Posted on September 19, 2021
The time has come to sum up the final semester of my Masters. I am done. That’s sort of unbelievable. Given everything that’s happened since I started the course in September 2019, the end of the Masters always felt so far away and although I have lots of plans, I do feel a bit lost now that all of the work is done. Maybe it’s because I haven’t received my final grade or because I haven’t actually graduated yet; maybe once those things happen, the experience will feel a bit more… finished. It was always going to be weird – I’ve been going to this uni on and off for the last seven years – but knowing something and actually feeling it are so different.
So, here is my final semester review.
The final semester of my Masters course involves a largely independent project called the Major Repertoire Project and as long as you’re developing your songwriting skills and knowledge in some way, you can pretty much do whatever you want. People have done projects exploring identity, exploring their heritage, writing song cycles or musicals, digging deeper into their own songwriting and pursuing an artist project like an album, experimenting with newer applications of songwriting (such as in various therapies), and so on. It’s a fascinating module because everyone ends up doing something so different and so interesting. And after a spending a year or two focussing on their craft, the songwriting is so incredible; the final works that I’ve heard are amazing. It would probably take a month but I would happily listen through everyone’s projects.
For my project, I chose to explore my experiences as an autistic woman through songwriting, attempting to translate those experiences both through the lyrics and storytelling and the execution of the song, from the structure to the arrangement to the production and so on. I wanted to write songs that autistic individuals would hopefully relate to and that neurotypical individuals would hopefully gain some insight from. But while the overall goal was to create a body of work, a large part of the project involved researching our chosen area – Autism, in my case – responding to the research (sometimes that was through practice and sometimes it inspired specific songs), and reflecting on my songwriting process and how it was evolving during the project.
The module officially began in the second week of May but I’d already started working on it: I’ve been thinking about this project ever since I applied for the Masters so I was super excited to finally start doing it. But I’d barely begun when I started getting debilitating migraines that lasted for days at a time and resulted in several ambulance visits because the pain was so bad. We eventually traced the source back to one of my teeth: the emergency dentist thought the nerve was dying and diagnosed an abscess. I was top priority for an extraction and given antibiotics (which I had to have a second round of when it flared up again midway through the semester). Fortunately my university granted me an extension – giving me back the time that I’d lost – but it was a flexible extension in case I suddenly got pulled in to have the tooth taken out and needed some recovery time. Due to the long waiting list (and bear in mind that this was the waiting list for emergencies), I still haven’t had the tooth taken out and while the antibiotics and some good painkillers have prevented any more similar episodes, I’ve still been dealing with some tooth pain and migraines. So that hasn’t been ideal.
We only had four classes over the semester but since everyone was researching something different, they weren’t exactly classes. They were more group discussions where we’d talk about how our research and writing was going, whether we were struggling in a particular area, what we could do if we felt like we weren’t fulfilling one or more of the overall objectives, and so on. We had individual supervisors for the more specific guidance and problems whereas this was more general and we were able to share with each other what we’d found helpful, etc. These classes were online but we were finally able to come into the building. With most of the other courses finished for the summer, it was pretty empty and I felt safe there; you had to test negative just to get in the building and with no one around (pre-COVID, it could be a bit of a crush at times), my pandemic anxiety was a lot lower than it usually is when I’m out in the world. Being there after so much time and getting to see some of my friends again made me positively giddy! And there were some friends that I was actually meeting in person for the first time, which was just wonderful! I’m really going to miss it; I mean, I’ll pop in now and then for events and stuff but I’m really going to miss it being part of my day-to-day, week-to-week life.
Anyway. My supervisor was truly awesome. We had fortnightly and then weekly sessions and she was fantastic, not only with the academic stuff but with helping me to manage my anxiety, the things that tripped up my neurodivergent brain, and so on. And while we worked together well, we also had a lot of fun: we went on some epic tangents and there were multiple conversations that we had to mentally bookmark for later in order to actually get our work done. We got on really well and our sessions were always fun and thought-provoking, as well as helpful. I hope that this isn’t the last time we get to work together.
I obviously know a lot about Autism already so, after finding sources for that information, I started writing songs about my experiences and researching Autism further. Having the foundation of knowledge that I did, I think allowed me to research both more deeply and down different avenues since I didn’t have to spend so much time on the basic knowledge. And some of that research, from academic papers to anecdotal stories to art made by autistic individuals, sparked some really interesting song ideas (for example, I ended up writing a love song after watching Love on the Spectrum, which I found both upsetting and deeply depressing as an autistic person).
I don’t want to give too much away about the songs because I hope to release them but, over the semester, I wrote eighteen songs with a handful more that still need finishing. For the most part, I wrote alone – first because it was more convenient and then because I felt like my experiences were conveyed with more clarity that way – but I did work with a few different people, when I was struggling with a concept for example. I wrote with a couple of my friends – Richard and Luce (known as LUCE) – but I also wrote with new people that I’ve met during my time on the Masters – Luke (known as leadmetoland), Phill Vidler, and Katherine Moynihan – which was fun and exciting. It was nice to do both: I love cowriting and the back and forth of ideas but doing so much writing by myself really restored my confidence; I’ve spent so much time cowriting over the last two years and really not that much solo writing so I was nervous when I started to write alone again but after a while, it started to feel really good and that was really exciting.
But while I didn’t manage to write with Richard as much as I’d originally hoped to, we had many production sessions, mostly over Zoom. While I’d never considered the production unimportant, the project evolved to a place where the production was just as key to the representation of my autistic experiences and the emotions attached to them as the lyrics conveying the story or message. So the two of us spent a lot of time working on every little detail. While I’ve always been involved in the production choices of my songs, I’ve also always been aware that Richard knows a hell of alot more than me so I was happy to defer to his judgement. But with this project, for the first time really, I was taking the lead on production decisions – on occasion, I had the whole arrangement and production planned out before the session. But I felt more like a producer than I ever have: I was coming up with ideas that actually worked from idea to execution; I was able to pick out specific instrument, arrangement, and effect details in a way I haven’t been able to do up to now; and so on. Along with the songs themselves, that’s something I’d really proud of. I really feel like I grew as a musician and as a producer.
I absolutely loved working on my project. To be researching and writing songs about something I’m so passionate about was just so creatively invigorating. That’s not to say it wasn’t hard though. There were, of course, periods of doubt, insecurity, and anxiety over the academic elements and whether I’d be able to do as good a job as I desperately wanted to. Plus, some of the experiences I was digging into were pretty raw and writing those songs did get difficult, especially since I was suddenly doing the project without the support of my therapist, something I’d put in place to help me manage that. But apart from one bad bout of depression, my mental health was – somehow – reasonably stable (apart from my day-to-day, ongoing anxiety). As I said in my previous post, I think it was the constant creating (and creating things that I’m really proud of) that did it, that kept everything on a reasonably even keel.
Having said that, my chronic pain was almost constant, worse than it’s ever been. There were periods where my knee, for example, was so painful that I could barely walk and my back so painful that I could barely move. My Mum (once a massage therapist) said that it felt like I was storing rocks in my muscles. It certainly felt like they were made of concrete. Maybe it was my anxiety around the project, I don’t know, but the pain was keeping me up at night. I also struggled on and off with my hands and wrists, presumably from all of the typing, piano, and guitar playing I was doing. God, my various health issues are like freaking buses sometimes. I’m still waiting for physiotherapy and hydrotherapy, have been for months. I’ve just started with the Pain Clinic but one appointment was never going to change anything before the Masters ended. So all I had were various painkillers that were only sporadically helpful.
But my biggest ongoing obstacle was my difficulty concentrating, which I’m assuming is due to my (still untreated) ADHD. Staying focussed on my work was very difficult; I exhausted all of my energy trying. It felt like my concentration was so delicate that the smallest distraction would shatter it and then there was no way to know when it would come back; I felt like I was clinging onto it by my fingertips. So I couldn’t stop (really not healthy, I know). I couldn’t waste a second of it. That was super stressful and I often ended up sitting at my computer for hours and hours; there were multiple fourteen hour days, some successful, some not. People kept telling me to at least take a day off now and then but I just couldn’t. I was too scared of losing my concentration when my hold on it felt so tenuous.
During the semester, I also had a few other commitments; it was awkward timing but they were all great opportunities:
In the last month, my approach reached a new level of intensity. I was working constantly, quickly when my concentration was good and agonisingly slowly when it was bad. But I didn’t stop. I even worked while I ate. I know that’s not a healthy way of doing things but I was just so terrified of getting a grade I wasn’t happy with, that made me feel like I was letting everyone down, myself included. If I wasn’t working, I felt guilty so I just kept working.
Finally it came time to try and distill all my work down to the most important points for the final presentation. My god, that was hard. Months of research, almost twenty songs, and a lot of reflection on my creative process all into an hour… Or, as I said, the most important points. But figuring what those important points were was a real struggle. Throughout the whole Masters, I felt like the module objectives were designed to trip me up – not me specifically, of course, but anyone reading them. Reading them felt like trying to interpret another language that you barely understand so I felt like I was just waiting to discover that I had it all wrong. Maybe it was my autistic brain, I don’t know. My supervisor was great regarding this anxiety but two years of feeling that way made it a hard feeling to exorcise. So I just did what I know how to do and worked through it, hoping it would be enough. And on the 6th September, I had my final assessment. Two tutors watched my presentation and then, after a brief discussion, they asked me a couple of questions, both of which were pretty straightforward to answer. And that was it. The project and the semester was over.
According to the usual rules, the results will be released in twenty working days, although I don’t know if that will apply given that my assessment was so much later than everyone else’s and they all received their results the day after I presented. So I’m just waiting to hear. I’m trying not to stress about my grade but, as I said in my previous post, I’m finding it hard. I’ve been working relentlessly – with so many obstacles to navigate – and the idea that that still wasn’t enough to get the Distinction I want so badly does upset me. I mean, I’d get over it in time but, yeah, it would be distressing. I just really hate the idea of thinking, “I could’ve gotten a distinction if I wasn’t autistic or had ADHD, etc.” I know that that’s not a healthy way to think but the standards and expectations I have for myself are somewhat warped, something that I think is due to the late ASD diagnosis and the clash between twenty-ish years with neurotypical standards and then having to adjust those expectations in accordance with what I now know is a neurodivergent brain. It’s a mess basically. But I’m waiting for the results – they should be out on the 6th October – and hoping desperately that it went as well as I hope it did.
While the ‘project-for-assessment’ is over, I definitely want to keep working on the songs, write some more on various elements of my autistic experience that I just didn’t manage in the timeframe, and then, hopefully, release it in some form. That’s the dream. I’m so proud of so many of these songs and I really, really want people to hear them and hopefully find strength or comfort in them. We’ll have to see because these projects are just so expensive to put together, from the production work to making music videos to all of the marketing.
And while this is a topic for another post, it should be acknowledged that the semester ended on a very sad note. I found out the morning after my presentation that my Granny had died. Between that news and an intense semester’s worth of work and my brain is just at overload. I can’t tell if I’m not feeling anything or feeling everything. I don’t really want to get too deeply into all of this, partly because I’m not ready and partly because, if only on my blog, I want to keep this semester and this project separate. I really just wanted to mention it in the context of all the emotions I’m dealing (or maybe not dealing) with right now.
So that was the final semester. But there’s still a couple more chapters in this story, so to speak. Graduation will hopefully go ahead as planned – in person – in November and then who knows? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
My apologies if this post is a bit all over the place: everything’s really hitting me and I’m just exhausted but I wanted to get this out while it’s still fresh.
Category: adhd, anxiety, autism, covid-19 pandemic, death, emotions, family, heds, meltdowns, mental health, music, research, sleep, therapy, university, writing Tagged: adhd, adhd inattentive type, anxiety, anxiety disorder, asd, assessment, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, autism awareness, autism in women, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, autistic student, chronic pain, classes, collaboration, concentration, conference, coproducer, covid test, covid-19, cowriting, deadline, death, dentist, depression, ehlers danlos syndrome, emotions, exhaustion, extenuating circumstances, final assessment, final presentation, final project, focus, friend, friends, gad, generalised anxiety disorder, grades, graduate, graduation, grandmother, grandparent, granny, grief, heds, hydrotherapy, hydrotherapy referral, hypermobile ehlers danlos syndrome, inattentive type, loss, major repertoire project, masters, masters degree, masters degree in songwriting, masters degree year two, masters part time, mental health, mental illness, migraine, migraines, musicology, musicology conference, neurodivergent, neurodiversity, online classes, pain, pandemic, pandemic 2020, pandemic anxiety, part time masters student, physiotherapy, presentation, producer, production, research, research conference, research project, self worth, singersongwriter, songwriter, songwriting, songwriting competition, songwriting process, songwriting project, special needs dentist, specialist dentist, tooth extraction, tooth pain, trd, treatment resistant depression, university
Posted on April 10, 2021
I love a good week-in-my-life post and I try to do one every semester or so, since that does tend to shake my life up. Now, the semester is coming to a close and the assessments are in sight so I’m busy with uni work, with cowrites, and with health stuff. There’s a lot to juggle right now.
The week in this post begins on Monday 15th March and ends on Sunday 21st March 2021. I’d thought I’d have this up on the blog earlier than this but when I was writing it, I wasn’t thinking about the timing and then there was Autism Awareness Week to post for. But here we are, just a bit later than planned.
I struggled to wake up with my alarm. My sleep isn’t great at the moment and my alarms really aren’t doing their job. Most of the time I’m sleeping through them completely, which isn’t exactly ideal.
For a moment, I forgot that it had been the Grammys the night before and then suddenly it came rushing back. I went online and found out who won what. I’m sad Ingrid Andress didn’t win any of the three she was nominated for, but I am glad that The Highwomen (Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, and Maren Morris) won Best Country Song, although Maren Morris won’t get a Grammy since she wasn’t a writer on the song. And then there’s Taylor Swift. I’m so, so happy that she won Album of the Year for folklore. I think she deserved more than just the one award – I mean, how did she not win Best Pop Duo/Group Performance with ‘exile featuring bon iver’?! – but I do also think it’s a good thing when there’s no one person that walks away with five or six, meaning more artists/songwriters/producers/etc are being recognised for their work (I’m not saying the Grammys are fair – we know they’re problematic – but this is one aspect that makes them fairer).
I’m so happy for her, especially after everything she’s had to deal with with her masters and still working through the fall out of everything that happened/came to a head in 2016. And I know I’m biased but it’s pretty widely acknowledged what a big deal folklore was (and is); it was absolutely the album of 2020.
I was so busy catching up with the Grammys news that I was late for my online Occupational Therapy session. Fortunately my OT therapist understands my passion for music so she didn’t mind. We ran through my exercises and she wants me to do them for a little bit longer before moving on to a new set of exercises. Having fallen down the stairs at the weekend, she warned me to take things gently – to take a bit longer if that felt safer and more comfortable – and said that an injury, even to an unconnected area, could cause a general flare up of pain. So hurray for that. Everything hurt from the fall but I figured that that was due to the actual impact (well, multiple impacts) rather than anything chronic pain related. I haven’t been dealing with this – chronic pain – long enough to be able to predict stuff like flare ups. So we’ll just have to see things go.
And then we were done. The sessions are always exhausting, even if I’m not being asked to do much. So, before I could fall asleep on the sofa (it would not be the first time), I got up and recorded the new vocals for the song I was presenting in class the next day, ‘Last One Standing.’ I really love this song so I was really nervous to hear people’s feedback; I really wanted them to like it.
I finished that and, as predicted, I fell asleep on the sofa for a couple of hours.
I had a gentle rest of the day, doing various admin tasks before starting The One on Netflix. I was craving something new. I got into it really quickly, which was great – exactly what I wanted. I only stopped when 9pm rolled around and it was time for Unforgotten, a show my whole family has loved since it began airing. We all just love Nicola Walker and I particularly love her as Cassie Stuart. Having said that, I’m struggling with this series. I think the case they’re working is super interesting – maybe the most interesting one they’ve tackled – but with Cassie feeling so trapped and angry, it’s not as enjoyable as it has been in the past so I really that hope they’re heading towards a solution that brings some of her warmth back. (It’s safe to say that I wrote this before we saw the series finale.)
I was really stressing before class (we’re heading towards the assessment and I always get so anxious that I’m not doing enough) and somewhat frantically messaging with my friend. She suggested we have a a quick video chat before the class started and that really helped to ground me. Then we signed into our class.
We didn’t have our normal (awesome) tutor but we had another awesome tutor; I’ve had her as a tutor a handful of times since I first started at ICMP, on the BA, and she’s really great. Throw in the fact that we were presenting our ekphrasis songs (songs that were responses to other pieces of art, like visual art, films, etc) and it was a really interesting and thought provoking session. The brief had really stretched people and the songs were all so exciting and so different in the best possible way. I loved all of them.
I was last and VERY nervous because I was (and am) so attached to my song. Fortunately though, everyone really liked it and had some really great responses, some really interesting thoughts, and some good things to think about in the redrafting process. I was so happy with the positive response that I finished the class feeling like I was glowing. My first ‘glowy moment’ of the year – that’s what I used to call the really awesome moments. It’s been a really long time since I’ve felt like I had a reason to use the phrase.
I meant to have a nap between classes – that always makes it easier to concentrate in the second class, which is, after all, three hours long – but I accidentally ended up binge-watching The One. It’s so compelling and so thought-provoking, in so many different ways.
The seminar was on authenticity but having studied authenticity in song lyrics pretty extensively for my Musicology essay, it was all pretty familiar. So while it wasn’t too intellectually taxing, I was tired and it was hard to stay focussed. I didn’t mind three hour classes when I was actually in them but I do find three hour classes on Zoom a struggle.
When the class was over, I curled up on the sofa and finished The One; the last episode was just one mind-blowing revelation after another. It was so good. I found Rebecca a particularly fascinating character; there was so much to unravel. Both Hannah Ware (Rebecca Webb) and Zoë Tapper (Kate Saunders) deliver incredible performances and there’s so much potential for another series. Me and my friend, Luce, (who was an episode behind me) freaked out together when she finished it about an hour later.
I’m always exhausted on a Tuesday, even if I do manage a nap, and I was falling asleep on the sofa around ten. So I dragged myself up and headed for bed. That’s pretty early for me these days. I’ve been trying to get to bed earlier so that wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
I slept really badly but I didn’t sleep in. I was still in pain so I couldn’t get back to sleep anyway and at some point during the pandemic, I started feeling guilty if I slept in (this is super unhealthy, I know – I’m working on it in therapy) so I got up, had a shower and breakfast, and got to work. I did some uni stuff and then wrote down my thoughts to collect myself before a meeting with my course leader.
The meeting was about the final module of the Masters, which is called the Major Repertoire Project where we can research and create a body of work about anything we want. I know what I want to centre my project around (I’ll share soon but I want to get the current module done first) but you can take various approaches to the research and I wanted to talk to my course leader about that. We had a really in depth discussion and she gave me some really good ideas to think about. So I’ve got a lot to figure out but I’m really excited to get into it.
As good as the meeting was, I was really tired afterwards. I got comfortable and tried my best to concentrate on blog post writing. It took hours but eventually I managed to finish my blog post on being diagnosed with ADHD. At least I had a pretty good view while I worked.
Mid afternoon, I was supposed to have a phone call appointment with a neurologist. And I did, except they called two hours late, it wasn’t the person it was supposed to be, and then they basically spent twenty five minutes trying to convince my Mum and I that any tests they do as a department would probably be a waste of time and likely wouldn’t show anything. And that was it. The call ended and I just felt confused and upset. Isn’t the point of a doctor to help you, rather than convince you that trying to find an answer to your problems is a waste of everyone’s time? I mean, I was referred to the neurologist by my GP because she thought this was worth investigating. And then I finally get to see said neurologist after rescheduling and it felt like they were fobbing me off from the moment the call started. So, that was… yeah.
I was all over the place and Mum did her best to distract me. She’d seen bits of The One (although I’d managed to prevent her from seeing anything too spoiler-y) but she wanted to see the whole show so we started it again; she was hooked straight away, just like I was. As we watched, I started doing some basic research based on the Major Rep Project seeds that my course leader had planted in my brain; I didn’t get very far but it was definitely interesting and a good distraction from real life.
And then I went to bed, completely exhausted. It was barely ten thirty.
I struggled up with my early alarm but all of my careful planning for the day had fallen apart before ten am. I’d had two cowrites booked for the day but then one of them needed rearranging so I suddenly had to try and rearrange the whole day. I was majorly stressing that I was going to have to cancel on somebody but fortunately I was able to rework everything so that I could work with both people.
I had a shower and breakfast before finishing the lyrics to a song I’d been working on and speaking to Richard about the plans for the acoustic videos (the ones I’ve been releasing over the last few weeks). Then I worked on blog post stuff until it was time for my first cowrite. My friend, Anna, and I worked on a really cool song that she’d brought a draft of to the sessions and we were both so proud of it when finished. It has some really great metaphors and imagery and we tightened up this awesome outro that she’d proposed. I feel like we created something really special and that felt so good.
When we hung up, I had an hour to eat a really late lunch (and watch some more of The One with my Mum) before my second writing session, this time with my friend, Dan. He didn’t have a draft like Anna but we’d been messaging about what to write about: he’d sent me some themes, I proposed some more concrete ideas, and then he chose one that resonated for us to work on.
We decided to call it quits after a couple of hours and although we hadn’t finished the song we’d started, I feel like we’d made a really solid start on a really interesting song. I really liked what we’d come up with and Dan seemed to feel good about it too.
I feel like my writing has improved so much over the last few months and it felt particularly strong that day. I just felt like everything I was coming out with was good, not necessarily right for the song of the moment but still good. And that felt kind of amazing. Obviously not every day or every session is like that but every now and then it happens and it’s so, so satisfying; it gives you such a motivation boost. And remembering days like that one are really helpful on the days when it feels like everything you write is complete crap. So it was a good day, despite the stressful start, and I felt really positive about my writing and my friendships and my creative relationships and my course. It was a good day.
I was exhausted and starving by the time we finished but in a good way, in the way where you’ve worked really hard and you need to replenish, in the satisfying way. Mum and I finished The One with dinner and she was as blown away as I’d been. It was fun to have someone to talk about it and dissect it with; there are so many interesting and thought-provoking ideas in there.
Even though it was already late, I couldn’t help doing some more research into some of the ideas my course leader had suggested before forcibly reminding myself that that was not the time to be getting into complicated academic research, that I needed to disconnect and go to bed.
For the first time in a really long time, I slept super deeply and actually woke up feeling somewhat human and not a zombie.
After a quick shower and breakfast, my Mum and I headed down to the GP surgery for another set of blood tests. I’ve completely forgotten what they’re for or who requested them with so many people involved right now but apparently they might give us more insight into my fatigue. The nurse was lovely and the whole thing was super quick and efficient.
Back home, I did some work for uni and typed up my notes from my meeting with my course leader, including some of the resources I’d started to find the night before. I wanted to get it all down before I started to forget things. This project feels so huge right now – I’m sure it will start to feel more manageable and achievable once I’m actually working on it and not just thinking about it in broad strokes – so I don’t know what I’m going to need to remember at this point.
I worked up until my therapy session, which are still online at this point. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: in person is better and, personally, I find it more helpful but I’m grateful to still have access to therapy at all so I’m not complaining. Since I’ve been in a better place, we talked about that and what’s contributed to that. I told her about my first glowy moment – the first one in so long – and she was so excited so we enthused about that together. But we also talked about how difficult I’ve been finding it to start on the assessment work; maybe it’s my anxiety around assessments, maybe it’s the untreated ADHD, maybe it’s a combination of both. It’s also just irritating to have to focus on the paperwork side of things when I just want to keep writing madly.
It was an okay session. Between all of the pandemic stuff and having sessions online, I find it hard to get into things deeply enough to really move forward. So mostly it’s been about coping, which is necessary but also really frustrating. It’s felt like a year of treading water when I’m just so desperate to make some progress, of any kind.
I spent the afternoon doing various admin, like emails and so on, and more uni work. And then, early evening, I uploaded the first of the acoustic session videos. Working with Sunburst Sessions (back in February 2020), we’d made a video for each track of the Honest EP but I obviously hadn’t finished releasing the EP at that point, hence why they’re only coming out now. I’m going in order of the EP tracklist so the first one up was ‘Bad Night.’
The video up and shared to all of my social media and WhatsApp groups etc, I had a long catch up on FaceTime with one of my parents before having dinner with my Mum. It was pretty late by that point and we were both tired so we watched a couple of episodes of Episodes (it’s one of our comfort shows – it’s not emotionally heavy and both Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan are brilliant).
I’m still sore from falling down the stairs so Mum gave me a massage (I’m so freaking lucky to have a massage therapist for a mother) and then we both headed to bed.
I was awake on and off throughout the night and I was wide awake between four and six am. Ugh. And then, of course, I fell into a really deep sleep that was a really struggle to wake up from. And because I’d slept later than usual – later than I usually start taking my current daily painkillers – I was in so much pain that I could barely move. I had to eat and wait for them to kick in before I could manage a shower. So… not the best start to the morning.
When I finally made it to the living room, Mum and I did the Census and then I logged into the blog and posted my International Day of Happiness post.
I spent the rest of the morning working through the feedback I’d received on my songs from this semester, which made the task of choosing songs for the assessment portfolio much more straightforward: I don’t think any of the songs I’ve presented are bad but there were some obvious standouts, all of which were actually in line with my gut instinct about what to submit. I just needed to work on them, based on the feedback, and then pull the paperwork together: the various drafts, the feedback, my notes, etc.
Early afternoon I had a writing session with my friend, Phill, but we ended up deciding that we’d gotten as far as we could online and so we’re gonna continue working on the song when we can meet up in person. We’re just having trouble with the lag time. I’m happy to do that and although that was the writing session effectively over, we stayed on the video call and just had a really fun and chilled out chat, which was really nice. Because socialising has to be so organised now, I’ve definitely found myself having fewer spontaneous and casual chats with people and I’ve missed that. So it was a really nice few hours.
After we hung up, I had some chill time. I was having a quick scroll through Instagram when I saw that Natalie Hemby, a songwriter I really admire, had posted about Travis Meadows, another songwriter I really admire, and how he’s been through A LOT recently…
I love Travis Meadows and his music so I went straight to the gofundme page. The video he’d made the week before, sharing for himself what had happened, was incredibly moving. I donated what I could and shared the fundraiser on all of my socials. (The fundraiser has since met its goal but is still open – I’m sure the hospital bills, past and ongoing, are much more than the original goal set.)
One of my parents came over for a bubble dinner and we watched Lucifer together and then I watched my friend Luce‘s online show. She played some great covers and acoustic versions of the songs she’s already released but she also played some new songs and they were incredible. They were so powerful. I can’t wait for everyone to hear what she’s working on because it’s truly amazing.
When her show finished, I had a couple of FaceTime calls with various family members and then went to bed. It was still really early – not even ten thirty – but I was exhausted.
I didn’t wake up until half nine and when I opened my eyes, I found three of the five cats watching me. Clearly it was long past breakfast time and they were impatiently waiting for me to deliver. So I dragged myself up, fed the clamouring masses (this is sarcasm just in case you couldn’t tell – I adore them), and had a shower, before settling in the living room.
I ate breakfast in front of the Netflix short Creating The Queen’s Gambit. I loved it, loved seeing how the whole thing came together, from the really obvious creative choices (like Beth’s hair and the sets) to the tiniest of details (like the interactions between the characters); it just made me want to watch the show again but I just don’t have the time right now. I would want to pay attention to all of those details and right now I have too much to do; the TV is pretty much just there for background noise at the moment.
I spent the morning working on my notes for my assessment portfolio. I was due to have a cowrite in the afternoon but then that got rescheduled to the next day. But I made use of the time: I spent several hours working on a research proposal for a Musicology conference. I’d absolutely love to present at this conference, so much so that it’s probably making me super perfectionistic about it. So I’m trying – I really am – to dial that back so that I can actually write the damn proposal. Because if I don’t write the proposal, I definitely don’t get to present at the conference.
After a few hours on that, I went back to my portfolio notes. It wasn’t a particularly interesting day but it was busy. I got a lot done.
Then, in the evening, I had another bubble dinner: pizza, Lucifer, and catching up. It was really nice. I couldn’t totally relax – I did a bit more uni work and some writing for various blog posts – but I had a really good evening. And then I went to bed early, completely knackered.
So it was a super busy week. But that’s not exactly new. I’ve been battling all semester with the danger of burning myself out before the assessment. I know that I really need to manage myself better. It’s just that sometimes my enthusiasm gets the better of me, especially when it comes to music things.
As I post this, classes have ended and the assessment deadline is coming up so I really need to concentrate on that. I just wish concentrating was easier. The practical work I don’t seem to have a problem with but the analysis – an essay that’s not really an essay – has me banging my head against my desk. It’s such a simple, straightforward task and yet I’m finding it so difficult. And on that note, I’m going to post this and go and work on it. Because there’s a hundred and one more things to do after I do that.
Category: adhd, animals, anxiety, autism, covid-19 pandemic, emotions, heds, mental health, music, sleep, therapy, university, video, writing Tagged: a week in my life, acoustic sessions, adhd, assessment, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, blog writing, blogging, blood test, cat, cats, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, conference, coronavirus, covid-19, cowriting, cowriting session, creating the queen's gambit, dbt, dialectical behaviour therapy, ekphrasis, episodes, facetime, family, family of cats, folklore, friend, friends, glowy moment, grammys 2021, heds, honest ep, honest ep (sunburst sessions), hypermobile ehlers danlos syndrome, luce, major repertoire project, march 2021, masters, masters degree, masters degree in songwriting, masters degree year two, masters part time, musicology conference, my cats, natalie hemby, neurologist, nicola walker, occupational therapy, online classes, online concert, online learning, online university, pain, pandemic, pandemic 2020, pandemic anxiety, part time masters student, perfectionism, perfectionist, remote therapy, remote writing session, research conference, research proposal, seminar, singersongwriter, sleep, songwriter, songwriting, sunburst sessions, taylor swift, the highwomen, the one, the one netflix, the queen's gambit, therapy, travis meadows, unforgotten, university, university assessment, week in my life, writing session
Posted on January 9, 2021
So that’s it. The third semester of my Masters is officially completed. As I write this, I have just submitted my assessment work and have a week before the next semester starts (online, due to the current number of COVID cases). I have some reading to do for the next module but before I dive into that, I just want to reflect on the last semester, the ups and downs, and all that I’ve learned.
It began with a great deal of stress, and long before the semester was due to start. At the beginning of the pandemic, I’d said I absolutely didn’t want to do my course online and would defer if that was going to be the case. But as the new semester drew closer, I got more and more anxious. I didn’t want to defer but I also didn’t feel safe commuting to and then through London for two hours of classes a week so, after many hours of talking with my family (and many tears), I decided that the best option was to attend as an online student. It was a sad decision to make because I’ve always loved the group dynamic of my university classes but it just didn’t feel safe or responsible to attend in the way I’d have to.
And then, in the week or so before classes started, there was a great deal of stress around getting the right timetable as an online student: conflicting information, the classes not showing up on my online timetable, and so on. When things were already so stressful (the anxiety about the pandemic aside, I was really nervous about whether or not I was mentally up to doing the module with my mental health so fragile), this just triggered a series of really terrible meltdowns. It was a horrible and exhausting way to start the semester, especially the one I’d always been most anxious about: Musical Language in Songwriting. Music theory has never been a strong area of mine so the idea of experimenting with these concepts was very daunting.
While this was very distressing, I don’t want to point fingers or place blame. These are hugely difficult times and no university – no institution – is perfect, even when the world is running according to what we consider to be normal. So it’s not fair to expect everything to run smoothly. And now that I’m on the other side of the semester, I can only sing the praises of my tutors: over and over, I’ve seen just how dedicated, hardworking, passionate, and supportive they are. There have been bumps in the road, of course, but even with the sheer amount of stress they’re under – and that’s just the stress I’m aware of as a student – I’ve been consistently met with warmth, thoughtfulness, and understanding. And I’m just so beyond grateful for that. I couldn’t have completed this semester without their support.
I wrote about my first week back (here) but to summarise, it was a challenge. My uni were using a blended model of teaching so the lecture was online and the workshop was onsite (but as an online student, I was looped in through the online learning platform). The lectures were straightforward since we were all online, and productive once we got into a rhythm and stopped accidentally interrupting each other. The workshop, however, was more complicated: between not physically being there and only being able to communicate through the tutor’s laptop, plus not being able to see or really hear my course mates, it was very difficult. But I spoke to my tutor after the class and the next workshop was better.
I’d thought we were making progress but then suddenly, between week two and week three, I was moved to a new workshop group, an online group made up of just the online students. That really threw me; the constant uncertainty was doing a real number on my mental health. I was really struggling during this time: my anxiety over the pandemic, the expectations of the course, and being able to do well in the module was incredibly high; I was hugely frustrated with the whole situation; I was feeling overwhelmed by my depression, my low energy levels and side effects of medication… I was constantly in tears, constantly having meltdowns.
But slowly, as things started to settle, my mental state started to settle too. I had a really positive meeting with one of my tutors where he went through the learning outcomes and grading criteria and generally what makes a good assessment portfolio. I’ve found that having a meeting like this early on in the semester both helps me to work on the assignments more effectively and avoids unnecessary anxiety. As I said, I felt really supported throughout this module and I’m so grateful for that, both in terms of the module itself and in terms of the broader picture.
The assignments were challenging and definitely interesting, including a reimagination of a cover, a reimagination of an original song, and a brief that still makes me shudder: a song in an uncommon mode, using both 5/4 and 7/4 time signatures, with extended chords and an example of chromaticism (I struggled particularly with this one). We also had to consider the arrangement of each songs and to an extent, the production. The briefs definitely stretched me and prompted some very interesting songs, many of which I absolutely wouldn’t have written if I’d not done the module. I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything with them but I definitely learned a lot from writing them. Having said that, I did spend a lot of time feeling very unsure of myself and the quality of my work, both in terms of whether they were actually good songs and whether they were fulfilling the grading criteria.
About halfway through the semester, my course mates from the year before (those who’d done the Masters full time and completed it in one year rather than two) graduated and I joined them for the online ceremony to celebrate them and their achievements. We were all disappointed not to be able to get together to celebrate properly but hopefully that plan is simply postponed rather than cancelled. They all deserve it and it would be so lovely to see them again.
Six (out of twelve) weeks in, I was exhausted all the time. I was also still struggling with the nerve pain in my hand – the pain that I’ve been experiencing since the middle of the first lockdown – which was only getting worse, making it even more difficult to play instruments. I was still waiting for my rheumatology referral – that didn’t come through until the last week of the semester and even now, they still don’t know what the problem is.
The latter half of the semester was much more focussed on the assessment, at least it was for me. I worked on the songs I’d already written during the module before taking them into class again for more feedback so that I could get them as good as possible for submission (although I did impulsively write a rap that ended up being part of my portfolio). I also worked on the other part of the assessment: a short essay, analysing one of the songs I’d written and how I’d employed different aspects of musical language. I worked as hard as I could, determined to have at least most of the work done by Christmas so that I could have a break of some kind before the next semester started, unlike last year when I had to work straight through the Christmas break.
Despite the meeting early in the semester, I found it very difficult to judge whether I was doing ‘well enough.’ The learning outcomes and grading criteria felt incredibly vague and therefore not at all Autism-friendly, causing me a lot of anxiety. I mean, it’s Masters level and they have to cover all of the different styles of songwriting on the course so I do understand it but as an autistic person, it’s been one of the hardest parts of the course (uncertainty being a common area of difficulty for autistic individuals). I had multiple conversations with my tutors about it and although they noted it, it’s not like they could change them in the middle of the semester. I guess we’ll see if anything changes over time. I did get useful feedback on my songs and essay during those conversations but I still have no idea what to expect grade-wise.
By the end of the semester, I was almost done: I was making final edits to the songs and trying to cut down the word count of my essay. But the last week was hectic to say the least. I had a really lovely last day of classes – both groups I was a part of were so positive and fun to be a part of – and then a final one-on-one session with my tutor for any last feedback before the deadline (the first day after the Christmas break). That was really useful, especially as I was so close to finishing everything. I also had a meeting with my tutor for the next semester, so that I could prepare for it or, at the very least, get my head around what the expectations of the module were. Again, another attempt at reducing unnecessary anxiety, plus it was really nice to see him again; he’s taught me on and off since my first day on the BA (he actually auditioned me for the BA!) and he’s such a great teacher. I feel like he gets me and my approach to songwriting and I’m really excited to have him as a tutor again. And the semester itself ended for me with a meeting on behalf of ICMP where a group of us (students from different courses) spoke about our experience with the university. That felt good; I only ever want to leave things better than I found them and that meeting felt like an opportunity to do that. It’s re-inspired me to keep trying, even if I didn’t really need to be re-inspired.
I had one last session with Richard, sorted out a couple of technical issues with the tracks, and then I spent every day working non-stop. On Christmas Eve, I managed to finish everything. I was done – or had done as much as I could do without endlessly obsessing over every tiny detail – and could have an actual break between semesters. I really needed that and I had a good Christmas, despite everything going on. I wish I could’ve been with more of my family but we all recognised how risky that was. So we had a truly bizarre and hilarious Christmas Quiz and Zoom call and then dinner within our bubbles; it wasn’t perfect but I think we truly made the most of it and I really enjoyed it, even if there were difficult moments.
After a pretty restful break, I logged onto the student gateway to upload all of my work on New Year’s Day, several days before the deadline. But, for some unknown reason, the pages weren’t set up in a way that allowed us to upload the work required for the assessment. I had multiple meltdowns over it and after a handful of emails to various tutors, I was given an alternate way to submit. I shouldn’t really be surprised: this has happened multiple times and with the deadlines always on the first day back, there’s usually no one to contact for help. I was lucky to have had a tutor respond. Fortunately, it did get fixed on the morning of the deadline and we were all able (and asked) to submit. They usually fix it in time but it’s very stressful every time.
As I’ve already said, I’d been dreading this module but I ended up enjoying it a lot than I’d expected. It was still stressful but the tutors were incredibly supportive and my course mates were engaged and encouraging. It felt safe to bring in whatever I’d written, even if I really wasn’t sure about it (the rap, for example). It is hard being part time though, just as much this year as it was last year: for me at least, I’ve always felt ‘other’ to a certain degree, excluded (unintentionally) from the main group, the full-timers. Rather than being part of two years worth of Masters students, I’ve just felt not quite a part of either. It’s hard to explain but I’ve just never felt truly part of the course, like I’m always missing out on something because I’m only there (or ‘there’) half of the time. Does that make sense? I’m not even sure. Being part time has definitely been better for my mental health but it has made things more complex socially.
But ultimately, the module has been a good experience (although I’m sure my perspective on it will be affected to a certain degree by the grade I get). I think the biggest thing I’ve learned, or the skill that has developed the most, is how my decisions serve the song I’m writing; it’s made me much more conscious of my choices and it made me realise how much I already knew about the techniques we were using but just using them instinctively rather than deliberately. So that was surprising but it has opened up doors in my songwriting.
It was also exciting to start looking ahead to the next two modules: we had extracurricular sessions where students from last year presented their final projects to give us an idea of what that last module would be like. It was reassuring because it made the whole thing feel much more clear and less like a huge, intangible, overwhelming pile of work. Now it feels like an exciting challenge and I can’t wait to get started, regardless of the stress and anxiety involved.
Category: anxiety, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, covid-19 pandemic, holidays, meltdowns, mental health, music, university Tagged: anxiety, arrangement, asd, assessment, autism, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, autistic meltdown, autistic student, cfs, christmas, christmas break, christmas holiday, chronic fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome, coronavirus, covid-19, depression, essay, essay writing, fatigue, graduation, graduation ceremony, masters, masters degree, masters degree in songwriting, masters degree year two, masters part time, meltdown, meltdowns, mental health, mental illness, music language in songwriting, music theory, musical arrangement, musical language, online classes, online learning, online university, pandemic, pandemic 2020, pandemic anxiety, part time masters student, part time student, songwriting, stress, tutor, tutors, university
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.