Posted on September 12, 2021
And that’s that. I’ve finished the final module of my Masters and therefore the Masters itself. I don’t know what my grade is for the module or for the whole course yet but frankly, I’ve got a lot to process before I can even really think about the grades and graduation.
Looking back at a similar post before the module started, I was excited about the project but nervous about my health, mental and physical, and whether it would prevent me from doing everything I needed to do, from being able to enjoy the process. And those were valid concerns so I thought, having written a post about how I was feeling before the module started, I’d write another now that it’s ended – like bookends.
A lot has happened since the beginning of May.
Over the last four months, I’ve spent almost every day working on my final project, researching, writing songs, and working on the production of an album. It’s been incredibly intense and now that it’s all done, I’m utterly exhausted, both mind and body. And while, for the most part, I loved it, it’s also a relief to be free of some of the anxiety around it (I’m still struggling with my anxiety around the grade). Having said that, I feel strangely lost and untethered now that I don’t have this big thing to focus on. I know that I need a break but I am looking forward to the next project, whatever that may be. I’m always happier when I’m doing things.
My mental health was pretty good for most of the module, surprisingly so. By my standards at least. I think that the constant creating and the creating of stuff I’m proud of really helped. I had one particularly bad episode of depression, plus a handful of smaller ones, and my anxiety was pretty constant but that’s normal for me. It got very bad in the last month, which was hard to manage – trying not to let it destabilise me was a bit of a battle in itself. It hasn’t quite faded yet. For various reasons, I didn’t have any access to my therapist, which was an unforeseen difficulty and that made things a lot harder than I’d expected them to be.
I also really struggled with my concentration. I’m still not getting any support for my ADHD (something that I hope will change soon but I’m still so frustrated that I couldn’t get any help with it during my Masters) so staying focussed on my project, on my research, took all of my energy. It was exhausting. I felt like my concentration was so, so fragile that a single moment of distraction would break it and then it would be impossible or would take days or even weeks to get back. So I couldn’t stop. Not for anything. That was very stressful and resulted in many, many long days. Sometimes I’d work all day without moving (not healthy, I know) and end up going to bed very late. And then, of course, I couldn’t sleep because my thoughts were racing. So it did a number on my sleep schedule too; I’m surprised I’m not nocturnal at this point.
That, plus the general fatigue I deal with day to day, meant I was tired all of the time. I’ve drunk an obscene amount of Red Bull (my antidepressants make me really drowsy, just to make things even more difficult, although I may be changing medications soon, which hopefully won’t have the same side effects) – I am beyond sick of the taste of it. But it got me through and I’m grateful for that. I will however be grateful to never drink it again (hopefully). And I’m really looking forward to getting both some proper sleep and some proper rest now that my work is done.
I also mentioned back in June that I’d been having migraines that seemed to be being caused by an abscess in one of my teeth. Since then, I’ve been on antibiotics twice, continued to have migraines, and am still waiting to have the tooth removed, a decision that was made at the appointment in June. Given how much disruption it was causing though, I did get extenuating circumstances which allowed me some extra time (although it wasn’t really extra since it was making up for time lost to a medical problem) to cope with those problems. It’s not bothering me presently which is a relief but I’m more than ready for them to take the tooth out, just so that they’re not even problems I have to think about.
While I managed to keep swimming twice a week – a routine I’ve been trying to maintain to create a solid foundation for my crappy joints – I was in almost constant pain throughout the module. At times, my right knee was so painful that I couldn’t walk on it and my back has been consistently painful; my Mum, who used to be a massage therapist, said it felt like trying to massage rocks and now that it’s all over and I’m trying to relax, the muscles feel like their made of concrete. Which is about as pleasant as it sounds. I’ve also had great trouble with my hands and wrists what with all the typing I’ve been doing. So, all in all, I’ve been a bit of a mess. I haven’t had any support for this – the hEDS – either; I’ve been waiting for physiotherapy and hydrotherapy since December 2020 officially and May 2020 unofficially. I’ve just had to try and get by on various painkillers, none of which have been all that effective.
Despite working practically non-stop, I got everything for my project done just in time for my final presentation. My assessors were positive, which I’m trying to hold on to in the wake of my anxiety around the final grade. I’ve been really trying not to attach my self worth to my grades (something I’ve always really struggled with), or at least, lessen the power my grades have over me but I can’t help the fact that I really want to do well. I’ve worked so hard – with so many obstacles – and the idea that that still wasn’t enough to get a Distinction would be upsetting. I’d get over it but it would still be upsetting. I never want someone thinking, “Oh, she mustn’t have worked hard enough.” Or worse: I never want to think, “Oh, I would’ve gotten a distinction if I wasn’t autistic or had ADHD or whatever” thoughts left over from my late diagnoses and the resulting difficulty I have in setting standards and goals for myself (more on that in another post). This anxiety isn’t helped by the fact that I keep thinking of things that I should’ve included in my presentation. My brain clearly hasn’t quite processed that the module is over.
And then, just when I thought I could relax, the world tipped under my feet. The next morning, my Mum told me that my Granny had died a few days earlier. She was ninety-three. Having barely started to process the end of my two year Masters and intense final project, this news was just too much for my brain. A few days on, I feel like I’m bouncing pretty erratically between two states, the first being this weird bubble where nothing can touch me and the second being, ‘if I stop thinking or talking or moving for even a second, I’m going to completely fall apart.’ It’s surreal and exhausting and sad. I’d like to write a piece about her at some point because she was such an incredible woman but I can’t really write more than this right now but it felt really important to at least acknowledge what’s happened because it’s so big and so important.
I don’t think there’s anything else to say right now. I’ve barely been able to wrap my head around this last week: my final presentation, the ending of the Masters, Granny, and everything that’s ahead given all of these things. It’s a lot to take in; I’m exhausted. I’m just taking it day by day.
Category: adhd, anxiety, autism, covid-19 pandemic, death, depression, emotions, family, heds, medication, mental health, music, research, sleep, therapy, university, writing Tagged: actuallyadhd, actuallyautistic, adhd, adhd inattentive type, adhd support, album, antibiotics, antidepressants, anxiety, anxiety disorder, asd, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, autistic student, break, concentration, death, depressed, depression, drowsiness, drowsy, eds, ehlers danlos syndrome, exhaustion, extenuating circumstances, fatigue, final project, focus, generalised anxiety disorder, grades, grandmother, grandparent, granny, grief, heds, hypermobile ehlers danlos syndrome, hypermobility, identity, inattentive type, late diagnosis, loss, masters, masters degree, masters degree in songwriting, masters degree year two, masters part time, medication, mental health, mental health break, mental health update, mental illness, migraine, migraines, new album, new music, part time masters student, processing, recovery time, red bull, rest, self worth, side effects, singer, singersongwriter, singersongwriter life, sleep, sleepiness, sleepy, songwriter, songwriting, therapist, therapy, tired, tooth extraction, tooth pain, writing
Posted on April 4, 2021
And here we are. It’s the last day of Autism Awareness Week…
Recently – and not just this week – I’ve been seeing a lot of discussion about whether Autism Awareness Month/Week/Day should be Autism Acceptance Month/Week/Day instead. I’ve seen lots of people saying we’re past the point of awareness and that acceptance should be the primary focus. Of course – of course – I think acceptance is vitally important and the way forward but when it comes to the point about awareness, I’m not sure.
Are people ACTUALLY aware? Yes, many people are aware that Autism exists. But… Are they aware that it presents differently in different people? Are they aware that it presents very differently in females to males? Are they aware of how hard many autistic individuals work to mask their Autism and how damaging that can be in the long term? Are they aware of how much anxiety a change of plans can cause? Are they aware that autistic individuals may need more time to process information than their neurotypical peers? Are they aware of what sensory sensitivities are actually like to live with? Are they aware of what is going on for an autistic person when they’re having a meltdown? I’m not sure many people are.
Autism Awareness, in my opinion, isn’t just about being aware that Autism exists. It’s about having an actual awareness about the experience of it, the full picture – as much as you can when a condition can present so differently in each person. So many people – many of them good and decent people – still don’t have a real awareness of what the main areas of difficulty can be for autistic individuals, how they can support their neurodivergent peers, and how they can be allies in the fight against ableism. I think this is particularly important when it comes to institutions – medicine (both physical and mental), education, etc – because in my experience at least, many people in these institutions don’t know much about Autism at all. There has not been a single medical appointment in my memory that I’ve gone to where I haven’t had to explain at least one big relevant area of my Autism. And not just in specific, personal terms but in general this-actually-exists terms. With all of that in mind, have we outgrown the need for Autism Awareness and Autism Awareness Months/Weeks/Days? I don’t think we have.
I’ve seen other people talking about acceptance as more positive than awareness, that awareness comes from a past of seeing Autism as a problem to be solved, an obstacle to be negotiated whereas acceptance is about the future, about welcoming autistic individuals into society rather than sidelining them. I can completely understand this point of view and I don’t disagree, but I think that’s a big leap to make. Can you truly accept something without, at the very least, a basic understanding of it?
Maybe I’m being too literal. But I think it comes down to more than awareness OR acceptance. Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s a different word altogether. Maybe we should take the lead from Twitter’s #actuallyautistic hashtag and have an Actually Autistic Month to put the focus on the actual individuals with Autism. I don’t know. I’m not going to pretend to be the font of all knowledge when it comes to this, when it comes to Autism. This is just my two cents. I think awareness is still necessary but acceptance is vital to the quality of life of autistic individuals. I don’t think it’s one or the other. I think it’s a topic that still needs conversation and development.
So… awareness or acceptance? I think it’s both. I think it’s awareness and acceptance.
I hope this week of posts has been helpful and interesting! Don’t forget that April is Autism Awareness Month so, where possible, let’s all keep reading and learning and raising the voices and experiences of autistic individuals.
Category: autism, event Tagged: #actuallyautistic, acceptance, actuallyautistic, actuallyautistic twitter, asc, asd, autism, autism acceptance, autism awareness, autism awareness day, autism awareness month, autism awareness week, autism awareness week 2021, autism resources, autism spectrum condition, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, awareness, awareness vs acceptance, world autism awareness week, world autism awareness week 2021
Posted on April 2, 2021
Autism Awareness Day always has a theme. Officially, the UN sets the theme but different organisations also choose their own themes; for example, I know that autistica has chosen the theme of anxiety. The official theme (the one set by the UN) is ‘Inclusion in the Workplace: Challenges and Opportunities in a Post-Pandemic World.’ I don’t feel that there’s really anything useful I can add to that conversation, given that I’ve never been well enough to have what society would consider a proper job and that the career path I’m following doesn’t really involve traditional workplaces. So, instead, I thought I’d write about something different, something that has been a really big deal for me this year.
For so long, I just felt like I was broken. And I felt like I was broken in so many places. I couldn’t understand it. Getting the Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis helped but there were still all these cracks, all of these problems that no one could make sense of. I had mental health problems, I had chronic fatigue, I had chronic pain, and so on. Nobody could figure out the whole picture and at worst, I was just abandoned by medical professionals, told that my case was just too complicated. That was the most painful part, I think; these people, many of whom it was their job to help with situations like this, were willing to let me continue to struggle rather than put in the effort and help me. It made me feel like I wasn’t worth helping, the toxic best friend of feeling like I was broken.
But in the last few months, with the help of several new medical professionals and some more diagnostic work, the pieces have all slotted into place and, I think, we might finally have the whole picture. So this is the timeline, beginning in 2016 (I might add dates later but I don’t have them all to hand right now).
(I’ve covered some of this before but I think it’s necessary if we’re talking about said whole picture.)
And suddenly all of the pieces started to click together:
THE MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES (TRD, GAD, OCD, AND BPD) AND ADHD ARE, AT LEAST IN PART, CONNECTED TO MY ASD.
MY ASD AND HYPERMOBILITY ARE LINKED.
THE HYPERMOBILITY LED TO A DIAGNOSIS OF hEDS, WHICH EXPLAINS MY CHRONIC FATIGUE, CHRONIC PAIN, AND OTHER PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS.
Discovering that it’s all connected has been a really helpful and comforting revelation. I’m starting to see each condition as a star in one big constellation and that’s a hell of a lot better than feeling inexplicably broken in multiple places. I still have to deal with everything that comes with each of these conditions, of course, but knowing that they’re all part of the same picture does make my health less draining to think about and manage. It all makes more sense. And I am a person that needs things to make sense. So this is all a really big deal.
Category: about me, adhd, anxiety, autism, bpd, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, diagnosis, heds, mental health, ocd Tagged: actuallyautistic, adhd, anxiety, asd, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, autism awareness, autism awareness day, autism awareness week, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, borderline personality disorder, bpd, chronic fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain, depression, diagnosis, diagnostic process, ehlers danlos syndrome, generalised anxiety disorder, heds, hypermobile ehlers danlos syndrome, hypermobility, multiple diagnoses, myalgic encephalomyelitis, obsessive compulsive disorder, ocd, social anxiety, treatment resistant depression
Hi! I’m Lauren Alex Hooper. Welcome to my little blog! I write about living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD (Inattentive Type), and Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), as well as several mental health issues.
I’m a singer-songwriter (it’s my biggest special interest and I have both a BA and MA in songwriting) so I’ll probably write a bit about that too.
My first single, ‘Invisible,’ is on all platforms, with all proceeds going to Young Minds.
My debut EP, Honest, is available on all platforms, with a limited physical run at Resident Music in Brighton.
I’m currently working on an album about my experiences as an autistic woman.