Re-emerging from our COVID-19 cocoons is disorienting and stressful. This psychological phenomenon was anticipated almost 50 years ago by Isaac Asimov (often assessed, in retrospect, as having been on the autism spectrum) in his prescient pandemic must-read novels of physical distancing and virtual meetings, “The Naked Sun” and “The Robots of Dawn”.
This aspect of the return to a post-pandemic “new normal” is true for everyone, but perhaps especially true for people on the autism spectrum.
For more than a year after the outbreak of COVID-19, I was never further from my home in San Francisco than I could get, and return, in a day, by bicycle. I resumed travelling only after I was vaccinated, at first only to see elderly and ailing relatives.
The first time I travelled to a gathering of strangers in a distant city was for the annual meeting of the Peace and Justice Studies Association in October 2021. After a year and a half in the familiar environs of my home, previously routine travel experiences such as walking down a street in Milwaukee and eating with a group of strangers at a campus conference-center buffet seemed exotically unfamiliar and induced an almost overwhelming sensory overload, as though I were on some psychedelic drug.
My last trips outside Atlantic Canada were three years ago: a work trip to New Hampshire by air and EV in September 2019, followed, two months later, by a trip to Ontario when my father died. I haven’t been outside of North America since the fall of 2018, when Olivia and I travelled to Europe.
Previous to that I enjoyed a privileged life of regular travel to the US, Asia, and Europe; indeed my emotional resilience as a individual, father and partner on this small island was, to a great extent, predicated on being able to regularly leave this small island. Robbed of that opportunity by circumstance (illness, death, grief, caregiving, and the stretch goal of COVID) has changed the foundations of my life in ways that I’m just now beginning to realize.
There is a strong undercurrent of wanting to get out on the open road running through me; it’s a mix of wanting to throw off the shackles of confinement and a need to feed my hungry mind. And yet the complexity of my current situation — partner, kids, school, work, in their various permutations and combinations — makes getting out on that road, especially in a way that affords some spacious clarity, an often-insurmountable-seeming task. To say nothing of the emerging-from-fallout-shelter fears of what the world out there might look and feel like when I’m able to get there.
Edward finishes his post with a question:
As you begin travelling again, or begin travelling further afield, plan to travel more slowly, with rest days and breaks. Leave your plans more flexible. Avoid package tours or cruises that lock in your pace and itinerary. Give your brain a chance to gradually get back into its travel groove. Celebrate the chance to experience the world anew and to see the world with a fresh eye!
Are you travelling again? What seems different than before? Is that because the world has changed, or because your perspective has?
There is no question that my circumstances have changed, fundamentally; at the same time, vestigial perspectives—loneliness, fear, isolation, resignation—remain baked inside me.
I want to emerge into the world, as Edward suggests, and seize a ”chance to experience the world anew and to see the world with a fresh eye.” I want to take this new edition of me on tour, and the prospect of that is exciting, thrilling, hopeful.
And yet I’m afraid that those baked-in perspectives are baked in to an extent that a simple change of scenery isn’t enough to affect.
The only way to find out is to get outta town. I hope to do that. Soon.