I know I’ve written a blog post about my special interest of Queen, but this time around I’m writing about another special interest – one that has had an impact on my life quite recently.
I’ve loved history for as long as I can remember. I grew up fascinated at almost everything I learned about history in primary and secondary school – though I always felt a bit ill when being taught crime and punishment. Family trips included the local site of Stonehenge, Avebury, various National Trust houses, the house of Charles Darwin, the house of Winston Churchill and Hever Castle (home to both Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves). I loved it so much, that I studied it at degree level! I even wrote a document on autism and history a few months ago.
You could say that history has been my oldest special interest. With it being a broad subject, there is no doubt that my specific historical interests have changed. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate modern history. One of my favourite modules at university was European Studies 1789-2001.
As my degree has ended and I am finding myself at a loss of what to do during lockdown (the November lockdown – that is), so I’ve decided to utilise my special interest in history.
I’ve talked before about how volunteering at university has helped improve my mental health. It’s something I miss a lot now that I’m at home, both the community and the events. Luckily with everything going on, there has been a rise in digital volunteering which can be done from home.
Something I’ve also noticed is that my mental health has declined within the last few months, the lockdown has contributed to it quite a bit. It’s getting to the point where I feel low throughout the entire day. I must admit, I’ve not reached out to my friends about it – in fact, it’s almost like I’m too worried of being a burden to them. I don’t want to ruin their good time and vibes by talking about my mental health issues. So instead, I seek a distraction. If I’m thinking about something that I’m doing, I won’t be thinking about my mental health.
At first, I just started researching different aspects of history. I had an urge to continue researching parts of ‘Autism and History’, especially different attitudes to autism through time. While typing away at my laptop, I would have my history books (on the Cold War, Russian Revolution and Europe in the early 1900s) by my side – even if I didn’t use them! I feel that it was a comfort item in that instance.
But within the last two months, I have been working in a volunteer role in my local museum. I had planned on volunteering at local museums for some time, but being at university meant that I wouldn’t be able to volunteer for the amount of time that they required of me. In that respect, I’m quite grateful for the rise in digital volunteering – it is something that I can do from home, in a time that suits me. My role is to research items from the online collections database, which then become part of their social media posts in order to boost engagement. It’s a very basic description of what I do, but it sums it up well.
It’s a lot of fun, as I went to a university in a different county I didn’t get to learn about the history of where I lived – the closest I would get is the odd mention of my home city. But through my volunteer work, I’m getting to learn about the role my local town had in the Civil War and the different stories of witches in my county. I’m starting to learn about the people that used to live in my local area, old businesses that used to run and the stories that can be told.
It took many years for me to try and define what type of history I liked the most. When I was 9 it was the Tudors, at 10/11 it was the Ancient Greeks. At secondary school, I was taught about the World Wars and Vietnam and at A Level, I was captivated by the Cold War. When I first started University, I was convinced that political history was my thing (due to the fact that I was studying History and Politics), but now I feel that I’ve moved more towards Social History. I’m far more interested hearing the stories and finding out about different groups of people during different historical events, rather than researching the results of elections or reading old party manifestos.
I think that’s why volunteering at the museum really appeals to me, there’s so much to learn about the people of where I live and there are lots of stories to learn. I have researched the lives of women accused of witchcraft in my home city, a man who was part of the local archaeological and natural history society who was the editor of a 1960s copy of the ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ and the role a nearby airfield had with the construction of spitfires in the Second World War.
While I mainly focus on creating posts for holidays and awareness days (I’ve written for Halloween and Remembrance Day and I am currently writing for Christmas), I do have information about generic items that have taken my fancy. I tend to write more about my specialties (modern history) but I have started reaching out to historical period outside of my comfort zone – one example being some of the oldest metal objects excavated in Britain, dating back to the Bronze Age.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s no shame in immersing yourself in your special interests, especially in times where you feel like you are struggling. This year has not been a normal year by any means, so now more than ever it has become important to look after yourself. With the entire year being filled with uncertainty, it has not been easy for myself and other autistic people who are reliant on a sense of routine.
If a special interest manages to provide you with a sense of routine and helps keep you going through tough times (as long as it doesn’t harm anyone and cause you or others distress!), then I encourage that you find a way to incorporate that into your daily or weekly routine. It’s important that we all find ways to improve our mental health, and by engaging with my special interests I feel that I can at least take a break from my hectic and unpredictable everyday life.