Welcome!

This blog serves as an eyewitness record of the COVID-19 pandemic. Below you’ll find my thoughts, feelings, and observations as a high school senior. School has shut down to prevent the spread of the virus, so I’ll have ample time to document all of them twice a week.

Enjoy reading!

The paradox of Zoom fatigue and virtual communication

Every year, the non-graduating members of band and orchestra play Pomp and Circumstance and the national anthem at graduation, but it seems that this tradition will not apply this year. If that’s the case, I’m a bit glad that I won’t have to hear the people who play out of tune. There’s more of them this year than there were in previous years, and the absence of seniors to play among them at graduation would make their atrocious intonation even more apparent. That’s beside the point, though. I appreciate the efforts of those who want to improve, and I definitely want to see my non-graduating orchestra friends at graduation; I want to walk on stage and throw my cap in the air with my classmates and take pictures with friends. None of that will happen on our scheduled graduation date. Much to our dismay, everything will take place virtually, a move that other educational institutions have made with their own graduations and other events.

“My body, my choice” does not apply here.

That includes Admitted Students Day and college visits. Yesterday I attended my committed college’s Diversity Program. Exclusively for accepted students from underrepresented racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds, the Diversity Program is usually an all-expenses-paid visit that lasts three days. This year, due to the pandemic, it only lasted several hours and was hosted through Zoom, leaving me exhausted.

This came as no surprise to me, as I’d been in countless Zoom meetings prior to this one. When the quarantine started, I thought that Zoom meetings would not be enough to fulfill my extroverted needs. But when tiredness overcame me after an hour-long video chat with a friend, I began to question my extroversion. I was supposed to feel energized, not tired. Was this really the threshold of social interaction for me? Not long afterwards, I began seeing posts about Zoom fatigue on social media and the news, and I realized I wasn’t alone. To my extroversion, Zoom fatigue is a paradox: it is both insufficient and excessive. Zoom still does not satisfy my need for socialization, yet it is more draining than in-person interaction with people. And as the school year ends, with virtual events approaching quickly, I anticipate the feeling will accompany me more and more. Whereas in previous years, when I felt invigorated after talking and hugging seniors and taking pictures with them at their graduations, my graduation will only impart exhaustion in me.

Thinking about Zoom fatigue lends itself to thinking about the broader subject of all types of social interaction via technology—a distressing subject to think about. Even with Zoom meetings, the already prominent role of text messages, emails, and group chats has also increased. This has led to some interesting thoughts in the autistic self-advocate community. A while back, I found an Instagram post that argued maybe the quarantine will make people realize technology-based socialization is valid, and that people should stop giving others a hard time for not wanting face-to-face interaction. The post brings up a particularly distressing conflict for me because in several ways, I do find face-to-face interaction somewhat demanding. I can’t always make eye contact comfortably as an autistic person. Even when the person is fine with my lack of eye contact, not making it feels a bit jarring. Sometimes I have a monotone voice that some people like to point out. With my slow mental processing speed, I’m better at writing than I am at speaking, as I need to take time to organize my thoughts.

Even then, my need for in-person socialization trumps all. Having to rely on messages so much makes me want to throw my devices out at times, but I stop myself; I know I need them more than ever if I want some kind of interaction, because the face-to-face type just isn’t possible outside of family without sacrificing public health. So I imagine that the consequences of the quarantine might turn out to be more complicated than the post proposes. People may start recognizing the value that virtual communication has for many individuals, yet at the same time, they might come out of the quarantine valuing in-person communication more than ever, having been deprived of it.

I don’t mean to discount the needs of the people who are more inclined towards texting and/or Zoom meetings. Indeed, if you’re one of those people, I advise you to take my words with a grain of salt or stop reading so that this post will not burden you. If I’m interacting with someone who prefers that over face-to-face communication due to sensory overload, arguing against their needs is selfish. Additionally, all institutions should take the time to think about how to make themselves accessible to disabled and neurodiverse people, pandemic or no pandemic.

Yet on a more personal level, I’ve become more afraid—and lonelier too. I feel as if I don’t fit in with the autistic self-advocate community. Of course, every autistic person’s different. There’s a popular saying: “If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.” But in the autistic circles I’m in, it seems that most of them enjoy the aspect of social distance. I’m one of the few who don’t. I have also realized that during this time, more people have started to understand their preference for digital communication. Before the pandemic, I’d worry that if I asked someone to hang out or talk, they wouldn’t want to. Thus, I didn’t ask. Now that I’m getting tired of virtual communication, I’m terrified that in the future, if I ask someone to hang out or talk in person, they will want to text instead. On the outside, I’ll say, “Oh, that’s okay,” because they’re not obligated to cater to me, but on the inside, I won’t know how to handle the rejection and break down. So I won’t ask, and instead I remain frozen with anxiety, waiting for someone to reach out to me.

Coping With Coronavirus Through Music • Cadenzas and Brain Torture: The Full Experience

In response to Discover Prompts, Day 20: Music.

The due date for the project I have to do for orchestra during the quarantine has been extended, which is a relief, because I still haven’t perfected my rendition of my piece, Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, and that’s just the solo part. I haven’t even managed to even look at the other orchestral parts I must play—I’ve been busy looking for a cadenza. A cadenza, for all you non-musicians, is a passage in the concerto in which the soloist gets to showcase more virtuosity. The soloist usually takes melodies in the concerto and builds upon them. Traditionally the soloist would improvise or write their own cadenza beforehand. Nowadays many soloists play a cadenza written by someone else. Three years ago, when the concertmaster played the same piece I’m playing now, he didn’t write his own cadenza, much to the music director’s disappointment. Instead he elected to play one of the “standard” cadenzas that many performers also choose. Since I don’t want to ask my parents to spend money on ordering sheet music, I went to IMSLP.org and printed out a few cadenzas, which I assume were created by random people who decided to upload their compositions. I’ve also printed out transcriptions of famous violinists’ cadenzas, which I found via YouTube.

Having attempted them all, I haven’t been satisfied. Of course I didn’t play them perfectly on the first time, but the time it would take to perfect any one of them exceeds the due date of this project. The only other cost-friendly alternative was to write my own cadenza. I’m not very creative when it comes to composing; when I was thinking about what to do for my orchestra project, I immediately eliminated all the options that involved music composition. I assumed that I would be able to play a cadenza from the Internet when I decided to play the Mozart violin concerto. Clearly not. Thus today marks my first taste of composing music, with little to no formal background in music theory.

First, I watched as many performances as I could on YouTube and analyzed the cadenzas I printed out in order to observe how the performers elaborated on a musical theme. Then the hard part: actually coming up with my own ideas.

I played around with some of the passages from the concerto, adding ornaments to them, modifying the note values, turning some of the notes into double stops (chords), playing them an octave higher, and playing them in a different key. My first challenge was not to start off with a few ornaments and then end up accidentally playing the notes verbatim from the sheet music. I also needed to make sure that if I was playing several notes while holding out one long note, it wouldn’t sound too dissonant. Soon I also ran into another problem: I’d think of something, attempt it on my violin, and then forget what I was planning to do in the middle of playing. Thanks, working memory. I decided to record my playing with Voice Memos so I wouldn’t forget, but quickly found out that backtracking the recording to where I wanted to listen was too much trouble. So I put the violin down and started writing the notes on staff paper, singing the notes as I went along. This approach worked best.

I initially approached composing the cadenza in a sequential manner, writing it from beginning to end. But as is my case with most projects, this approach quickly fell out of favor. I ended up taking one passage, building on it, abruptly stopping, and then moving on to another. Only after a few tiring hours of awkward attempts at improvisation did I finally experience a weak spark of inspiration, managing to amass bits and pieces of embellished melodies that I actually liked. Now it was time to connect them. Trying to connect one part to another turned out to be much harder than I expected, especially the melodies I transposed into a different key, because I couldn’t find the right transition notes, whether it was going from major to minor or from B flat major to D major. Sometimes I’d have to change the embellishments or insert a small snippet of the concerto verbatim to bridge two parts. And then in the middle of testing something I’d written, I’d frequently realize that I wasn’t completely happy with another part, and go back to the sheet music to fix it. This process added a few more hours.

When I finally looked up from my sheet music for the last time that day, I realized I had gained a massive headache and an empty stomach, having labored six hours to produce a cadenza that satisfied me. I had started at three in the afternoon; it was now nine in the evening. On the rare occasion that I work nonstop on a project, I’m often prone to ignoring the sensations within my body, oblivious to the torturousness of the process until I finish. Despite that, as I ate my long-awaited dinner, I found myself wanting to add more and more to the sheet music. Although the cadenza sounds nice to my ear, I’m still constantly thinking of ways to improve it. It is only a rough draft. Tomorrow I’ll go back to it and write some more, but I’ll have to use a timer to remind me I have other things to do.

My journaling journey

In response to Discover Prompts, Day 14: Book.

In the spring of 2018, I had my Confirmation, the Catholic version of a bat mitzvah. Then on July 1, my dad brought home my last Confirmation gift from a family friend, who gave me a pink Leuchtturm1917 (loysh-term) A5 sized notebook. Throughout my life, I’d kept many, many journals. All of them were half finished, except for my bullet journal, which schoolwork and ADHD obligated me to complete. But when those journals had been active, I had not been known among my classmates for having a good memory. In fact, I considered myself quite forgetful. That’s still true in respect to my ADHD-ravaged working memory: “Now, where did it go again?” In my last year of middle school, however, my autobiographical memory started gaining a reputation. Still, I wrote not so much to remember, but to process my feelings, as my mental health had also become more turbulent. Later I’d abandon the book I was writing in because I was too busy to maintain the journaling habit.

But by July 2018, I was terrified of forgetting. Perhaps, I thought, I’d be less prone to forgetting if I started writing every day. Thus began my daily journaling habit in my pink Leuchtturm. It was the perfect time: it was summer, and apart from an evening health class at the local community college to fulfill a graduation requirement, I had ample time to write. Addressing each entry to my best friend, I would chronicle every single detail about my day that I could recall.

Of course, this kind of journaling only lasted a couple months. Soon I had to go back to school, but I didn’t abandon writing in the pink Leuchtturm, even though I now had four AP classes on my plate. I felt compelled to fill up the notebook, not just because I wanted to remember, but also because Leuchtturms are expensive, and I didn’t want to waste money. My entries were shorter, but now they were a balance of feelings and the events that occurred during my daily life. Prior to receiving the journal, when I wrote about my feelings, there was no indication of how my actual day went. This is because although I consider myself an extrovert, I spend a good amount of time living in my head, entertaining recurring thoughts. I think about events that happened way in the past and things unrelated to what I must do in my day-to-day life.

I guess when I think about it in that way now, writing in the pink Leuchtturm helped me pay attention to reality more by making me consciously remember it. so I could write it down. Now I am better at remembering the dates of past events, since I write down the date of the journal entry. For example, September 4, 2018 is cursed; October 19, 2018 is a good day. But apart from that, it hasn’t really affected the quantity of things that I remember in the long term; even though I am still known for having a good memory, I don’t remember more than I used to before I started the journaling habit. However, it hasn’t stopped me from writing in my journal. After over a year of it, I’ve accepted that I don’t have to remember so much—it just isn’t practical. And in writing in the Leuchtturm, I found another benefit that I hadn’t expected: improved concentration to help me with my homework. This, along with the price of the notebook, motivated me to fill it up.

Now that I’ve successfully completed it, I am currently writing in a navy blue version of the notebook. It helps me feel better during these times of coronavirus-induced isolation by serving as a temporary distraction. It makes me feel less lonely when video chats and webinars are exhausting but I still want to talk to someone. Even though no one is responding to me, it provides a strangely nice sort of company, one that needs neither sleep nor a schedule that impacts its availability.

My navy journal, on top of my pink journal. The pink notebook has a sticker that says “Diary of a Churro: July 2018-March 2019” written in cursive and the navy journal has a sticker that says “Diary of a Churro: April 2019” also written in cursive.

Coping With Coronavirus Through Music • revisiting Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4

Now that we’re all stuck in quarantine, my orchestra concerts are unlikely to happen. To give his classes something to do, my music director gave us an open-ended project. Our options were:

  • small group/Zoom lessons with the student teacher and learn a solo work
  • recording a composition using music software
  • writing a film score to a Pixar short film
  • making a music video
  • world percussion classes on Zoom
  • recording multiple parts of a chamber piece and putting them together
  • learning to write sheet music
  • guitar lessons on Zoom
  • AP Music Theory lessons
  • studying music history
  • another idea not listed

At first, the composition-related options looked interesting to me. Unfortunately, composition isn’t where my creativity lies, and I didn’t want to have to learn something totally new in a somewhat unstable and disruptive environment. Then I thought about going back to Danzón No. 5, the chamber piece I was supposed to play with P.J. and some others at our chamber concert. But upon finding out we had to turn in separate projects, I agreed to help P.J. with Danzón No. 5 for his project and do something else for mine.

After thinking for a bit, I thought about combining two ideas: the chamber piece and the solo work. In addition to learning the solo part of a string work, I would also learn the orchestral parts. Now the question was: which piece?

I remembered I had found an arrangement of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 for solo violin and string quartet online a few years ago. That was when symphony orchestra was assigned the concerto to accompany our concertmaster, A.H. Back then, I considered learning the solo part on my own, but found the part to be extremely difficult, much like most of the music we were assigned. Unlike middle school, when orchestra would play watered-down arrangements of well known works, the assigned pieces I received in freshman and sophomore year was on par with the solo pieces I learned in private lessons, if not even harder. I remember bringing the first violin part of the fourth movement of Dvořák’s New World Symphony to my private lesson and struggling with the last page. “This seems too challenging for you,” my teacher said. No matter how much I practiced, I just…wasn’t…there…yet. During the concert, I airbowed much of the last page. To all non-string musicians, that means I pretended to play but my bow wasn’t actually touching the string.

It wasn’t as if the people in my section could actually play the entire page either. Yet for some reason, my classmates seemed to prefer Dvořák to Mozart. Mozart, they said, was too happy and too repetitive. That made sense–Mozart is in a major key and its theme reappears more often than the theme does in Dvořák. I liked Mozart, though. Listening to Dvořák was nice, but playing it in symphony rehearsals with all the winds, brass, and percussion gave me sensory overload. Mozart was much easier on my ears. It was in D major, one of my favorite keys. Having sound-to-color synesthesia, a condition in which different notes make me think of different colors, I always gravitate to keys that evoke warm colors, and D major evokes orange. Additionally, I’ve always been nostalgic for the times when I actually looked forward to orchestra rehearsals and spent time with A.H. He was a good friend, and listening to this piece brought back good memories. Yes, the solo part had been intimidating when I’d first seen it, but I had also improved since then. So I decided to print out the string quartet + solo violin arrangement for the Mozart violin concerto.

Since I had already acquainted myself with the first violin orchestral part, I had one fewer part to learn. With my experience in piano, I could also read the cello part, which was in bass clef. However, I started to worry that I’d bitten off more than I could chew. I was not so good at reading alto clef, the clef the viola part was written in, so I’d have to work on it. That the cello and second violin parts in addition to the solo part.

But so far, the amount of work I’ve had to do hasn’t been as much as I expected. After I called my boyfriend and he agreed to learn the second violin part, I began practicing the solo part slowly, using a metronome. To my slight surprise, it turned out learning it wasn’t as hard as I thought. It’s more fun to practice a piece that brings back memories of the times I was still in school and orchestra wasn’t the one giving me massive headaches. Having ADHD, practicing has always been a challenge because it requires sustained concentration. When I started to take practicing more seriously, it was still hard—I had to repeatedly tell myself I needed to be better than someone else in order to get past an hour, preferably more than that if I had time. But when I started practicing this piece, an hour felt like ten minutes. When my hour was up, I wanted to practice more, but I had other things to do. Since it’s spring break now, I hope I can practice longer. I can’t wait to have it ready by April 18, our project due date.

Why positive thinking isn’t always positive

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t hit its peak here in America so far. The number of cases climbs every day, as does the number of posts, articles, and conversations I see on social media. Since climate change has been a frequently discussed topic in recent years, some of the posts I see are about the impact of coronavirus on climate change. Here are a few examples I’ve found:

It’s common to look for silver linings in problems. There are YouTube compilations of TikTok users posting before-and-after videos of themselves, attributing their glow-ups to bullying or toxic relationships. “Proof that bullying works,” some say. Clearly, coronavirus is no exception. At first glance, I was happy to see some positive news. Yet as I pondered the situation, I couldn’t help but wonder: at what cost? Critics of this climate-recovery mindset during the pandemic have pointed out its resemblance to ecofascism. In response, one person wrote:

Just as this person wrote, I’m sure the other people who put out these kinds of posts don’t mean to imply anything sinister and are just trying to spread some positivity. But again, we must ask the question: at what cost? If the logic is that COVID-19 is the vaccine, people are the virus, and the disease is climate change, we must look at the specific people who are affected the most by COVID-19 in order to determine if this logic holds up. Those at an increased risk of dying from coronavirus are the elderly, immunocompromised, or people with conditions such as diabetes and asthma. Also at risk are marginalized folks who can’t afford to self-isolate. Maybe they have disabilities that require others to be in close proximity to them, or they don’t have a home to return to. These individuals usually are not the ones profiting from the industries that accelerate climate change. Why haven’t those people died? Are we really to believe that environmentally conscious individuals will be spared from COVID-19? Do Greta Thunberg, Autumn Peltier, and Mari Copeny have some kind of special biological immunity to COVID-19? That’s not how viruses work.

To be clear, I’m not wishing death on anyone. But if people were the virus, then the ones most at risk of dying from COVID-19 would be the ones operating the companies responsible for the majority of global emissions. Evidently, this isn’t the case.

It could be argued that it isn’t the coronavirus that is directly affecting climate change; it is social distancing. We could have chosen to live as we always did pre-coronavirus, and the pollution wouldn’t have decreased. But why did we make such drastic changes to our lives? Because people were dying. If you’re going to argue that Mother Nature chose them to die in order to make people reduce their contribution to climate change, well, I don’t know what to say to you.

Again, I don’t think people meant any harm in pointing out the benefits to the environment. However, it’s important to consider that language is a powerful tool, and what you say may have unintended effects.

I write this because each member of my family is at an increased risk of dying from coronavirus. My family can’t socially distance as much as other people can because my parents often have to bring my brother to the hospital for checkups related to his brain condition. My brother just got home from brain surgery, and I’m scared he might have picked up COVID-19 and will pass it onto me. I’m scared that my diabetic parents might die, and we’ll lose the breadwinner of the family. I’m scared that one day I won’t be able to breathe and I won’t have enough albuterol because there’s a shortage of it. And most of all, I’m scared that if we do die, it’s because the hospitals denied us care in their efforts to prioritize the ones who have the highest chance of survival.

As far as I know, no such policy exists in California, but hospitals in other places are so crowded that they are starting to ration care, often prioritizing those with the highest chances of survival. It’s a frightening decision that no one should feel compelled to make. Everyone, especially the most marginalized individuals in society, should have access to medical care. And during these difficult times, trying to spread this variant of searching for silver linings can ultimately backfire. It almost feels like a distraction from the problem at hand. Before you attempt to spread positivity regarding the pandemic, try to think of the possible implications. Does it prioritize nature over people? Does it glorify the necessity of lockdowns? If the answer is yes, don’t share it.

Coping With Coronavirus Through Music • reminiscing with Danzón No. 2

For a few years, I’d listen to Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major every day, multiple times. Now it’s Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez, which also happens to be one of the pieces we were playing in orchestra. We were supposed to perform it in a concert, but our school district announced the cancellation/postponement of all school gatherings two days before the concert. Then the following day, the official announcement of school closures. I started listening to recordings of the piece a few months ago, but I’m listening to it more than ever during the quarantine. I still haven’t gotten tired of Danzón. I don’t know why; perhaps it’s a symptom of my autism. After all, many autistic individuals have special interests and engage in repetitive behaviors. Whatever the case, it’s definitely helping me through a long, uncertain period of time. Coronavirus cases are still spreading rapidly, filling up hospitals and forcing us to stay inside longer.

During this quarantine, my mental health still hasn’t been the best. As the lockdown has progressed, I’ve come to realize that I’m not the only one feeling lonely, of course. I used to feel like I was the only one, especially because a lot of my friends are introverts and I become attached to people quite quickly. And the truth is, even if I know deep down it isn’t true, I still feel like I’m the only one every now and then. No amount of chatting with my classmates on social media and calling my boyfriend—who also happens to be very introverted—has changed that feeling. Listening to Danzón brings back memories, a way of reliving moments with friends.

As the piece opens with a clarinet solo, I think about P.G., my good friend who played clarinet in band and symphony orchestra. Because he graduated last year, he isn’t part of symphony orchestra anymore, nor does he play the clarinet regularly anymore, but the instrument is one of the things I automatically associate with him.

Next, the oboe enters to play a duet with the clarinet, evoking a memory of Y.S., my senior for Senior Night. I think of how much she practiced the oboe, an instrument she only started learning in tenth grade with only a couple of lessons at the beginning. Even though my violinist self has never been very literate in wind instruments, her progress over the years was always quite clear to me, achieved with daily practice. I think about how the oboe wasn’t the only instrument she started learning in high school—she came into marching band in ninth grade as a violinist not knowing how to play a single marching band instrument, but decided to learn the clarinet.

Then the violas come in and play what is essentially the clarinet solo in a different key. I think about P.J., one of my closest friends in high school and the principal violist in orchestra. There’s so much that comes to mind when it comes to P.J. I think about how I frequently spam him with funny Instagram posts and cringeworthy videos. The times in orchestra last year, when we’d share a look of disgust every time someone played an A that was less than 440 Hz. His costume during the Halloween concert, when he dressed up as the Viola King from TwoSetViolin. Sophomore year, when I started writing a fanfiction over him, inadvertently making everyone think I had a crush on him. Danzón No. 5, another of the Danzón works by Márquez. Unlike the orchestral Danzón No. 2, it’s composed for a chamber group. P.J. and I were supposed to play it with some others for the music department’s chamber music concert, but now we plan to record our parts and put them together in a video as part of an orchestra assignment.

Afterwards, the violins take over as the piece transitions from a slow and seductive dance to a far more energetic theme, in which the melody now alternates between the brass and the woodwinds. Listening to that section evokes memories of dancing to the music with my friends. I remember wanting the orchestra to play that section as quickly as all the other orchestras did in YouTube videos, but when I asked the music director if we could do it, he said he needed to keep it at a manageable tempo. The reason: the collective skill of the orchestra declines every year. The strong musicians graduate, leaving behind more members with less experience, and the new faces are rarely as experienced as the previous members. Then we performed Danzón at a music festival and got Unanimous Superior, the highest rating a music ensemble can attain. The Monday after that, we listened to a recording of a judge’s comments as we played the piece. The judge said that although our tempo was fine, playing it that slowly meant that we had to pay more attention to the way we played each note. Only then did the music director speed us up. At long last!

Unfortunately, the concert was canceled before we could perform it at that tempo. It’s wonderful to reminisce about the good times, but I must admit that sometimes a tinge of sadness accompanies my reminiscing. Will we ever get to play it in a concert? I hope so, but our music director says May 1 is optimistic. As the death toll rises, the possibility of returning to school becomes more and more miniscule.

Managing ADHD during the pandemic

As is the case for everyone else going to school, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly transformed my education. It’s gone from the traditional in-person classes to semi-regular Zoom meetings. My AP Statistics teacher also created a Discord server, which two of my classmates and I are helping to manage because we have more experience with using Discord.

Being neurodivergent, I have mixed feelings regarding online education. It’s definitely giving me more freedom over when I decide to do assignments. And since it’s online, I don’t have to wake up at five in the morning to catch the bus at six every day. Yes, I live quite far from my school. But flexibility comes with a price: there’s more pressure on me to figure out how to manage and prioritize my assignments. And because I’m at home all day, I need to find a balance between chores, watching my brother, practicing the violin, and homework.

All of these are skills I’ll need to use in college and adulthood, quarantine or not. An in-person college education usually provides some kind of structure, but students have to take more responsibility to create their own structure as well. Last summer, I asked A.O., an alumnus of my high school, if he had to learn how to schedule things for himself. “Yeah, but it wasn’t hard,” he said. “I’m sure you’ll be just fine.”

“I have ADHD,” I said.

“I still think you’ll be fine.”

I mean, I know that colleges usually have disability services and general support services to help students make a smoother transition to college, but even though I’d say I’ve greatly improved over time when it comes to managing my ADHD symptoms, I still struggle a lot. I often don’t know which assignment to do first. I have difficulty estimating the amount of time it will take me to get something done. I’ve tried looking back on past experiences to estimate time, but that doesn’t work as well as I’d like, because no assignment is exactly the same. Bullet journaling helps me remember to finish things and see how many tasks I need to do, but I’m still tweaking my personal method of bullet journaling, and it is not a panacea. Not to mention that I feel like my ADHD is getting worse. My long-term memory is wonderful; my working memory is disintegrating. I used to be able to keep in my head the tasks I needed to complete, but now whenever I go to finish something, I frequently find myself in the middle of something else for some reason, having forgotten my original goal. During a class, I don’t need to have any distractions in front of me to get distracted. I might be looking at the board, but I also might be thinking about something else, having gotten lost in my thoughts. The medicine I take to improve my focus is gradually losing its hold on me. I can’t sustain my concentration as long as I’d like to, and I’m hyperfocusing on unimportant things.

Speaking of medicine, it’s also difficult to determine how much of it to take. During school days, I’d usually take forty milligrams of Vyvanse. Now that the schedule has drastically changed, I don’t know how much is actually necessary, a source of great anxiety. I hope I can sort this out quickly, as our district has said we’re not going back to school until May 1.

What COVID-19 has revealed about neurodiversity

Bad news. In addition to a mild fever, tiredness, slight on-and-off nasal congestion, and an occasional dry cough, I just feel a bit off. My best attempt to describe this would be feeling familiar with a lot of the symptoms, but not with the sickness as a whole, which doesn’t sound good in these times. I haven’t left the house, but my brother has been going to doctor’s appointments, since he’ll have brain surgery in early April. I’m guessing he picked up something from the clinic, since he was also a bit down for a while. The first day we felt a bit sick, we overslept. I’m scared to find out what it is. I definitely don’t feel like I’m going to die, but I worry that these symptoms might worsen and result in asthma complications. My brother seems less affected, even though he’s the immunocompromised one; he’s been running around the house as usual. I’m going to call the doctor soon and see if I can get a test for coronavirus.

Meanwhile, I’m wearing a mask to limit spreading whatever I have to my parents. The bottom of the mask bothers my chin, though. The CDC recommended wearing a bandana in the event that masks aren’t available, but I do not like the idea of the clothing fibers tickling my nose and making me sneeze so much. So a mask it is.

Other people don’t seem to have an issue with the mask bothering them, which leads me to think this is another of my sensory issues. I’ve always had sensory issues, which are probably due to my ADHD or Asperger’s or a combination of the two. I can’t wear boatnecks or low-cut ankle socks—the sensation on my skin is too overwhelming. Sirens are far too loud for me. I have to be conscious of where I sit in the classroom because I don’t want to be too near to the fire alarm, which frequently goes off because it is broken. And the list of sensory issues goes on.

Anyway, wearing the mask made me think of how the spread of the novel coronavirus has affected people with disabilities and neurodivergent people, or people with neurological differences. I’ll elaborate on my family situation first. As I’ve mentioned there are two neurodivergent individuals in my family: me and my brother. Like me, my brother also has ADHD and autism, but in more “visible” ways. By “visible,” I mean that if a stranger looked at me, they would not suspect any conditions. It’s easier for me to fit in with the rest of society, as I have fewer support needs. In contrast, my brother more closely resembles the stereotype of an autistic person with ADHD. He’s loud, rambunctious, and minimally speaking. He can’t sit still for very long, and he hums constantly (one of his many stims, or repetitive behaviors). That’s the thing, though. Autistic self-advocates have long argued that stimming is therapeutic and thus society should accept it, rather than shame autistic people for doing it. But what happens when it hinders someone else?

You see, right now, the only place where I can do my schoolwork is the living room, which bleeds into the dining room. Long story short—there is too much stuff in my room and the master bedroom to make room for a workspace. My dad, a school coordinator and part-time teacher, must use the office for his Zoom meetings and other school-related stuff. My brother frequently runs between the living and dining room because it provides him the most room to run around. Despite taking Vyvanse to help myself concentrate on my homework, my brother’s running and loud humming is too much for me. I need complete silence to focus—no music, as I am a musician with perfect pitch who would sidetrack myself by identifying all the notes I hear. I tried my brother’s noise cancelling headphones, which don’t work. Earplugs also do not remove all the noise. I can’t go to the library to work because the lockdown has mandated its closing. I can’t go to my dad’s classroom at his school because teachers aren’t allowed to step foot on campus, even if there aren’t any students. And my parents can’t always take my brother on a walk, as it’s been raining frequently these days and they have other things to do. Essentially, by forcing us all to stay in this tiny house, the coronavirus-induced quarantine has exposed the dilemma of two neurodivergent people with conflicting needs.

Since I read articles about and follow many Instagram accounts about neurodiversity, I think it would be safe to say that neurodiversity advocates would fight for my brother’s right to stim and express himself at home. After all, neurodiversity is a movement that promotes respect for neurological differences, rather than forcing neurodivergent people to behave like neurotypicals. As an autistic person, I understand the need for stimming, as I have my own stims. But I also deserve a quiet space to work, free from sensory overload and distractions, because those too are issues faced by countless individuals with ADHD and/or autism.

I definitely think that the issues posed by conflicting needs is something the neurodiversity community hasn’t sufficiently addressed, from what I have read. No, I’m not writing this post to say, “HA, neurodiversity clearly doesn’t work because this happened, so we should all abandon that movement and make neurodivergent people conform to neurotypical expectations.” I’m writing this because I don’t know what to do. I’m sure there are other families going through the same problem. I haven’t found anything, though. In light of all the issues revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope this is one problem that the neurodiversity community can solve.

Edit: After I reached out on social media about this issue, @neurodivergentactivist sent me this helpful resource by @theautisticlife.

Senior activities

Prom and graduation are still on track to happen; they haven’t been postponed or canceled, but there are speculations that we might not go back to school before the school year finishes. If that becomes true, that means the seniors won’t have Senior Night or the weeklong trip to Yosemite. See, every year the juniors plan Senior Night, a semi-formal event in which each junior has to prepare a short speech and a present for a senior, assigned randomly. There’s food, dancing, and a photo booth. The juniors also have to organize the event around a theme. Last year, when I was a junior, we were thinking of possible themes. C.A. suggested the ballroom scene in the Sound of Music, the one that ends with the seven children singing “So Long, Farewell.” In the end we chose Alice in Wonderland. I had to construct a centerpiece, a basket full of singing flowers made of skewers and paper, surrounded by dark green crepe paper that I got from H.D. and J.C. When I first picked my senior, it turned out that I couldn’t do that senior due to a bad personal history with them, so with the permission of administration, I traded seniors and was assigned one of my good friends. I remember laboring over the gift; getting the gift was easy enough, but getting a gift bag was not. I thought there was a gift bag lying around the house, but I couldn’t find any, so I ended up printing a template from the Internet to make a tiny paper bag the size of my palm—just the right size for a necklace with an oboe charm, which I purchased because my senior plays the oboe.

And to think that all of this could be gone! Each junior has to pay $120 to cover the expenses for Senior Night. Financially challenged juniors can have their share covered by our parent association, but the seniors get to attend Senior Night for free. It’s compensation for the work they had to do as juniors, I suppose. I had lots of fun as a junior during Senior Night, but I always thought I’d get to experience what this year’s juniors would offer us. Now it seems so uncertain.

First photo: “Oh my God, I’m gonna cry! My senior activities!” Second photo: “Kim, there’s people that are dying [of coronavirus].”

Of course, as my parents remind me, there are things that are much worse than missing out on the annual senior traditions. If we don’t do our part to isolate ourselves, hospitals will be overwhelmed. People who happen to get severe cases won’t get the proper treatment they need. But it doesn’t mean we can’t be upset. Let us mourn for both our missed opportunities and the deaths that arise from COVID-19.