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Out of Touch documents the unique experiences of Western Australians during the COVID-19 pandemic that hit Australia in early 2020.

Rafael Gonzalez is a proud Aspie, a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. He shares his experience of getting a new job, moving out of home, and having his life put on pause, all while in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Raf reflects on how he dealt with isolation, fear and separation anxiety.

[TRANSCRIPT]

My name is Raf Gonzalez. I identify as an Aspie, which is short for Asperger’s Syndrome. But I just also say I’m autistic – but I’m a high functioning, so I’m independent, I don’t really see myself as, Oh, I have to explain that. Oh, I’m special. In terms of a job, I see myself more as a sort of writer, I like writing. Also, I do like, I am in the arts. What I learned at DADAA is, I’m more of a multidisciplinary or non-disciplinary artist.

DADAA is a group in Fremantle. It’s an organisation that tailors to offering mentorship and workshops for people with disabilities to pursue their arts. I also have a little bit of…I’m starting to get into, my confidence into, performing. So, I’m a bit layered into different facets. In the months prior to the lockdowns and the COVID scares, I was in between jobs, like transitioning between what was good for six months and I thought, Nah I’m ready to move onto something. The job opportunity to work at the cafe that was being built at DADAA, I thought, Oh that’s great. I want to work there, and I feel more enthusiastic about that.

And yeah, it was just going into the formalities and all the paperwork. I remembered this one train ride into the city and I received a call from Homeswest, because I was on a 7-year waitlist for an apartment, that’s how long those things were. I wasn’t really thinking about Homeswest for a while. I was still at home with my parents. I was the last to leave the nest, but I wasn’t in a rush and because in our culture, we don’t really push our kids out. We just you know, at least make sure they have a safety network. And for someone like me, who is autistic and is obsessed with routine and patterns.

Then I got that phone call from Homeswest and they said, “Oh we are just letting you know that we found a place for you.” And I was like, What? I was like very shocked and I wasn’t sure how to process all of this. So, I immediately told my parents when I came back. I was like, “Oh they’ve found something for me.” They were really excited and I thought, Oh wow. Because again, we weren’t expecting that. We were hoping for it, but I was not trying to think about it so much because I had been thinking about making sure I had a job. In the months prior to March, it was like that was what was happening. While I was working the new job, I was also coming to, starting slowly putting my stuff into my new apartment.

It was just slowly building up, and I think I was just, mentally I was feeling a little bit slowly overwhelmed. Dad flew over to El Salvador to sort out family drama there, or to help them out. And then, of course, we heard about what was happening with the Coronavirus. We were dealing with trying to get Dad home because he was getting tired of what was happening over there and was like, “I’m coming home.” And then, just coincidentally, the deadline for the border restriction was coming and it was like, “Oh okay, well you’re lucky Dad, you were just in time.” All the cases in Australia were already growing and so then the border restrictions were being called upon.

I was trying not to think about it so much, and then at the cafe, we were just re-learning about hygiene and also we were starting to implement sanitation. The thing was, before in the early days, we didn’t think the Coronavirus was going to be happening here, because we think back at all the previous viral scares, pandemics, that were very minor compared to this one. A lot of things have started to, you know, spiral. That’s what I would call it. Things started to spiral out. When my dad was coming back, the thing was my sister believed that,“Oh if Dad was coming back and he has to isolate for two weeks, anyone who’s staying near him had to also isolate and you know, not go out.” So, therefore, that kind of incented my sisters and my brother-in-law to say, “Oh no we probably need you to be in the apartment.”

Then it was just bringing whatever I could bring, because we already had some stuff there. It kind of felt like a giant big shove into my apartment. My first night was okay, but I wasn’t sure how bad my anxiety was at the time. Then it kind of then started to hit the next day. The thing was, I think it’s because especially as an autistic person, it’s hard to adjust to changes. We love having our particular routine or we’re so used to our surroundings and being into this, it was just an adjustment at first.

This was just the, I think what you call “the calm before the bigger storm” that came up later, which was when the lockdowns were starting. When lockdowns were happening, the cafe had to close because of the lockdown. So that was one of the things that was starting to unravel. Then when they were telling us these things like, “Oh you can’t go to these places, you can’t go to the movies.” I couldn’t go out to the city and then I didn’t know what was going on. There were things that were just unravelling.

And then, I think, lockdown happened and then they told us to maintain that 1.5 metres. I think what really, really hit me was all of this “you can’t touch anyone.” The old stereotype of autism is that autistic people don’t like being touched or they feel like “stranger danger” stuff. For me, I was the reverse, I was the opposite. When the isolation thing happened, I thought “Oh okay, we just wait two weeks and then hopefully things will be okay to talk to…” We all thought this was just only for a couple of weeks. That’s what we thought. When they said, “Oh, we won’t be able to do anything for a while. Stay home.” I thought, Okay…That’s when things were just really starting to get bad. Then I just came to the point where I just crawled into an inflatable couch and I just started crying. I felt really insecure and also the fact that I couldn’t get a hug from my mum. That really hurt me a lot, because I really needed my security. I felt very insecure and it just really hurt because I really needed them when things were really getting shitty… Sorry. You were at that point where you really needed a hug from your mum, but you just couldn’t get it. Thinking back to how bad that was, even I tried to maintain my focus at work by just saying, You’re fine, you’re fine, you’re not really fine but you’re fine. It’s just two weeks of the lockdown thing really hit me so much.

Over time we learned that this was a case of separation anxiety, so I think that was probably what I was developing. I didn’t think of it at the beginning but then slowly things were starting to make sense like, Oh I was going through separation anxiety. We could only do Whatsapp, Facetiming and stuff, but it just did not feel the same. The first family night we had since lockdown, Matthew, my youngest nephew, just gave us all hugs. It was so sweet because we really needed that. For him, it was because he missed all of us. He really wanted that too, but he didn’t understand what was going on. We all needed that serotonin level, we really did. It was, just sort of, soothing and healing.

What I’ve learned since the pandemic is to be grateful to have the people who you are close to. Be grateful that you still have a connection.

Copyright © 2020 Rafael Gonzalez

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories and the State Library of Western Australia by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories. 


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