Mental Health Update (May 2021)

Trigger Warning: This post contains mentions of self harm, but it’s simply a statement that it happened and there are no descriptions, graphic or otherwise. If this could upset or trigger you, please don’t read any further. Please always put your mental health and emotional state first.

So we’ve reached the last semester of the Master’s, with the big, final project that we’ve ultimately been working towards throughout this whole course. It’s a big deal, exciting and scary because – obviously – I want to do well and create a project that I’m proud of. But I am worried about my health, mental and physical, getting in the way and making it a difficult to both work hard and enjoy the process. So I thought, with all of this in mind, I’d write down where my head’s at and how I’m doing – I guess, so that I have a record of how I’m feeling right now, at the very beginning of the project.


At the moment, my biggest difficulties seem to be chronic fatigue and pain that are a result of my recently diagnosed Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I’m tired and sleepy all the time; some days, I can barely keep my eyes open during the day. While the physical tiredness is likely due to the hEDS, at least in part, we suspect the sleepiness is due to my antidepressant, Phenelzine. I want to switch to something else as soon as I can but mid-Master’s is not exactly a great time, given how long it generally takes for antidepressants to take effect and my track record of reacting badly to all but Phenelzine (so far, at least). So I’m having to just put up with that, with the dwindling help of Red Bull.

The pain has been really bad, particularly in my legs, arms, and back. For months, I’ve been taking painkillers daily but I feel like, over the last few weeks or so, it’s started to get slightly better. I’ve been doing the Occupational Therapy exercises for my wrists and hands and I’ve been able to start swimming again (yay!), both of which do cause pain of their own but it’s a very different pain and actually wears off pretty quickly while the hEDS pain tends to just get worse and worse unless I take painkillers. I’m getting better at figuring out where my limits are and stopping before I overdo it – most of the time. It’s hard but I do feel like I’m seeing progress.

My depression has been okay recently, much less of a problem than it has been in the past (she says while still on the ‘end’ of one, but I’ll get to that in a minute). I had one awful episode at the beginning of April, which did result in self harming. And then I had another episode last week, which I’m still feeling even if I’m not drowning in it anymore (it was kind of forced to the back burner by the worst migraine I’ve ever had). Both episodes were triggered by really upsetting news; they didn’t come out of nowhere like they sometimes do.

My anxiety has been a lot to deal with, but then there have been a lot of things to be anxious about: keeping up during the semester, the assessment and doing well in the module, all things COVID related (I’ve developed this weird house-separation-anxiety-like-thing whenever I’m out of the house too long, which is horrible), all of my health stuff, preparing for the new module and final project, trying to balance everything in my life, and so on. It’s exhausting and has a knock on effect; the rest of my mental health issues are all affected by my anxiety.

The two areas that are most tightly linked with my anxiety, I think, are my Trichotillomania and my OCD. My Trich hasn’t been too bad of late – not great but not unmanageable. But my OCD has been much more of a struggle lately than it sometimes is. I wrote about it in general here (so if you need a refresher on what my OCD is like, this is probably a useful read) but with everything going on recently, it seems to have kicked up a gear. I just can’t seem to do everything and then write all of it down; there aren’t enough hours in the day, which just leads me to getting more and more behind with everything, which just makes it worse and worse. Again, it’s just exhausting. I feel suffocated by it but I don’t know what to do about it; it feels like the walls are closing in around me and there’s nothing I can do to stop them.

As for autistic meltdowns, I haven’t had many of late. I think that’s because, despite my anxiety, I’ve had a really good few months. As I said in my previous post, this last university module and all the writing that came part and parcel with it was really good for me and I felt really good in myself so, in general, things didn’t build up to the point of meltdown. There were a number of occasions where something took me by surprise (for example, an unexpectedly triggering advert – I hadn’t even known that it was something that would trigger me so that was unfortunate for everyone) and I had a meltdown but as things go, it’s been better than it has been.

I’m not entirely sure how my ADHD manifests yet, having only received the diagnosis recently. If only it were as simple as getting the diagnosis and everything making sense… So I still have work to do in that regard. But I’m fairly certain – as certain as I can be at this point – that my issues concentrating and the feeling of my brain working against me are part of this picture. For the moment though, I’m in the dark about all of this. I’m in an impossible position medication-wise (I’m going to write about this in more detail at some point – it’s just that I’m still processing it all) so I’m stuck and unsure how to manage these problems. It’s frustrating and tiring and I wish there was an easy answer. Or even an easier one than I’m currently faced with. But there doesn’t seem to be. So I’m not sure where to go from here.

And the newest problem – because I really needed more problems… – are these migraines that I’ve been having over the last month. In the past, I’d have a migraine every few months or so but recently they’ve been different. They’ve been completely debilitating, painful to the point that I’ve ended up in A&E and had to have an ambulance called to the house because they’ve been so bad. They’ve also gone on for days when previously I could sleep them off and they’d be gone in twenty four hours. I’ve yet to find pain relief that does a decent job and I find that very scary. Calling 111 and them sending an ambulance because I was in so much pain but so light sensitive that even a darkened room felt too bright is a big deal and I’m scared of what’s next, of how it could get worse. I don’t know what’s causing them and no one else seems to either.

And finally… I’ve been the most consistent with therapy I’ve been since the pandemic began, even if I still find it hard and less productive when doing it over Zoom. But it’s looking like we’ll be back to face-to-face soon, which is exciting if scary – as I said, I’m finding it quite stressful to be out of my house. But hopefully, therapy will go back to being as helpful as it was pre-COVID, when it was face-to-face all the time. I don’t know exactly why it doesn’t feel the same over Zoom – maybe I find it harder to connect and talk about the hard stuff when I’m not in the same room as my therapist – but it just doesn’t, so I’m looking forward to getting back to the room.


So that’s it, I guess. This is my mental health (and I suppose, physical health update) before I start the final module of my Master’s, The Major Repertoire Project. Everything feels very messy and complicated right now, which isn’t exactly reassuring. I want to do well in the module, of course, but I also want to really enjoy it and really get the best out of it. The module doesn’t officially start until tomorrow but I’ve already started working on my project. I’m so excited. I just hope I can manage it with all of this other stuff going on.

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.