My name is Angel, and this is my autism confession.
By Angel Nikki Mann
I loved being quarantined.
Now before you get upset, please understand that I’m not saying I like Covid.
When I first started hearing about “coronavirus,” I, like many people, was alarmed. I had just started working at a child care center. When a person starts working with children, there is usually a few months where they catch every illness . . . every cold, every flu, every case of strep throat.
Eventually, most people build up a strong immune system. I hadn’t reached that stage yet. I was certain I’d catch this mystery illness. I spent time with my elderly aunt and uncle at least a few times a week. My aunt is a lung cancer survivor and is missing half a lung. If I caught the disease without knowing it and passed it to her, it would be deadly.
One afternoon my co-worker ran into my classroom, blurting out, “They’re closing all of the schools right now! They’re sending all the kids home!”
Our child care center was housed in a high school. We cared for the children of students and staff in the school district. We assumed that, when the schools closed, our center would also close.
We were wrong. The authorities declared that child care centers could stay open to care for the children of essential workers.
None of the parents of children at our center were essential workers. They were teachers and students. They were now quarantined at home. Yet many continued dropping off their infants and toddlers. Meanwhile, the news and social media were filled with stories and images of the horrors of Covid.
So when my center finally did close . . . not because the directors worried about the health of their employees, but because there weren’t enough children attending anymore . . . I was happy! I wanted to hunker down in my apartment with my pets and wait this thing out.
While most people were lamenting about how they’d survive a few weeks in isolation, I felt like this was the moment I’d been practicing for all my life!
I did have a few friends I would see occasionally, and a volunteer job I loved. But for the most part, I was glad for the opportunity to not leave my apartment. The outside world was so harsh. Being around other people was exhausting. Usually, on the weekends, I barely had the energy to get out of bed, let alone go to the grocery store, clean my apartment, or maintain an active social life.
And now . . . now I could stay home all day without guilt! Now, people who stayed indoors were heroes, while people who insisted on socializing were the outcasts. Now, nobody was asking me what I planned to do over the weekend. What did I plan to do? Nothing!
I already had my groceries delivered most of the time to avoid the overstimulation of the grocery store. But now I didn’t have to panic when the delivery person knocked on my door. I didn’t have to fret about trying to smile at them and making small talk. They would just abandon the groceries outside my door, and when the coast was clear I would open my door and snatch the bags.
At first, I tried to structure my days. The autistic side of my brain loves structure. I made a visual schedule for myself that included house cleaning, exercise, and attempting to learn Spanish. The ADHD side of my brain rebelled, and soon I settled into a more relaxed routine of waking up and browsing the Internet. I had to go outside a few times a day to walk my dog, but the streets were quiet now and I rarely saw anyone. I called my parents every day and sometimes texted my aunt. That was the extent of my social life.
One day, I remembered how I used to enjoy painting rocks and then hiding them in random places around town. I started gathering rocks on my walks and painting them with my acrylic markers. Later, I’d leave them on the sidewalk and in the park for others to find.
I’d seen some TikToks on Facebook, and I thought it would be fun to make some videos about my rock painting. I also made a few videos about autism. I started going into live chats on Tiktok, and I discovered that talking to others was amazingly easy when the people I was “speaking” to couldn’t hear me. Suddenly I had actual friends . . . sort of.
We’d watch and comment on each other’s videos, and we’d spend hours in live chats typing our innermost thoughts and feelings. This type of socializing was not exhausting. Many of the people I met were also neurodivergent, and we built a culture of acceptance and support. I even told them I was asexual, something I had never said aloud to anyone before.
The quarantine had started as being two weeks long. Then it was four weeks. Then the weeks stretched into months. I grew comfortable in my new life. I could have easily stayed quarantined for the rest of the year. If the government ever decided to give out awards to the best quarantiner, I would have certainly won one.
The rest of the world, however, was eager to go back to normal. At the end of August, my child care center reopened and I was forced out into the world once again It felt strange to have to wear a mask all day at work. Keeping the children six feet away from each other, and away from ourselves, was an impossible task. When September came and school did not start in person, the building was eerily quiet. We couldn’t take the children to the park anymore, so we would roam the empty hallways of the high school with them, feeling like survivors of an apocalypse. The world was so different now.
I was different too. I understood more about myself. I had friends now who were outsiders like me, who knew what it felt like to be an alien on one’s own planet. Some of those online friendships had morphed into real-life friendships, as a few of us discovered we lived in the same county.
I still feel exhausted after work every day, drained by too much interaction with others. But now I write more, I do more art, and I speak more openly about my autism and asexuality. Sometimes on the weekends I hang out with friends and have fun, something that was very rare for me before the quarantine.
If we ever have to quarantine again, I’ll be ready. I’d happily do it all over again.
Angel Nicki describes herself as neurodiverse, explaining that two of her diagnoses are autism and ADHD. Growing up, she always knew she was different, even before she knew exactly why. She learned to read and write ahead of others her age, and these abilities became frequent pastimes for her. Angel had trouble making friends at school, so she spent a lot of time alone in her room reading books and writing her own stories. Now that she’s an adult, Angel strives to write stories that send two messages to children. First, being different is something to be proud of. Second, it is important to be kind to others, even if they’re different from you. Read more about Nikki here.