Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from 18-24 May 2020
Please see below our fifth article by Mental Health Awareness Week – by our overseas Ambassador Dani Bowman
I am writing this article for Anna Kennedy Online for Mental Health Week, about my mental health during this pandemic. I first met Anna Kennedy back in 2014 when I attended Wear it for Autism in London for Fashion Week as the first American with autism to walk on the runway for this event. A year later, she asked me to became her overseas ambassador for Anna Kennedy Online, representing the United States.
I will never forget March 11th 2020. I was working on my finals for one of my MBA classes and I began to notice the news that the World Health Organization was reporting COVID-related deaths in my home of Los Angeles CA. The panic buying in grocery stores began. That was the first day I remember feeling a panic myself with shortness of breath and teary eyes. I felt stressed, worried, afraid, and concerned. I will never forget the day when COVID-19 came home.
The next day my pre-class assignment was due for one of my last MBA classes. I received an email from my university announcing the campus closure due to the pandemic, followed by another email from one of my professors that all classes were going online. At first, I was relieved because it gave me more time to finish my pre-class assignment. Rather than a half-hour drive from home to university, class was within a few clicks of a button from my computer now.
On the other hand as a person with autism, it’s been strange that all of my social norms have been turned upside down because of this pandemic. All of my life, I have been told to make friends, to be social, shake hands, look people in the eye, and so many other things. But since COVID-19 came home, I have to do the opposite!
Now I am not supposed to be social in-person, and if I see someone, I have to stay away from them, so I try not to look at people in the eye, isolate myself whenever I can, and when I leave my home, I have to wear face masks and gloves.
It’s been strange and uncomfortable wearing a mask and gloves because it’s hard to breathe with a mask, and wearing gloves can be cumbersome when picking up or touching things. For a person with sensory issues, it can be very stressful.
Although this is supposed to be temporary, it has been really stressful for me to try and readjust because I really depend on schedules, which have all been changed now.
For example, all of my events have been postponed or cancelled, heaven knows for how long, I had to quickly learn to offer my autism-friendly animation classes online instead of in-person. It was a big and scary adjustment, but it turned out better because I can offer my classes to anyone anywhere in the world now!
Another positive about teaching animation online is that I found my students understand the lessons more than in-person because I can work more closely with each one. Now I don’t have to worry about traveling to teach my summer camps since all my animation camps are going online as well.
I had to take my final MBA semester of university classes online, and It was very strange that I finished my MBA program via zoom. Also my university held an online awards ceremony instead of in-person.
It was disappointing and strange, but I guess this is what all graduating classes of 2020 coronavirus students have to deal with. Finally, I am really concerned about my family especially my grandmother, but I am doing my best to stay Virus-free for them.
In order to help myself retain good mental health, I stay healthy by excising as much as I can by taking walks, doing some online aerobics, eating healthy, and staying in touch with my friends because I am very lucky that I am able to use technology to still see my family and friends via internet!
Furthermore, I stay busy by producing videos for different events and organizations, and releasing my animated short films I premiered at San Diego Comic-Con on YouTube.
It’s been almost three months now since quarantine began, I wish this could be over quick, but it may not be. There’s a lot of infected people with COVID-19 right now, and even more will get sick if they don’t obey the rules by not staying home.
We are still in a war right now with this virus, and we have to continue to soldier on against this virus, whether we are neurotypical, autistic, young, or old. We have a responsibility to stay strong and follow the rules! But I know this will be over soon! However, we should not rush to get back to our routine, we have to be brave and strong.
On writing this there are more than 4.5M people infected with COVID-19 worldwide, with more than 2.5M active cases, and more than 303K deaths. We’ve gone through so much already, we cannot give up at the 11th hour. It’s hard for me to deal with change, and it’s going to be hard again when I have to find a new routine again, but I can do this! I have come this far already, now I know that I could deal with a new routine again. I also have to continue to stay creative at home. I know I could do this now because I been doing it for the last three months.
For Mental Health Awareness Week, there are many ways we can help our own mental state while in quarantine. COVID-19 has taught me to be strong, and I know I must find ways to keep my mind healthy through this pandemic and get pass this!