(Image Description: In the background there are ripped out pages of books randomly overlapping. On top of the pages there is a black computer mouse in the bottom left corner, a pair of rounded wire glasses above, then central there is a green lanyard with sunflowers on that has a badge saying “some disabilities are invisible” stuck on it and a card attached that says “hidden disabilities”, the card is mostly covered by a light blue marble notebook that reads “Martha Bradley Msc Publishing Notes” and there is a black biro on top of the notebook.)
Before I dive into the actual point of this blog I ought to give you some context.
Hi, I’m Martha. I’m autistic, partially sighted, and am living with Long Covid (which may or may not be chronic). I also have a bunch of other health issues, but they’re not relevant for this so I’ll save you my boring medical history and sum it up with: I am disabled.
Living in a pandemic is hard. Living with disabilities is hard. What is it actually like living with both?
Everyone has been discussing the pros and cons of working from home for months now, but I see very few people talking about what it can mean for those of us with disabilities and/or chronic conditions so that’s what I’m here to do (kind of, I can only speak for myself but I hope it may give you some insight or sense of understanding).
- When my fatigue is bad I don’t have to move much and can nap around meetings.
- I don’t have to make much ‘small talk’ or figure out how much eye contact is too much eye contact.
- When I get overwhelmed I can stim as much as I want, as no one can see my body so I don’t get embarrassed.
- I have more control over the sounds around me, as there aren’t people typing or coughing or clicking pens in my own flat.
- I still mask for video calls. This makes me mentally exhausted after every one. And if I consciously don’t mask for video calls, I become anxious that I am ‘too much’.
- Without body language queues I have to rely entirely on tone of voice to guess peoples’ meanings and feelings. (I am really bad at this, trust me.)
- Messaging is really overwhelming for me, I get anxiety about every single one I send as I don’t know how to get my meaning across without sounding blunt or rude.
- Excessive screen time triggers severe migraines that knock me out for days at a time.
- Background noises are a sensory nightmare – e.g. someone typing whilst unmuted, audio feedback, someone’s flatmate.
- When information is being sent through multiple platforms all at once I get overwhelmed and am likely to miss important things.
- I struggle with knowing when it is appropriate to talk in video calls, as you don’t know if a break is someone taking a breath or pausing or their internet has frozen or your internet has frozen or if they have actually finished their point.
OK, my cons list is considerably longer than my pros, but does that mean I hate it? Maybe. No. Honestly, I don’t know.
I do know that despite everything above, distanced learning is working for me. I have learned how to create, and stick to, my own schedule which allows me to build in time for naps/migraines/brain fog. I have managed to form friendships that I really care about (although I would like to actually be able to meet them in person soon) and I am slowly getting better at coping with the cons list.
The true test for me was undertaking my placement at Floris Books, as I was going to be working with a very small marketing team who all knew each other well, having worked together for years. The day I ‘met’ the team I was terrified – How would I know when to speak? Is it unprofessional if my cat comes into view? How do I know if they like me? – and yet, they immediately put me at ease by including me in the conversations and making me feel genuinely welcome. Suddenly my fears were washed away, as this small team accepted me and gave me the tools I needed to do my placement to the best of my ability. The team immediately set me up on Basecamp (a project management and team communication platform) so that I could effectively communicate with them and would know where to find any information they needed to give to me. Within the first two weeks I felt comfortable with them; I was able to ask questions (and not be afraid of being judged for them) and chat about their own lives as well as the projects I was working on. I became confident in my ability to network and form professional connections even in this distanced world.
Does that mean my cons list from above disappeared? No. I am still disabled. I still struggle with the same parts of life I have always struggled with.
What has happened is that I have gained the confidence to do it all anyway. I have learned, through being taught virtually and working online, that even when it is hard it is not impossible. Even when it is hard, you adapt and you keep going.
To learn more about autism (including what masking is):
To learn more about Long Covid: