Mental Health, Health, and Life Update (September 2021)

And that’s that. I’ve finished the final module of my Masters and therefore the Masters itself. I don’t know what my grade is for the module or for the whole course yet but frankly, I’ve got a lot to process before I can even really think about the grades and graduation.

Looking back at a similar post before the module started, I was excited about the project but nervous about my health, mental and physical, and whether it would prevent me from doing everything I needed to do, from being able to enjoy the process. And those were valid concerns so I thought, having written a post about how I was feeling before the module started, I’d write another now that it’s ended – like bookends.


A lot has happened since the beginning of May.

Over the last four months, I’ve spent almost every day working on my final project, researching, writing songs, and working on the production of an album. It’s been incredibly intense and now that it’s all done, I’m utterly exhausted, both mind and body. And while, for the most part, I loved it, it’s also a relief to be free of some of the anxiety around it (I’m still struggling with my anxiety around the grade). Having said that, I feel strangely lost and untethered now that I don’t have this big thing to focus on. I know that I need a break but I am looking forward to the next project, whatever that may be. I’m always happier when I’m doing things.

My mental health was pretty good for most of the module, surprisingly so. By my standards at least. I think that the constant creating and the creating of stuff I’m proud of really helped. I had one particularly bad episode of depression, plus a handful of smaller ones, and my anxiety was pretty constant but that’s normal for me. It got very bad in the last month, which was hard to manage – trying not to let it destabilise me was a bit of a battle in itself. It hasn’t quite faded yet. For various reasons, I didn’t have any access to my therapist, which was an unforeseen difficulty and that made things a lot harder than I’d expected them to be.

I also really struggled with my concentration. I’m still not getting any support for my ADHD (something that I hope will change soon but I’m still so frustrated that I couldn’t get any help with it during my Masters) so staying focussed on my project, on my research, took all of my energy. It was exhausting. I felt like my concentration was so, so fragile that a single moment of distraction would break it and then it would be impossible or would take days or even weeks to get back. So I couldn’t stop. Not for anything. That was very stressful and resulted in many, many long days. Sometimes I’d work all day without moving (not healthy, I know) and end up going to bed very late. And then, of course, I couldn’t sleep because my thoughts were racing. So it did a number on my sleep schedule too; I’m surprised I’m not nocturnal at this point.

That, plus the general fatigue I deal with day to day, meant I was tired all of the time. I’ve drunk an obscene amount of Red Bull (my antidepressants make me really drowsy, just to make things even more difficult, although I may be changing medications soon, which hopefully won’t have the same side effects) – I am beyond sick of the taste of it. But it got me through and I’m grateful for that. I will however be grateful to never drink it again (hopefully). And I’m really looking forward to getting both some proper sleep and some proper rest now that my work is done.

I also mentioned back in June that I’d been having migraines that seemed to be being caused by an abscess in one of my teeth. Since then, I’ve been on antibiotics twice, continued to have migraines, and am still waiting to have the tooth removed, a decision that was made at the appointment in June. Given how much disruption it was causing though, I did get extenuating circumstances which allowed me some extra time (although it wasn’t really extra since it was making up for time lost to a medical problem) to cope with those problems. It’s not bothering me presently which is a relief but I’m more than ready for them to take the tooth out, just so that they’re not even problems I have to think about.

While I managed to keep swimming twice a week – a routine I’ve been trying to maintain to create a solid foundation for my crappy joints – I was in almost constant pain throughout the module. At times, my right knee was so painful that I couldn’t walk on it and my back has been consistently painful; my Mum, who used to be a massage therapist, said it felt like trying to massage rocks and now that it’s all over and I’m trying to relax, the muscles feel like their made of concrete. Which is about as pleasant as it sounds. I’ve also had great trouble with my hands and wrists what with all the typing I’ve been doing. So, all in all, I’ve been a bit of a mess. I haven’t had any support for this – the hEDS – either; I’ve been waiting for physiotherapy and hydrotherapy since December 2020 officially and May 2020 unofficially. I’ve just had to try and get by on various painkillers, none of which have been all that effective.

Despite working practically non-stop, I got everything for my project done just in time for my final presentation. My assessors were positive, which I’m trying to hold on to in the wake of my anxiety around the final grade. I’ve been really trying not to attach my self worth to my grades (something I’ve always really struggled with), or at least, lessen the power my grades have over me but I can’t help the fact that I really want to do well. I’ve worked so hard – with so many obstacles – and the idea that that still wasn’t enough to get a Distinction would be upsetting. I’d get over it but it would still be upsetting. I never want someone thinking, “Oh, she mustn’t have worked hard enough.” Or worse: I never want to think, “Oh, I would’ve gotten a distinction if I wasn’t autistic or had ADHD or whatever, thoughts left over from my late diagnoses and the resulting difficulty I have in setting standards and goals for myself (more on that in another post). This anxiety isn’t helped by the fact that I keep thinking of things that I should’ve included in my presentation. My brain clearly hasn’t quite processed that the module is over.

And then, just when I thought I could relax, the world tipped under my feet. The next morning, my Mum told me that my Granny had died a few days earlier. She was ninety-three. Having barely started to process the end of my two year Masters and intense final project, this news was just too much for my brain. A few days on, I feel like I’m bouncing pretty erratically between two states, the first being this weird bubble where nothing can touch me and the second being, ‘if I stop thinking or talking or moving for even a second, I’m going to completely fall apart.’ It’s surreal and exhausting and sad. I’d like to write a piece about her at some point because she was such an incredible woman but I can’t really write more than this right now but it felt really important to at least acknowledge what’s happened because it’s so big and so important.


I don’t think there’s anything else to say right now. I’ve barely been able to wrap my head around this last week: my final presentation, the ending of the Masters, Granny, and everything that’s ahead given all of these things. It’s a lot to take in; I’m exhausted. I’m just taking it day by day.

A Week In My Life (June 2021)

This past month – this module – has been pretty all-consuming, not that I’m surprised as it is the final project of the Masters. This module is called the Major Repertoire Project where we research a particular topic (most commonly one we have a personal passion/connection/investment in) and use the research to write songs on the subject. I’ve been working on an autoethnographic project in the form of an album about my experience as a woman with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It’s a really exciting and fulfilling project to be working on but I won’t deny that it has dug up some hard stuff. And the timeframe does make it more than a bit stressful. But this module is why I wanted to do the Masters and despite the difficulties, it’s definitely been an interesting ride so far.

Other than that, there’s been a lot of other stuff going on, including my health stuff, travelling to London by train again for the first time, and getting my second vaccine!

The week in this post started on Monday 7th June and ended on Sunday 13th June.


MONDAY

I slept late, having swam hard in the pool the night before. I had an early Occupational Therapy appointment so I dragged myself out of bed and had a shower, only just ready in time for the video call. I was still out of breath when the call went through.

The call was somewhat frustrating because the connection wasn’t very good and we had to hang up and call back multiple times. That made it hard to have a real discussion and make any real progress. But we managed to talk about a few things: we talked about the hand exercises I’ve been doing; we talked about the swimming I’ve been doing and how my joints were responding to it; I told her about the ergonomic equipment that was due to arrive later in the week (it came through DSA, which I will talk about at some point because it was a very different experience to my previous DSA experiences); and we talked about the recent awful pain and instability in my right knee. We didn’t come to any conclusion on that and we’re still waiting on the physiotherapy referral; fortunately we live on the same street as a physiotherapist and she was able to give us some general advice. Plus, by the end of the call, we’d had a message from the dentist saying the consultation for my tooth extraction had been booked for Saturday – much quicker than I’d expected. So I was hopeful about that at least.

I ran through the exercises for my hands and then got back to work on my project, various childhood movies from Disney+ playing in the background as I worked. My focus for the day was researching special interests and how they present differently in girls and women. I know a lot about all of this already from my personal research but going through it again is good for both my final presentation and for the creation of the songs in this project. It can get a bit tedious at times, going over a lot of the same material but sometimes I’ll read something I’ve read before and see it with a completely new perspective or I’ll find something new that just gets my wheels turning. And then, suddenly, I’m halfway through a new song.

About mid-afternoon, I was really flagging, hungry and tired. I nearly fell asleep on my desk.

Somehow, I managed not to doze off; I moved around, got some food, and got back to work. I tidied up the research I’d done and then updated the journal we keep throughout the project: record what we do, what we learn, we critically analyse what we learn, write songs using the knowledge or inspiration we find, reflect on that process, etc. I was a few days behind in updating it but I’d mainly been working on the song ideas I’d slowly started pulling together the week before. These songs seem to be taking longer to write than usual; I think I’m just spending a lot of time turning over the core idea and making sure the weight of the song is in the right place – if that makes sense – before I start working out the exact narrative and arranging all of my lyrics ideas.

After several more hours of work, I called it a day on the work. I had a FaceTime call with one of my friends from uni and we caught up about our projects, about plans to actually hang out in person (although it would probably have to be a work-date with everything we have to do for our projects), and the Friends Reunion – we were even quoting in unison from the show by the end of the call. We probably looked and sounded ridiculous but we had a good laugh, something I think was good for both of us.

I spent the last few hours of the day working on the lyrics of a new song. I don’t often write love songs so that was a new experience for me, something that was really fun. It was actually really cathartic in a strange way, to write a song about a realistic, meaningful relationship, one that has ups and downs but that ultimately works because of the mutual commitment. It felt really good and I was really enjoying the process of writing it.

I went to bed at a reasonable time but then I accidentally stayed up reading until almost two am. That’s happening far too often at the moment. It’s not kind on my sleep schedule.


TUESDAY

After the late night, I struggled up around eleven. I had a shower, an excellent breakfast of poffertjes and strawberries, and finished Avengers: Age of Ultron, which I’d started the night before. Oh, and I did my physio exercises.

I spent several hours doing background research – the foundational research, I guess. I know all of this stuff inside out but I need to be able to present it as part of my project; chances are the people assessing me won’t know even the basics about Autism, let alone that it presents differently in women and girls. So that wasn’t the most interesting research for this project but it was important to do so I did it.

That done, I worked on the song I’d been writing the day before. The rest of it came together pretty easily and I’m really happy with it. As I said, I don’t often write love songs so it was pretty exciting to feel like I’d done a good job when it’s not something I have much experience with. I particularly like how visual it is: the lyrics conjure different pictures and situations as well as the emotional weight of the relationship being described. Yeah… I’m really proud of it.

Early afternoon, I had an online meeting with my supervisor and module leader about my project – we get a set amount of time with our supervisors (specifically chosen based on the projects we proposed) over the course of the module and they provide advice, insight, etc. We had a good discussion and I got a lot of my questions answered – they’d been accumulating as I got further and further into my research and writing. So it was really helpful but by the time we wrapped up, I was tired and more than a bit overwhelmed.

I had a little break to check in with my social media. I’ve actually been using it a lot less recently; the potential for something to trigger my anxiety is just so high that I’ve been staying away from it for the most part. I don’t want anything to disrupt this project so I guess I’m just being extra careful right now.

I did some more research and then spent several hours trying to tidy up my laptop, deleting files and closing tabs and windows that I didn’t need anymore. I’m kind of terrible about leaving things open, just in case I need them again, but my computer was starting to sound very stressed out so I figured that I really needed to do something about it before my computer exploded… That took a somewhat ridiculous amount of time but the fan was significantly quieter when I was done.

I spent the evening watching What Happened To Monday (I love Noomi Rapace in this film – she plays each of the different septuplets so incredibly), updated my project journal, and had dinner. I actually managed to get to bed at a reasonable time but then I accidentally stressed myself when I let my brain wander down the wrong avenue. I needed my Mum to talk me down off the ledge but even then it was hard to get to sleep because it was so hot.


WEDNESDAY

I was so deeply asleep that Mum had to wake me up; my alarm was going off but I was sleeping right through it. Waking up felt a bit like swimming up through treacle. Not the most enjoyable way to start the day.

After a shower and some breakfast, I worked on the chords for one of the songs I’ve been thinking about but not for long as I really needed to focus on preparing for my cowrite the next day which involved working on a different idea. So I got the idea down and went back to my laptop.

With the film, Close, on in the background (another great Noomi Rapace film), I ran through my physio exercises and then got to work on the prep for my cowrite. I had this idea to write a song about The Loneliest Whale so I started researching said whale and the factual information around it’s discovery, it’s signature call, and how it came to be called ‘The Loneliest Whale.’

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No artist was listed with this illustration but it came from this article (x)

I was interrupted by my new ergonomic equipment being delivered, set up, and explained – thank you DSA and Posture People! I want to write about that whole process in a bit more detail but that really belongs in its own post. The two guys from Posture People were lovely and really well informed about the equipment they were setting up: they ran through everything in detail (but not so much detail that it was overwhelming) and they gave me time to test everything out to make sure I really understood how to make it work. The most exciting part was the beautiful ergonomic chair that they gave me. I’ve never had a comfortable desk chair – I’ve never been able to find one – and although it’s gonna take a while to adjust to sitting in a new position, I’m really excited to be able to sit at my desk and not feel really uncomfortable.

When they left, I went back to my research and collected quotes and phrases for inspiration. Then I went through those and wrote down the lyrical ideas that came to me as I read. Some of the ideas fitted together really clearly but I tried not to get ahead of myself since the song was supposed to be a cowrite.

In order to get into uni, we have to have tested negative for Covid less than twenty-four hours prior so I did a test and – hurray, hurray – it came back negative. Not that I thought I had it. But the negative result did mean that my plans could go ahead, I could see some of my friends, and I could do my cowrite so I was very pleased.

I spent the rest of the afternoon working on a blog post about special interests in Autism (and how it presents differently in girls and women). I figured that, since I had the research for my project, using it to write a blog post would be a win-win. I was momentarily – or not so momentarily as it turned out – pulled away from that when one of the cats got herself stuck in the attic and I had to tempt her down with Dreamies. Fortunately all of the cats become fairly dumb when the Dreamies come out. I was surrounded in seconds. Lucy didn’t immediately come flying out of the attic hatch but after I laid a trail of treats for her to follow, she did climb down and I was able to go back to writing.

One of my parents came over and we had a good catch up, which was really nice. I also showed her the ‘pivot’ blooper from the Friends reunion (which I absolutely loved) and we had a good laugh. She, having not seen it yet, laughed nearly until she cried. The three of them unable to stop laughing is just so funny.

We had dinner with Lucifer and I tried to catch up with my diary. I’m just permanently behind what with the Masters and it’s exhausting. It would be the ultimate relief to be caught up but I have no idea when that might be a possibility.

I went to bed early but then I had some lyric ideas for two of the songs I’ve been working on and that sort of snowballed until they were both nearly done. It was almost midnight so I stayed up a bit longer so I could send my friend a birthday message at the exact moment it became her birthday. That done, I curled up and went to sleep, with Friends on low for background noise.


THURSDAY

I was up early, despite having woken up at four and struggled to get back to sleep. But I had things to do and places to be. I had a shower, got dressed, put on make up and jewellery; I had some breakfast and packed my bag before heading to the station to catch a train to London. It was around ten so it wasn’t super busy (although I did have to sit on the floor on the second train because I just couldn’t figure out where to sit that didn’t break social distancing rules – as much as possible on a train anyway). It was my first train journey in over a year and it was very surreal; it felt like a lifetime since I’d last been on a train and like the most normal thing in the world at the same time. I knew I didn’t have the energy to spare pondering that contradiction so I tried to just put it to one side and focus on the work I wanted to do. I was semi-successful, mostly because, with my mask, my glasses kept steaming up (yeah, I know, I still haven’t figured that one out) so I eventually abandoned them, ending up hunched over my computer in order to see the screen.

My second train (at least, the second train I’d planned to take) was cancelled. I can’t help feeling that there’s something kind of incomprehensible and yet somewhat comforting (although maybe not at that particular moment) that there was a global pandemic and the world basically turned upside down but Southern Rail is still as unreliable as always. Anyway. It was a complete faff to reroute and it made me horribly late but eventually – two trains later – I made it to uni. It wasn’t an enjoyable first train journey: talking on the phone to various friends and family did help my anxiety a bit but my knee was already killing me and it was going to be a long day. It’s been hurting for weeks now and I have an appointment with the onsite physio at my doctors’ surgery but it’s not for another two weeks so I’m not sure how I’m supposed to manage until then.

Fortunately my cowriter was very understanding and we had a really good – and fun – session; we laughed a lot, which was really nice. We didn’t have as much time as I would’ve liked but we built a strong foundation for the song with two verses and a chorus that I felt really good about. It obviously needs more work but it was a really solid start and I felt really positive about where it was going.

We had a class at two so we had to stop there. Even though we were at uni, it was an online class so we had to log in to attend – that was kind of funny, attending a uni class that wasn’t at uni while I was at uni. I don’t know if that makes any sense but I couldn’t help a wry smile. Anyway. Everyone in the group shared their project, where they were at with it, if they were having any problems, and so on; they all sound so fascinating. We’re going to have to have a week long listening session at the end of the module so that we can all hear each other’s work. It was a long class so it did get a little difficult to stay completely engaged throughout but, as I said, all of the projects are really interesting.

After the class, I desperately needed a break, having been concentrating (or, at the very least, trying to) for over four hours solid. I got to have a good hang out and catch up with my friend Luce, which was just what I needed, and we also got to see our friend Eddi who I certainly haven’t seen since before the pandemic, which was just so lovely and an unexpected gift. If there’s a bright side to being separated for so long, it’s the complete joy of being reunited – it’s a real celebration every time.

There was also an online song sharing that afternoon so Luce and I found an empty room and logged in. There were about ten of us, I think, including two of our part-time classmates who were also at uni, in another room in the building somewhere. Anyway. The session was really fun and inspiring. Since we have our supervisors (or each other one on one) for critique, the session is more about hyping each other up and offering creative ideas and just sharing our writing/project journey in a really positive, uncritical environment. So many of the songs were just SO GOOD. I mean, I thought every song was good because everyone has improved so much over the module and really got a sense of their songwriting identity, their strong points, their stylistic preferences, and so on, but some of the songs were just mind-blowing. The songs that Luce, my friend Joy, and my newer friend Shristi played particularly stick out in my mind as some of the best songs I’ve heard on the course (and definitely better than many of the songs I hear outside the course).

I played one of my newest songs, which was actually kind of terrifying because it’s not the kind of song I usually write and I really wasn’t sure how it was going to go over (I don’t mean to be intentionally cryptic – but I’m planning to release it, the song and this project, so I don’t want to spoil anything or, even worse, promise something and then not deliver). But everyone really, really liked it and were so enthusiastic and supportive, even picking out their favourite lines despite having heard it only once. It was a bit overwhelming but in a really lovely way. I really love this song and I’m so glad that people liked it and were responding to the emotion in it.

When the session ended, we packed up, said hi to our friends who’d been in the building, and headed off in our different directions. It was officially home-time; it was after seven and I still had a couple of hours of travel ahead of me. And, of course, my overground train was cancelled but with the low sun and fresh air, I was happy to sit and relax, especially after being inside all day; sometimes uni can feel a bit like a casino – the lack of clocks and windows at uni can make it really hard to tell how much time has passed, what time it is, etc. Days could’ve passed and you wouldn’t know.

Eventually, I managed to get moving and between talking to my parents (they all wanted to know how the day had gone and when there’s four of them, that can take a while!) and some project work, I managed to stay awake all of the way home. But after the long day and all the changing trains, my knee was excruciating; I could barely walk by the time I made it home.

Crashed out on the sofa, I inhaled a dinner of fish and chips (THE BEST fish and chips in the world, I might add) and half watched The Proposal – I love the movie but I was so tired that I could barely keep my eyes open.

I managed a barely coherent Instagram post before going to bed at eleven, exhausted and sore. I was asleep in minutes and slept like the dead.


FRIDAY

I woke up with my alarm at eight thirty but I was so exhausted from the day before that I accidentally fell asleep again and slept until ten. I had a slight headache so I took some pills straight away before it could get worse. I had too many things to do to have my day derailed by a major headache or, worse, a migraine.

It took me a while to get up but I did eventually manage to drag myself out of bed and after a shower and breakfast, I got to work. I spent the next several hours working on stuff for my project; mostly, I caught up with the journal-like document that we keep both as a record of what we’ve done and as a place to reflect on what we’ve learned in our research, on the songs we’re writing, and the whole process that is the project. That’s the broad strokes: you can use it for whatever is helpful to your project but I guess that’s the basic scaffolding of it. I had rather a lot to catch up on, having had a busy but productive few days of project work.

When I eventually finished that, I took a break and had a quick scroll through my social media. The first thing I saw was that an interview I’d done a few months back had been published and shared…

I still find it a very surreal experience to be interviewed, and I’m not sure I’ve had an illustration of myself before! Surreal but very cool. So that’s out there and you can check it out via the link if you would to!

My social media also alerted to me the fact that the day before was the anniversary – the 5th anniversary – of Christina Grimmie’s death. I can’t believe it’s been five years. I really can’t. I’m still dealing with a level of cognitive dissonance, I guess. It just feels so wrong, like something that should not have been possible according to the laws of physics, even after all this time. I’ve written about her death before and I doubt there’s anything new to say – the facts haven’t changed – but I still struggle with it. I know I’d had a busy, stressful, painful day but I felt guilty for forgetting, for only remembering the next day when I was prompted by social media.

It was almost like Sooty knew I was getting upset because she suddenly appeared, hopped into my lap, and demanded that I put down my phone and pay her some attention. Loudly. So I put down my phone and we had a good cuddle. She wriggles and rolls and purrs like a train and it’s very soothing. And she definitely seems like she has a good time.

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When Sooty resettled herself on my legs, I did some diary catch up and then some blog writing before trying to work on the song about The Loneliest Whale. I really tried but I was so tired and my head was starting to hurt so after a while, I just put on a movie and dozed on the sofa until one of my parents arrived for our weekly dinner and hang out.

We had a good catch up (even though we catch up practically every night) before having dinner with Lucifer. It was really nice and chilled out and probably just what I needed. But eventually she had to go. We said our goodbyes, had lots of hugs, and then, once she’d gone, I had another go at my whale song. I’m always more productive and creative at night (unfortunately for my neighbours) and I had actually managed to make some progress, which was very satisfying after the trouble I’d had earlier in the day.


SATURDAY

I slept restlessly so getting up was a struggle. Oh, how I miss the days of a good sleep schedule…

I had a shower and some breakfast and then got to work at my computer. I did another clean up of my laptop, closing all the windows with research I didn’t need anymore before working one of the songs I’m currently working on. With this project, working on multiple songs at once, it’s a bit like spinning plates. It’s a challenge. But it’s a fun and satisfying challenge most of the time.

In the middle of the day, I had to go to the hospital for a dental assessment, the next step in the process of my upcoming tooth extraction. I really don’t know what the point of the appointment was: there was no new information in either direction, we had the exact same conversation as we had in the first appointment at my dentist, and all he did was refer me for the extraction (which seemed an unnecessary step since, as far as I could tell, I’d already been referred). The whole thing felt pointless and a waste of everybody’s time: for me it was annoying and I’m sure there had to be better things he could’ve been doing. And I still have no idea when the extraction might happen and if it will affect my Masters.

So that whole experience was frustrating and exhausting and then, when we got home, the pain in my knee was so bad that I physically couldn’t walk from the car to the house. I ended up sobbing in the street. My Mum had to all but carry me the rest of the way. It was horrible. But I had a rest and eventually managed to recover myself, enough at least to have another go at the song I’d been working on earlier in the day. And another one. What can I say? Spinning plates.

Early evening I realised I hadn’t posted the blog post I’d written so I put that up (it’s the one about living with unmedicated ADHD). Then my Mum and I had a light dinner, had a break to digest, and headed to the pool. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before but, on Saturdays and Sundays, one of the local-ish pools have evening sessions that are very Autism-friendly. That’s not specifically their purpose but they’re very calm and soothing: quiet, low lighting, and only a few people. Plus they have super strict COVID regulations so I’ve always felt safe going there. It’s so nice. Those nights are usually high points in my week.

We swam and I worked hard, which felt really good. And the fact that my knee doesn’t hurt in the water, giving me a break from the pain, is definitely good for my mental and emotional state. Although, in a typically me move, I did have to get out in the middle to record a song idea in the changing room. I’m betting that if you’re a songwriter reading this, you’ve done something similar more than once too.

Back home, exhausted but buzzing with endorphins, I finished the lyrics to one song and worked on another. That was very satisfying. Then I went to bed, read for a bit, and went to sleep around half midnight.


SUNDAY

I had an early start, caught up with my diary a bit, and then headed to the vaccination centre for my second vaccine. They were great – quick, efficient, and warm – and then I was out of there, fully vaccinated. That felt really, really good. The only negative to the experience was that my knee was so painful that I could barely walk on it; we managed to get a parking space close to the doors but just fifteen minutes on my feet was excruciating.

When I got home, I tried to work on the song I didn’t finish the night before. I found it difficult to concentrate but I kept trying all afternoon, all evening until dinner. While we were eating, we talked about the week ahead and what needed to be done for each day. I’m juggling a lot at the moment and while – most of the time – I feel like I can handle it, suddenly it all got on top of me and I got really stressed out and upset.

It took me quite a long time to recover and I didn’t really want to go out and interact with people, even if it was only a few of them at the pool. But I only get two opportunities a week to swim there – in that relatively stress-free environment – and I was loathe to give one of them up. So I dragged myself out of the house and over to the pool.

Again, I worked hard, which felt good. I can already feel the difference in my strength and stamina from when I started swimming consistently again after the last lockdown ended. My arm had started to ache post-vaccine but it wasn’t too bad; it didn’t affect my swimming (or anything else and it only lasted a few days unlike the two weeks of pain I had last time).

I crashed on the sofa when we got home, watched TV for a bit, and then I spent a little time working on song lyrics before going to bed.


Every week at the moment is different but the intensity is pretty consistent. My brain is constantly on a hamster wheel and while I love all of the stuff I’m working on, it’s pretty stressful and exhausting. And on that note, I just wanted to flag that I might not be as consistent about posting over the next two months or so. I’m not going anywhere – I have absolutely no intention of abandoning this blog – but I need to focus on this final project for the Masters and the two other research projects I’m working on. They have to be the priority for a little bit but then I will be back. I promise. I love this blog and I get so much out of writing it. And that’s not to say that I won’t post at all in that time; I just don’t think every week is going to be possible for a little bit. So, I hope you enjoyed this blog and I will see you in the not too distant future!

How I Improved My Social Skills

Since I wasn’t diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder until I was 20, that meant two decades of struggling and struggling particularly when it came to social skills. But despite finding socialising awkward and stressful, no one ever thought much of it. At most, I was labelled extremely shy. The idea that I was autistic simply did not exist – I didn’t behave according to the stereotype so it was just never considered. But still I struggled. So I thought I’d share how I coped with that and what strategies I employed to make socialising easier. Hopefully they’ll be helpful to some of you. Having said this, these are very specific to my experience, the areas in which I function better, and the areas I find more difficult so they won’t necessarily apply to everyone. But I thought I’d share them just in case, just in case one person finds one example helpful.


As I said, I found social skills very difficult to make sense of as a child and teenager. I found it difficult to process and participate in conversations, for example, making friendships and school relationships potential minefields. So, to compensate, I paid great attention to how other people behaved and interacted, analysing and cataloguing it until I had somewhat of an internal database to draw from. Having said that, I don’t think it’s as simple as just copying other people, at least not for everybody; for me, I think the fact that I’ve always done a lot of writing has had a significant impact on my speaking abilities: it taught me a lot about language, about the flow of words, etc. In a sense, it was like practicing social interaction by myself.

There is definitely an element of ‘masking’ (artificially ‘performing’ social behaviour that is deemed to be more ‘neurotypical’ or hiding behaviour that might be viewed as socially unacceptable) when around people but that’s something I want to talk about in a separate, more in depth post. This is not a post that will teach you to mask (something that can be helpful in certain circumstances but become detrimental over extended periods of time); it’s a post containing some tips and tricks that, over the years, I’ve found to be helpful in make socialising less stressful.

Diagnosed as a teenager and older, it can be very difficult to find support and strategies as most of the information is dedicated to young autistic children and the parents of autistic children. So, for those of us diagnosed later, we’re forced to learn how to cope in social situations by ourselves. These are some of the things I personally did to improve my social skills…

  • Eye contact – I’m still not very good at eye contact because it makes me feel so vulnerable and overwhelmed, like the other person can see what’s going on behind my eyes or like I’ll be able to see all that’s going on behind theirs. So mostly I rely on short bursts before looking at something ‘relevant’: my drink if we’re at a cafe or the ground if we’re walking, for example. But if I really do need to make eye contact with someone for longer than feels comfortable, I use the strategy of looking at a particular feature on their face so it still looks like I’m looking at them. I want to make that connection that eye contact creates (and I want that for the other person too) but sometimes it’s just too overwhelming and this seems to be the next best option.
  • Making conversation with people – I find meeting new people really hard: they don’t know anything about me and I don’t know anything about them. How do you understand someone when you don’t know what makes them who they are? But then I also feel kind of suffocated by all of that information. As you can imagine, it’s a pretty overwhelming situation. So, as a teenager, I started developing a script for starting conversations, a way of breaking the ice that proved to work well. I tell the person I want to talk to something I like about what they’re wearing or doing (if they’re drawing, for example) and ask them a question about it. As human beings, we like to talk about things that matter to us or that we’re passionate about and most of the time, this method sparks the beginning of a conversation, which makes continued interaction easier as you now have a positive foundation.
  • Official conversations with unknown people – I find conversations with, for example, people in authority positions pretty challenging so I’ll often spend time beforehand, running through possible different branches of the conversation, ordering my thoughts in areas that are likely to come up, and generally making sure I’m clear about the information I want to get across and/or the questions I want to ask. That preparation makes the conversations easier and less overwhelming and ultimately lead to a more positive outcome. I (or my Mum) have, in the past, contacted whoever it is that I need to speak with to find out what sort of information is likely to come up if I’m unsure so that I can prepare and most have willingly laid out how the appointment or meeting etc will likely take place.
  • Allow yourself to take a backseat in conversations – It’s perfectly okay to not be an active participant in social interactions all of the time; it’s okay to be a part of conversations without being (one of) the main contributors. If the topic being discussed is confusing or emotionally charged or you’re feeling drained, there’s no rule that says you have to engage. It’s perfectly fine to sit out for a bit of the conversation and rejoin when you feel comfortable or like you have something to offer.
  • Disclose your Autism if you feel comfortable doing so – I can only speak from my experience but I’ve found that people are a lot more likely to overlook my social stumbles or support me through social interactions if they understand the basis of them, as well as making sure they’re clear about what they’re saying and the emotions behind it. I’ve also found it can strengthen friendships to share about your Autism but this is obviously a judgement call and a very personal one at that.
  • Let people in – Similar to the above point, sharing your way or the ways you’ve developed to communicate can be really important and create a really strong connection within a friendship. So, if you’ve developed your own way of describing things (the way I talk about production in music and how a song can have too much of a particular colour, for example), explain it to them if they ask what you’re talking about. Sharing things like this can add something special to a friendship, or any kind of relationship.

I spent the majority of my life stumbling awkwardly through social interactions but once I discovered that it was due to being autistic, I felt a lot less self conscious about it because I understood where it was coming from. And while I can’t and don’t intend to speak for anyone but myself, I’ve had very few negative reactions to disclosing my ASD in social situations. The majority of people are, at most, curious and want to understand; many people barely react. But the fact that many of the people I talk to know that I struggle socially and may mess up (and sometimes fall spectacularly on my face) is comforting. I don’t have to worry about what they’ll think of me. I’m still me, whether I’m articulate or flat on my face.