Posted on November 27, 2021
My birthday this year was definitely weird, hence why I’m only just writing about it a couple of months after the fact. I’ve been struggling to process the last few months just because of how much stuff has happened: the final project of my Masters wrapping up, the final assessment, the Masters being over, the sudden death of my Granny, her funeral, performing again for the first time in eighteen months, changing my medication, graduation, the celebration of life for my Granny… It’s been a lot and I honestly have no idea how I feel most of the time. But I’m hoping that, by putting it into words, it’ll help. Somehow.
So, for the last few years, I’ve been trying to ease my anxiety around birthdays with some birthday rules I picked up from Tumblr a while back. My first post about them is here, but the basic idea is to do something you wouldn’t normally do and buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy, to make each birthday unique and special. For some reason, this year was harder than the previous ones and I really struggled to commit to an idea for both rules. But, given that it’s now two months later, I think I need to let it go and stop obsessing. Whatever’s causing my anxiety over this, it’s taking up too much energy that I need elsewhere.
So, I’m writing it down and putting it to bed…
Rule #1: Do something you wouldn’t normally do.
I was going back and forth on what to do when the perfect thing fell into my lap: the opportunity to perform again for the first time in about eighteen months! And not only that but it was two gigs, the first at the original Hard Rock Cafe in London and the second at the Hard Rock Cafe in Piccadilly Circus. So, while I was very nervous, I was also very, very excited. Given the tight turnaround between getting the gigs and them actually happening, Richard and I only managed to practice together once. Fortunately, we are very well practiced at the Honest EP songs and picked them up again quickly so we could, for the most part, focus on the other songs we were playing.
The first night was actually the night of my birthday and I was so nervous that I could barely breathe. My body felt so awkward and it was almost like I couldn’t remember how to perform, how to hold my body, how to not bump into the microphone, how to talk between songs… But, by the second half of my set, it was all rushing back and I was just overflowing with that unique joy of getting to do the thing you love most in the world (well, other than the songwriting itself but you know what I mean). I was SO HAPPY. I was positively giddy with it. It wasn’t my strongest performance ever but after eighteen months of playing to my living room, I wouldn’t have expected it to be. It was jumping in at the deep end. And although it felt so awkward at the beginning, it all came back very quickly and I couldn’t wait for the next night so I could do it all over again.
The second night went well, on the whole. Despite the night before, I was still nervous and it was a very different space; the lower ceiling meant that the sound bounced around differently and it took a while to adjust (just like everything, adjusting to the space you’re performing in is a skill that requires practice) but, again, I had so much fun. Performing songs that I’ve written about things that matter to me… it’s when I’m doing that that I feel most comfortable in my own skin, most in sync with the world around me. It’s the best feeling. Everyone was so lovely and I had such a great time.
It was just so fun to perform again. And it was so fun to perform with Richard again (and what a trooper he was, having moved house the day of the second performance). I loved getting to play the songs from the Honest EP, I loved performing some of my unreleased songs, and I loved playing a few brand new covers (including ‘Lullaby’ by Kalie Shorr and ‘this is me trying’ by Taylor Swift, both of which are among my favourite songs). I’m so grateful to everyone at both shows – those working in the venues and the other performers – and my friends and family who came to support and celebrate with me; it was just a complete joy and I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my birthday any other way, even if I was beyond nervous about it.
Rule #2: Buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy.
I was very aware that Taylor Swift was releasing Red (Taylor’s Version) in November and given how much the original means to me, I knew I would want to spend money on it when it came out. So I tucked some money away until the album was released on the 12th November. As much as I loved it before, I fell in love with it all over again, not to mention the new songs: they’ve added so many new layers to the world of the album. It’s a stunning album and every time I listen to it, I feel like I’m learning even more about songcraft.
Along with the album and the vinyl, I treated myself to some of the accompanying merch, including the scarf and the notebook. Oh, and the jumper with ‘Taylor’s Version’ across the front; that was just so perfect. What she’s doing with the rerecordings is incredible and, as someone entering the music industry, it’s both encouraging and inspiring to have a woman like her advocating for the rights of songwriters and artists. Plus, it seems fitting. Her music has had such a huge impact on my life; I wouldn’t be who I am now if not for her music.
So while both of these things were Good Things, it was a weird and hard birthday. There’s just been so much to process – so much change – and so much anxiety; it was hard to settle on a decision because nothing felt right. But I’m starting to think that, given everything going on, nothing was going to feel right. So it’s time to move on. It’s time to stop worrying about it. I did the best I could with that birthday I had and it was good, even if it was messier than I would’ve liked. Such is life.
Category: about me, anxiety, emotions, event, mental health, music, video Tagged: 27, 27th birthday, anxiety, birthday, birthday celebration, birthday present, birthday rules, hard rock cafe, lockdown, london, mental health, merchandise, overwhelm, overwhelmed, pandemic, pandemic 2020, performing, red (taylor's version), singer, singersongwriter, songwriter, songwriting, taylor swift
Posted on November 20, 2021
The decision to change my medication has been a long time coming. I was diagnosed with ADHD back in January but, for various reasons, I haven’t been able to take any medication for it up to this point. As I said in this post, my specialist wouldn’t allow me to take any of the classic, stimulant medications for ADHD while I was still taking my current antidepressant, Phenelzine. So, in order to take anything for my ADHD (other than the less common medications that would only make me even drowsier than I am currently), I would have to come off the Phenelzine and either try a different antidepressant or try going without one. That all felt too much to manage while I was doing my Masters – it feels like a lot to manage now – but now that the Masters as is over and I’m already in a period of transition, it felt like it was time to come off the Phenelzine. The side effects were going to throw a wrench in several plans but that was going to be the case regardless of when I decided to do it and I hated the feeling of having it hanging over me. I know I need to do it but a big part of me really didn’t want to (and is still sceptical to a certain degree): over the last ten years, I’ve found it all but impossible to write songs during the periods when I wasn’t taking Phenelzine so it’s not surprising that it’s not exactly an easy decision. But if I want to get out of this limbo state, then I need to try.
So, beginning the 18th November, I started to reduce the dosage of the Phenelzine. For two weeks, I took half my normal dose and then I went another two weeks without anything in my system, giving my body the time to filter out any traces of the Phenelzine (known as the wash out period) and ensuring that way any new drug I take won’t result in a negative interaction. As always, it’s important to point out that this is a plan I’ve worked out with my psychiatrist and my ADHD specialist and is specifically tailored to me. If you’re making any changes around any medication you’re taking, please consult your doctor first.
WEEK 1 (Monday 18th October – Sunday 24th October)
For most of the week, I felt fine, which surprised me: usually, if I miss a dose of Phenelzine, I get hit with a headache pretty quickly but for some reason, that didn’t happen this time. I was tired and a bit more emotional than usual but nothing that out of the ordinary, nothing that couldn’t just happen anyway. I think those first four days lulled me into a false sense of security.
It hit me on the Friday. I felt weak and shaky and had a really unpleasant headache. And that turned into feeling absolutely awful over the weekend: I had debilitating migraines; I felt nauseous, shaky, and lightheaded; I thought I might faint every time I stood up. I also developed an annoying cough and, after multiple COVID tests, I had to assume it was part of the withdrawal and not COVID related (thank goodness – I don’t think I could’ve coped with that as well and I’m glad my family didn’t either).
WEEK 2 (Monday 25th October – Sunday 31st October)
The cough and the migraines continued into the middle of the week and then, fortunately, they started to let up. My sleep schedule was utterly screwed up: I was struggling to get to sleep and not drifting off until between two and five am and then, because I was so exhausted, I was sleeping in to the middle of the afternoon. And as hard as I tried, I couldn’t correct the schedule. I also had really weird, really vivid dreams that took me a while to drag myself out of and separate dream from reality. I did have a sudden, deep dip in mood where I felt really awful and discouraged about the various things I’m currently working on, which was scary: my big fear about coming off the Phenelzine has been returning to that really depressed place I was in before so to feel it happening was horrible. But fortunately it didn’t last and I’ve tried to just stay away from things that trigger those kind of feelings, for the duration of this changeover at least.
By Sunday, things had started to improve and I was feeling a bit more human. Having said that, I was not looking forward to the rollercoaster that the next two weeks were likely to be.
WASH OUT PERIOD
WEEK 1 (Monday 1st November – Sunday 7th November)
The beginning of the week was okay with just minor headaches and some nausea, both of which were pretty ignorable. And apart from sleeping really deeply and the continuation of the weird, vivid dreams, I felt okay. But by the end of the week, I was feeling very tired and just generally unwell again. The cough had faded but it picked up again and then, on Sunday, the nausea was back in full force.
WEEK 2 (Monday 8th November – Sunday 14th November)
This was a very big week. Unfortunately. It was a really bad time to be coming off a medication but, as I said, it’s almost always a bad time. There’s always something happening so I just had to get it over with. But this week held both my graduation from university (I had a great time but physically, I did spend the day counting down to the next dose of painkillers and – on several occasions – actively focussed on not throwing up) and my Granny’s Celebration of Life service (thankfully, by that point, I was feeling a bit better and was able to just focus on the day without too much distraction). Given those two huge things, I spent a lot of the week dealing with a lot of physical exhaustion and pain.
The cough was ongoing and I had migraines for most of the week, although they did lessen in intensity by the end of the week. I was nauseous, shaky, and overly emotional but, again, that had mostly passed by the weekend. On the Sunday, I was a bit weak and nauseous but I felt a lot more human than earlier in the week.
So, four weeks later, I’m finally starting medication for my ADHD. I’m excited but I’m also nervous; I haven’t had many good experiences with medications and it’s taken a lot of trial and error to find the only one that’s helped so far. So it’s a bit scary to be starting over with a whole new category of medications but I’m trying to stay… cautiously optimistic. I’ve started Xaggitin XL and now, I guess, I just have to wait and see.
Category: adhd, depression, diagnosis, heds, medication, mental health, treatment Tagged: adhd, adhd inattentive type, adhd medication, antidepressants, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, inattentive adhd, inattentive type, maoi, maois, medication, medication withdrawal, mental health, mental illness, mono amine oxidase inhibitors, nardil, phenelzine, wash out, withdrawal, withdrawal symptoms, xaggitin xl
Posted on October 31, 2021
Not long after I learned that October is ADHD Awareness Month, I saw this challenge on Twitter and you know me, I love a good challenge.
I thought it would be annoying to post something every day, especially since I knew just from looking at the prompts that there would be days when I didn’t have much to say, so I decided to do the month as one self-contained post. Having ADHD and everything that comes with that… it’s all still relatively new and I’m still trying to figure it all out, especially considering the crossover with autistic traits. I thought that, maybe, this might help with gaining a better understanding of ADHD and how it affects me individually.
So, here we go…
Day 1 – Introduction
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may know some of this stuff already so bear with me…
My name is Lauren Alex Hooper and I’m a twenty seven year old woman (I use she/her pronouns), although I’m not really sure how I identify in terms of gender and sexuality; up to now, all of my energy has been spent on figuring out and managing my health so there hasn’t really been the time to explore that area of my identity. Between the ages of twenty and twenty six, I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (Inattentive Type), Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), Treatment Resistant Depression (TRD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). These conditions all affect me daily and I live with both chronic pain and chronic fatigue, believed to be due to my hEDS. Given the often overwhelming challenges that these all present, I’m still living at home with my Mum and our family of five cats (made up of three generations). Two of my other parents live nearby, with my fourth parent in London. My younger sibling, Charlie – who is an amazing artist of many disciplines – is also based there.
In roughly the same time period, I completed a BA and an MA in Songwriting, my biggest and most enduring special interest. In 2018, I released my debut single, ‘Invisible,’ a song that documents my struggle to be seen and heard as I tried to get help for my mental health and ASD; I’m incredibly proud of that song and all of the proceeds go to YoungMinds, a charity supporting young people with their mental health. Then, in 2019, I began the release cycle of my debut EP, Honest, which was completed in late 2020 (delayed somewhat by the pandemic). The EP is a collection of my experiences with mental health, centered around the idea that things only really got better when I started being open and honest about what I was going through. As of October 2021, this little, self released EP that was made in various bedrooms has reached over 120,000 streams with a limited run of physical copies on sale at Resident Music, THE independent music shop in Brighton (UK), where I live. It’s been an absolute rollercoaster but I’m really proud of it and all it’s achieved. And now, with that era all but wrapped up and my Masters done, I’m working on several new projects, including an album about my experiences as an autistic woman.
Day 2 – What I love about being an ADHDer is…
Given the overlap between Autism and ADHD, I’m not entirely sure where which traits come from, if it’s possible to really separate them. I’ve done some research and it seems that there’s too much overlap to truly say that one trait belongs to one and not the other but the following things are what seem to commonly come up in relation to the positives/strengths of ADHD…
I have to say I’m not wild about the term ‘ADHDer.’ It feels very clumsy. It also feels a bit like something I actively participate in, like I chose it, like I’m saying, “I’m a runner,” or “I’m a painter.” I don’t know; I’m not convinced by it as an identifier.
Day 3 – My Identification/Discovery Story
I was being assessed for hypermobility (and was subsequently diagnosed with hEDS) and at the end of the session, it came up in conversation that I was thinking about getting tested for ADHD (I’d been researching the ways I’d been struggling and ADHD had come up as a possibility, which I know often occurs alongside Autism) and the consultant said that she was qualified to do that so we could schedule an assessment if I wanted to. So we did and a few months later, I was diagnosed with Inattentive ADHD.
Day 4 – Reactions to Identification
Since this is just another step on my journey of trying to make sense of myself and why I struggle the way I do, I haven’t really felt the need to make an announcement or anything like that. I told my family and friends, of course, and I’ve brought it up when necessary, like when trying to get accommodations at uni, but otherwise it hasn’t been been a huge thing, not like discovering I was autistic was. So everyone’s just kind of taken it in stride, adding it to their picture of me – those who know about it anyway.
Day 5 – Hobby Graveyard
I’ve never really thought of moving on to a new hobby as leaving them in a ‘hobby graveyard.’ I’ve always felt like it was more that I was prioritising certain stuff or that I was just finding my way to more ‘suitable’ hobbies. Technically, yes, I have multiple hobbies that I’ve stopped doing but rarely because I got bored of them and more because I evolved away from them. But here are some of my past hobbies…
That’s all I can think of off the top of my head. I still love most of these things but I just can’t physically do all of these hobbies: I don’t have the time, they’re expensive, and there are other things I love doing more. But hopefully I can come back to them one day in some way or another.
Day 6 – Supports and Appreciation
I am super lucky to have a lot of great people in my corner. I have a wonderful, close-knit family who have all been deeply supportive; not only have they all been great in general but they’ve all been so incredibly helpful in different areas of my life over the years. I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am, especially to my Mum. She has been a hundred percent with me every step of the way and she’s just been a force of nature in the pursuit of getting people to listen to and help me. And not just that, she supports me every day, helps me to manage just being alive, just being a person in this difficult, inflexible society. I don’t know what I’d do without her. Oh, and there are also my cats who, while they have absolutely no idea about any of this I’m sure, help maintain some level of calm in all the chaos.
I’m also very lucky to have some really great friends. They’ve never been weird about all of my diagnoses, only ever respectfully curious about the parts they don’t know much about. And I’m always open to questions. Once, while in conversation with a friend, I said that I was always happy to answer questions and in reply, she said that all she needed to do to understand me was listen to my songs. I probably looked like a deer in headlights. I mean, that’s what I try to do with my songs but to hear her say it so plainly kind of took my breath away. My friends are really sweet about supporting me and accommodating the issues that make my life hard, that make spending time together hard. I appreciate it so much; a lot of these things that I struggle with make maintaining friendships (from both sides) really hard and it means so much to me that my friends have stuck with me.
And although I’ve had some really supportive tutors over the years, I only recently had a neurodivergent tutor for the first time and it was amazing. It’s like we spoke the same language and she was able to translate this confusing academic world into ideas and words that I understood. I got so much out of my course and out of the work I was doing in the time she was my supervisor; it was pretty amazing to work with the guidance of someone who has a real understanding (and also appreciation as well) of how differently my brain works. And considering how well I did in the module, I think that shows just how well a neurodivergent person can do when they’re understood and supported.
Day 7 – The ADHDer Community
I haven’t really found ‘the community’ yet. After my ASD diagnosis, it was about three years before I sought out any kind of community; I had to figure out what being autistic meant to me first before I could engage further, if that makes sense. So I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes me a while to feel ready to reach out but then maybe it will be quicker this time since I’ve already gone through a similar process. I’m part of multiple Facebook groups relating to Autism, one of which is for women with Autism and ADHD, and I’ve enjoyed those interactions a lot so far. I also have a friend who’s going through the ADHD diagnostic process at the moment so it’s nice to be able to share those experiences with someone I already know since I didn’t go through it that long ago.
Day 8 – Favourite ADHDer Blogs/Comics
I have to say, I haven’t really found any ADHD blogs or comics that really speak to me yet. But I also haven’t been looking in any kind of dedicated way. I’m still making sense of this diagnosis, still trying to manage the struggles, and still trying to get help for it. That’s my main focus at the moment.
Day 9 – Favourite ADHD Owned Business
With Christmas not that far away, I have been looking for present ideas and I do like to buy from independent shops when I can. I’ve found a few autistic owned shops but as of yet, I haven’t found any ADHD owned shops yet. But I’m still looking.
Day 10 – Sensory Seeking/Aversion
I’m generally a sensory-seeking person but they’re very specific sensory experiences that I crave. I love colour and I love lights, especially colourful lights (as long as they’re not in my eyes or face). I love glittery things and shiny things. I also love patterns: smooth curves and crystalline angles. I love the patterns in nature, like the symmetrical patterns in the petals of flowers (Dahlias and Gerberas, for example). They just make my eyes feel good and looking at them relaxes me.
Sound is a bit more complicated (volume can be a real issue for me, especially when I’m stressed) but as a musician, I love the details and nuances in music and in sound. I could talk about music for hours but for this, I think I’ll stick to just distinct sounds. I love the sound of thunder, of heavy rain, the rustle of leaves as you walk through them, snow or frost crunching under foot, the crackle of a fire, the sound of typing. I find all of those sounds so soothing. But then there are also noises that really upset me, that can send me into a meltdown even. Metallic sounds, voices low enough that I can’t quite make out what they’re saying, babies crying, sudden loud noises like fireworks or sirens, shouting or raised voices, mechanical sounds (like buzzing or humming, or that high pitched tone/whine)… they all, at the very least, get the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. Oh, and snoring.
Smell is a really tough one for me. The smells I like, I love: most fruits, especially satsumas; the beach and the sea; forests, pine, cut grass; wood fires and the smell in the air after fireworks (a tough one when the sound of fireworks can cause me to have a meltdown). But the smells I don’t like have me scrambling to get as far from them as possible so that I don’t throw up: metallic, rotten, sickly sweet smells and the way they catch in your throat and leave you choking on them. I’m sure there are more, and more specific ones, but that’s all I can think of right now and it’s not exactly the most enjoyable thing to think about.
Taste is another difficult one, given that food is a complete minefield for me. I crave sweet tastes a lot, especially artificially sweet tastes (although I read recently that that is common in unmedicated ADHD), and I like salty things but anything more complicated than that is unpleasant and overwhelming. Even the lowest point on the spice meter is too spicy for me. (And the texture of food is a whole other issue…)
I’m also super sensitive to what I’m touching. There are sensations that I love, like frost or snow crunching under foot, feeling loud music in your body at a concert, fabrics like velvet, the sensation of being in water, the weightlessness of being in water, how your fingers feel against ice, my cats’ fur, my lovely old dog’s ears, and so on. And there are sensations that I hate, that I can’t bear feeling, that I have to wash off in order to think clearly (and sometimes even that isn’t enough): touching something sticky, clammy, metallic, oily or greasy, slimy, powdery or dusty. They make me shudder just thinking about them.
I’m sure I could talk more about sensory stuff but I think I’ll save it for another day or this post is going to get even longer than it’s already bound to be.
Day 11 – Fidgets and Stims
I go through phases with fidget toys: one will satisfy me for a while and then, out of nowhere, it stops doing whatever it is that helps and I move onto another one. Hence why I have a box of them so I can quickly and easily choose a different one. I’m currently fiddling with two: I tend to play with my tangle one-handed (especially when I’m trying to sleep) and I’m also wearing (or at least trying to remember to wear) a necklace made out of a shoelace with a hairband attached. I’m pretty sure my hair-pulling is how I stim but I really don’t want to be pulling my hair out so I’m trying to redirect the urge; this little set up is as close as I can get to the motion of hair pulling and hoping I can move from hair pulling to that and then a movement that doesn’t put so much repetitive strain on my elbow and shoulder.
From left to right, top to bottom: black tangle, black fidget pad, black fidget cube, two sensory glitter tubes, homemade stimming necklace, three blue magnetic spinning rings, silver elephant spinning ring.
Day 12 – Favourite ADHD Charity
I have yet to go looking for ADHD charities, to be honest. I just haven’t had the headspace but there are a few, local ones especially, that I’d like to investigate further when I feel like I can properly commit to it.
Day 13 – Family
I’ve already talked quite a bit about my family, back in the ‘Supports and Appreciation’ prompt. I have four fantastic parents; then there’s my Dad who died when I was 13. I don’t know much (don’t know enough) about him. Finding out who he was and what he was like is an ongoing project. I also have a younger sibling; we were super close as kids and although we’re not as close now, that’s simply as a result of growing up and building our own lives. We still have a great time whenever we can get together. Due to my various disabilities, I live at home with my Mum and our family of cats. I love them all so much and I’m so proud to call them my family.
Day 14 – Order from Chaos
I feel like I’m more mentally chaotic than physically; I’m not the most organised person in the world but I manage pretty well, particularly with help from my Mum. But my thoughts are another matter. Sometimes my thoughts move so fast that I can’t keep hold of them long enough even to figure out what they are; I find those times really scary. Trying to find something to hold on to in the chaos is hard and it’s easy to feel untethered and panicked. Fortunately it isn’t like that all of the time though. I still feel like I have an overwhelming amount of stuff in my head that I’m constantly sorting through.
Day 15 – Everyone Should Know
It’s not that we’re not trying. We are trying. We’re trying so hard. A big part of ADHD is struggling with executive function, mental skills that help us with organisation, planning, start, stay focussed on, and finish tasks, among other things. What some people assume is laziness or lack of care, is actually difficulty with executive function and struggling with these skills can cause those with ADHD great distress. Being told to ‘try harder’ when you’re already trying so hard is not just frustrating but makes you doubt yourself, wonder whether you actually are lazy. This should never be the case. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder (the debate about whether neurodiversity should involve words like disorder or deficit is ongoing and important but too big to get into here); it’s a medical condition. Difficulties with executive function are ‘part of our wiring.’ That’s not to say that it’s fixed, but telling someone to ‘just try harder’ or ‘just focus more’ when their brain doesn’t respond to that kind of motivation is unhelpful and unkind. They’ve probably already thought of that, you know?
Day 16 – Work/School
Education has been a mixed experience for me. I’ve always been incredibly shy and I struggled socially although no one really realised the extent of it, myself included: I learned to mask very well very quickly, long before I knew what masking was, long before I even knew I was doing it. And being a huge perfectionist, I felt a lot of pressure and anxiety around my grades, sometimes to the point where I made myself unwell. Having said that, I’ve achieved some great things academically and while I’ve never had masses of friends, I get on well with people and have a group of close friends that I absolutely adore. So, yeah, it’s been very mixed.
I think it’s fair to say that the undiagnosed ASD and ADHD clearly contributed to the difficulties I’ve had throughout my time in education, which is most of my life really. And I don’t think it helped that I missed the first two and a half years of secondary school (a period of illness that was half-heartedly diagnosed as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, diagnosed formally in retrospect, and now it may be that it was due to the hEDS – I’m really not sure what to think now), putting me at a disadvantage academically and socially. But what was probably a combination of natural ability, my terrible fear of getting in trouble, and my perfectionism meant that I did relatively well in secondary school. Sixth form and my A Levels were mostly dominated by the strengthening symptoms of my anxiety and depression: I did well in the subjects that I loved but otherwise I struggled. I couldn’t get information to stay in my brain, I couldn’t understand certain concepts as hard as I tried, I felt like I was running an endless obstacle course that only seemed to get harder, and I was constantly exhausted. It all kind of spiralled and I barely managed my exams. I tried to resit several of them the next year but my mental health was so poor (plus whatever was going on with the undiagnosed ASD and ADHD) that I didn’t do any better. Fortunately though, I did have the grades I needed to pursue my BA in songwriting so it all worked out in the end.
University was, obviously, very different from secondary school and sixth form but I didn’t exactly get the same experience as most of my peers. Because of the challenges I live with (my mental health problems weren’t diagnosed until the January of my first year and my ASD wasn’t diagnosed until the summer break between first and second year), I lived at home and commuted to London for university, staying with family when I had two of more days of classes in a row. It was necessary but hard; I was so tired all the time (I was actually taking naps on the sofas at uni at certain points) and it didn’t help the feeling of separate-ness, being so far away and unable to join the spontaneous meet ups and so on. And again, the classes I loved, I absolutely loved but when it came to the classes I didn’t enjoy or found difficult, I really struggled – I still don’t feel like I have a good grasp of music theory (not that I’ve given up). It felt like there were just some things I couldn’t learn, like my brain just wasn’t capable of processing the information (something I’m working on, especially after learning more about ADHD and hearing similar stories from others). And although it wasn’t a constant feeling, I struggled with feeling invisible and feeling like I was never going to be good enough to do the one thing I wanted to do: write and release songs. As amazing as it was to study my very favourite thing and therefore spend most of my time doing it, doing it surrounded by other people who all want the same thing was really challenging at times: you’re constantly exposed to new, amazing music and as cool as that is, if you’re doubting yourself even the slightest bit, that can just make the feeling ten times worse. It’s easy to slip into comparing yourself and seeing all of the ways in which you aren’t as good as this person or that person. So, yes, it was an amazing experience but it was incredibly hard.
The MA was a very different experience (apart from, you know, doing most of it in a global pandemic). The pandemic definitely played a big part: my anxiety was so high, I felt completely overwhelmed by everything that was going on in the world, and I was adjusting to a whole new way of learning (and cowriting). I’m sure those things affected my ability to take in, process, and use new information. I loved the practical part, the constant writing of songs and constant cowriting; I loved that and I feel like I did a lot of my best work so far. But the modules that included extended research and essay writing were a struggle: I found it incredibly difficult to focus on the research I was reading, to digest it enough to pull out the useful information, and then construct the essays themselves. In the first year, my Mum sat with me for hours and hours, helping me to collect all of the relevant information and painstakingly put it together. In the second year, for the final project, I had an excellent supervisor (who is also neurodivergent and therefore had a personal as well as professional understanding of how I’d potentially need to approach things differently), which made a huge difference. I did still struggle though. Staying focussed, attempting to keep my attention from wandering, pulling together all of the information (it was a lot: four-ish months of work that had to be condensed into an hour’s presentation)… it took every drop of energy I had. I was concentrating through sheer force of will and when it was all finally over, I was beyond exhausted.
While I’ve pretty much considered myself a student up to this point, I guess I am self employed: I am dedicated to being a singersongwriter and even though I love it and it started out as a hobby, it’s now my job and one that I want to spend my whole life doing. I’m dedicated to making that happen but it’s freaking hard work sometimes and there are a lot of challenges. I love the creative side and those related decisions often feel very easy, almost instinctive, but the logistical, business, marketing side is really hard for me. For some reason, I find those decisions and tasks much more likely to overwhelm me and money-related tasks are particularly stressful for me (something I’ve seen other people with ADHD talk about). I’ve had some really great help with this up until now and I’m so grateful for that but I would love – so much – to find a way to make this stuff less challenging. So often the level of stress in response to these tasks isn’t proportional and I have to believe that it doesn’t have to be this hard. Now that I’m not studying (although I still have a lot to do), I’m hopeful that I can dedicate some time to this. And I’m cautiously hopeful that the ADHD meds I should be starting in a few weeks will improve things too. As I said, I’m committed to making this happen so I’m doing my best and I have some good people in my corner to support me.
This one has gotten very long so I’ll stop there, I think.
Day 17 – ADHD People I Admire
Kalie Shorr – I’ve been a fan of Kalie’s for years – she’s a fantastic songwriter and performer, she’s super creative, she’s incredibly hardworking, she’s hilarious, she’s a really lovely and genuine person, and she uses her voice for the things that she’s passionate about (always in creative and interesting ways that emphasise her words, of course) – and then, earlier this year, she made a podcast episode about how she’d been diagnosed with ADHD and what she’d learned about herself and certain past experiences in the light of the diagnosis. She described experiences that I really relate to and her positive experience with medication (which she’s been documenting on Twitter – often hilariously, as is her way) has helped me in my own ADHD journey. And as someone who is pursuing the same career path as am I (and is doing so very successfully), it gives me hope that my ADHD isn’t something that will make this path impossible. It might not be easy but it’s not impossible and I’m really grateful to have someone (and someone I think so highly of) remind me of that at this moment in time. (I love this quote from a recent interview: “That’s why I love co-writing as well, I actually think it has a lot to do with… because I love writing by myself and I’ve written some great songs by myself. It’s not that I can’t, it’s that I love the process of co-writing. I think it’s because I have ADHD with the massive dopamine deficiency. The immediate feedback you get when you put out a good line and the people in the room freak out over it, that feels so much better than when I write a good line in a song I wrote by myself and I’m like ‘I think this is good, but I’d rather wait for someone else to tell me that it’s good.’ I get so energized by all these tiny pings about writing a song, and then you get the big hit of dopamine.”)
Emma Watson – I’m somewhat hesitant to include Emma Watson since she hasn’t spoken personally about having ADHD but the information is out there so, if it’s true, I would have to include her in this list. Growing up with Harry Potter, with the characters and the cast, she was always someone I looked up to and I remember an interview where she talked about how her Dad really didn’t have the money to send her to the school he did and how her birthday presents were her uniform and her school supplies and how she worked hard every day (finishing with nine A*s!) because she wanted to make him proud, to show him how much she appreciated it. Of course I’ll probably never be able to completely detach her from Hermione (as I’m sure is the same for many people and probably for her too), it’s been very cool to watch her grow and experiment with different roles and engage in important social issues (I think a good example is this video interview where she talks about finding the constructive criticism in social media, educating herself and broadening her understanding of feminism, the need for the education system in the UK to revise and improve the teaching around Britain’s involvement in foreign affairs (including how the country profited from slavery), transgender issues, and more) while still remaining a very normal, relatable person. She’s achieved so much, she’s pushed her own limits and challenged her comfort zone, and she’s trying to use what she has to make a positive change in the world (despite feeling like she’s still figuring herself and her life out) alongside the challenges of living with ADHD, whatever they are for her, and I find that really inspiring. (x) (x)
Simone Biles – I think it probably goes without saying that Simone Biles’ talent, skill, and incredible work ethic is enough to consider her a person worth admiring. But she’s also repeatedly shown such incredible emotional strength in very difficult circumstances (this year’s Olympics being the most recent example) and has handled them so thoughtfully and gracefully. At the Olympics, even with so many people criticising her for even considering it (and then for doing it), she put her mental health first and stood by that decision. No doubt she made that choice for herself but by making it and talking about it publicly (and talking about it unapologetically, without any shame), she sent such a powerful message that meant so much to so many people, that sometimes you have to prioritise your mental health regardless of the situation and that that is okay. It’s something even the most self aware of us struggle with, even if we understand why we should to do it; it’s a vicious cycle that, often when you’re struggling mentally, it becomes even harder to remember and/or accept that. Seeing someone actually do it, do it under immense pressure, and continue to stand by it after the fact is very powerful and hopefully it will help a lot of people to remember that it is possible, that the world won’t end if they need to stop and take a break from everything. So I can only admire and respect her strength and her willingness to share her experiences because there’s no knowing how many people she’s helping. (x)
I’m sure there are more people I could add to this list but these three are all I can think of at the moment.
Day 18 – Someday…
On a personal level, I can’t help hoping that – someday – I won’t feel so ‘othered’ by being neurodivergent, that I won’t feel so different and so deficient when and after spending time with neurotypical people. It’s not that I don’t enjoy spending time with these people because I do: almost everyone I know is neurotypical and those that I love, I love dearly. But there are throwaway comments and common experiences that just make me feel so different to everyone around me and it’s just so exhausting to have these constant, endless reminders. It’s so hard to try and accept my ASD and my ADHD when it feels like, everywhere I turn, one thing or another is telling me that I’m… less than or wrong or broken. Someday, I’d like not to feel that way.
Day 19 – I love it when…
I can just totally hyperfocus on something without interruption or pressure to do something else. I just love falling down a rabbit hole and reading everything I can find on a subject, learning as much as I can about a particular songwriter’s process, the theories around alternate universes, the different types of typewriters, why thunderstorms make certain people (myself included) feel so much better… I don’t remember it all but I love the feeling of soaking it all in. And it does mean I have a random fact about almost everything.
Day 20 – Communication Style
I’m not really sure what this prompt is asking of me, to be honest. Googling ‘communication styles’ gives me so many different possibilities that it’s hard to know what the right one for this prompt is. Maybe this is something I’m going to have to investigate further but for now, the way I feel I communicate best is through the songs I write. Being able to use lyrics, melody, harmony, instrumentation, production… the right combination of those things can convey a feeling or an experience in such a pure way. Not long after I met one of my now best friends, we were talking about me being autistic (I think it was in the context of a song she was helping me write, I’m not sure now) and I just made the casual comment that if there was ever something that she wanted to know or something she didn’t understand, she could always ask. And she replied, ‘I just have to listen to your songs to understand you.’ I’m not gonna lie, I was kind of floored by that response (and I still am a bit – it makes me very excited about the music projects I’m currently working on). I mean, that’s the goal – to find connection through the songs I write – and my friend had just confirmed that for me. So that was a big moment and a special one but I think I’d still be saying the same thing had that not happened. Songwriting feels like the way I communicate best and to have that in my life is something very special indeed.
Day 21 – One thing other people don’t understand…
From my admittedly limited personal experience, I think a lot of people find it hard to reconcile ADHD with good grades: if you’re turning in work on time and getting good marks, you couldn’t possibly have ADHD, for example. Thinking like this can prevent those struggling from getting support because they don’t show the stereotypical signs of a condition like ADHD. Apart from 2013 (the year when my mental health problems really started to manifest, resulting in such a crisis that I barely made it through my A Level exams), I’ve always turned in work on time or early (unless I had an extension due to health stuff) and achieved high grades in pretty much all of my classes. Personally, I think that, up until A Levels at least, this was largely due to a natural ability, the fact that I enjoyed learning, and very intense perfectionism. Getting to do a BA and MA in songwriting, my most enduring special interest, helped to balance out my struggles with executive function, I think: because I was so passionate about what I was studying (for the most part at least), it wasn’t as hard as it might’ve been had I been studying something that I was less passionate about. I’ve definitely had areas and periods of time in which I’ve struggled – I wouldn’t have sought out what resulted in my ADHD diagnosis if I hadn’t – but I guess I’m just saying that you can have ADHD and be a good student and the idea that you can’t is a harmful one.
Day 22 – Dispel a myth
I don’t know whether this myth still persists but I definitely grew up with the impression that having ADHD meant an inability to sit still. If that myth does still exist, I’m definitely proof that that isn’t true, as a constant of ADHD at least. I can sit in basically the same position all day without moving because I’m so absorbed by what I’m doing. I forget to move, to the point where it’s actually causing me problems: my chronic pain (thanks to my hEDS) is exacerbated by these long periods of no movement so I’m actually trying to move around more. So, yeah, we can sit still.
Day 23 – Can’t live without…
My family. On any and every level, I could not live without them (and I include my close friends in this circle too). But I’ve talked about them quite a lot so I’m gonna say songwriting as well. When I’m writing a song, the rest of the world goes away and I feel like I can just be me, focussed on something that I love more than pretty much anything else. And then, when I finish a song and feel like I’ve really said what I wanted to say, that feeling is so special. I feel like, for a little while at least, I’m in sync with the rest of the world and all of the usual friction that exists just disappears. I feel calm and relaxed, like I’m finally still; usually I feel like I’m constantly vibrating, which is just so exhausting. So, while I love the creative discipline of writing songs, I love the way it makes me feel. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
Day 24 – ADHD Political Issue
A massive problem with conditions like ADHD, as well as other neurodivergencies, is the lack of support available, for those who appear to be functioning well especially. So many individuals, myself included, have had to fight for support – in education, from medical professionals, sometimes from the government – because, so often, people just don’t understand the challenges that these conditions present or don’t believe those asking for help. I can’t get too deeply into this (especially at the moment, given that I’m overly emotional due to the reduction of my antidepressant medication – an unfortunate but necessary step in order to try medication for my ADHD) because I’ll just get too upset but the society we live in is so deeply ableist, and it’s so entrenched that no one even notices. And worse, a lot of people don’t seem to care about changing it. We’re in the minority, right? Why should society change to make the lives of the few better when the lives of the many are just fine? Honestly, the apathy so many people have towards those with disabling conditions (I know not everyone with ADHD considers themselves disabled but some do) – conditions that are often made worse by how our society is structured – makes me so, so angry and just so sad.
Day 25 – Symbols
To be honest, I’m really happy to stick to ribbons of specific colours; I like the simplicity. But I also understand that, at some point, the various colours are going to get too similar and people aren’t going to be able distinguish one from another. But I’m not sure how an entire community will ever be able to agree on one symbol. I’m more familiar with the various Autism symbols but for ADHD, I’ve seen the orange ribbon, the rainbow infinity symbol (which is often used in the autistic community), the butterfly, the rainbow butterfly. Ultimately, I think that what we experience with ADHD is too broad to be summed up with an image like an animal or a symbol because they have their own associations. This is why I like the orange ribbon.
Day 26 – Favourite ADHD Book
I’ve yet to read any books about ADHD, given that I was diagnosed in the middle of my Masters and had to give everything I had to that. Plus I’ve found it hard to focus when reading books over the last few years. But I have had multiple options recommended and I think these are the ones I’m going to look into first…
Day 27 – Identity Language
Personally, I don’t really have an issue with how people identify themselves; they should use the language they feel comfortable with and respect that in others. As a general rule though, I think identity-first language is important for the neurodivergent community. With conditions like Autism or ADHD, they affect the way we perceive and process the world; they are intrinsic to who we are, to our identities. Having said that, I’m not sure how identity-first language works with ADHD. With Autism, we have the word ‘autistic’ but there isn’t an equivalent for ADHD, at least as far as I can tell. I’ve seen people use ‘ADHDer,’ but I find that awfully clumsy and awkward to say. I don’t have any other ideas though.
When it comes to my own circumstances, I am autistic. Absolutely. But I still feel like I ‘have ADHD,’ maybe because it’s still a relatively new diagnosis and I haven’t had the time and headspace to process what it means and how it fits into my constellation of diagnoses and my identity.
Day 28 – Dealing with Boredom
I’m not sure I’m ever bored; I always have too much to do (or I’ve crashed after trying to do too much). The closest state I get to boredom is not knowing what to do and that’s usually because I feel overwhelmed by all of the things I could do. (@roryeckons’ post on this is great though.)
Day 29 – Favourite Memes
I’ve seen a lot of ADHD memes so choosing a favourite or even favourites is hard.
Day 30 – Hyperfocus
I find the concept and research behind hyperfocus really fascinating. I was about a breath away from hyperfocusing on hyperfocus to write this day’s post (when I realised what was happening, I had to laugh) but I managed to reign it in before I really got lost in it. Some of the stories I read were fascinating. Personally, I love it when my brain hyperfocuses, although it can be annoying when I get sucked into something (or repeatedly sucked into one thing and then another and then another) at the exact moment when there’s something I really need to do. But when there isn’t an impending deadline, it can be so fun. I love going down the rabbit hole of a new subject and learning everything I can about it. Sometimes it’s resulted in essays about the subject and sometimes it even turns into a full blown special interest.
Day 31 – Acceptance means…
I don’t know what real acceptance looks like, if I’m completely honest. Yes, we can learn to and practice accepting ourselves and our friends and family can be understanding and supportive but I think acceptance – real acceptance – is bigger than that. Real acceptance is when ADHD is understood, acknowledged for what it is, and accommodated, and done so without persuading or convincing or fighting for it. But I don’t know if that’s a realistic expectation. How can that kind of acceptance be possible when we, neurodivergents, are the proverbial square peg in the round hole, living in a world that is not only built in a way that doesn’t accommodate us but actually disables us further? As I said before, when so many people don’t want the world to change, it can all feel deeply dispiriting. So I don’t know what we do in that regard. But, to quote Amanda Tapping, “The best thing you can do is to make your corner of the world as good as possible,” and so that’s what I think we focus on. We work on accepting ourselves and using the gifts we have to create as much good as possible, for ourselves and for others. Maybe I’m thinking too big when it comes to this prompt but there have just been a number of things recently that have just highlighted how ableist the world can be and that’s been upsetting. And much as it makes me want to flip tables and scream that the world isn’t fair, I want to focus on the good and the good that I can do.
As I said, this is still all very new and it’s a lot to take in. But I do feel like I’ve learned a lot by doing this challenge, both from my research and from reflecting on my own experiences. It’s been a mixed bag – some of it fun, some of it upsetting, and some of it overwhelming – but I’m learning and I’m figuring stuff out and hopefully it won’t be long before I feel a bit more confidant about it and about how I can manage the challenges that come with it.
Who knows, maybe in a year, I’ll do this challenge again and see how much has or hasn’t changed…
Category: about me, adhd, anxiety, autism, depression, diagnosis, emotions, family, favourites, identity, medication, mental health, music, quotes, response, school, special interests, university Tagged: ableism, acceptance, adhd, adhd acceptance month, adhd awareness month, adhd diagnosis, adhd inattentive type, adhd medication, adhd memes, adhd support, anxiety, asd, autism, autism spectrum disorder, autismadhd, autistic, autistic adult, ba, challenge, creativity, degree, depression, eds, ehlers danlos syndrome, emma watson, family, fidget toys, hairpulling, heds, hyperfixation, hyperfocus, hypermobile ehlers danlos syndrome, identity first language, identity language, independent artist, kalie shorr, ma, masters degree, mental health, mental illness, music industry, neurodivergent, neurodiversity, perfectionism, self acceptance, self employed, sensory information, sensory overload, sensory sensitivity, simone biles, singersongwriter, songwriter, songwriting, special interest, special interests, stimming, trichotillomania, university, unsigned artist
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.