Mental Health Awareness Week 2022

I have to admit that I often struggle with Mental Health Awareness Week, particularly the flooding of social media with “it’s okay not to be okay” and “reach out to someone if you need help”; it makes me want to scream in frustration because we are so far past that. If we’re going to create better support for mental health, we need more than that. This year, the theme is loneliness, which is an apt one, two years and change into this pandemic. I’m certainly seeing a lot of loneliness around at the moment: those with mental health issues, disabled individuals, people who are still shielding and feeling abandoned by society because of the dropped mandates… I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in or from Ukraine right now…

All of these situations need to be talked about and since the Mental Health Foundation is encouraging everyone to share their experiences with loneliness for Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d write about my experience, as a disabled person with mental health issues.


This is something I find kind of hard to talk about. I guess talking about it – and writing about it – makes me feel a little guilty because I’m not alone. I know I’m not alone. I have a great family and some really wonderful friends who have been there for me through some really tough stuff. They try so hard to make sure that I don’t feel alone. Fortunately, we – as people – don’t need to understand each other’s experiences point for point to find friendship and create those important, supportive bonds: I have a friend who has experienced very different trauma to me but there have been a lot of similarities throughout both of our journeys that have made it possible for us to relate to each other. I’m grateful for that, more than I can say.

But it’s also true that I do, often and increasingly, feel alone, feel lonely. And I think that that’s because no one – no one I’ve found at least – really understands what it’s like to be in my head, in my body, in my life, dealing with the problems that I have and the ripple effect that they can create. I’ve had multiple doctors and medical services simply stop helping me (or refuse to help me at all) because my case is “too complicated.” These are the professionals – the people who are supposed to really know and understand this stuff – and even they don’t know what to do with me (and those abandonments, plus other abandonments in my life, have left me with a lot of issues and fears that I have to work on every day). I think the issue is compounded by the fact that I have multiple diagnoses so, even though I may fit into the autistic community, I still don’t feel like I fit in because I also have OCD and BPD and so on; I can’t imagine there are many people who fit into the same community as me when the criteria is so narrow. I’m also not entirely convinced by the idea of community based on diagnosis either, to be honest, especially when the diagnosis covers such a range of symptoms, behaviours, and experiences, like Autism Spectrum Disorder. Anyway, my point is that I don’t feel like I fit in, even with the people that, on paper, I would likely get along with.

As I said, I’m not alone. Even though I’ve never felt like I quite fitted in, I have some great friends and friends from all areas of my life: school, sixth form, uni, Masters, as well as stuff outside education… But I can’t always keep up with my friends, with my peers, and I can’t always do the things I wish I could and I find that so hard. I always end up feeling like there’s a gap between me and everyone else and it’s lonely. Not being able to physically keep up with those around me means that I often feel left out – even if that’s nobody’s intention. And there’s a level of embarrassment and shame about being the one who can never keep up, the one who is always asking people to wait, always having to double check or change or cancel plans. I don’t know where that comes from – I know my friends would never want me to feel like that. But still, it’s there. It widens the gap and it makes that loneliness worse.

The older I get, the more I notice it – the gap. While I spend my time trying different medications, going to appointments for my physical and mental health, and resting after doing what I can manage to do, a lot of my friends are pursuing PhDs, establishing careers, living independently, and building lasting relationships. Our life experiences are just so different. And the longer it goes on, the bigger the disconnect feels. It just feels like the future is full of loneliness and I don’t know what to do with that.


I know this is kind of a depressing post. It’s a depressing truth, although it might have come out differently if I weren’t coming off my antidepressants; if I were in a better place mentally, I might have a more hopeful outlook. I don’t know.

I don’t think it’s a bad theme – loneliness can have a devastating impact on a person’s mental health – but the Mental Health Foundation’s website says that they want to “shatter the stigma around loneliness” and while I can’t say that there’s no stigma associated with loneliness, I can think of so many things that might have more impact as a theme, might make more of a difference, like access to mental health support or the impact of social media or… I don’t know, something more specific than loneliness or nature (last year’s theme). (I talked about this more in my Mass Observation Day post.) As I said at the beginning of this post, I find Mental Health Awareness Week difficult because I so often feel like the information being circulated is somewhat obvious, that we could – and should – be going deeper. I guess it all just feels a bit surface level but I don’t know how that changes, if anyone else even feels this way. It just doesn’t feel like enough. It’s one week a year and it doesn’t feel like enough.

A Love and Hate Relationship with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Being autistic is complicated (to state the obvious). It’s never just one thing, in my experience at least. It’s not even one thing on one day, one thing in one moment. It’s good things and bad things all wrapped up together and while I can advocate and applaud ‘Autistic Pride,’ I’m not sure I’m there yet. But I can appreciate the good and the bad and so, considering it’s World Autism Acceptance Week, I thought I’d post something about just that: the good and the bad and learning to live with them…


Autism, as we know, is a neurobehavioural condition so the traits associated with it are right down in our wiring, just like the rest of our personality traits: being autistic is at the very core of us and everything else is built upon that foundation. There are some things about being autistic that mean a lot to me, things about myself that I love and value, including…

  1. A NEED FOR AUTHENTICITY – Obviously I can’t control whether or not other people act authentically but I need to be authentic. If I act differently to how I feel, it has a negative impact on my mental health and on my happiness. So, to be happy and mentally healthy, I have to act on how I feel and be who I really am and it’s in following that rule (for lack of a better word) that I’ve had the best experiences and created the things I’m most proud of. As I said, I can’t make that choice for other people but I do think that, on the whole, I get on better and make stronger connections with people who are authentic.
  2. PASSIONATE ABOUT THE THINGS THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO ME – If I love something, I love it with everything I have. I will fully immerse myself in said thing; I actually find it hard not to. That can sometimes make doing normal, day-to-day things hard because all I want to be doing is engaging with this thing I love but I’d rather love wholeheartedly than feel ambivalent about stuff.
  3. LOYALTY – When I care about somebody, I’m all in. I’ll do anything for my friends, sometimes to a pretty extreme degree: like, once I improvised travelling home from Nashville because my flight was cancelled and I’d promised a friend I’d be home for something or like, once I woke myself up every hour to check whether a friend who was in hospital had tried to get in touch because she was scared about being in hospital alone at night. Putting that much into a friendship or relationship does mean I’m more likely to get my heart broken (and it already has been) but like all of the things that matter to me, I’m never going to want to care less about people. I mean, on the bad days, sometimes I do – it would make life easier – but, as a person, I like that I care that much. It’s not always easy (or healthy) but overall, I always think it’s better to care more than less.
  4. STUBBORNNESS – I am stubborn as hell and sometimes it’s a pain; sometimes I can’t let things go even when I want to. But being stubborn has also gotten me through a lot of hard stuff and helped me make a lot of good stuff happen.
  5. IT GAVE ME PURPOSE – All I want to do is make the world a little bit better. That’s all I want. I hate seeing people unhappy or things not working so I’m always looking for ways to help and make things better but the world is a big place with lots of problems and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless. But finding out that I’m autistic, that gave me a place to start and the more I’ve learned, the more I want to help make being autistic an easier, less harmful, and ultimately better experience. And that’s what I’m trying to do, whether that’s with this blog, my music, or by trying to improve the accessibility and understanding wherever I go.

But there are also things about being autistic that I hate, that I struggle with, that cause me problems, and upset me deeply. I know it’s not healthy to focus on the difficult parts (unless you’re, for example, working on something specifically in therapy or counselling) but I do believe that acknowledging the negatives is important and validating. Endless positivity is not helpful and can end up being harmful so here are some of the things that I hate about being autistic…

  1. LACK OF INDEPENDENCE – With the sensory issues, fatigue, mental health problems, etc, my independence is severely hindered. And as hard as I work to improve my stamina and my mental health and so on, I don’t know how I’m ever going to be completely independent. If it’s even possible. The idea of living by myself is one that I can’t even really imagine ever being realised. And with that being such a standard rite of passage that holds such weight, it’s hard not to feel inadequate or broken.
  2. FEELING FROZEN – I still don’t really know how to describe this feeling and I can’t say for sure what caused it or when it kicked in but I feel very stuck, particularly in the developmental sense. I feel stuck somewhere between teenager and adult; I feel all the pressure of being an adult but I also feel incapable of doing a lot of the things that make it impossible to meet all of those expectations. All of the things that impede my independence come into play here too, like my lack of energy and my issues with pain. Just existing is an exhausting experience; living as everyone else does feels like an impossible dream.
  3. THE SENSORY DIFFICULTIES (WITH FOOD IN PARTICULAR) – Sometimes just being is really hard. Every light is too bright, every sound is too loud, every smell is overpowering, every fabric is itchy… and so on. It’s not like that everyday, at least not for me. But it is like that a lot. And most of the time, it makes doing normal things like eating, drinking, going about my day, etc, just that bit harder. I would love to not be phased by restaurants for example: to not worry about the fact that there’s probably nothing I can eat, or potentially even drink, apart from water (and even then it usually has lemon or lime or cucumber in it). Even small things feel so complicated. I’d love to be able to just meet a friend for coffee and that be that but between whatever we eat or drink, how loud it is, and all of the other sensory factors (and that’s not even thinking about all the sensory stuff involved in the travelling), it’s just exhausting. And I wish it wasn’t.
  4. THE RESULTING MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS – While we will never know for sure, I (and the mental health professionals that I trust and have worked with for years now) strongly suspect that many of the mental health issues I deal with, are at least partly down to being autistic, and specifically, being diagnosed as autistic so relatively late. Anxiety, depression, OCD, BPD, and ADHD are all comorbid to Autism. Maybe some of them would have developed on their own but I’m sure the Autism did not help and the amount of distress that these problems cause isn’t something I can easily put words to. Every day is a struggle because of them. Let’s leave it at that for now.
  5. THE LACK OF UNDERSTANDING, FROM EVERYONE (INCLUDING MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS) – Everywhere I go, I have to teach people about Autism, even the most basic stuff. From friends, to teachers, to doctors, even to people whose entire job revolves around accessibility. No one seems to know anything, or at least anything beyond the basic stereotypes. There’s almost no decent representation out in the world, in the media (which makes it very easy to feel alone and/or broken) – the vast majority of it is harmful. So many people still don’t even know that Autism manifests differently in girls. Autism is a complicated thing so I don’t mind helping people understand it, understand some of the nuance, but I hate how bad the general understanding is, especially when it’s people who should know better (when it’s part of their job, for example). This is why so many people are diagnosed so late and struggle so much: even the people who should have a working knowledge of Autism don’t and it’s really not good enough.

So, this was a bit more exposing than I’d expected when I started writing. But there it is. Almost a decade later and I’m still figuring out what it means, to me, to be autistic. It’s complicated and it’s hard and some days I’m really proud that this is who I am. I guess the goal is to have more of those days.

February Album Writing Month 2022

Over the last few years, I’ve been attempting the challenge of February Album Writing Month, also known as FAWM. For those of you who don’t know, FAWM is an annual songwriting challenge where all of the participants attempt to write fourteen songs in the twenty-eight days of February. I wrote about my history with this challenge in last year’s post so I won’t repeat myself but I look forward to it every year.

Even before 2022 began, I knew it was unlikely (very unlikely) that I was going to be able to complete the challenge this year, or even do it at all, given how badly the ADHD meds were affecting me. I was so anxious and depressed that I could barely get out of bed – for months – let alone write. Not that my brain was working anyway: my creative brain seems to go into hibernation when I’m depressed. But then, after I stopped taking the ADHD meds and started taking antidepressants again, a song dropped into my lap and I thought that maybe I could use the challenge to get back into writing, even if I didn’t manage to write fourteen songs. So here are some the songs that I wrote (there are a few that I don’t want to write about right now because I don’t know what’s going to happen with them and/or they’re not mine to talk about)…


  1. Eventually – I’ve done a lot of writing from the perspectives of different characters over the last year and I really enjoy it; it feels really different and I love the challenge of trying to get make the song sound like the character, like using certain words and avoiding others. It needs to sound like them. I love it. This song just appeared as if out of thin air and came together like magic. It’s from the point of view of Daisy Johnson from Agents of SHIELD in the gap between Season 3 and Season 4 when she left SHIELD because she felt like everything that happened – all of the tragedy – was her fault and that the people she cared about were in danger because of her. It’s a really sad song and not a hundred miles away from how I’ve been feeling recently, the depth of the sadness and grief. But it was good to write and I’m proud of it.
  2. More Time – Another fiction-based song, this one was inspired by Mary and Francis from Reign. I haven’t watched it in years but I always loved the two of them together and the fact that they never got the happy ending they deserved always made me really sad. I’d like to write a song envisioning that happy ending but this one was from Mary’s point of view grieving Francis’ death and mourning the life they should’ve had together. It’s not perfect yet but I think it’s a solid first draft.
  3. My Voice – This song was also inspired by fiction. I wanted to write a song about reclaiming your life, your voice, after it feels like everything has been taken away from you. When it feels like you can either burn everything down and run or stand your ground, you stand your ground, even if it isn’t pretty. I’m not sure the first draft is right yet but there are a lot of lines that I’m really proud of so it feels like a good start. While inspired by a fictional story, it also applies to my life, which – to be fair – many of my fiction-based songs do. Sometimes I just need some help to put it all into words.
  4. You – I wrote a love song! I’ve written very few love songs in my time – songs about love being good, at least – so it’s always a bit of a moment when I do write one. This one is also based on fictional characters but I loved their dynamic so I had to write about it: an instant something that, over time, turns into more. And the fictional storyline had some great visuals to pull into the lyrics, the part I’m most proud of. The whole song felt very in keeping with the character whose perspective I’d borrowed and that was very pleasing.
  5. Making Up Memories – It took a while but I finally wrote a FAWM 2022 song about me and my life, although it is based on a dream I had. I was unexpectedly called by someone that I’ll never hear from again and it was like I’d slid sideways into a parallel universe because they were acting so normal while it felt like my head was exploding. It’s a dream that’s stayed very vivid over the years, especially since I wrote down exactly what we said to each other before it faded. But the whole thing – all of the colours, sensations, feelings – is still so clear and I’ve always wanted to write a song about it. I’ve been moving the pieces around for a long time but I think I’ve finally got the lyrics how I want them. I’m not sure about the melody – I might take it to one of my trusted cowriters – but for now, I’m just really pleased to be happy with the lyrics.
  6. Closure – This song began years ago and while I loved the track, I was never happy with the topline I wrote for it. I’ve had the track on my laptop ever since and for some reason, I just pulled it out and started to fiddle with the lyrics. It was about the end of a relationship and at the time, it was still quite raw but with the perspective I’ve gained over the years, it was easier to put those feelings into words. I’m not sure it’s finished but the amount of progress in one redraft (basically a re-writing with all the work done) is kind of mind-blowing.
  7. Control – Over a year ago, I wrote a song for a uni assignment and, to be honest, hated it and so abandoned it. But recently I’ve been thinking about a specific section of that song and how much I liked and related to that part, even though the song as a whole was fictional. So I took that section of the song, used it as a chorus, and built a whole new song around that. I’m really excited to work on it further.
  8. Drown – I didn’t finish this one but I was working on it when the clock ran out so I’m going to include it. It’s about how, being autistic, I not only feel my own emotions really strongly but also those of the people around me. It’s a lot of emotion to deal with and it can feel really overwhelming. I’ve wanted to write about this for ages but I haven’t been able to get it right. I’m still not sure I have but I’m trying. I’m still playing with it.

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Had this been another year, I would not be happy with having not reached the goal of fourteen songs but the last few months have been so awful that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to write at all. So eight (plus) songs after months of depression and no writing at all is definitely progress and I’m proud of that. It’s been really fun to write again and it’s reminded me why I love it and why I wish I could spend all of my time doing it.

I do want to write more about how my depression (and medication) affects my writing but I think that deserves its own space. So that’s another post for another day. I hope everyone who took part in FAWM enjoyed themselves, whether you reached the goal or not, and I look forward to doing the challenge again next year, as well as working on the songs I’ve been writing over the last month.