Posted on December 31, 2017
It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to summarise the year on Instagram with a collage of photos and a sappy caption but since I have the blog this year, I thought I’d write something a bit more in depth (although I will still do my Instagram, fear not). I want to collect my thoughts and take a look at what I loved and lost and learned.
This has been a hard year, mainly because of my mental health. I struggled with my medication for a long time before having the worst meltdown I’ve ever had and that was the trigger for a really bad bout of depression that I still haven’t really recovered from. It’s not as bad as it was but it’s been really hard. Because of that, I decided to change medications and that process has swallowed up most of the year. Honestly, that’s been awful. I’ve been in a really bad mental place, it’s made me physically unwell, and probably the worst part is that it’s affected my cognitive functioning, making me unable to write. That has been unbearable. But it hasn’t been all bad, mental health wise. I confronted someone who really hurt me, I got involved with research studies into Autism, I applied to ‘Behind The Scars’ and talked openly about my experiences with self harm. I somehow got over my paralyzing anxiety about moving house and I’ve started communicating more with my family. So while it’s been a really difficult time, I can see that I have made some significant strides this year.
Another big thing was graduating university. I had always wanted to graduate with First Class Honours and while I expected it of myself, I still can’t quite believe that I managed it. I want to write something much more in depth about my experience at uni because there were a lot of ups and downs but ultimately, it was a great experience and I’m really proud of everything I achieved there. I also made some amazing friends who I will hopefully have in my life forever. The UEL graduation was stressful and exhausting but the ICMP graduation was satisfying and fun. And going out afterwards was a bizarre experience but I was proud of myself for defying my anxiety. My only regret about finishing uni and then graduating is that my depression overwhelmed them: when I found out I’d got a First, I didn’t feel anything. I wanted to be ecstatic but I couldn’t feel it. And yet, I would’ve been devastated had I not got a First. I’m trying to accept that situation for all it was though; I can’t change it now.
And then, of course, there is the music. This was obviously massively affected by my mental health but there were still some great moments this year. I wrote my most important song so far and I’ve been working on its release ever since (fingers crossed for early 2018) and that is so amazing to me. I’m so excited for it. I’ve also had some really fun recording sessions and I’ve had some awesome performing experiences: I got to play a songwriters’ circle with Lauren Aquilina, I hosted another songwriters’ circle at my friend’s charity benefit for TWLOHA, I played a showcase for a record label, and I got to play for my local Autism charity, Amaze. I mean, how cool is that? I also had another really special trip to Nashville. And last but certainly not least, I’ve been to some incredible concerts this year, including: The Shires, Sasha, East of Eli and Chyler Leigh, Country2Country, Tin Pan South Festival, Willemijn Verkaik, Kelsea Ballerini, Lady Antebellum, NADINE, and Maren Morris. Concerts are so, so important to me. Those are the moments where I really feel alive and so I always keep money aside for when they come around. They’re the only thing that I really spend money on.
I’m not sure whether it’s even possible to classify this year as a good one or a bad one. It would be easy to file it away as a bad year because of the difficult mental health stuff but there have been a lot of amazing moments. I went back to my two favourite places in the world, I listened to great music and saw some incredible art pieces, I saw my kittens all grown up, and I had some amazing experiences with the lovely people I’m so lucky to call my friends. I even started drinking alcohol for the first time; that’s been an experience! Thus far, I don’t really like it but I’m really, really, REALLY enjoying not feeling controlled by my anxiety, at least not in that area of my life.
Overall, this year has been a year of waiting. It really has: waiting for the medication to work, waiting to feel better, waiting to release my first single, waiting to move, waiting to graduate… Even when I was still at uni, I was counting down the days until we finished (because I didn’t want to leave and I was stressed about getting everything done in time). Always, always waiting. This year has been measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, rather than experiences, far more than any other year. So that’s my hope for the new year: to wait less and do more. I know that many of these things were out of my control and when there were things I could influence, I did my best to do so. And I did some pretty cool stuff while I was waiting for other things. But I really want next year to feel different. I can’t remove waiting from my life but I’d like to not feel so stuck when I do have to wait.
“2017 was the year of waiting: waiting to release music, waiting to move house, waiting for medication to start working, waiting to feel better. It’s been slow and painful so I’m grateful to be moving on. But there have been some great moments this year too. I wrote some songs I’m really proud of, saw some amazing concerts, and went back to Nashville. I tried to see my friends as much as possible and worked hard on my mental health. Hopefully I’ll start to see some of that work pay off in 2018.” (x)
Posted on December 24, 2017
A while back, my social media feeds were flooded with posts about being grateful and appreciative and thankful. Yes, it was Thanksgiving. I live in the UK and I find it a bit of a weird experience seeing so much celebration and festivity in my online world and have none of that reflected in the world around me. But I do think it’s important to take the time to feel grateful for what I have and I always feel especially grateful at Christmas so I thought I’d write a short post about some of the things I’m grateful for, some big, some small, and some strange.
My family, my friends, my people – This year has been a particularly difficult year but if it’s taught me anything it’s how incredible the people in my life are. Time and time again, they’ve come through for me, supported me, and encouraged me and I couldn’t be more grateful. A few years ago, my relationships felt a bit all over the place (especially my friendships: old ones were separated by university and new ones were still tentative) but this year, I feel like I’ve fallen in love again with all the lovely people in my life, from the people I talk to online to my friends (both from university and from before) to my closest family. And I’m trying my best to make sure they know it.
My therapist – My god, I’m so grateful for my therapist. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how lucky I am to have her. I can’t even put it into words. Having someone I can trust with anything and everything is incredible (although it’s very scary for me to feel so reliant on a person). I’ve told her things I never thought I’d tell anyone and she’s helped me through things I never thought I’d get through. I can’t thank her enough for all she does.
My animals – I’ve already written about my animals so I won’t ramble on too much but they deserve a mention here. They bring me such joy and help me so much with my depression and anxiety. I’m so, so grateful to have them in my life.
My final year at university – My first two years of uni were really, really hard. They were a real struggle. I learnt a lot and I met some great people but the bad stuff going on often overwhelmed the good stuff. But third year was a blast. I loved it. I had a great group, some great tutors, and I wrote some great songs. I also built some great friendships. I think the best way to describe it was that I was finally feeling in sync, with everyone else but also with myself. I was working on all the things I wanted to work on, I was working with some awesome people, and I was getting some really good responses. It felt so right. Leaving was really hard but having such a great last year means I look back on the whole experience positively even though there were some really hard times.
My health – My health is a struggle and it’s something I wrestle with daily but I am so grateful that it’s not worse. I don’t think it’s helpful to compare your health situation to others’ because someone else’s experience doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to feel and struggle with your own. I also think it’s unhealthy to focus solely on the positive and repress your feelings about the negatives. But I do think that it’s important to keep a sense of perspective. I’m grateful for all the things in my body that do work. I’m grateful that I do have days where I can walk the dog, go out with my friends, and stay out late. I’m grateful that my mental functioning seems to be getting better. I’m grateful for how resilient my body is. I need to learn from that.
The benefits I receive – I want to write a more in depth post about benefits and the process of getting them because it really can’t be explained sufficiently within this post but I really wanted to include this because I am so very grateful to get the benefits I do. It’s something that just removes one layer of anxiety and that’s such a big deal. I’m also really grateful for the Christmas bonus. I haven’t had a Christmas where I’ve been on benefits so far and the extra £10 with the recent payment just made me so happy.
Clear skin – My Mum laughed when I told her that I was putting this on the list but I am so, so grateful that, for the majority of the time, I have clear skin. It was something I was so insecure about as a teenager. Looking back at the photos, it doesn’t look too bad but I remember so vividly how upset I’d get over it so I’m grateful for every day I look in the mirror and see clear skin. I don’t take it for granted.
Redbull – Redbull should sponsor me. Seriously. I’m actually drinking Redbull as I write this. I only discovered it recently (I’d had to avoid caffeine while taking my previous medication) and it’s been a very exciting find, especially while I’m struggling so much with low energy levels. It gives me such a boost; it makes me feel like a normal, functional human being, not like one who has to constantly assess her energy levels and emotional state. It’s like the fog of fatigue rolls back and I can actually feel all the other emotions, like excitement and joyfulness. I’m aware that I shouldn’t drink it too often but while I’m following every other avenue to improve my energy, it’s a really good back up plan for when there’s something I need to do.
Agents of Shield – Another one that isn’t life changing but oh my god, I look forward to every new episode. I love it. It’s definitely my favourite TV show. For a long time, I avoided everything superhero-related because it just made me miss my Dad but almost ten years on, it’s something that feels really special. I can imagine the conversations we’d have, the debates over how the storylines played out. I can almost hear his voice down the phone, talking me out of a panic attack by saying, “Think of Daisy. What would Daisy Johnson do?” It used to hurt but now that world makes me feel close to him. On a different note, I love it because I find watching it makes me feel empowered. It reminds me that, superpowers or not, doing good – being a hero – is about the choices you make. It’s a weekly reminder to try to do better and to be better. Plus Chloe Bennet (who plays Daisy) is just freaking awesome. The whole cast is.
Taylor Swift – Yes, I am grateful for Taylor Swift. People have made fun of me for liking Taylor Swift for as long as I’ve been a fan but I honestly do not care. She is a fantastic songwriter and I love her music. I’m grateful to have a new album this year but the thing I’m really, really grateful for is who she is as a person. Since announcing the new album, she’s met literally hundreds of people who’ve always wanted to meet her; she’s made hundreds of people’s dreams come true, not for financial gain, not for the publicity, but because her fans matter to her as much as she matters to her fans. How lovely is that? I think that’s amazing. I’m also grateful to her for using her platform to spread awareness about sexual assault, as I am grateful to every person who has done the same. We are not obligated to share our traumas; our only obligation is to ourselves and our healing. Sharing difficult experiences and opening yourself up to the opinions of others is so brave and should never be undervalued. Her level of fame makes any potential fall out worse but it also means she made a huge impact: the RAINN hotline saw a 35% increase in the number of calls they received after she won her trial. She has so much power to affect people’s lives and she strives for that impact to be a positive one. So yeah, I’m grateful for Taylor Swift.
I could keep going – there’s a lot I’m thankful for – but I’ll stop there. I’m wishing you all a safe, happy, and healthy Christmas and I’ll see you on the other side.
Posted on November 5, 2017
I did it. I graduated.
The last three years have been a whirlwind. As I said in my Instagram post on Thursday, “my degree was an endless mix of inspiring, exhausting, frustrating, ridiculous, exciting, stressful, and joyful.” That’s the short version. The long version is very long. I dealt with a lot of grief and disappointment. I struggled with my mental health, discovered I was Autistic, and started to untangle all the threads that come from that. And that’s outside of university. At uni, I wrote hundreds of songs, met some amazing people, got the opportunity to go to Nashville, and ultimately, became a better songwriter. There were classes I loved and classes I hated. It was a constant battle to keep the lid on my anxiety and sometimes I failed. But I wouldn’t change it. My experience is coloured massively by how good my third and last year was. There were moments where I hated it, where it made me incredibly anxious, where I had meltdowns so bad I thought I’d never recover. There were moments I thought I’d never get through, that I couldn’t do what I was being asked to do. But somehow I did. Somehow I’m here, with a first and two graduation ceremonies under my belt.
The first graduation was for UEL, The University of East London. My school, The Institute of Contemporary Musical Performance, is a specialist music college and while it operates independently, it’s officially part of UEL. So we were invited to one of their graduation ceremonies. My Mum and my Granny came to this one. It was very formal – it was caps and gowns. That was something I was looking forward to and something I was very let down by. I’d thought it would be fun but it became a very stressful experience. Maybe it didn’t fit properly, maybe that’s just how it is but my cape kept sliding back and strangling me and my cap kept falling off my head. It took seven bobby pins to keep it on my head. As someone who struggles with sensory stuff, which includes the way clothes feel, that was really hard and really ratcheted up my anxiety. Fortunately, spending time with my friends, messing around and laughing, helped to keep it at a bearable level.
The ceremony itself was a bit strange. Because I only went to UEL once, it kind of felt like I was intruding, like I didn’t belong there. All the talk of the ‘UEL community’ made me feel a bit disconnected from the whole thing but the speakers were very good. I’d like to share something Geoff Thompson, the chair of the governors, said in his speech: “You are strong. Don’t ever, ever forget that you are strong… Never, never, never, never, never, NEVER give up on your dreams. It is not an option. It is not a choice.” You know, that was just what I needed to hear, just as I’m leaving university and heading out into an uncertain world. It was inspiring. It was empowering.
And all of a sudden, we were lining up to walk across the stage to shake the chancellor’s hand. It was weird: I had tunnel vision. No one could have applauded me as I walked across the stage and I wouldn’t have noticed. I was completely focussed on walking towards the chancellor, shaking his hand, and walking down the steps. It’s funny how something that you usually don’t have to think about – like walking – suddenly seems to take a lot of effort. But I did it, I got back to my seat, and I cheered for my friends. We threw our caps and then it was over. Graduation one was done. I’d thought I’d stay for a drink with my coursemates but after all the anxiety, I was completely exhausted. So I (eagerly) returned my gown and headed home.
The second graduation was a couple of days later and much more fun. This was just our school so it felt a lot more personal. Even though I don’t have many friends outside my course, I recognised a lot of faces from the other courses and we’d all shared the same space. We’re all connected by that. We didn’t have to wear gowns but it was still formal. Everybody looked gorgeous; it was really fun to see everyone dressed up. All four of my parents came to this one, which was amazing. I’ve never had all of them at a school thing before so that made me very happy. I was positively giddy.
I really enjoyed the ceremony. The head of each course made a speech and then presented each of their students with the scroll. My favourite speech came from my programme leader, Jonathan. It was thoughtful and warm and inspiring. He even gave this blog a shout out, along with two other projects my friends have worked on. It was a very special moment. Another special moment was watching one of my best friends receive her scroll while her own song played. That was awesome.
And suddenly, it was my turn and I was walking across the stage, giving Jonathan a hug, and accepting my scroll. We posed for the photo and then I was moving again. I was a bit more aware of what was going on this time. The UEL one was a good rehearsal in that regard. There wasn’t an opportunity to thank my parents so I made the best of what I had. I located them in the crowd and did this:
It was important to me to do that.
Everyone received their scrolls and then we gathered for the reception. It was lovely to celebrate with everyone, to catch up, to introduce my parents to all these people who have played such an important part of my life in the last three years.
And that was graduation. The only other thing to add is that, to celebrate, we headed out for drinks. It was my first experience being in a club and my first experience drinking cocktails, neither of which I would say I enjoyed but it felt very empowering to try those new things and not feel trapped by my anxiety. Major thanks to my friends for looking after me and making it such a positive experience.
I will write more about my experience at university at some point but it’s a pretty big task. I need to go through my diaries and pull together some stuff before I can write an accurate account of that time but I will manage it at some point. It was a crucial time in my life. It’s a big part of who I am.
Hey! I’m Lauren Alex Hooper. Welcome to my little blog! I write about living with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as a number of mental health issues. I’m also a singer-songwriter so I’ll probably write a bit about that too.
My first single, ‘Invisible,’ is now available on iTunes and Spotify, with all proceeds going to Young Minds.