visited before and knew that I wouldn’t be spending a long-time in.
When I needed to go to Aldi for my weekly shop, I took my mum along with me for extra support so that if I got overwhelmed, I knew that my mum (my support) was nearby and would know what to do if it escalated and we needed to leave.
Work from Home
I was lucky that I was able to work from home during this time, I didn’t want to have to travel into the city, and then spend four hours wearing a mask, then travel home, all the while my anxiety levels would be going through the roof, also I wanted to stay safe and not be in a position where I could potentially have an Autistic meltdown at work.
But, what else can you do?
Strategies for Managing my Anxiety
Once you have understood and acknowledged that you have anxiety, the next step is to begin to identify what triggers, and situations are the root cause of your anxiety. This is where keeping a diary can be an extremely useful tool.
By keeping a diary and writing down exactly how you felt during a certain situation this should enable you to see the following.
What was the trigger?
What was the situation?
The time and the date?
Did I alert someone that I was feeling anxious?
What steps did they take?
What steps did I take?
What did I do to resolve the situation?
What can I do to prevent myself from becoming anxious the next time I am out in a social situation?
How anxious did I feel on a scale from 1-10?
Was I with my carer or was I with a group of friends?
Have I informed them that I have anxiety, did they know what steps to take?
You can modify the above to best suit your current situation. The biggest benefit of keeping a diary is that you can use this as a reference tool, and this will assist in you managing your anxiety better.
Another step to take and one that I find particularly useful to have in place is an anxiety plan.
This video gives some very helpful tips
What’s an Anxiety Plan you may well ask?
Well, an anxiety plan is a list of things and situations that cause anxiety but includes solutions and strategies that you can use to help them manage your anxiety levels. This plan can be adapted, depending upon how well someone understands anxiety.
Here’s an example:
Situation – Going on the bus
Anxiety symptoms – Heart beats fast; sweat and feel sick
Solution – Have stress ball in pocket, squeeze the ball and take deep breaths, or listen to music.
By installing relaxation into your daily routine, it can aid you in managing your anxiety and release tension.
Some examples of how to relax could be using deep breathing exercises, doing yoga, going for a walk, taking a bath, or listening to relaxing music.
Other options you could try are reaching out to other Autism support groups for advice, seeking professional help from a psychologist or physiatrist is another resource to look into.
You can search for a psychologist here https://www.psychology.org.au/Find-a-Psychologist
Or you can see a physiatrist here https://www.yourhealthinmind.org/find-a-psychiatrist
CARRY ON THE CONVERSATION
How did you cope wearing a mask?
Let me know in the comments section below
Thank you for reading and I will see you next time for more thoughts from across the spectrum.