Here in the USA, March 11 was marked as the official anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. This month, I am also marking the first anniversary of my autism diagnosis.
March 2020 was a very strange month to be taken up with a diagnosis! I had a series of three appointments, one week apart. And I had quite a lengthy bus ride to get to them, involving my usual bus commute into downtown Seattle followed by a longer bus ride to Bellevue on the East Side; and then a thirty-minute walk to an office park that is not served by transit. But it was a very enjoyable walk.
The day of the first appointment, things were still almost normal. I got to my appointment far too early, because I had allowed myself plenty of time to miss a bus, a bus to be cancelled, or me to get completely lost — or all three! But there was a coffee shop where I was able to kill time with a latte and a donut while enjoying watching ducks on a pond. And when I got back into Seattle later on, I was able to go the library and check out a book that the psychologist had suggested.
The following week, there were far fewer people on each bus I rode. And the coffee shop was still open, but much quieter, and it had been rearranged a bit to encourage social distancing. The third week, I was one of only three people on the bus into Seattle, and the bus to Bellevue was equally quiet. At the office park, the coffee shop was closed, so I had to kill time taking a walk in the lovely spring weather. The office park was largely deserted and I was very gratified that my appointment had not been cancelled — as this was the day I was to get my diagnosis.
Riding back into Seattle, now officially confirmed as autistic, I realized how different the world was going to be from now on. If this appointment had been just a week earlier, I would have stopped at my favorite pub to mark the occasion with a pint of cider while reading my library book. But all such establishments had been shut down as of the previous Tuesday. The day after my diagnosis was a Friday. I went to work as usual — but I started WFH on Monday.
Today I went into the office. It was not the first time since last March. I went downtown back in August for a medical appointment and stopped by the office for a few hours. But it was the first time I revisited my old familiar routine. It was a lovely spring morning and the snow on the Olympic Mountains was tinged with pink in the morning sun. The bus ride to downtown seemed almost normal, other than the lack of a crowd. And although a lot of businesses downtown, especially restaurants, are closed down and some are even boarded up, the few blocks I walked from the bus to the office were not that different than I remembered. And when I got to my desk, I found it pretty much as I left it. When my boss came in, we had a long chat. There were not many people in, but it was really nice to chat in person after a year of Teams meetings and emails. I did not take any lunch with me, so in the early afternoon I ordered a latte and scone from a nearby Starbucks with the app and went out to pick it up. My commute home seemed almost normal too — other than the almost empty bus and the speed with which I got home with no traffic congestion to navigate. I think Metro drivers must be having to pay serious attention to avoid running too far ahead of schedule!
It all went far more easily than I expected — and part of me actually thinks I should resume going in, at least a couple of days a week. But I have come to rather love my WFH routine, with my cat and BBC Radio for company. I have just bought a portable monitor for a second screen, something I should have done months ago! And my boss said I could have a new laptop for home if I want.
But something has been niggling at me all day. And I have only just figured it out. My old routine, one I had been following for several years, ended abruptly with my autism diagnosis. My new WFH routine is part of my new life identifying as an autistic person. And I do not think I could just go back to my old routine. It no longer fits.
It is something for me to think about as things start to open up. Vaccinations have been going reasonably well in Seattle. The governor of Washington State has ordered schools to plan for reopening. And restrictions elsewhere are being relaxed. It would absolutely be possible for me to resume my old way of life later this summer.
But I do not think that is what I really want.