Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind

Thinking about the lockdown


This post isn’t so much about the lockdown itself, but about my reaction to it – specifically as an autistic person and migraineur.

According to Lloyd Geering, it is thought – specifically language – that separates humans from other higher forms of animal life. With language, we can construct alternative realities (religion, stories, metaphors etc), communicate our thoughts and ideas precisely to fellow humans for example. Without language, we’d be little different from the great apes. I’m not convinced.

Apparently most humans think in words. Take for example, the wife. I’ve asked her how she thinks. She grew up knowing only the Japanese language, but studied English literature in University. As she describes it, she thought in Japanese. For the first few years of living in Aotearoa New Zealand, she continued to think in Japanese and it was necessary to translate English conversation into Japanese, consider the response and then translate that into English to reply – a process that was quite tiring.

Eventually she started thinking in English, which is how she says she processes her thoughts today. However she still retains the ability to think entirely in Japanese and can switch from one to the other more or less on demand. Although the switch is a conscious move on her part, once the switch is made, no further effort is required until it’s time to switch again.

She finds the role of translator very tiring because of the effort of switching modes between the two languages. It becomes exhausting in very quick time. I notice that the sign language translators for our government officials have quite short stints, often requiring more than one person during a single address by the Prime Minister or other official. Mentally it’s hard work. I find this true with all communication.

Many autistic people seem to think primarily in images and it is necessary to translate those images into word patterns in order to communicate their thoughts to others. Here, some autistics will say that the effort to communicate with other autistics and neurodivergent individuals takes much less effort than when communicating with allistic (non-neurodivergent) individuals. As approximately 98% of the population is not autistic, communication with the wider community can be challenging and exhausting.

I have an almost nonexistent ability to form mental images even from quite detailed descriptions. Likewise, when it comes to recalling visual images from memory, I don’t visualise anything. I retain knowledge about what I must have seen, but more or less in the form of a wordless set of bullet points that I can translate into sentences if required.

I have in the past described my mode of thinking as thought bubbles that combine and split, similar to oil in a lava lamp. Each bubble contains a concept or groups of concepts that are constantly reforming through the splitting and recombining.

When it comes to communicating, I consciously have to go through the process of splitting a concept into groupings of progressively smaller ideas until they reach the size of paragraphs. From there it’s necessary to construct sentences, at first without words, and then to choose the necessary components of language in order to communicate in written or spoken form.

I reverse the procedure when taking in what someone has said or written. While the metaphor of bubble seems appropriate when it comes to levels approximating paragraphs and smaller, it is less appropriate for “higher” levels. They are more like clouds, having no clearly discernible boundaries and can combine and split is ways where it’s not possible to precisely know when they split or join.

So what has any of this to do with the COVID-19 lockdown?

Because the translating of thought clouds into words requires effort, isn’t instantaneous and is somewhat imprecise, I usually spend considerable effort practising the translation of ideas into words and refining them so that they will be intelligible to allistics. When I’m happy with it, I can store it away in memory from where I can recall and recite it, rote form, when appropriate.

Nearly all nonconsequential communication – small talk – comes from this memory bank of prepared sentences, both for what I say, and for matching input from others. Under normal circumstance, I need to constantly refresh what is stored, otherwise the content fades over time.

Since the lockdown, the necessity of, and demand for, using prepared sentences and phrases has diminished. So much in fact, that I notice I am not in a state of constantly refreshing existing ones or preparing new ones just in case they’re needed. The outcome is I feel less stressed. I don’t feel I’m in a constant state of rehearsing for a performance commonly referred to as life. Mentally, I feel relaxed, and for me it is quite a novel experience.

For many migraineurs, stress can be one of the triggers for a migraine attack, and I suspect in my case it’s a primary cause. Since the lockdown, the frequency and severity of migraine attacks has diminished significantly.

Particularly noticeable since the lockdown is that often a migraine attack goes through just the aura phase, with a shortened or nonexistent prodrome phase, acute phase (the actual headache and associated severe symptoms), and postdrome phase (the migraine hangover).

I appreciate that for most people, isolation and the lack of communication opportunities can be distressful and can cause anxiety and stress. On the other hand, I’m relishing it. Perhaps when this pandemic is over, I should consider becoming a hermit 🙂

Author: Barry

A post war baby boomer from Aotearoa New Zealand who has lived with migraines for as long as I can remember and discovered I am autistic at the age of sixty. I blog because in real life I'm somewhat backwards about coming forward with my opinions.

13 thoughts on “Thinking about the lockdown

  1. In his autobiography, British writer J G Ballard said that the Japanese seizure of Shanghai in 1942, which took him, almost overnite, from a comfortable life in the local British colonial society [he a schoolboy] to life in a Japanese prison camp, taught him that ‘Life’ is just a stage set – it can be torn down at any moment.

    Like so many others, I have been shocked at how easy it was for our authorities in North America [Ontario for me] to shut down our world. I have called it in my own posts a reckless experiment. I look forward to the outcome of this legal challenge.

    • Currently there is no legal challenge. As to whether or not a challenge will be mounted , time will tell.

      I disagree that the lockdown has been reckless experiment. I and more than 90% of Kiwis believe it would have been reckless not to have had the lockdown. Again, time will tell whether or not it was the best option. But from the data that’s currently available I’m satisfied that the decision of our health authorities to go early and hard was the best one for this nation.

      • Belated reply.

        I don’t disagree that the lockdown worked – here in Canada we did it early too, and have much better results than south of the border. I’m thinking though of the idea of Dr David Katz [Harvard?] who suggested that it would have been far cheaper to have focused on protecting those at risk – seniors in and out of nursing homes, living with family, immune compromised, etc. Instead, even here in Canada, we neglected nursing homes abysmally [NZ obviously did better] – but Katz’s method required extensive testing, and, for some reason, this was resisted.

        • There’s growing evidence that COVID-19 does damage to the lungs, spleen, heart and other organs even if the person is completely asymptotic. The jury is still out over what the long term consequences might be but long term health costs might be considerable.

          So who are the vulnerable? Just those who have an immune deficiency or long term everyone who gets infected? And with testing, what do you do with those who are positive? Do you isolate them in some way? Also unless there is an effective means of tracing contacts as was done here it would be almost impossible to know who is at risk.

          The other comment I might make is that early and hard lockdown that we had means that the economy was shut down for a short duration. Given that tourism here has received an almost fatal blow, a return to economic activity approximately 95% of pre COVID-19 seems quite remarkable.

          No doubt the billions the government is injecting into the economy by the way of subsidies and fast tracking major infrastructure projects is helping. What happens when all that ends is open to speculation.

          I suspect it will be some time, probably years, before the true costs of this pandemic are known. Only then will we know whether the NZ model, the Swedish model, the US model, or some other model was the best option. I guess one outcome of jurisdictions using different models is that we will learn which one(s) have a better outcome so that we are better prepared for when the next pandemic strikes.

  2. PS – the previous comment was actually intended for you post re the legal challenge in NZ.

    Re this business of how we [autistic people] think, I’ve been thinking about that for a long time. It looks like you’ve done more, or at least better thinking about it. I’m one who sometimes says I think in pictures, but that’s too simple really. Words are there too.

    What you seem to be suggesting is that autistic people may be using words in a different way. That’s a very interesting idea.

    • I can only speak for myself, but I’m only aware of words when I need to communicate with fellow human beings, and they need to be consciously attached to the concepts/ideas/needs/thoughts I wish to convey.

      I notice that many NT people get hung up over precise meanings of words, which on the one hand seems odd as often what they say is modified significantly by, for example, body language or intonation. On the other hand, perhaps they need words to be very precise due to all the other ways in which they communicate at the same time and which can heavily modify the spoken message.

      I find it very difficult to read the “sub-texts” that often accompany communication – especially in spoken form. In written form it’s a little easier as I have time to analyse the content and look for clues that I have learnt to recognise.

  3. WordPress is the land of the introverts. I write frequently about how comforting I’ve found the isolation of the pandemic. In general, when I write this, several readers concur. For a while I felt guilty about this, especially considering so many extroverts (including my son) are struggling with the isolation, but then I remember that the other 57 years I’ve been alive, it has been the opposite. I’ve been penalized for my inability to engage in small talk, large talk, and various social situations — enough to drive me to alcohol dependence (nondrinker now).

    • Our lockdown only lasted 6 weeks and I was a little disappointed when it ended so soon. I still find I can maintain greater social distancing since the pandemic, but I wonder how long it will be before others think it odd.

      • Hmmm. Soon, I’m sure. During the early days of the pandemic, it was impossible to not compare Ardern with Trump. NZ isn’t really on the radar of many Americans. Now your country shines brightly. Of course it’s just another place now where Americans are unwelcome.

        • Americans are as welcome here as anyone else. It’s visas that are being rigidly controlled.

          Apparently to Trumpers and Fox News followsrs, we’re basket case where we have lost our freedom and covid is out of control. According to Fox we throw dissenters and those with covid-19 into isolation camps. Sigh.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s