Another Autistic Summer

Summer as an autistic person can be really difficult. There are a lot of changes and some of them can feel quite extreme, quite overwhelming: the heat, the humidity, the general increase of people out and about… It can feel like a lot to deal with. I don’t pretend to know everything – not by any means – but I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and strategies for dealing with some of the big summer stresses…


  1. Too bright – While bright skies are a sensory issue year-round, the summer months are hard in their own way: the light feels like it has a different intensity, it reflects back at me differently, it’s a different colour, it’s present for more hours of the day… It’s hard work on my eyes. I like working in my living room because it has white curtains, allowing for some light but without the glare (although anti-glare glasses are a good option to explore if you’re struggling inside). Outside, sunglasses are the obvious protective measure, but polarised sunglasses are better if you can get them.
  2. Too noisy – I find noisy environments very stressful and my anxiety only increases the longer I am in that noisy environment. The sensory overload is just too much and I become less and less able to function. And with more people around in the summer, the noisier it tends to be and therefore, the more stressed out I can get. I’ve found that the most effective coping mechanism is noise-cancelling headphones but playing music or audiobooks/podcasts through headphones and earplugs (if you find them helpful, you can have ones specially made – relatively inexpensively – to fit your ears, making them more effective) also work.
  3. Too hot – I’ve always found the heat of the summer very difficult and have been using open windows, fans, damp flannels and so on for years. But over the years, I’ve found the noise that regular fans make more and more anxiety-provoking so I finally invested in a Dyson silent fan. It was expensive (note: they are less expensive outside the summer months) but it was one of the best investments I ever made in managing my day to day health; it’s the most effective fan I’ve ever had and I use it year round. It’s more than made up for the expense. It’s also important to remember to drink as much water as you can – this is especially important for those with hEDS as well as dehydration makes the symptoms worse. Carrying a water bottle with you, having an app that reminds you to drink regularly, and so on can help you to remember and help you to build it into your routine.
  4. Different clothes – Following on from problems with heat, that often demands an entirely different wardrobe, which can be a less than comfortable change, literally and figuratively. It can involve different, uncomfortable fabrics or less fabric altogether, which can result in chafing or just feeling really exposed when people look at you. Finding specific fabrics – like cotton or linen – that aren’t irritating can be helpful. Layering, so that you can stay covered up as much as you need to to be comfortable, with thin fabrics can allow you to balance the need to keep cool and the need to be covered. And if you find a piece of clothing that really works for you, I recommend getting several to avoid the repeated stress of trying to find comfortable clothes.
  5. Crowds – As we know, in the summer, there are more people out and about and the world just feels more crowded. Public places are busier and that can be really stressful. Especially with the anxiety around COVID-19, crowds and crowded places can feel overwhelming which can cause anxiety attacks or meltdowns. The obvious advice is to avoid busy places at peak times but we all know that that’s not always possible. We all have our own strategies for managing anxiety but the ones I find most helpful in this situation are having someone I trust with me, giving myself plenty of time so that I don’t have that additional pressure, and I’ve also found the sunflower lanyard useful in certain places.


  1. Day to day changes – For some of us, our routines change regularly with the seasons but that doesn’t make it any less stressful. As someone who finds change very stressful, I try to make these changes slowly so that I have time to adjust and don’t end up feeling overwhelmed. It requires planning but it can really reduce anxiety.
  2. Loss of structure – While this isn’t, of course, applicable to everyone, the summer is often when people have time off from their usual occupation or go away on holiday. And with these things, we often find ourselves without structure. A lack of externally imposed structure can lead to a lot of aimlessness and/or anxiety so learning to build our own structures is a good skill; you don’t have to fill your schedule from opening your eyes in the morning to closing them at night but giving yourself things to do and think about (beyond their inherent value) keeps you moving and feeling and living. I do struggle with this but I’ve found it really helpful to have my family prompt me when I get stuck in a rut.
  3. Seeing less of some people and more of others – As I talked about in my BPD Awareness Month post, I get very anxious about my relationships and fearful that I’ll mess them up or that my issues will be too much for people. So a big change in my routine of seeing friends makes me very anxious. Living with such limited energy, socialising is something I find stressful because it requires so much energy, even though I enjoy that actual spending time with people. I’m lucky that my good friends are really lovely and really understanding but I still worry. I haven’t really figured out a good way of dealing with this anxiety but I do try to be as honest as I can with my friends and family so at least we all always know what the situation is.


  1. Trying to do too much – When I have free time, I often end up struggling with a lot of anxiety, usually about whether or not I’m using the time in the best way (partly due to the fear that if I say no to too many things, people will think I don’t care and eventually want nothing to do with me). This can result in trying to do too much, more than my health – my sensory issues, my energy levels, and so on – really allow me to, which can lead to meltdowns or feelings of burn out. Over the years, I have gotten better at judging what I can and can’t manage and what’s really important to me but I still find it difficult and stressful and sometimes upsetting. I think it comes down to practice and self-compassion but that’s easier said than done. (I know that I also have issues about being as productive as possible but I also have a lot of anxiety about time running out in general, in multiple aspects of my life, which means I often end up pushing myself too hard. But I can’t say I know what to do about those issues at this moment in time.)
  2. The stress of holidays – While there are fun things about holidays and travelling, there are a lot of really stressful aspects, from the actual travel like flying to all the new-ness to being cut off from all of the normal coping mechanisms. There’s also a weird expectation to have fun on holiday that can create added pressure. Personally, I’ve found that the absolute best thing I can do in these situations is just talk to whoever I’m with and try to be realistic about what I can manage, although it’s still a learning curve. It doesn’t always feel like enough but I’m still learning to adjust my expectations to fit with my physical ability; I struggle with feeling guilty about ‘wasting opportunities’ too but, as I said, learning to let that go is a process and requires practice and self-compassion.
  3. Anxiety around what comes next – This is the first year where I haven’t been in education (or had education on the very near horizon) so I can only really speak to the experience of being in education and how it can, at times, feel like an endless hamster wheel. Every year, there’s the freedom of the summer holidays but there’s anxiety too. I always had this anxiety in the back of my mind about what the next year would bring, having finally gotten comfortable in the patterns of the year just gone. After all this time and all these years, the new academic year still stressed me out to an almost unbearable level so I don’t really know how we, as (disabled/neurodivergent/struggling) students, are supposed to manage that stress. I think a big part of it is on the schools and how they handle the roll out of the new year and talking to the school about it can help but, personally, I haven’t had much experience with that making things better. But I have to hope that they will eventually improve.

I know it’s been a while since my last post. A lot has happened and I’ve been having a really, really hard time. Some of that is stuff that I would like to write about at some point but I still feel like I’m stuck in the middle of it. Plus, I’ve been really struggling to write – with even being able to string a sentence together – which hasn’t been helping anything. Things still aren’t great – which may be the biggest understatement of my life – but I miss writing and I miss writing for this blog so I’m trying to push through. I wrote most of this a while ago and, given how hot it’s been recently, I wanted to get it up while it might still be helpful. I hope it is.

One Year of Self Isolating

As of today, I have been self isolating for a whole year. 365 days. In that time, I’ve probably left the house no more than twenty times: for one morning of work (that had to be done out while the rest I’ve been able to do from home), for medical appointments, for swimming/hydrotherapy. And a haircut (when my Trichotillomania was particularly bad) during a period when it was considered safe to have one. But other than that, as a vulnerable person, I’ve stayed home. I worked out the numbers and that means I’ve spent 95% of the last year in my house. I look at that number and it kind of blows my mind. I’ve always been a homebody but this is so not the same thing.

So, to acknowledge the occasion, I thought I’d make a post about it. I thought about doing a list of good things and bad things, but given that the year has been dominated by the pandemic, that just felt wrong. Like, in general, it feels like the bad things carry so much more weight; a list like that just didn’t feel like an appropriate way to look at the last year. So, instead I thought I’d make a list of some of the things I’ve learned this year. There have been so many new experiences, new approaches to everyday tasks, new thoughts, new emotions, and so on. So I thought that might be a better way of looking at things. I doubt I’ll remember everything but I’ll give it a go.

  • ADJUSTMENT TAKES TIME – Going from normal life, the same lives we’d been living for considerable periods of time that rarely changed dramatically, to suddenly spending all of our time inside, missing our friends and family, and dealing with all of the fears and unknowns around COVID-19 was a big deal. A really big deal. And as someone who really struggles with change and uncertainty, this was a nightmare for me. I was barely functional for the first few weeks, if not months, because I was so overwhelmed. Eventually I managed to do the bare minimum but I continued to really struggle with anxiety. And things that had once been normal suddenly felt hard: I couldn’t concentrate enough to read anything; my songwriting felt blocked by my fear around the pandemic; cowriting sessions had to take place over Zoom, which felt awkward and made being creative more difficult; doing therapy via Zoom felt weird and the conversations felt limited and stuck because COVID was obviously the biggest thing going on but I really didn’t want to talk about it because it felt so upsetting. All of these things have gotten better over time (the reading is still a struggle though). At the time, the stagnation was unbearable but slowly I adjusted to each new version of normal and each time, I adjusted more quickly and with less difficulty. It’s all had a cumulative impact on my mental health and it’s gonna take a lot of work to get back to where I was pre-pandemic but I’m coping better than I was earlier on in the pandemic.
  • I HATE HAND SANITISER – I really hate it. I will 100% use it without complaint because I know how important it is in the effort to keep us all safe but oh my god, it feels (and smells) disgusting. As someone so sensitive to sensory stuff, I have really struggled with it but if it’s helpful, if it’s the right thing to do, I will willingly put up with it. I get the impression that it’s going to be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future so I’m going to make it a priority to find one that I don’t hate, just to make the experience less gross.
  • I NEED STRUCTURE BUT I CAN’T DEAL WITH EXACTLY THE SAME THING EVERY DAY – Knowing what is going to happen in my day is a really important part of managing my ASD and my mental health; having structure and certainty helps me to avoid anxiety and be more productive. So planning and a certain amount of routine are massively helpful but having such a strict routine that I do exactly the same thing at the same time everyday isn’t helpful. It just makes me feel trapped and anxious and suffocated.
  • PRE-PANDEMIC, I WAS SO LUCKY TO SEE MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY AS MUCH AS I DID (AND I HOPE THAT THIS WILL CONTINUE ONCE AGAIN WHEN IT’S SAFE) – There’s not much to expand on here. I feel so lucky to be so close to my family, to have always seen them so often before the pandemic. Having to go without seeing so many of them (in person) for so long has been really, really hard. I also feel really lucky because I know that, as soon as it’s safe to do so, this will continue. I can’t wait.
  • I’VE LEARNED WHAT I REALLY NEED IN A FRIENDSHIP – This isn’t related to the pandemic directly (so many of us have been struggling socially so it would be unfair to judge someone on whether they’re a good or bad friend based on this period of time) but it’s something I’d been thinking about before the pandemic and I continued to reflect on it during the lockdowns. I thought about the friendships that have lasted and the friendships that haven’t and had a bit of a revelation about the few fundamental things I need to be getting out of a friendship in order for them to be positive and fulfilling and, in addition, what makes a friendship draining and detrimental. That’s where it turns from a friendship into something unhealthy. But I think I’ll expand on all of this in another post.
  • I’M REALLY LUCKY TO HAVE THE FRIENDS I DO – My friends have been my lifeline to reality over the last year, a year of feeling like I’m trapped in a box (a feeling I’m sure, many, many people can relate to). I haven’t been as good at staying in contact with some as with others but it’s because of them that I’m pretty sure that I haven’t completely fallen apart. I feel really lucky to have a handful of friends from each ‘era’ of my life so far (school, college, university, and now post grad) that I’ve stayed close to but I feel like we’ve become even closer this year, even though we haven’t been spending time actually together. I’m really grateful to have these incredible people in my life and I just hope they know how much they mean to me.
  • SWIMMING MAKES ME FEEL REALLY GOOD, IN MYSELF AND ABOUT MYSELF – Swimming is the only form of exercise that I can do without pain but due to the constantly varying pandemic restrictions around gyms and pools, I haven’t had many chances to swim. But the times I have managed to swim have felt fantastic. It makes me feel almost giddy with joy and it also makes me feel strong and in control of my body, all things that I rarely ever feel. I can’t wait to swim as much as possible (and is sensible) as soon as it’s safe.
  • IT CAN BE SO EMPOWERING TO BE AN INDEPENDENT ARTIST/MUSICIAN – That’s not to say that it’s not hard, or even impossible sometimes, that it’s not utterly terrifying. Because it is. A lot of the time. For me, at least. I can’t speak for anyone else. It is very scary to be the one ultimately in charge of your artistic career because every decision and every consequence comes back to you. And oh my god, it’s incredibly expensive. But putting all of that (and more) aside for a minute, it has felt very empowering over the last year to be that person in charge: no one knows what’s happening, no one knows what’s going to be happening in three months time, so you just have to go with your gut and hope it’s the right choice. If it isn’t, it isn’t and that’s disappointing but being a new, independent artist in a pandemic is hard and possibly the worst time to be starting out so I think we all, at the very least, deserve some credit for even trying. And then there are the choices that do work out and they really make you stop and think because that came down to you or you and the small team you work with and it actually worked. It was actually successful. And that’s pretty mind blowing, especially so in these completely unknown times.
  • ONLINE LEARNING IS HARD, BUT THERE HAVE BEEN SOME BENEFITS – I can’t talk about online learning without recognising that I’m in a very fortunate position compared to many other students: I was and still am living at home, my university and my course are relatively small, my course can be completed remotely (although, of course, I’d much rather be doing it in person) even if it is much more difficult, the available technology has made it possible to continue creating and creating collaboratively, I have a good mental health (and now physical health) support system and so on. I’m very lucky. It’s been painful and difficult at times but less so than it could’ve been, not that I would’ve said so during the painful and difficult times, of course. But I feel closer to my coursemates than I’d have thought possible, given the fact that we’re only ever together via a screen. But we’re all going through this big, unknown, scary, frustrating, upsetting experience together and I think that’s created a unique bond. I can’t say whether or not we’ll all still be in touch in, say, ten years time – I hope so – but if we aren’t, I know I’m going to look back and think, “Those were some of the people that got me through the terrifying experience of the COVID-19 pandemic and for that, they will always be special to me.”
  • ALL OF MY DIAGNOSES ARE CONNECTED – Again, this isn’t pandemic related but I don’t know if it would’ve happened (or, at least, happened now) if not for the pandemic. After years of researching, endless doctors appointments, SO MANY referrals, and talking to various different consultants, we finally struck gold and found a superhero in the form of a hypermobility specialist. She was able to make things happen, move various processes along, and just get people to listen to me. Since meeting her, I’ve had various tests and appointments and a couple of diagnoses that seem to have finally pulled all of my apparently unrelated problems together, which is both overwhelming and… good. I kind of haven’t processed beyond that. Again, I want to go into this in more detail in another post, when I’ve processed it more deeply and where I can go into much more detail. But it’s a big deal. A really big deal.
  • AS PART OF A SOCIETY, WE ARE PART OF SOMETHING SO MUCH BIGGER – I obviously knew this already but that knowledge has felt different since the pandemic began, when it became clear that we were going to have to act as a collective to reduce the effect of the virus and return to something that at least vaguely resembled normal. And in some ways, that’s been a very powerful and emotional experience with people stepping up and helping each other simply because they could and because it was the right thing to do it. Although, having said that, it’s also been hugely frustrating to watch people not do their part when so many people are making such sacrifices. But on the whole, it’s been an honour to be a part of a group doing all they can to end the pandemic. What I personally can do, of course, is not on the same level as the frontline and essential workers – my god, not even close – but if the most I can do is obsessively follow the safety instructions and stay at home unless absolutely necessary, then that’s what I’ll do and I will do it without hesitation. I have such incredible respect for these people who have helped so many, who have made such sacrifices, and who have gone through so much during the pandemic that I will do (or not do) whatever is asked of me to make their lives and their jobs even the slightest bit more manageable. I will never forget what they’ve done for us during this time, not for as long as I live.

As I said, I’m sure there are more things that I’ve learned during this time but I think that these are all of the big ones, the big, personal ones. I’m included in the group currently being vaccinated (although I’ve yet to hear anything) so maybe I will be heading out a little more often once that happens, if only to get some more exercise. But to be honest, given how this last year has affected my mental health, I don’t think I’m going to be exactly quick to adjust to the idea that things are somewhat safer (the government certainly seems to think so, what with their plan to come out of lockdown). As desperate as I am to see my friends and family again and get back to swimming again, I don’t think I’m going to feel safe again for a long time: as I said, I don’t cope well with change.