Posted on April 2, 2022
Given that the theme for this day was only announced by the UN a week or so ago, this isn’t as prepared as I would’ve liked; I would’ve liked more time to work on it, to organise my thoughts on the topic. ‘Cause this week has just been chaos, both in reality and emotionally: I had to leave my cats at a cattery, pack for my trip to the US, fly to Boston, go to a concert there, and then fly to Nashville, where I’ve been super busy. And all of that has been very stressful. So it’s not ideal but I’ve done the best I could with the time and emotional energy I’ve had.
Given that the theme set by the UN this year is ‘inclusive quality education for all,’ I thought I’d write a bit about my experience in education as a young autistic woman. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was twenty so, while my years in school were obviously affected by my being autistic, we didn’t know that that was the cause.
During primary and secondary school, things were pretty okay. I loved learning so that was never the hard part for me. I was shy – painfully so (P.E. and drama classes were cause for weekly distress) – and I was exhausted by being in school but otherwise I think it was fairly normal. For the most part, I was a high achiever: I learned to read and write well very quickly; I was top of the class in most subjects (some of which I tried hard in but some of which I seemed naturally good at); I was in my school’s ‘gifted and talented’ stream for multiple subjects. I was left to myself a bit, I think; I guess there’s a logic to the idea that you don’t need to help a smart kid be smart but then, in the long run, said smart kid doesn’t learn how to learn, if that makes sense. I picked things up very quickly so no one ever really taught me how to study; once I got to the harder stuff, I started to struggle.
Things were fine until sixth form college, when that problem really kicked in. But still, I pushed through: I worked harder, I exhausted myself further. But I thought there was something wrong with me. I thought I was stupid, that I was missing something; it never occurred to me that something like ASD meant my brain processed information differently, that the combination of the undiagnosed ASD and my all-consuming attempts to keep up were having a detrimental affect on my physical and mental health, or that I wasn’t being supported as I should’ve been. I had individual teachers who were kind and understanding but the institution itself offered no support at all. By the time I was taking my A Levels, I was so burned out and worn down that I was right on the edge of a breakdown. I ended up taking a gap year between the end of sixth form and the beginning of the university as I tried to get a handle on my spiralling mental health.
I went to the same university for both my BA and my MA (although with a few years in between), mostly because it allowed me to pursue my greatest special interest (songwriting) and study it in depth. I was diagnosed with several mental health problems during my first year of the BA and then ASD between the first and second year, which was when my university became more open to supporting me (it is worth pointing out however that I had to fight for almost every step because they simply didn’t understand why I needed what I told them I needed). They had what was called a Student Support Agreement that was supposed to be sent to all of my tutors before classes started so that they knew the difficulties I struggled with and what sort of accommodations I might need but I’d often introduce myself to a tutor and they’d have no idea what I was talking about.
In general, most of my tutors tried to understand; they were as accommodating and supportive as the university would allow them to be. They wanted to know; they wanted to understand; they wanted to make things easier for me (obviously not easier than it was for everyone else but to put me on the same level as my peers so I wasn’t disadvantaged). And while, I don’t mind – and even at times enjoy – educating others on Autism, it took a lot of energy to have those conversations at the beginning of every semester, sometimes multiple times. (It’s also worth pointing out that having those conversations can be really enjoyable when the person wants to learn but it can be a totally different story when you’re having those conversation out of necessity and the person isn’t really engaged.) It wasn’t until the last semester of my Masters that I worked with a tutor who was neurodivergent herself and it was a completely new way of experiencing education; feeling so understood and accommodated was amazing and that was definitely reflected in my work.
But while the individuals were open, for the most part, I felt like the institution wasn’t particularly interested in my experience as a neurodivergent student. It’s a small school so there were never that many of us (or there weren’t when I last spoke to them about it) because there weren’t that many of us in general and I don’t think they saw us as worth investing in (as in, it wasn’t financially worthwhile to educate all of their tutors on Autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions for just a handful of students) despite the benefits it could have for all of the students and for the tutors themselves.
Having said that, when I started the Masters I was introduced to the person brought in to support students with Autism and ADHD. I was feeling really optimistic about going back to uni – that progress was being made – but I hadn’t even known her a month when her actions triggered the biggest meltdown I’d had to date in the middle of a busy London train station, which was a traumatic experience. After that, I never heard from her again and found out from someone else that she’d transferred me back to Student Services without her ever saying anything to me. And all of that was with her training and experience. So I didn’t have a lot of faith in their efforts after that. I’m still talking to them though and I hope that I can still help them make the university experience better for neurodivergent students. They could – and they should – be doing more. With so many neurodivergent students dropping out of university, more needs to be done and I think the starting point is teaching the teachers.
I think it’s worth pointing out that I am in a fairly privileged position: I’m from a white, middle class family with a good support system and I went to good schools throughout my time in education. I was also able to go to university and had support from home that allowed me to do that in the way that was best for me. I was (and am) very lucky. But despite all of that, education has been an incredibly distressing experience.
Ultimately, everyone in education needs to know more about Autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions; knowledge and understanding is the only way that the education experience is going to get better for neurodivergent students. All of these institutions have been built on ableist foundations and I don’t have the answers on how to fix that but I do know that, without the knowledge, nothing will ever change.
Category: about me, anxiety, autism, chronic fatigue, depression, diagnosis, mental health, response, school, university Tagged: accessibility, anxiety, asd, autism, autism acceptance, autism awareness, autism awareness day, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, autistic student, depression, education, inclusive education, inclusivity, mental health, mental illness, primary school, school, secondary school, sixth form, sixth form college, united nations, university, waaw, waaw 2022, world autism acceptance week, world autism acceptance week 2022, world autism awareness day, world autism awareness week
Posted on March 30, 2022
Being autistic is complicated (to state the obvious). It’s never just one thing, in my experience at least. It’s not even one thing on one day, one thing in one moment. It’s good things and bad things all wrapped up together and while I can advocate and applaud ‘Autistic Pride,’ I’m not sure I’m there yet. But I can appreciate the good and the bad and so, considering it’s World Autism Acceptance Week, I thought I’d post something about just that: the good and the bad and learning to live with them…
Autism, as we know, is a neurobehavioural condition so the traits associated with it are right down in our wiring, just like the rest of our personality traits: being autistic is at the very core of us and everything else is built upon that foundation. There are some things about being autistic that mean a lot to me, things about myself that I love and value, including…
But there are also things about being autistic that I hate, that I struggle with, that cause me problems, and upset me deeply. I know it’s not healthy to focus on the difficult parts (unless you’re, for example, working on something specifically in therapy or counselling) but I do believe that acknowledging the negatives is important and validating. Endless positivity is not helpful and can end up being harmful so here are some of the things that I hate about being autistic…
So, this was a bit more exposing than I’d expected when I started writing. But there it is. Almost a decade later and I’m still figuring out what it means, to me, to be autistic. It’s complicated and it’s hard and some days I’m really proud that this is who I am. I guess the goal is to have more of those days.
Category: about me, adhd, anxiety, autism, bpd, chronic fatigue, depression, diagnosis, emotions, favourites, food, mental health, music, ocd, writing Tagged: adhd, adhd inattentive type, anxiety, asd, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, authenticity, autism, autism awareness, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, borderline personality disorder, bpd, depression, honesty, inattentive adhd, inattentive type, independence, lack of independence, loyal, loyalty, mental health, mental illness, obsessive compulsive disorder, ocd, passion, passionate, purpose, sensory issues, sensory overload, sensory sensitivity, stubborn, tenacity, waaw, waaw 2022, world autism acceptance week
Posted on March 19, 2022
TW: Mentions of self harm and suicidal thoughts.
It’s been a while since I did one of these updates and the last few months have been A LOT. An update is somewhat necessary, if only for blog cohesion. It’s all been pretty awful, hence all of my posts about medication: we’ve been desperately trying to get a handle on things. I’m not sure we have but there’s a natural point here, around medication and my upcoming trip to the US, so I figured now was probably the best time to do it…
The end of last year and beginning of this year was bad. Really, really bad. I was the most depressed I’ve ever been, self harming and suicidal. I’ve been suicidal in the past but never like this, never to this extent. It was awful but it was also kind of cozy and cotton wool-y, especially compared to what came next. I had a kind of anxiety-induced breakdown, something beyond and different to a meltdown, that just wrecked me. Like, it was so bad that I missed being suicidal. The anxiety was paralysing and the whole thing completely wrung me out. It was unbearable but it was probably the only thing that would’ve forced me onto the new medication – something I’d been resisting out of sheer exhaustion and hopelessness. But I couldn’t go on feeling like that. I was scared the medication would bury the stuff that needs dealing with and I still am but I couldn’t go on like that.
So I started taking Moclobemide but I was also taking Diazepam pretty consistently, given how bad my anxiety was. Things are better than they were – and I’m writing again, which is a good sign – but they’re still not great. I’m still struggling with a lot of stuff. I haven’t been able to go to therapy for a while now and I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to go back – that unexpected twist in the road certainly hasn’t helped. So I’m feeling kind of stuck in terms of how to move forward.
Physically, things haven’t been awesome either. My appetite hasn’t recovered much from the battering it took from the ADHD meds; I’m still not really eating but I am doing better than before so that’s something (the whole thing definitely hasn’t helped my already complicated relationship with food). And after a short break, my chronic pain is back with vengeance. It’s throughout my whole body but my arms, wrists, hands, and fingers in particular have been especially painful. I’m still waiting to hear back from the Pain Clinic. I haven’t written much about my experience with them; I guess I’ve kind of been waiting to have something to write about but so far, I haven’t received any proper support. They said they’d get back to me after their next team meeting but that was early November at the latest so I’m not exactly holding my breath. The Chronic Fatigue Service gave up on me – they literally told me my case was too complicated – and I don’t have high hopes about this experience either. I’ve been waiting for some sort of support for this pain since May 2020 and I know that the NHS have been overwhelmed but that is a really, really, really long time when you’re in pain.
My sleeping is better but still not great. The melatonin helped somewhat and I managed to wrestle my sleep cycle into something a bit more reasonable: rather than lying awake all night and then sleeping through the day, I am now at least sleeping mostly at night. But I’m incredibly tired all the time and I’m drowsy in the day again, just like I was when I was taking Phenelzine. I’ve picked up my Red Bull habit again – although not to quite the same degree (yet) – which I really never wanted to do again.
Between the sleepiness and the not feeling that much better, I’m not convinced by the Moclobemide. It’s pretty reasonable to assume – at this point – that MAOIs are the only antidepressants that help at all but as I said in my Moclobemide review, this level of better doesn’t feel like enough. I still don’t feel great; I don’t even really feel good. And I’m so sleepy, all the time. I don’t feel like it’s that much to ask for: to feel functional, to write songs, to have the capacity to feel good, to even be happy sometimes. Is that really more than I should hope for?
It’s been a long few months and it’s all left me feeling very raw. And, as excited as I am to get back to Nashville, I’m also terrified. The COVID risk aside, the whole world has been through this huge thing so how could going back not be different, feel different? It also just feels very soon to be out in the world for so much of every day when I still feel so… fragile, I guess. It’s like I’ve just started putting myself back together and I’m not ready for the Jenga tower to get toppled again, to start over. I don’t know if I have it in me. I just really hope – really, really hope – that everything goes as well as it can while I’m still getting my feet under me.
Category: about me, anxiety, covid-19 pandemic, depression, emotions, food, heds, medication, mental health, self harm, sleep, suicide Tagged: antidepressants, anxiety, anxiety disorder, asd, autism, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, breakdown, covid-19, depression, diazepam, disordered eating, maois, medication, mental health, mental illness, moclobemide, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, nashville, pandemic, pandemic 2020, pandemic anxiety, self harm, self injury, sleep, suicidal, suicidal thoughts, therapy, trd, treatment resistant depression, trigger, trigger warning, trip, tw
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.