Posted on September 19, 2021
The time has come to sum up the final semester of my Masters. I am done. That’s sort of unbelievable. Given everything that’s happened since I started the course in September 2019, the end of the Masters always felt so far away and although I have lots of plans, I do feel a bit lost now that all of the work is done. Maybe it’s because I haven’t received my final grade or because I haven’t actually graduated yet; maybe once those things happen, the experience will feel a bit more… finished. It was always going to be weird – I’ve been going to this uni on and off for the last seven years – but knowing something and actually feeling it are so different.
So, here is my final semester review.
The final semester of my Masters course involves a largely independent project called the Major Repertoire Project and as long as you’re developing your songwriting skills and knowledge in some way, you can pretty much do whatever you want. People have done projects exploring identity, exploring their heritage, writing song cycles or musicals, digging deeper into their own songwriting and pursuing an artist project like an album, experimenting with newer applications of songwriting (such as in various therapies), and so on. It’s a fascinating module because everyone ends up doing something so different and so interesting. And after a spending a year or two focussing on their craft, the songwriting is so incredible; the final works that I’ve heard are amazing. It would probably take a month but I would happily listen through everyone’s projects.
For my project, I chose to explore my experiences as an autistic woman through songwriting, attempting to translate those experiences both through the lyrics and storytelling and the execution of the song, from the structure to the arrangement to the production and so on. I wanted to write songs that autistic individuals would hopefully relate to and that neurotypical individuals would hopefully gain some insight from. But while the overall goal was to create a body of work, a large part of the project involved researching our chosen area – Autism, in my case – responding to the research (sometimes that was through practice and sometimes it inspired specific songs), and reflecting on my songwriting process and how it was evolving during the project.
The module officially began in the second week of May but I’d already started working on it: I’ve been thinking about this project ever since I applied for the Masters so I was super excited to finally start doing it. But I’d barely begun when I started getting debilitating migraines that lasted for days at a time and resulted in several ambulance visits because the pain was so bad. We eventually traced the source back to one of my teeth: the emergency dentist thought the nerve was dying and diagnosed an abscess. I was top priority for an extraction and given antibiotics (which I had to have a second round of when it flared up again midway through the semester). Fortunately my university granted me an extension – giving me back the time that I’d lost – but it was a flexible extension in case I suddenly got pulled in to have the tooth taken out and needed some recovery time. Due to the long waiting list (and bear in mind that this was the waiting list for emergencies), I still haven’t had the tooth taken out and while the antibiotics and some good painkillers have prevented any more similar episodes, I’ve still been dealing with some tooth pain and migraines. So that hasn’t been ideal.
We only had four classes over the semester but since everyone was researching something different, they weren’t exactly classes. They were more group discussions where we’d talk about how our research and writing was going, whether we were struggling in a particular area, what we could do if we felt like we weren’t fulfilling one or more of the overall objectives, and so on. We had individual supervisors for the more specific guidance and problems whereas this was more general and we were able to share with each other what we’d found helpful, etc. These classes were online but we were finally able to come into the building. With most of the other courses finished for the summer, it was pretty empty and I felt safe there; you had to test negative just to get in the building and with no one around (pre-COVID, it could be a bit of a crush at times), my pandemic anxiety was a lot lower than it usually is when I’m out in the world. Being there after so much time and getting to see some of my friends again made me positively giddy! And there were some friends that I was actually meeting in person for the first time, which was just wonderful! I’m really going to miss it; I mean, I’ll pop in now and then for events and stuff but I’m really going to miss it being part of my day-to-day, week-to-week life.
Anyway. My supervisor was truly awesome. We had fortnightly and then weekly sessions and she was fantastic, not only with the academic stuff but with helping me to manage my anxiety, the things that tripped up my neurodivergent brain, and so on. And while we worked together well, we also had a lot of fun: we went on some epic tangents and there were multiple conversations that we had to mentally bookmark for later in order to actually get our work done. We got on really well and our sessions were always fun and thought-provoking, as well as helpful. I hope that this isn’t the last time we get to work together.
I obviously know a lot about Autism already so, after finding sources for that information, I started writing songs about my experiences and researching Autism further. Having the foundation of knowledge that I did, I think allowed me to research both more deeply and down different avenues since I didn’t have to spend so much time on the basic knowledge. And some of that research, from academic papers to anecdotal stories to art made by autistic individuals, sparked some really interesting song ideas (for example, I ended up writing a love song after watching Love on the Spectrum, which I found both upsetting and deeply depressing as an autistic person).
I don’t want to give too much away about the songs because I hope to release them but, over the semester, I wrote eighteen songs with a handful more that still need finishing. For the most part, I wrote alone – first because it was more convenient and then because I felt like my experiences were conveyed with more clarity that way – but I did work with a few different people, when I was struggling with a concept for example. I wrote with a couple of my friends – Richard and Luce (known as LUCE) – but I also wrote with new people that I’ve met during my time on the Masters – Luke (known as leadmetoland), Phill Vidler, and Katherine Moynihan – which was fun and exciting. It was nice to do both: I love cowriting and the back and forth of ideas but doing so much writing by myself really restored my confidence; I’ve spent so much time cowriting over the last two years and really not that much solo writing so I was nervous when I started to write alone again but after a while, it started to feel really good and that was really exciting.
But while I didn’t manage to write with Richard as much as I’d originally hoped to, we had many production sessions, mostly over Zoom. While I’d never considered the production unimportant, the project evolved to a place where the production was just as key to the representation of my autistic experiences and the emotions attached to them as the lyrics conveying the story or message. So the two of us spent a lot of time working on every little detail. While I’ve always been involved in the production choices of my songs, I’ve also always been aware that Richard knows a hell of alot more than me so I was happy to defer to his judgement. But with this project, for the first time really, I was taking the lead on production decisions – on occasion, I had the whole arrangement and production planned out before the session. But I felt more like a producer than I ever have: I was coming up with ideas that actually worked from idea to execution; I was able to pick out specific instrument, arrangement, and effect details in a way I haven’t been able to do up to now; and so on. Along with the songs themselves, that’s something I’d really proud of. I really feel like I grew as a musician and as a producer.
I absolutely loved working on my project. To be researching and writing songs about something I’m so passionate about was just so creatively invigorating. That’s not to say it wasn’t hard though. There were, of course, periods of doubt, insecurity, and anxiety over the academic elements and whether I’d be able to do as good a job as I desperately wanted to. Plus, some of the experiences I was digging into were pretty raw and writing those songs did get difficult, especially since I was suddenly doing the project without the support of my therapist, something I’d put in place to help me manage that. But apart from one bad bout of depression, my mental health was – somehow – reasonably stable (apart from my day-to-day, ongoing anxiety). As I said in my previous post, I think it was the constant creating (and creating things that I’m really proud of) that did it, that kept everything on a reasonably even keel.
Having said that, my chronic pain was almost constant, worse than it’s ever been. There were periods where my knee, for example, was so painful that I could barely walk and my back so painful that I could barely move. My Mum (once a massage therapist) said that it felt like I was storing rocks in my muscles. It certainly felt like they were made of concrete. Maybe it was my anxiety around the project, I don’t know, but the pain was keeping me up at night. I also struggled on and off with my hands and wrists, presumably from all of the typing, piano, and guitar playing I was doing. God, my various health issues are like freaking buses sometimes. I’m still waiting for physiotherapy and hydrotherapy, have been for months. I’ve just started with the Pain Clinic but one appointment was never going to change anything before the Masters ended. So all I had were various painkillers that were only sporadically helpful.
But my biggest ongoing obstacle was my difficulty concentrating, which I’m assuming is due to my (still untreated) ADHD. Staying focussed on my work was very difficult; I exhausted all of my energy trying. It felt like my concentration was so delicate that the smallest distraction would shatter it and then there was no way to know when it would come back; I felt like I was clinging onto it by my fingertips. So I couldn’t stop (really not healthy, I know). I couldn’t waste a second of it. That was super stressful and I often ended up sitting at my computer for hours and hours; there were multiple fourteen hour days, some successful, some not. People kept telling me to at least take a day off now and then but I just couldn’t. I was too scared of losing my concentration when my hold on it felt so tenuous.
During the semester, I also had a few other commitments; it was awkward timing but they were all great opportunities:
In the last month, my approach reached a new level of intensity. I was working constantly, quickly when my concentration was good and agonisingly slowly when it was bad. But I didn’t stop. I even worked while I ate. I know that’s not a healthy way of doing things but I was just so terrified of getting a grade I wasn’t happy with, that made me feel like I was letting everyone down, myself included. If I wasn’t working, I felt guilty so I just kept working.
Finally it came time to try and distill all my work down to the most important points for the final presentation. My god, that was hard. Months of research, almost twenty songs, and a lot of reflection on my creative process all into an hour… Or, as I said, the most important points. But figuring what those important points were was a real struggle. Throughout the whole Masters, I felt like the module objectives were designed to trip me up – not me specifically, of course, but anyone reading them. Reading them felt like trying to interpret another language that you barely understand so I felt like I was just waiting to discover that I had it all wrong. Maybe it was my autistic brain, I don’t know. My supervisor was great regarding this anxiety but two years of feeling that way made it a hard feeling to exorcise. So I just did what I know how to do and worked through it, hoping it would be enough. And on the 6th September, I had my final assessment. Two tutors watched my presentation and then, after a brief discussion, they asked me a couple of questions, both of which were pretty straightforward to answer. And that was it. The project and the semester was over.
According to the usual rules, the results will be released in twenty working days, although I don’t know if that will apply given that my assessment was so much later than everyone else’s and they all received their results the day after I presented. So I’m just waiting to hear. I’m trying not to stress about my grade but, as I said in my previous post, I’m finding it hard. I’ve been working relentlessly – with so many obstacles to navigate – and the idea that that still wasn’t enough to get the Distinction I want so badly does upset me. I mean, I’d get over it in time but, yeah, it would be distressing. I just really hate the idea of thinking, “I could’ve gotten a distinction if I wasn’t autistic or had ADHD, etc.” I know that that’s not a healthy way to think but the standards and expectations I have for myself are somewhat warped, something that I think is due to the late ASD diagnosis and the clash between twenty-ish years with neurotypical standards and then having to adjust those expectations in accordance with what I now know is a neurodivergent brain. It’s a mess basically. But I’m waiting for the results – they should be out on the 6th October – and hoping desperately that it went as well as I hope it did.
While the ‘project-for-assessment’ is over, I definitely want to keep working on the songs, write some more on various elements of my autistic experience that I just didn’t manage in the timeframe, and then, hopefully, release it in some form. That’s the dream. I’m so proud of so many of these songs and I really, really want people to hear them and hopefully find strength or comfort in them. We’ll have to see because these projects are just so expensive to put together, from the production work to making music videos to all of the marketing.
And while this is a topic for another post, it should be acknowledged that the semester ended on a very sad note. I found out the morning after my presentation that my Granny had died. Between that news and an intense semester’s worth of work and my brain is just at overload. I can’t tell if I’m not feeling anything or feeling everything. I don’t really want to get too deeply into all of this, partly because I’m not ready and partly because, if only on my blog, I want to keep this semester and this project separate. I really just wanted to mention it in the context of all the emotions I’m dealing (or maybe not dealing) with right now.
So that was the final semester. But there’s still a couple more chapters in this story, so to speak. Graduation will hopefully go ahead as planned – in person – in November and then who knows? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
My apologies if this post is a bit all over the place: everything’s really hitting me and I’m just exhausted but I wanted to get this out while it’s still fresh.
Category: adhd, anxiety, autism, covid-19 pandemic, death, emotions, family, heds, meltdowns, mental health, music, research, sleep, therapy, university, writing Tagged: adhd, adhd inattentive type, anxiety, anxiety disorder, asd, assessment, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, autism awareness, autism in women, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, autistic student, chronic pain, classes, collaboration, concentration, conference, coproducer, covid test, covid-19, cowriting, deadline, death, dentist, depression, ehlers danlos syndrome, emotions, exhaustion, extenuating circumstances, final assessment, final presentation, final project, focus, friend, friends, gad, generalised anxiety disorder, grades, graduate, graduation, grandmother, grandparent, granny, grief, heds, hydrotherapy, hydrotherapy referral, hypermobile ehlers danlos syndrome, inattentive type, loss, major repertoire project, masters, masters degree, masters degree in songwriting, masters degree year two, masters part time, mental health, mental illness, migraine, migraines, musicology, musicology conference, neurodivergent, neurodiversity, online classes, pain, pandemic, pandemic 2020, pandemic anxiety, part time masters student, physiotherapy, presentation, producer, production, research, research conference, research project, self worth, singersongwriter, songwriter, songwriting, songwriting competition, songwriting process, songwriting project, special needs dentist, specialist dentist, tooth extraction, tooth pain, trd, treatment resistant depression, university
Posted on June 27, 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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Category: about me, anxiety, autism, covid-19 pandemic, death, event, family, heds, medication, mental health, music, research, sleep, treatment, university, video, writing Tagged: a week in my life, adhd, anxiety, asd, autism, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, autistic student, blog writing, cats, christina grimmie, coronavirus, covid test, covid vaccine, covid-19, covid-19 vaccine, cowriting, death, dental assessment, dental surgery, disabled student allowance, dsa, eds, ehlers danlos syndrome, energy levels, ergonomic equipment, exhaustion, family of cats, film, friends, friends reunion, heds, hypermobile ehlers danlos syndrome, interview, joint pain, journal, london, low energy, major repertoire project, masters degree, masters degree in songwriting, masters part time, mental illness, murder, my cats, occupational therapy, online class, online classes, pandemic, pandemic 2020, physiotherapy, public transport, research, singersongwriter, sleep, songwriting, special interests, swimming, the loneliest whale, tooth extraction, tv, university, vaccine
Posted on May 15, 2021
On the 12th of May every year, the Mass Observation Archive asks people to keep a diary for a day in order to capture the everyday lives of people all over the UK. There’s usually a suggested loose theme; for example, last year, it was suggested that diary entries not focus on exactly but highlight the pandemic and the effect it was having on our lives. This year, the website suggests that “diaries can record 12th May and reflect back over the past year and look forward to the future and life beyond this year.”
I’m a long time diary writer and have been for years so this project was an exciting discovery. I love the idea of so many people’s experiences stored in one place, the idea of collecting as many versions of one day as possible and trying to build the fullest picture of it. So, for the last couple of years, I’ve looked forward to this day, to writing about it, and to sending it off to the Mass Observation Archive. But I also like posting the day here too.
Some important things to know before reading this: I’m autistic and struggle with Treatment Resistant Depression, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. I was also recently diagnosed with Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Inattentive Type). All of the symptoms get worse under stress; I’m beginning the homestretch of a Masters Degree in Songwriting and while things with the pandemic seem to be improving (the vaccines, the lockdown slowly lifting, etc), it’s hard to let go of so much ingrained fear and hard to know what the ‘right’ level of fear is. So I guess I’m still struggling with the pandemic, although not in the same way as I was struggling with it last year.
What I thought was going to be a relatively chilled out day spent at my laptop, working on stuff for the final Masters module, the Major Repertoire Project, and catching up on all the work I’d planned to do when I got hit with last week’s killer migraine (it lasted six days and involved paramedics being called to the house). But then, last night, I got an email from uni with the upcoming events and realised that the upcoming Song Sharing Session was today, this afternoon. I haven’t been back to uni since the first lockdown, working from home as an online student, so going back – and going into London – felt like a real big deal. But instead of spending hours ruminating on whether or not I should go, letting my anxiety make the decision, I decided that I wanted to go and so me and my Mum started making plans to make it possible. As things go, it felt as safe as anything can be right now: Mum had said she’d drive me there and back, I’ve had my first vaccine, and no one can enter the building unless they’ve tested negative. Mum ran out to get to COVID home tests and after that, all there was left to do was play through my songs to be as ready as possible.
Maybe because my subconscious was processing the idea of going to London, I didn’t sleep well and struggled up, later than I’d planned. And it was kind of chaos from that point on. I had a problem with my computer that sent me into a panic. I managed to sort it out but the anxiety of the situation wasn’t a great way to start the day. And then, before I could even make it to the shower, one of the cats got stuck in the attic and since we were going to be out for most of the day, we had to get her down before we left in case she couldn’t figure out how to do it herself or one of the others decided to climb up too. Even with treats, it took ages to get her down and then settle all five of them.
I did my Lateral Flow Home Test and had a shower, got dressed, and did my hair and make up while it did it’s testing thing. It came back negative, which was great obviously, but trying to register the result and get the confirmation email that would allow me to get into the uni building was overly complicated and much more time-consuming than described – particularly frustrating as I was trying to get out of the door. I’d wanted it to be as up to date as possible and suddenly it was making me really late. So that was just more stress on top of an already stressful morning.
The rush out of the house and the stress of going back to uni for the first time in so long made me nauseous and dizzy and I spent most of the drive breathing deeply and trying to keep my mind from spinning. My Mum had very kindly said she’d drive me to London since I’m still feeling very wary of public transport, especially the underground, so we talked and listened to music and by the time we pulled up outside the uni building, I was more excited than nervous. It felt so strange to be back, like it had only been a couple of days and a century at the same time since I’d last been there.
I’d expected to feel nervous there – I mean, I’ve been nervous everywhere but my house since the pandemic began – but given the strict safety procedures, I felt really safe and relaxed. It took me by complete surprise but it was so nice and being back there kind of felt like coming home; I have been studying there, on and off, for the last six years after all.
Slowly, the ten of us that had turned up to the session congregated and we were all just so excited, like a bunch of seven year olds at a birthday party. Some of us had never actually met each other in real life – as a fully online student, there was only one person I’d met before we went into lockdown – so it was very exciting to finally meet these people who I’d only ever seen on a screen. Having said that, it was somewhat weird to be saying, “It’s so nice to meet you!” to people I’ve had hours of classes, discussions, and laughs with.
We were all hanging out and chatting, catching up since most of us haven’t seen each other – even on a screen – for several weeks, when Sophie, our tutor and course leader, showed up to run the session. She was as excited to see us as we were to see her. It was so lovely to see her: I’ve known her for almost seven years and she’s been so supportive, both of my songwriting and of me as a person. So, yeah, I was super pleased to see her in real life again.
We got ourselves in a circle and had a bit more of an official catch up before taking turns playing songs and talking about our projects. I hadn’t heard music from most of the people there so that was really cool and inspiring and everyone’s working on such fascinating projects. I kept finding myself volunteering as a potential cowriter over and over, despite the voice in my head saying, “You already have so much to do!” The projects were just so fascinating.
I got to play two songs: the first was the song that really got my project rolling, a song I wrote a little over a year ago to a family friend who also has Autism; the second is a new song about my experience of OCD. The newer one was scary to perform but it seemed to go down well, which was reassuring. The whole session was just so fun and so good for me, for my mental health. I wanted to stay and hang out with everyone, even after the session was over, but since my Mum was driving me home, it wasn’t fair to ask her to wait any longer. So I said my goodbyes, made plans to meet up again, picked up my uni’s own facemasks (I mean, that’s the weirdest school merch I’m ever gonna get), and headed out to find my Mum.
On the drive home, I slowly came down from my adrenaline high until I was utterly exhausted. I did manage to catch up with my Mum and then two of my parents on the phone – they wanted to know how my first time back had gone – before I completely ran out of energy. It felt like a very long journey but we finally drove back into Brighton.
We stopped quickly to see one of my parents and her finally finished garden office. It was really nice to see her – we’ve all been incredibly busy (or dealing with an epic migraine) – and her new office looked gorgeous. It could be pretty cool to have a studio like that one day…
Mum and I finally got home, fed the hoard of hungry cats (who seemed to think they’d been abandoned), and crashed in the living room, continuing our rewatch of Grey’s Anatomy. I tried to work on a post for the blog but I was so tired and so drained that I barely managed a handful of sentences in the few hours I sat there. Eventually I just gave up and went to bed but it was still a struggle to sleep, just as it normally is; my thoughts started racing and I just couldn’t grab ahold of any of them long enough to settle. I don’t know how long it took to get to sleep but it was definitely after 1am, possibly even later.
So much has changed in the last three hundred and sixty five days. I look back at my last Mass Observation Day diary entry and my life is so different, in so many different ways. Last year, I was so scared, so terrified that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t do anything because I was so scared. All I could do was sleep and bury myself in the familiar worlds of Fanfiction. I’m still scared but I’m also happy, at least some of the time. I have bad days but I also have good days, even really good days, and just that is a huge deal. I’m writing a lot, researching for my project, and facing my fears around the pandemic. Sometimes I can’t believe that the last fifteen months have happened but I only have to look at myself to see that they did: I’ve been through a lot and changed so much. And that’s just looking inwards. Looking outwards – at people I know, the communities I’m a part of, the world at large – is far too overwhelming to sum up right now in one day’s diary entry.
If you’ve been keeping a diary or still want to jot down some thoughts about the 12th, I would really encourage you to do so and send it to the archive. The page is here, in case you’d like to submit or learn more about this and their other projects.
Category: about me, animals, anxiety, covid-19 pandemic, emotions, event, mental health, music, ocd, sleep, university, writing Tagged: anxiety, anxiety disorder, blog writing, cat, cats, coronavirus, covid test, covid-19, cowriting, diary, diary writing, family, family of cats, friends, lateral flower home test, lockdown, lockdown 2.0, lockdown 2020, lockdown 3.0, major repertoire project, mass observation, mass observation archive, mass observation day, mass observation day 2021, masters, masters degree, masters degree in songwriting, masters degree year two, masters part time, migraine, migraines, pandemic, pandemic 2020, pandemic anxiety, part time masters student, sleep, songwriter, songwriters, songwriting, stress, student, university
Hi! I’m Lauren Alex Hooper. Welcome to my little blog! I write about living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD (Inattentive Type), and Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), as well as several mental health issues.
I’m a singer-songwriter (it’s my biggest special interest and I have both a BA and MA in songwriting) so I’ll probably write a bit about that too.
My first single, ‘Invisible,’ is on all platforms, with all proceeds going to Young Minds.
My debut EP, Honest, is available on all platforms, with a limited physical run at Resident Music in Brighton.
I’m currently working on an album about my experiences as an autistic woman.