A Week In My Life (November Reading Week)

While I was going to write a series of posts about the events of this week, the way all of those events played out made that much more difficult than I’d anticipated so, after a lot of thought, I decided to put them all together in one post because I still really wanted to write about all of them. It was an intense week, with some really big events and a lot of anxiety.

The week in this post started on Monday 2nd November and ended on Sunday 8th November 2020, the autumn semester’s reading week. It involved an Autism webinar, the US election, Bonfire night, as well as the beginning of England’s second national lockdown.


MONDAY

My Mum was visiting her Mum, masked, social distanced, and outside where possible before we all go into lockdown again. So I was all on my lonesome, which is pretty unusual these days. Apart from the cats. Once Queen Lucy realised I was awake, she was climbing all over me, very clearly telling me that it was time for breakfast. So I dragged myself out of bed and went downstairs to feed the pride.

I spent the morning doing various admin tasks like replying to emails and finishing a couple of blog posts before having a shower, getting back to my computer in time to get a ticket to Tim Minchin’s upcoming livestream for his new album, Apart Together. It’s scheduled for the end of November so that will be something really fun to look forward to during lockdown. In the description of the event, they describe him as an ‘inimitable poly-talent,’ which is absolutely true and I just can’t help thinking what it would be like to be described that way. What an awesome compliment.

That done, I settled into my little home studio space and got to work. There were a handful of songs that I had been neglecting and so I finally forced myself to stop procrastinating and prioritising other things and spent several hours recording vocals for them. It’s stupid: I don’t know why I put off recording vocals so much. I guess they make me feel anxious and insecure, like I’ll listen to myself and suddenly realise what a terrible singer I am (which, yes, I recognise is ridiculous because while I know I’m not the greatest singer out there, I know I’m not terrible). But anyway, I always put it off and then when I finally do it, I remember how much I enjoy it. As I said… ridiculous, and yet we’ve all had that experience in one way or another.

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It was a challenge because it was really windy outside, so windy that the microphone was picking it up and I had to delete multiple takes because the wind noise was so obtrusive. And then, Lucy decided that she was being left out of something important. I managed to convince her to lie on my bed (instead of climbing all over me) but even her stretching and clawing the duvet was making it into the recordings. I ended up barricading myself in my bedroom for the rest of the tracks. Fortunately, she (and the others) didn’t start yowling until just as I was finishing up so I was able get everything done without the feline interruptions. I think they’ve developed a form of separation anxiety after having me at their complete disposal (by which I mean I’m available to be sat on at almost all times) since late February and the closed door was just unacceptable.

I had a short time to rest and order my thoughts (change hats, if you will) before signing into an online meeting about an upcoming conference that I’m a panelist for. Just typing that out is wild to me; this is something I’ve always wanted to do. I mean, ideally it would’ve been on a literal panel, talking directly to people, rather than through a screen, but I’m not complaining. I’m nervous but excited. The other panelists were all really nice and we had a good discussion and planning session.

I was pretty knackered after all of that so I lay down on the sofa and attempted to do some blog post writing. I didn’t get very far – I think I was just too tired – but I made progress on a couple of posts so that was something.

I had a place on a webinar in the evening about Autism in young people but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t get into it and the anxiety and frustration and confusion – likely combined with my anxiety about the pandemic, the US election, and the impending lockdown – resulted in a lot of distress. I wouldn’t call it a panic attack or a meltdown but it was a serious overload of difficult and upsetting feelings. I talked to Mum about it afterwards and she suggested emailing them to see if they had a recording I could watch since I’d paid for a ticket and then not been able to attend. So that was a job for the next morning; I was too upset and all over the place to try and write a coherent email.

Despite not attending the webinar, I ended up staying up far too late, bouncing between writing for my blog and in my diary. Lucy curled up with me and, completely exhausted, I was asleep in a matter of minutes.


TUESDAY

I woke up with a headache that even my prescription painkillers couldn’t kick. I’d had a busy day planned out, with the US election the next day (I knew it would dramatically affect my emotions and therefore my ability to work so I’d planned to get as much done beforehand as possible). I tried to get up and get things done but I just felt so unwell that I ended up shifting my week around to give myself a lighter day. I just couldn’t do the more demanding tasks I’d planned to do.

I didn’t manage to get much done that morning. My head was pounding and I was tired and I just couldn’t concentrate enough to get as much done as I would’ve liked to. I did start the essay for this module for the Masters, working out the different sections and the elements I could talk the most about. I also managed a little bit of blog writing; I swear, just as I think I have a decent buffer of posts, they’re gone and I’m panic writing to make sure that I have something to post (not that I’m panic writing this post – I just thought I had more posts lined up than I do).

Early afternoon, I joined the the video call set up by a group from my Masters classes last year (they were the full timers who’d done the whole course in one year while, as a part timer, I’m taking two years to do all of the modules) to watch their online graduation ceremony. As far as I know, everyone was watching the ceremony but not everyone was in the video call, including one of my best friends but we were chatting via WhatsApp. When the ceremony ended, the university had organised video calls for each course and so the majority of the full timers logged on, plus a few of the part timers as well as our course leader to celebrate together. Some of the other tutors on our course also dropped in briefly to say hi. It was so nice to see them all. It feels like so long since I’ve seen most of them and I do miss them; I feel like we had a really lovely dynamic. We chatted and caught up and had a drink together and the whole thing ended up going on for about three hours. I was pretty social-ed out afterwards but it had been so nice to see everyone and celebrate their achievements.

Not long after we all hung up, my Mum took Lucy to the vet as I think the cysts she developed a few months ago have returned. They were back within the hour and the vet had confirmed my theory. The recurrence has also confirmed where they’re coming from and so she’s booked in for surgery on the 12th to remove the cysts and hopefully fix the problem. Apparently it’s not much more complicated than the previous surgery and she’s a very healthy cat so there’s no reason to worry unduly. He’s a great vet: we haven’t known him long at all and yet he already takes my high levels of anxiety into account when giving explanations and laying out the options. I really, really appreciate that.

Lucy has never seemed distressed by going to the vet but she’s always very pleased to be home. She often comes and cuddles up with me if possible though. I don’t know if she feels in need of affection, if she was trying to get rid of the unfamiliar smell of the vet, or whatever but it was very cute.

We weren’t confident about the support bubble rules going into the second lockdown so one of my other parents (who we’re in a support bubble with) came over for the evening and we hung out, had dinner, and watched some TV together. It was really nice and I think we all needed it.

Throughout the afternoon and evening, I’d been working on a personal essay to go out as part of the campaign for my recent single, ‘Honest,’ and I finished it at around eleven. I could barely keep my eyes open by that point but I thought it was at the very least decent, as did my Mum when she proofed it for me – I’ve had much more positive feedback since, which has been good for my confidence as I was feeling quite insecure about it. But anyway, given how tired I was, I decided to leave it as it was and have another look at it in the morning before sending it off.

I’d been doing my best not to think about the US election all day, avoiding social media as much as possible, but when I went to bed, all the anxiety rushed in. I was so terrified of Trump getting in again; I was almost overwhelmed by the dread of waking up to that as the result. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t relax enough to sleep and ended up taking both my anti-anxiety medication and a sleeping pill.


WEDNESDAY

While I think we all felt that it was unlikely we’d wake up to an official result, it was nonetheless tough to wake up and see that it still wasn’t over. But worse, was that it could still go either way when I checked the news first thing. I saw this meme making the rounds on social media and it felt very relevant; I’m pretty sure that this was how my face looked.

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It ended up being a long, anxious day of refreshing the various news sites, waiting for updates and not getting much done. I did manage to edit the personal essay and send it off but other than that, I just bounced between writing blog posts and working on my Masters essay without making much progress in either. I was just so anxious; I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I may not be American nor do I live in the US but I have friends and family who do and the political decisions made there have the potential to ripple so far out, affecting so many countries and so many people. So to say I was stressing would be a massive understatement.

Slowly though, the numbers did start to shift in favour of Biden more and more. It wasn’t a done deal by any means but it was going in the right direction. I was refreshing my phone relentlessly; I could barely concentrate for five minutes without having to check to see if there was an update.

In the evening, Mum and I had dinner and then went for one last swim before lockdown closed all the gyms. We tried to make it as safe as possible, going close to their closing time when it’s always quiet. Plus they keep all the doors open to help with the ventilation. I still almost fell apart in the changing room because the experience was so stressful – whether it would’ve been a meltdown or an anxiety attack, I don’t know. But the staff helped us out and the few people swimming were very obliging about making it possible to put as much distance between all of us as possible.

We had a really good swim, including some of the new hydrotherapy exercises, and by the time we got home, Biden only needed six electoral votes to win and Trump needed fifty six. I was so excited; I actually felt like I might throw up from the anticipation. Again, I found it very difficult to sleep.


THURSDAY

And so begins Lockdown 2.0…

I slept long and deep and when I did finally wake up, I didn’t get up for quite a while, going through the election coverage. The numbers hadn’t moved and it was making me edgy.

I got up, had breakfast and a shower, and got down to working on my essay. I’d only been working on it for about half an hour though when a friend called and we ended up talking for over an hour. It might not have been the way I’d planned my morning but it was really good to have that chat; I felt better for it.

When we hung up, I managed to do a bit more work on my essay before getting myself made up to do some filming. It’s getting dark so early now that I couldn’t wait any longer or I’d lose the light. I set up my little corner (I’d love to have a more permanent space at some point) and filmed some bits and pieces for the ‘Honest’ single campaign. It was a bit of a struggle – cold and uncomfortable and the cats wouldn’t leave me alone – but eventually I got them all done, which was an important job to have ticked off my list.

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That done, I went back to my uni work. I spent most of the afternoon working on one of my song assignments: a reimagination of one of my own songs. It’s weirdly hard: you spend so much time trying to make a song perfect and then you have to turn around and create something entirely new from it, bring out a different emotion or try it out in a different genre. I took this really big, fiesty pop song that had this whole ‘I don’t need you’ vibe and turned it into this quiet piano song that was based on the moment of that realisation when it’s still fragile and tentative. I worked on changing the chords and then recorded them but they were still just one chord per bar; I planned to take it to a friend who is a much better piano player than me to help me expand on it, breaking up the chords and changing it a little for each section to keep it engaging since it was just going to be piano and vocal.

I was just finishing and stretching out on the sofa to relax when the fireworks started going off. I hate Bonfire Night. If you’ve read this post, you’ll know why but the short version is that, not only do fireworks massively trigger the noise sensitivity associated with my ASD, I had a firework thrown at me when I was at the cinema as a teenager. So fireworks make me very anxious and the more there are, the more anxious I get.

I was doing okay: I’d done some blog writing, Mum and I had had dinner in front of Legally Blonde (a friend of mine has been trying to get me to watch it for ages, ever since I’d said that I’d never seen it), but then excruciatingly loud fireworks (that we later found out were being let off a few gardens down from ours) started going off. It could’ve been machine gun fire. The sound triggered one of the worst meltdowns I’ve ever had: I was shaking, hyperventilating, sobbing, screaming (apparently I was screaming ‘stop’ over and over but I never really remember meltdowns afterwards), pulling out my hair to the extent that I was drawing blood… I have no idea how long it went on for but it felt like it could’ve been an hour. Eventually it stopped but meltdowns – my meltdowns at least (I don’t want to speak for anyone else’s experience) – often take a while to settle. I’d barely started to relax when a few minutes later, it all stared again and re-triggered the meltdown. Even after they did finally stop, it was still a long time before I was responsive again, able to interact with my surroundings, able to talk again. It was horrific. It was absolutely horrific.

I have no idea how much time that ate up, just that I was absolutely drained afterwards and barely able to sit up on the sofa. We finished the movie (I liked it for the most part but there’s a really problematic scene where one of the lawyers tricks a gay man into outing himself in public, which is just not okay – I get that it was almost twenty years ago but that doesn’t make it comfortable to watch) and headed for bed. The one thing I will say about it being Bonfire Night was that one of my cats, Sooty (pictured below), stayed with me all evening, snuggled up nice and close. I don’t know if she understood my distress or whether she, herself, needed some comfort but it was very nice to have her with me all evening. Nothing really helps with the meltdowns but it did help before when it was the odd bang and after when I was a collapsed on the sofa. She was an excellent little companion.

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Despite being so exhausted by the meltdown, I couldn’t sleep, no matter what I did. Maybe it was adrenaline, maybe it was fight or flight… I don’t know. But I couldn’t fully relax for hours, even with the help of a sleeping pill. I think I eventually went to sleep at some point between two thirty and three.


FRIDAY

I struggled up the next morning and after a while, decided to post about the experience. I’d seen #banthefireworks and similar hashtags trending on Twitter the night before, mainly to do with how traumatising they are for pets and for wildlife. It was, however, the first time I’d seen people with sensory issues and Autism mentioned as well though, which felt like quite a big deal. I’d been too out of it the night before to write anything at all but with my head a little clearer, I thought that maybe it could be a good idea and maybe raise some awareness about what the experience of Bonfire Night (and fireworks in general) is like as an autistic person. So I posted this on Twitter and on my Instagram stories:

I actually got a really lovely response with a handful of likes and kind, supportive comments.

I got up and got myself ready for the day and settled down to do some blog post writing. I was feeling very fragile after the meltdown(s) the night before so I put on one of the movies that I discovered during the first lockdown and ended up watching a lot because it just feels good. It’s called ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ with Rebel Wilson. I’m generally not a rom-com fan and I hadn’t seen Rebel Wilson in a role that didn’t make me cringe so I was initially wary when my friend recommended it but I ended up loving it. It’s just the ultimate feel good movie. So I had that on in the background as I tried to write (my thoughts always feel kind of fuzzy and not quite connected after a meltdown, sometimes for a few hours and sometimes for days – it can get really upsetting if I spend too much time thinking about it; feeling like your brain doesn’t work just feels so horrible and scary).

Mid afternoon, I had a session with my therapist. I haven’t ‘seen’ her for a while so we had quite a bit of catching up to do. We talked in depth about the night before, as I usually need to after an experience like that. I feel pretty lucky that I had a therapy session within less than twenty four hours, even if it was still very raw. But better that than in a week or two. The other main thing we talked about was how I’m struggling more than usual with my OCD: with the new semester of uni and the promotion of ‘Honest,’ it’s been really hard to find the time and emotional energy to keep up with my diary (for those unfamiliar, my OCD manifests as a compulsive need to write everything down. The overwhelming anxiety and pressure to keep up and do well in my Masters and what is effectively my job seems to be the only thing that can overpower my compulsive writing but then the anxiety around that only builds and builds until I feel like I can’t breathe, like my mind is coming apart and I’m no longer able to form coherent thought processes. We spent a while talking about that and about starting to tackle it as an issue, something we haven’t done because the pandemic has had such an impact on my mental health. It was an exhausting session but it was good to see her and hopefully, in therapy at least, I’m moving out of the frozen state I’ve been in since the pandemic hit the UK. I’m reluctant to commit to that as a statement but I’m cautiously optimistic.

I was pretty much done after that; I didn’t have any energy left. I posted a video to remind people about the new single but that was pretty much all I could manage for the rest of the day.

Since I was too tired to do anything, I ended up watching a new film, Inheritance. The trailer had looked good and while it wasn’t the best film ever, I thought the acting – especially the scenes that involved just Lily Collins and Simon Pegg in a room – was really good and I enjoyed the twists and turns. It was very dark though so I can definitely see it appealing to some and really not to others.

While the fireworks weren’t anywhere near as bad as the night before, people were still setting them off throughout the evening, which really heightened my anxiety. I could barely eat; it felt like my throat was closing up and swallowing was actively uncomfortable.

I spent the evening bouncing between trying to write blog posts and trying to write my diary, not achieving much with either. Again, I think I was just too tired. But it was still a bit too early to go to bed and I wanted to try and do something, even if it wasn’t much.

I FaceTimed with one of my parents before going to bed, which was really nice and then, during the call, I got an email saying that I’d got a ticket to Halsey’s upcoming livestream for the launch of her new poetry book, I Would Leave Me If I Could, which was really, really excited. And when I went to bed around eleven, Biden was very close to winning. So that was a good mental state to be going to bed with.


SATURDAY

I struggled up at nine thirty and got straight to work, recording vocals for the reimagination of my song before my session with Richard. That went pretty quickly and smoothly because I was fairly solid in the new melody. I think it’s pretty good, although I was a bit concerned that the rhythm of the melody wasn’t that different from the original. I didn’t have the time to rework it so I thought I’d take that to class and ask for advice, both in terms of whether they thought it was a problem and how I should go about changing it if it was.

That done, I had a shower and breakfast, published my blog post about going back to the gym (pre this new lockdown), and then logged into Zoom for my session with Richard. We spent the next three hours working on the reimagination of my song and of the cover song. I found it quite frustrating since it was mainly arrangement and production based, so all I could do was offer direction and suggestions but Richard had to do all of the physical work, considering the Logic project was on his screen. This is one of the things I find hardest about collaboration via programs like Zoom: you can’t just take over from one another, swap chairs or instruments, or even point to things on the screen. Sometimes I end up finding it hard to engage and sometimes I just end up wanting to scream because I feel so limited. Most of the time it’s fine and I’ll gratefully accept the fact that we can work long distance at all but every now and then, the frustration just gets too much.

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After hanging up, I put Friends on for background noise and spent a few hours working on upcoming blog posts.

I wasn’t refreshing the news as obsessively anymore so I didn’t discover it for myself. I got a text from Richard at 4:28pm with a screenshot of the BBC News announcement. I actually shrieked and shouted to Mum to tell her. I was positively giddy with relief: I laughed hysterically and then I just started crying because I was just so overwhelmed with so many emotions. It was like I could breathe again. And considering that’s how I felt when it isn’t my country or government, I can only imagine how everyone in America – those who had worked so hard to get Trump out and Biden in – were feeling.

The majority of people that I was seeing on social media were hysterical with joy and it being such a historic moment, I felt that I really wanted to add my own to mark the occasion…

We were just finishing dinner when the fireworks started going off. They weren’t bad enough to trigger a meltdown but they did make me anxious, cause me to flinch and lose my train of thought. I was going to be very pleased when those few nights of fireworks were over.

We had a quiet evening of TV (me and Mum are currently rewatching Hustle – it’s easy to watch but still such a good show) and I tried to do some gentle work on my Masters essay but I ended up in a state about all the musical theory language that I was supposed to be using but didn’t understand, being a self taught musician rather than having had lots of lessons or doing grades. So that was very stressful and I got very upset so I emailed my tutors to ask for some guidance.

I was still buzzing about the election news but it had been somewhat dampened (temporarily) by my uni anxiety so I went to bed just feeling like a complete mess. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and anxious and it was all just too much. By that point, I needed the emotional fresh start a new day would give me.


SUNDAY

It wasn’t easy but I managed to wake up around eight thirty. I got distracted from getting up when I checked my social media though, looking through all of the posts about Biden getting in. There were a few negative posts but on the whole, my feed was mostly filled with positive ones, which was a nice way to start the day. Obviously our social media isn’t an objective view of any subject so I wasn’t going to base my knowledge of the election outcome on the reactions I was seeing but seeing so much positivity and joy on my timeline was a real lift in a very difficult week.

Eventually I tore myself away, had a shower and breakfast, and got down to work. I spent the morning working on blog posts and doing some Christmas present planning and shopping. And then I dedicated the afternoon to preparing for the conference. It’s a conference about University and the Covid-19 pandemic and I’m on a panel discussing autistic students and coping with change. So I wrote down all my thoughts, organised and input them into the powerpoint we would be displaying. It took a couple of hours but I was pleased with the work I’d done. Now I just have to pull together my notes for when it’s my turn to speak but I didn’t want to do that until we’d all met again and signed off on the powerpoint as a group.

I had some chill time before one of my other parents arrived for our weekly evening together (she’s in our bubble and it seems that bubbles – those that bring a household and a single person together anyway – are still permitted during this lockdown). We’d decided, given that we were already in a bubble and none of us do anything out but the essentials, that we felt safe to continuing seeing each other.

We had a really good evening. She’s a music teacher (or at least that’s one of her hats) and has been for decades so she was able to help me out with my essay: we went through the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic elements of every section of the song and it was kind of hilarious how consistent I’d been without being aware of it: almost every element built on the idea of tension and release, except the release never comes. Non-diatonic chords, uncommon intervals, irregular time signatures, syncopation for days… The song had been an experiment in the weird and it was certainly that.

We had dinner with a movie (we missed the new episode of His Dark Materials because I got the time wrong – me and Mum made a note to watch it the next day) and while my parents were content to relax with the rest of the movie, I went back to blog writing. My brain struggles to sit still, to do one thing without getting distracted or bored. So I kept writing, with Sooty curled up between my knees. It seems to be her new favourite place.

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Once it was just me and Mum again, we took our time winding down and then headed for bed. I checked my phone one last time and saw that, as promised if Biden won the election, Kalie Shorr had released a worktape of one of her unreleased songs, ‘Strawberry Blonde.’ It’s such a great song. Her lyric writing especially just blows my mind:

“…Sometimes I still get wasted

To stop thinking ‘bout the time I wasted

I started taking long walks again

And I started talking to God again

You’d hardly recognise me with my rose-coloured glasses gone

You might find it surprising I stopped taking shit from anyone

I got a new tattoo so you don’t know what I look like when my clothes are off

And I went strawberry blonde…”

I learn so much from her songs and I’d love to have the confidence she has in her writing style, in herself as an artist and as a person it seems. She is one of the people I want to write with most; I feel like it would just be so much fun and I’d learn so much. Plus I think we could write one badass song. She’s such an inspiration to me and has been ever since I met her and started following her career in 2016. I don’t know if she knows what an impact – what a positive impact – she’s had on my life.

My brain was going off like fireworks (ironic, I know, but it’s the only metaphor I’ve found that fits) after hearing that song, lyrics bursting into life behind my eyes, which of course I had to write down so as not to forget them. My brain is often at its most active and creative at night. So it took me a long time to get to sleep.


So it was a hell of a week. There was good, bad, really good, and really bad. I can’t say whether it was the week I expected or not because I had no idea what the week was going to look like, mostly due to the US election. Most of all it was exhausting. The new week felt daunting, going in so depleted, but it’s not the first time and it won’t be the last.

I hope this was interesting; I hope you enjoyed it. And I’ll see you in the next post.

Going Back To University During A Pandemic

So, as of next week, my university classes start again and given that the pandemic is worse than ever in the UK (when it comes to the number of cases, at least), I definitely have mixed feelings about it. Had this year gone ahead as expected, I would’ve been super excited to go back to uni but with all my anxiety about the pandemic, not to mention the state of my mental health in general, it feels like an almost impossible feat. I’m not sure how I’m going to manage it. But before I start thinking about that, I thought I’d document how I got to this point…


When the pandemic hit the UK and the lockdown went into effect, I only had two or three weeks of online classes to contend with before my final assignment, which was a piece of coursework. Once that was turned in, I was done, with only unstructured time ahead of me. As a part time student, I didn’t return to classes until late September so, although I’d planned to do a lot of things (I made a post about that here) in that time, I didn’t have to try and manage university alongside all of my anxiety about the pandemic. I didn’t have to think about university for a long time and since we didn’t know much about Covid-19 at the time, it seemed pointless to speculate. So I put those worries to the side and just tried to manage day to day (with varying levels of success).

When August rolled around, the anxiety about what I was going to do started to build. I’d thought about deferring but I really didn’t want to do that: I didn’t want to delay my education more than it already had been with years off to manage my mental health; I felt like I’d be at a real disadvantage in the second year modules, having potentially forgotten skills I’d learned in the first year; we don’t know how different things will be in a year anyway and I’d rather be working through the modules with people I know, whether that’s the case or not. So if I was going to do it, I had to figure out what felt safe and manageable.

Eventually I got an email from my university with some information about how they’d planned out the module, trying to balance safety and getting the best out of our education. My first module of the year was going to be 50% online and 50% onsite: the lectures would be via Microsoft Teams and the practical workshops – where we put the musical skills into practice – would be in person, although there were various different rules about whether anyone could actually perform what they’d written, depending on the number of students present. That all felt very uncertain and anxiety-provoking. Plus commuting to London (using trains and the underground) for only two hours of classes felt like a lot of risk (especially with the number of cases on the rise) – and that’s without considering the effects it would have on my energy levels and mental health and how that would affect my ability to complete the module – for not necessarily enough reward. It all felt very risky and scary.

I spoke to the head of the module, a tutor I’ve known for a really long time and have a really good relationship with. I wanted to get a bit more detail about what was happening, especially as it’s the module I’ve been most worried about: music theory has always been a struggle for me and even though it’s more about experimenting with those concepts in our writing, I’ve still worried about it from the beginning of the course. It’s the module I’ve always felt I’d need the most support and clarity in. Unfortunately, this trusted tutor will be running the online classes and not onsite at all – not that I’d want him to put himself at risk but that plus the fact that my two closest friends wouldn’t be there either only increased my anxiety. In what was obviously going to be a very stressful semester, I felt like I had very few people that I could go to if I needed help or something triggered a meltdown, for example. It was all feeling more and more overwhelming and difficult.

There was the potential to do the whole module online and at the beginning of lockdown, I’d refused to consider it, feeling that I wouldn’t get the education I had chosen and was paying for, if all the classes were online, especially when it’s such a practical course. But if I didn’t want to defer, my only options were to do the 50/50 approach or move entirely online. And after thinking about it a lot and talking to multiple members of my family, we decided that all the stress of going into uni felt like a significant cost compared to the benefit. So eventually I bit the bullet and decided to transfer to being a fully online student.

For a while, everything was fine – or as fine as it could be. But as we started building up to the new year, everything started to unravel. I always find the start of the new academic year stressful but this year has been a special level of hell. One example was ongoing complications with my timetable, which only exacerbated my already high anxiety and caused multiple meltdowns. I could probably rant for hours about the problems in education around mental health and neurodiversity but I won’t. At least not here.

The last week or so has probably been the worst, mental health wise, since the early days of lockdown: there has been constant anxiety, sickening drops into the depression that I’ve been carefully tiptoeing around since the pandemic reached the UK, and many meltdowns. I’ve also fought with Mum, which almost never happens. You know I’m in a bad place when that starts happening. My emotions have been very volatile; my anger has been particularly explosive. Anger’s not an emotion that I usually experience, especially not to this degree, so that’s been really hard to know what to do with. I’m really going through it at the moment.

It’s been suggested and even recommended that I defer, given the state of my mental health and my anxiety around the pandemic but I really, really don’t want to. I don’t want to defer and I don’t really want to do the module online – neither feel like great options, if I’m honest – but we have no idea what the situation next September will be and of the two, I’d rather be moving forward.


Today my group had our induction session, which was helpful. And it was really nice to see my course mates and tutors again; it was a little glimpse of normality, even if it was through a screen. I don’t know if I feel any better about the whole situation – I’m still terrified that the odds against me are just too high and I’ll fail everything – but I’d rather try than not. If get a couple of months in and it really is too much then I’ll reconsider but I have to try. I just can’t not try.

The DSA Process For My Masters Degree

Since the academic year is starting up again, I thought I’d write about my experience with getting support for my Masters Degree as a disabled student. The DSA (Disabled Student Allowance) process can be very difficult so, having been through it twice now, I thought I’d share my experience. I don’t know if I’ve had a good, bad, or typical experience but I thought that simply putting the experience out there might be helpful to anyone at the beginning of this process, to give them an idea of what may happen down the line. As I’ve already said, it’s difficult and tiring but that’s not to say that I would discourage someone from applying. I was just very naive going into it the first time and was blindsided by how complicated and stressful it was; I’m lucky to have had help going through this both times. Having support from sources such as DSA can be hugely beneficial but I wouldn’t want anyone going into the application process unaware so I thought I’d share my experience as I haven’t seen many accounts of the whole process…

I wrote about my first assessment in great detail here, so I suggest reading that but I’ll also sum it up here to make sure I’m sharing the full experience in one place. So… That first assessment was a complete disaster. The assessor was perfectly nice but when we got to discussing what support DSA was willing to offer me, it went downhill fast. They would offer me a laptop, but not one with an operating system required to run the programs I needed for my course because apparently that was a course specific need rather than a disability specific need despite the fact that I – a disabled student – needed them to do my course. They wouldn’t offer me any travel support towards commuting because I’d ‘chosen’ to live at home when I actually had to live at home because of my disabilities. And they have no direct contact with the universities themselves so they couldn’t offer any support through them. So, essentially, they weren’t going to offer me anything because my needs didn’t fit their guidelines, because my disability didn’t fit with their idea of disability. It was hugely frustrating and distressing and I left in tears. I felt completely let down and abandoned.

By the end of the assessment, I was so utterly distressed that the assessor told us that we could appeal, which we did. The second assessment was with a different person, a really lovely woman called Rebecca, and was much longer and in much more depth. We went through everything again in minute detail: from the necessary computer specifications to the exact details of an average university day’s travel. She went through all the possibilities and all the potential outcomes, as well as the potential roadblocks and the reasonings behind them. It was a lot of information but I did leave feeling more hopeful; I really felt like she was on the case, like she was really committed to helping me get as much support as possible. Her report went through several different people before reaching a senior SFE (Student Finance England). It was initially rejected but then, when we provided them with documentation proving I receive PIP (Personal Independence Payment), they changed their minds and granted me a new laptop, software and apps to help with my lectures, independent study, and mental health, and mentoring through the National Autistic Society (although it seems that, due to the pandemic, this service no longer exists). I didn’t get any support for the travel but I’m grateful for what I did get, plus the travel costs haven’t exactly been an issue over the last few months… From that second assessment, it was four months before I received the support I was awarded.

In my experience, the whole DSA process is very slow. It was slow when I went through it during my Bachelor’s Degree and it’s been even slower this time, presumably due to the pandemic. I started this process in January – much later than intended but my mental health was so bad that I couldn’t handle the in person assessment – and didn’t get the equipment until June. Then the laptop that arrived wasn’t the right one and so we had to spend another two weeks – and a somewhat ridiculous amount of emails proving that it was in fact the wrong one – organising the swap, insuring that I got the one that my DSA assessment had determined I needed. A couple of weeks later, the new laptop arrived but setting it up took much longer than it should have. This was due to how the people who’d previously worked on my laptop had set it up, making the transfer of all my files much more complicated and messy. It’s still not as sorted as I would like it to be but it is functional.

Factoring in all of this, had I been doing my Masters in one year rather than two, I would’ve had this equipment for less than a semester before I finished the course. Yes, this was affected by the pandemic, problems with the university Autism support person, and the late start in pursuing DSA but that was due to the reasons I was in need of support so it’s not the most efficient system in that regard: what happens if you’re too disabled by your disability to seek help?

The laptop and software that DSA have provided me with has been invaluable, especially since my laptop was dying a slow death around the time I received the new one. We didn’t get everything we were hoping for but it’s definitely better to have it than to not. So, having now been through this twice, I thought I’d offer some tips that would’ve been helpful to me before going through the process…

  • If you disagree with part or all of the final assessment, ask to talk to someone else – It’s not something you’re necessarily made aware of when you have the assessment but I was so distressed by the end of the assessment that the assessor told us we could appeal. My second assessment yielded quite different results than the first one so it’s definitely worth asking if you feel that you haven’t been heard or fully supported.
  • Ask what kind of documents act as proof of a need for support – The earlier you find out what paperwork might help your case, the quicker the process will go. We, unfortunately, didn’t know that the PIP documentation was helpful and the whole thing may not have taken so long if we had.
  • Take someone with you as it can be overwhelming and tiring – These assessments can go on for hours and there’s a lot of information to both give and receive. Plus, it can be a pretty emotional experience so having someone with you can make the whole thing easier; you have someone to lean on and two pairs of ears to take everything in.
  • Ask for everything that you would find helpful – You might not get it all but you definitely won’t get it if you don’t ask and hopefully you’ll get some of it. It’s also always worth asking what you’re potentially entitled to because there may be things you aren’t aware of that could be helpful.
  • If you’re told something isn’t possible, ask why – The assessors can’t know every relevant question to ask and you can’t know every relevant piece of information to give so if they tell you something isn’t possible or available, it’s worth asking why because you may have some information or some paperwork that changes the situation and what support you can get.

I hope this post is helpful for anyone considering or going through the process. I hope I haven’t made it sound too scary. I really do recommend it but I wouldn’t want anyone to be unaware of how difficult and stressful it can be. You deserve to get the support you need and I only want to make that easier, if only by arming you with information and advice. So, if you’re going through it, I wish you the best of luck and I’m rooting for you.