Posted on December 31, 2018
This year has been a struggle. Almost eighteen months ago, I made the decision to change my medication and that has basically been my life ever since. Lots of pills and doctors appointments but mostly dealing with the side effects, everything from nausea to shaking to a complete inability to think clearly. I don’t think I realised what a huge undertaking it was going to be but it’s not exactly surprising: you’re throwing all the chemicals in your brain and body out of whack. I tried Venlafaxine, Lithium, and Lamotrigine; I weaned myself off Venlafaxine, tried Amitriptyline, and now I’m taking Pregabalin and Clomipramine. This is the most promising combination so far and I’ve actually had a few really good days so I’m cautiously optimistic. But it’s been a long, hard road, sometimes so difficult that I wasn’t sure I’d survive it. And I don’t really feel able to acknowledge the good bits without paying tribute to the really tough things I had to go through and so got through.
The first of The Big Difficult Things was moving house. God, that was a struggle. Having thought that I’d found some sort of peace around it, when it came to the day, I was absolutely devastated. There were a lot of tears – from all of us. That house was my home for fifteen years – home to the greatest triumphs and tragedies of my life – and so, to some extent, it will always be my home. I think I could probably walk into my old bedroom twenty years from now and fall right back into that old rhythm.
I’m still learning the rhythms of the new house. There are days where it feels normal and then others where I hate it so much I could scream. Most of the time, it still feels like someone else’s house. Someone else’s house with all our stuff in. But every day is a step in the right direction. We’re filling all the empty space with memories, slowly but surely.
I’ve been writing a lot about Claire Wineland of late but I couldn’t write about this year and not mention her. Her death was another of The Big Difficult Things of this year. I stumbled across her YouTube channel late last year and have been following her on social media ever since. She was – and still is – a big inspiration for me and her death hit me really hard. It just makes no sense to me and never will and I’m still struggling to cope with that.
And through all of this, depression has been my constant, oppressive companion. While I had experienced depression before, this was a whole new kind of prison. The lows were lower than I’d ever experienced and there were several pretty scary moments. And as well as affecting my mood, my depression made it almost impossible to write songs. I’ve had many discussions about writer’s block over the years and I’ve always thought that there are things that can make writing difficult and so you have to figure out what’s causing the block and address it. In my case, it feels like depression suppresses the creative part of my brain: I don’t get random sparks of inspiration, I can’t solve problems creatively, and any active creativity – like songwriting – is like pulling teeth. It feels like writing songs requires a certain level of functioning that I’m just not capable of reaching while depressed. I want to write more about this – about depression and writer’s block – but that’s for another post.
Having said all of that, there have been good days, as well as good experiences on bad days.
By far the best part of this year has been the time spent with my friends and family, whether that be online or in the physical world, in Nashville, London, or Brighton. Or anywhere in between. These people have kept me going through the hardest period of my life so far and I’m so ridiculously grateful to them for that.
I got to travel a little bit this year, which was amazing. I managed to get back to Nashville where I had the most intense ten days possibly of my life. I got to see some lovely people, write songs (or try to), listen to some of the best songwriters in the world, and play a Song Suffragettes show. Even though I was incredibly anxious about it, that may very well have been the best day of my year.
I also travelled to Iceland for the first time and saw so many beautiful things, including a 60m waterfall, the Diamond Beach, and the Northern Lights. The natural scenery in Iceland took my breath away time and again. It felt like the first breath you take after being underwater. Of course, there was a lot of anxiety during the trip but it helped me in a way that only the magnificence of nature is able to.
There have been more wonderful live music events than I can count: Paramore, Kelsea Ballerini, Sugarland, Kacey Musgraves, Natalie Hemby (and all of Tin Pan South in Nashville), Frank Turner, Betsy Lane, The Shires, Sinead Burgess, The Brummies, Halsey, Kina Grannis, Aislin Evans, Maren Morris, and of course, Taylor Swift. Despite the anxieties around concerts, these are the places where I feel most alive and so, throughout this difficult period, I’ve always tried to ensure that there was another concert to look forward to.
And despite my musical struggles this year, I’ve actually played a few gigs and played shows that I am so proud to have been a part of. I got to play with WRTW again and it was even more fun than the first time (if that’s possible). I played Autism’s Got Talent in London, which was such a great opportunity. I played for Brighton Soup and Disability Pride in Brighton, two amazing organisations that I can’t praise enough. I also played Summer Fest in Worthing, my first show with my awesome friend, Richard Sanderson. And of course, I got to play a Song Suffragettes show when I was in Nashville.
I’ve also managed to do a handful to Autism research studies, as well as giving blood. I’ve been feeling so useless so I tried to contribute as best I could during this time where I’ve felt incapable of contributing anything at all.
Another big part of this year was getting used to the kittens: my cat had two kittens in February and me and my Mum just fell in love with them so we ended up keeping them. I love them dearly but it has been a major adjustment and a real struggle, especially with the daily battle that is depression. So this has been both a good and a bad thing. I want to write more about this whole experience because there were – and still are – a lot of complicated emotions involved. But above it all, we have Lucky and Lucy and the kittens and I love them more than life itself.
So, that’s it: 2018. It has been a hard, hard year, and one I’m very happy to leave behind but I’m cautiously optimistic about the next few months and the next year. I’ve felt better in the last couple of weeks than I have all year and I’m hopeful that this is characteristic of what’s to come.
“2018, the year of living, fighting, but ultimately, surviving depression. There was a lot of gold in the grey but I’m so ready to move on to 2019.” (x)
Category: animals, anxiety, autism, depression, event, holidays, medication, mental health, music, treatment Tagged: 2018, 2018 in review, amitriptyline, anti anxiety, anti depressants, anti-depressant, antianxiety, antidepressants, anxiety, cat, claire wineland, clomipramine, concert, concerts, creative block, death, depression, family, friends, grief, halsey, happy new year, iceland, kitten, kittens, lamotrigine, life, lithium, maren morris, medication, mental health, mental health blog, mental health blogger, mental health blogging, mental health treatment, mental illness, moving house, nashville, new home, new house, new year, performing, pregaballin, singer, singersongwriter, song suffragettes, songwriter, songwriting, support system, taylor swift, treating depression, treatment, venlafaxine, writers block
Posted on September 29, 2018
Have you seen the book where various different celebrities or famous people write letters to their younger selves? Some of them write pages and pages and some of them write a sentence, maybe two. But the majority of them reveal very little about their lives because they believe that the journey to the major events is as important as those major events. I don’t disagree with that but considering my levels of anxiety, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for my younger self to have a little more certainty. Most of my stresses, then and now, are about the future so this would’ve been the perfect thing to calm younger me. Obviously this is a hypothetical exercise since we haven’t actually invented time travel and therefore don’t have to worry about causing a paradox that dramatically alters human history. We’ve all seen enough sci fi to know that that always ends badly.
Ultimately, there’s not much to be gained from wishing you could change the past and while there are things I wish had been different, I don’t think I’d change almost any of the things I had control over: the people, the pursuits, the loves… I’d choose them all over again.
Category: about me, autism, identity, life lessons, school Tagged: 24th birthday, advice, asd, autism, autism in girls, autism in women, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, birthday, exams, fitting in, grades, growing up, lessons learned, life, life lessons, nashville, ramblings, school, secondary school, things i'd tell my younger self
Posted on September 15, 2018
As you guys have probably guessed, I’m a stationary enthusiast and over the years, I’ve gone through many, many notebooks and diaries and planners. I’m pretty picky about the kind of books I like and that’s probably why I’ve never found a planner that really works for me. The layout didn’t work or the writing spaces weren’t big enough and so on. So I was always on the lookout for the right one.
I started looking into bullet journaling after seeing photos and videos of bullet journal ‘spreads’ on social media: pages to track spending, sleep, mood… As well as monthly and weekly logs to keep track of what they were doing. It seemed to be a way of creating a very personal, tailored planner and that appealed to me, although I’m definitely not artistic enough to compete with the ones I’ve seen on Instagram and YouTube. But since it seemed to work for so many people, I thought I’d give it a try.
A lot of thought went into the bullet journal format (the official website is very informative) but in short, it’s a flexible system to “track the past, organise the present, and plan for the future.” Most people seem to use dotted notebooks (like the ones that Leuchtturm make) and dedicate pages to calendars (future log, monthly log, daily log) and trackers (habits, sleep patterns). I’ve found this incredibly helpful so I thought I’d share how I use it. Maybe this would be more easily done in video format but here we are.
At the beginning of the year, I bought a Leuchtturm notebook (dotted, navy blue, A5 – available here) and got to work. I looked at photos on Instagram and watched a tonne of videos on YouTube (AmandaRachLee is my favourite) and that really helped me to figure out what bullet journalling could be for me. I set up the index at the front and created several general spreads, including my new years resolutions, all the birthdays in the year, books to read, and things to watch. Carrying all of this around is so helpful and it has definitely made me more organised. And motivated.
One of my favourite spreads is the one for blog post ideas (and it actually spilled over into a second spread because I ran out of space). I find it so inspiring and motivating to look at. I’ve always been a list maker and I LOVE being able to tick things off a list; I’m always more motivated and productive when I’m working from a list. Having all of these ideas in one place has made blog writing much more efficient.
Many people do a monthly mood tracker but I did one for the whole year because I thought it would be easier to detect any trends in my mood and compare month to month. If I could do it again, there would be less categories. It took a while to figure out how broad each emotion had to be and as someone who feels emotions (and their subtleties) very strongly, it was very easy to create more categories than I necessarily needed. And I think a smaller spectrum of colours would make the whole thing clearer.
I found this particularly helpful when trying to judge my reaction to a medication: I could literally track my mood through each dose increase and assess how helpful it was. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in one side effect or judge it based on the most recent feelings rather than the overall experience. So it was really helpful in regards to that.
Now to the month-to-month, week-to-week stuff.
It’s pretty standard to do a monthly log: a month at a glance of sorts so that you can see everything you’re doing during that period of time.
One thing that I love about bullet journalling is that you can refine your style and system as you go, to make it more useful to you. I went through several different layouts before I found the one that really works for me, at the moment at least. And you can be as creative as you want or feel capable of being. I’m not very artistic – in the drawing/painting sense of the word – but it’s been fun (and oddly empowering) to try my hand at something I don’t usually do.
Again, it took me a while to find a weekly set up that I liked. But I really like the one I’m using at the moment. It’s simple and quick to fill out and not overwhelming to look at.
The official bullet journalling style involves a system of categorising all the information (tasks, events, appointments, etc), checking off tasks, ‘migrating’ them to a later date… Personally I found it overcomplicated and just not necessary. I know that there are people who like it, people who don’t, and people who have either simplified the official key or created their own version. But this is what’s great about this whole format: you can tailor it to what you need.
And lastly, I’ve recently started using trackers as part of my monthly set up. I kept the list of tracked things short so that it was actually doable and I ended up finding it really useful. Having that list of things written down made it easier to remember to do them and to build the habit. And as I said, I love ticking things off a list so the idea of filling in the boxes at the end of the day was really motivating.
So I hope this was interesting. If any of you guys use bullet journalling or any other system for organising your life, let me know what works for you!
Category: life lessons, school, tips, university, writing Tagged: advice, blogger, blogging, bujo, bullet journal, bullet journalling, habit tracker, habits, journal, journalling, learning, lessons learned, life, organisation, school, sleep log, trying something new, watercolor, watercolour
Posted on September 8, 2018
I couldn’t not acknowledge that Claire Wineland died on Sunday. I still don’t really know what to say; my emotions are all over the place. But I did want to say this: I might not have known her in the traditional sense – we never met and our relationship consisted of a few interactions on Twitter – but she deeply inspired me and therefore meant a lot to me. I will miss her tremendously and my thoughts are with her friends and family. She was so, so special and her impact is on-going, like the ripples you see when you throw a pebble into a pond.
So, with all of that said, I wanted to share one of her TED talks. She talks about living with Cystic Fibrosis, how hard it is, and how living with an illness can affect your perspective, as well as how people treat you. She’s an amazing speaker.
“You can have a painful life, you can suffer, you can experience what it feels like to be a human being – all those messy and gross emotions – and yet you can make a life for yourself that you are very, very proud of.”
“I wanted to share the fact that you can suffer and be okay. You can suffer and still make something. That the quality of your life isn’t determined by whether you’re healthy or sick or rich or poor. Not at all. It’s determined by what you make out of your experience as a human being, out of the embarrassing moments and the painful moments. It’s what you make and what you give from that place.”
She talks about reading a book by Stephen Hawking as a young teenager and learning about space and suns and black holes. Her enthusiasm makes me laugh out loud (and then cry). And that led her to learning about Stephen Hawking himself and the disease he lived with and all that he contributed to society anyway. He was her first role model.
She talks about how she questioned why she had to work so hard just to stay alive and how she was desperately looking for something to contribute, something to give her life meaning. She wanted more than just surviving. And then, at thirteen, she almost died and went into a coma that no one thought she’d come out of. But she did and she was just blown away by all the support she received. That made her realise that that is not the case in many families living with Cystic Fibrosis and so she created her foundation, The Claire’s Place Foundation, to assist those families.
Six years on, she was struck with the realisation that she’d become the person that she had been looking for, someone to look up to who was sick and still contributing to the world. She was using her experience to give something and she was living a life she was proud of, that thirteen year old her would be proud of.
“And that’s all that we can have in life. Because the truth is, it’s not about being happy, right? Life isn’t about just trying to be happy. Honestly, happiness is a Dopamine in the brain. If I was to sit here and tell you all to just be happy, I’d just tell you all to go smoke a joint and listen to Bob Marley and just call it a day. We don’t need any of this TEDx stuff, you know? Life isn’t about being happy. Life is a rollercoaster of crazy emotions: one second you’re fine and the next second you feel lonely and despair and like nothing’s ever gonna be okay again. It’s not about emotions; it’s not about how you feel second to second. It’s about what you’re making of your life and whether you can find a deep pride in who you are and what you’ve given because that’s so much more impactful, so much deeper than whether you’re happy, or content, or joyful. It’s okay to feel pain. In fact, if you can actually experience it without judgement, without, you know, trying to fix anything. Nothing’s wrong with any of you. Nothing’s wrong with me. I don’t care that I’m sick. At all. Genuinely. If a cure came tomorrow, I wouldn’t care. Because that has not determined the quality of my life. I’m not trying to fix myself. My suffering has given me so much, and I’ve been able to make something and give something to people from it.”
In some ways, it’s hard to watch because it’s devastating to see her so engaged and dynamic and thoughtful and funny and know she’s not here anymore. It’s hard to watch her talk about surviving the odds, surviving the coma she was in at thirteen, knowing that she didn’t survive the odds this time. But at the same time, this video is a tiny piece of proof amongst all the noise that she WAS here, that she WAS so engaged and dynamic and thoughtful and funny.
As I said, I will miss Claire immensely but I’m incredibly grateful to have videos like these to watch on the hardest days.
Posted on August 11, 2018
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how things change with time, how emotions change with time.
When I was nineteen, someone really important to me abandoned me without a word. I was already really struggling and it was completely devastating. For days afterwards, I just sat numbly in front of the TV with the volume up so loud that I couldn’t think. I couldn’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t feel so heartbroken. I couldn’t imagine how I would ever recover.
That was four years ago.
For a long time, that experience defined me. I wrote songs about it. I talked about it in therapy. It was part of every decision I made. It was the lens through which I saw the world. But slowly, it had less and less of a hold on me and then, about two years after everything fell apart, I realised that I’d completely let it go. That was amazing and so freeing.
And so I went on with my life, feeling lighter than I had in years. I felt like it had been taking up space in my body and with that gone, I had so much more space to engage and create and just live. I even got a little bit of closure (something I’d never really believed in as a concept): we met and talked and it was oddly satisfying to find that there wasn’t a good reason behind it – I’d never been able to think of one. So it was messy and intense but worth it. I didn’t need that experience to let it go but it was very satisfying to finally have all the pieces.
A couple of days ago, I realised that I hadn’t thought about it in months. I’d almost forgotten it had happened. That was a shock. And an epiphany.
It’s an oft-repeated saying that time heals everything and it always irritated the hell out of me, especially when I was a teenager. Everything felt (and still feels) so intense – every experience, every emotion – and I couldn’t imagine a time when it wouldn’t. But over time, I’ve watched the cycle of emotions play out and that’s been a revelation.
It seems that there are some things that you just have to learn for yourself and no amount of being told by someone else is the same as experiencing it first hand. And you have to live long enough for that cycle of emotion to actually take place. It’s only now that I can look back and truly know that time is the only thing that can lessen the intensity of those feelings (although it’s not unlikely that I’ll deny this the next time I’m overwhelmed with similar emotions). Every stage – from holding on to it, to letting it go, to really moving on – was a new experience and it was all ridiculously intense. But now I’m free of it, which is such an achievement. I had a lot of help but that’s something that I did and I’m really proud of that. For a long time, I needed to feel it and needed to hold onto it to make sense of it. But now I’m done. There are bigger, more important things in my life, good and bad.
Posted on July 9, 2018
Posting on a Monday?! What?!
I know my posting schedule has gone out the window recently but I really want to share a couple of videos with you guys.
I’ve talked about Claire Wineland and her videos before and I’ve had this one bookmarked for ages. Claire is twenty-one years old and has Cystic Fibrosis (lots of useful information here). She’s spent most of her life raising awareness about CF and created her own non-profit organisation to support those with CF and their families. She’s incredibly wise and eloquent and even though we’ve had very different experiences of life and of health, I really relate to a lot of what she says. She’s inspired me a lot.
Just over a month ago, she was put on the transplant list for new lungs and she made a video where she talks about how that feels and what it means. And while she’s talking about transplants and new lungs and things that many of us don’t have direct experience of, the way she talks about living is universally relatable. And important.
“Transplant, for me, isn’t really just about getting new lungs. It’s not about being healthy, it’s not about fixing myself. For me, transplant is about what it means to choose to live, not in an ignorant way. I don’t believe that once I get lungs and once I’m better that everything else is gonna be better. I don’t believe that it’s gonna save me or fix me or make me any more of the person that I wanna be. I think that getting new lungs, for me, is like a representation for what it means to choose to be here, on this planet, and to just choose to try, to try to show up and be conscious and to be aware of ourselves and try and actually give something of ourselves, to not spend our whole lives just resentful of being alive, because it’s so easy to be resentful of being alive and I get it. I completely get it. It’s so hard not to fall in the trap of seeing that every single thing you choose to do in life, no matter which way you go and what you choose to do, there’s always just gonna be this… this innate pain in life, you know? There’s always gonna be someone or something that’s gonna come and yank the rug out from under your feet, no matter how healthy you are, no matter how rich you are, no matter how perfect your life may seem, or how much you’ve worked for what you have. There’s always something right around the corner that is going to come and make a fool out of you and that’s life. And it’s terrifying. And one of the things I’ve found that’s the most difficult about choosing to get new lungs is just… It opens up this well of want in me. Like, I want to be alive and I want to have the time and I want to have the energy to actually make something of myself, give something, like, make something I think is genuinely valuable, not just something to make myself feel better… I want to actually give something… and that’s really scary, because once you want something, then it opens you up to just that huge fear of failing. Like, the moment you admit that you want it then you have to admit that you don’t want to fail and you have to look at how painful it would be to lose it. So there’s just so many different layers to this. Like, it’s not just about lungs.”
The stuff about wanting to live and how scary that is really hits home for me at the moment, at this point in my mental health journey – I hate describing it that way because it sounds so quaint (and depression is anything but quaint) but I haven’t found a better word for it yet. Depression can make living feel like a struggle at best and unbearable at worst and I’m just coming out of the worst I’ve ever experienced. And knowing that someone in a different country, in a different situation, with a different life experience feels the same fear that I do… knowing that is comforting. It makes me feel less alone and it makes me feel part of something bigger than just me.
“It’s all very human, and it’s all very real, and it’s all very scary. And I have no idea what’s gonna happen.”
This video and these quotes have been in the back of my mind and on my list to write about for a while now. I just hadn’t gotten around to pulling this post together until Claire posted her most recent video on Saturday night.
I feel for her, so desperately, especially when she talks about how there’s so much more she wants to do. I can only imagine what this is like for her. It makes me so angry and upset that anyone should have to go through such stress while already dealing with such difficult circumstances: illness, treatment and medication, hospital stays, and so on. The gofundme link is here, in case you want to donate or share.
I just wanted to share her videos and her words with you guys. Her perspective on life and living has given me a lot to think about and hopefully it’s the same for you.
And Claire, just on the off chance you see this, thank you. Thank you for your words, thank you for making me feel understood even though you’ve never met me. Thank you for making me laugh and for making me cry. I’m grateful to be able to help, even if it’s in a tiny way and in a tiny amount. I have no doubt that you will continue to do incredible, important things.
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.