Goals For 2021 Reviewed

In hindsight, I don’t really know what I was thinking, setting goals when I had no idea what the year was going to look like. I’m not really surprised that I haven’t done as well as I would’ve liked, had the year been a normal year. But it wasn’t a normal year and I try to remember that when I feel myself getting stressed.


FIND A RHYTHM IN THERAPY AGAIN – This has been a tricky one. For various reasons, my therapy was fairly erratic for the first half of the year and then I wasn’t going at all until just a few weeks ago. A lot has happened and a lot has changed and going back is hard; it feels like I’m learning how to do therapy all over again. But we’ve worked through tough periods before. There’s no reason why we can’t figure out this one too.

PROGRESS WITH MY INVISIBLE BRACES – Okay, I officially failed at this. I’ve actually slipped backwards, going back to an earlier mold. It was just that, with everything going on, sleeping was the one time where I didn’t feel some sort of sensory overwhelm and I was so reluctant to lose that one safe space. I have worn it a little but not enough so I need to figure out a more manageable way to wear it.

WORK ON MY CORE – This has been a tricky one. Since the lockdown ended, I’ve been swimming as much as I can (and feel able to depending on various things: mental health, COVID numbers, etc) and I do feel like it’s helped, although it doesn’t feel like the pain mirrors how much or how little swimming I’m doing. Eleven months after the Hydrotherapy referral, I got a Physiotherapy appointment which resulted in them referring me to Hydrotherapy and a month or so later, I finally got a Hydrotherapy session. I’ve been doing the exercises by myself and I have a follow up appointment in the new year to make sure everything’s happening as it should. It’s too soon to know what effect it’s having but hopefully it’ll help with some of the problems caused by my EDS.

COMPLETE MY MAJOR REPERTOIRE PROJECT – I did it! It was hard work and utterly exhausting and, by the end, I was working twelve (or more) hours a day but I absolutely loved it. I loved being totally absorbed by one project and just writing as many songs for it as possible. I did struggle to balance what I wanted to do with the project with what I needed to do for the grade (although it’s true that trying to meet that criteria did result in it being a better project) but I had a fantastic supervisor, who was passionate and knowledgeable about a lot of the same things as me and who was also neurodivergent, which I think made a big difference when it came to tackling problems and her general support; my project was better because of her help. The day of my final presentation was a bit anti-climactic after everything and suddenly it was all over. But I’m so proud of the work I did, the many songs I wrote, and the mark I achieved, my highest out of every module. I’m so relieved, so happy, so proud, and so grateful to everyone who helped me get there. It was the best part of this year, easily.

FINISH MY MASTERS DEGREE – I still kind of can’t believe that I did this, given everything over the last couple of years. It’s so weird to look back at the beginning of the Masters in late 2019, knowing what I do now. But I did it: I completed my Masters Degree in Songwriting. During a global pandemic no less. But despite that, it was still an amazing experience; I met a lot of incredible people, I did a lot of work that I’m so proud of, and I got so much out of it. I’m so proud of my final project in particular and it was amazing to get such a high grade, as well as the Outstanding Student Award at graduation; that meant so much to me after everything that went in to getting the degree. And while I am excited for what comes next, I’m also really, really sad that it’s over; that’s the end of my education at ICMP and I don’t want my time there to be officially over. I loved my BA but doing an MA was the best thing I’ve ever done. It was beyond difficult and there were times when I hated it but it was an amazing experience and I’m so proud of myself and the work I did.

MAKE SIGNIFICANT PROGRESS IN CATCHING UP WITH MY DIARY – Yeah, no, I did not manage this. I’m barely managing to keep up, let alone clean up the messy notes I’ve been keeping over the last two years. My diary writing is in a state of chaos right now. It takes up so much time and causes me so much anxiety but I can’t stop; my OCD won’t let me. So I’m just keeping on keeping on; I don’t know what else to do.

WORK ON NOT COMPARING MYSELF TO OTHERS, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO MUSIC – I think it’s fair to say that this is probably something I’ll be working on for the rest of my life; it’s not something that will ever be done, complete. I’m not sure if I’d say I’ve made progress with this but I do think I’ve learned a lot about myself and my insecurities. Two big factors that affect those insecurities are my mental health and how much I’m writing. When my mental health is good and I’m doing a solid amount of writing, I feel more comfortable and confident in myself and what other people are doing doesn’t feel scary or upsetting; they feel inspiring and exciting. But when my mental health is bad – and thus, my ability to write disappears – everything feels just too much. So most of the year was great, apart from a few dips, but my mental health hasn’t been great over the last two months – or in other words, completely fucking awful – so that’s what I’ve been focussed on: trying to make that better.

FIND MY NEXT PROJECT – This goal kind of makes me laugh now. To think I wanted to find my next project and now I have more projects than I know what to do with. It’s kind of stressful, trying to manage so many things at once, but it’s also wonderful to have so many things that I’m excited about. They’re all in process right now and I don’t know how they’re going to turn out so I don’t want to say anything yet, but I definitely found my next project.


This year has been a hell of a year for many reasons and while there were many negative surprises, there were also positive ones; those just aren’t always visible in the review of goals set at the beginning of the year. I’m really proud of a lot of things from the last twelve months and, given everything that’s happened, I’m actually kind of impressed that I was able to complete any of these goals at all. So I’m trying to focus on that.

2021 in Review

I’m not really sure how to sum up this year. It has been one of extremes, to say the least: anxiety, joy, stress, excitement, depression… And, at this point, I feel a bit like I’ve run out of capacity. For anything. So this was a hard post to write and it wasn’t helped by the dichotomy between most of the year and the last few months; I’ve found it very hard to look at each part without the other colouring it in some way.


The biggest part of my year was most definitely the final two modules of my Masters, which turned out to be my two favourite modules of the course, The Writer’s Voice and Major Repertoire Project. Having written about these already, I don’t want to repeat myself but I do want to look at them in the context of the year. From January to September, I wrote furiously and with such joy. There was anxiety and depression and stress – they were all in there – but it felt like all of that writing balanced the scales. I wrote so many songs that I love, that I’m so proud of, and that I can’t wait to release. While I did release new music this year – The Honest EP (Sunburst Sessions) – they weren’t new songs and I’m so excited to share new songs. I have lots of plans that I’m really excited about and despite the chaos of the last few months, I have been working on my next project. I’m very excited to share it in the new year.

I’m very proud of myself for completing the Masters, especially given that I did most of it during the pandemic, and I’m so proud of my final project; it is the best thing I’ve ever done and I can’t wait to get it out into the world. I poured everything I had into that project so getting such a high grade and then the Outstanding Student Award at Graduation felt really good. I feel weird talking about it but I am really proud of that achievement and the recognition of how hard I worked means a lot to me. Because of an administrative screw up, I’m not sure when my graduation will be official, when I’ll get my certificate – something that caused a lot of distress – but practically, it’s done.

My health, both physical and mental, hasn’t been in great shape this year. The chronic pain was really bad, the fatigue not much better, and the ongoing migraines are pretty miserable. My mental health was fairly stable and actually not too bad for the most part, until the last few months of the year. Then it got really bad. In order to try medication for my ADHD, I had to come off Phenelzine – the only medication that’s ever helped me – and then start Xaggitin. That went extremely badly. My depression all but overwhelmed me; it was the worst my mental health has ever been. I’ve stopped taking the Xaggitin and I’m taking Bupropion now and it’s different but I’m not sure if it’s any better though.

I’ve felt very alone this year, in regards to tackling and managing all of this. I came out of every appointment feeling angry, distressed, dismissed, or invalidated (and often multiple of these in various combinations). I haven’t felt safe with any of them; I didn’t feel like my existence even registered with them. So I’m finding all of that very hard and each new appointment is preceded by extreme anxiety, a kind of anxiety I’ve rarely experienced. It’s a bit like a fight or flight response. I’ve never had a great relationship with the medical profession but I’ve felt particularly let down this year. I have finally managed to get back to therapy (although this was before the newest variant threw a wrench in all of our plans) but it’s been a long time and a lot of stuff has happened; I feel like I’m having to learn how to do it all over again.

It’s also been a hard year, family wise. I haven’t been able to see one of my parents – in real life – since before the pandemic (for medical reasons) and that has been so hard. We talk on FaceTime and stuff and that’s good but I still miss her so much. And then, of course, my Granny died in September, just as I was finishing my Masters. At that point, I think, my brain just couldn’t take anymore; I don’t think I’ve processed any of it, to be honest. To a certain extent, I feel frozen, like I stopped while everything around me kept going. It’s not the first time I’ve felt like this but that doesn’t make it any easier. I’m sure all of those feelings will make their presence felt in the new year. But as hard as all of that is, I’m so grateful for the friends and family around me; I’m not sure where I’d be without them.

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“What a surreal year. I don’t even know how to sum it up really. Everything I felt, I felt in extremes: stress, anxiety, depression, joy, excitement. I wrote songs that I’m so proud of, I hugged friends I hadn’t seen in months, I completed a Masters degree that I loved. I struggled with even more health issues, I was almost overwhelmed by the worst depression I’ve ever experienced, and I’m learning to live in a world that doesn’t have my Granny in it. The high points were so high and the low points were so low and I’m honestly exhausted right now. This year has been more than I know how to handle and I’m still kind of drowning but I’m also still here.” (x)


This end of year post isn’t quite the same as what I’ve done in previous years but it’s been a weird year and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m experiencing some form of burnout. I have a few plans but honestly, I have no idea what the next period of my life looks like and that’s scary. I hate how my life goes on hold whenever I change medications and I feel more than a bit lost right now. All I can do is wait and see and after all these years, there’s very little I hate more.

Lauren Alex Hooper, MA.

During this last year, as I worked through the second year of my Masters, I’ve been thinking a lot about graduation. Primarily, I thought a lot about whether it would even happen – in person, that is; last year’s graduation was done online – and what it would be like, what it would feel like to graduate with a Masters and a Masters completed for the most part during a global pandemic and multiple national lockdowns. The whole idea seemed surreal. I was mostly thinking about my university’s award ceremony, our unofficial graduation since we officially graduate from the University of East London (UEL) – such complications are a part of life at a specialised university, I guess. I hadn’t thought much about the UEL graduation; I’m glad I went for my BA but it doesn’t feel like my university so I wasn’t super invested in going one way or another. Even if it’s more symbolic than official, my university’s awards ceremony was what I thought about when I thought about graduation.

But, as is often the case, graduation was much more complicated than I’d imagined. It’s big and complicated and emotional but long story short, my graduation isn’t official yet. I’m not entirely sure when it will be but I’m following it all up. And as my final project supervisor said, “the graduation is not the achievement – that is in you. Regardless of when you receive the MA certificate, you are Lauren Hooper, MA.” That has really helped me, over and over again through this last part of the journey, and it definitely helped me make the most of the day.


There are various different parts or different layers to this day so I thought I’d split them up and look at them one by one…

DRESS

I stressed A LOT about what to wear to graduation. I’ve struggled with body image for a long time and, to be completely honest, I struggle daily not to get sucked down the rabbit hole of hating how I look. That, combined with just really wanting to feel good about myself for such a special occasion, meant I had multiple meltdowns and almost meltdowns over the whole thing. It’s just a very loaded thing for me, especially at the moment it seems. So that was a big thing to throw into an already complicated and emotional situation. I went back and forth on multiple options and only at around midnight the night before did I make the final decision.

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Probably because I’d spent so much time thinking about how I felt and how I felt about how I looked, it didn’t really occur to me to think about anyone else’s reaction; people commenting on my appearance isn’t something that happens very often. But suddenly, there were all of these people – including people I didn’t even know – saying really nice things and I didn’t really know how to respond to them. It was kind of surreal, nice but still surreal and strange. As I said, it’s just a really loaded and difficult place in my head. I loved the way it sparkled under the lights when I walked across the stage but then I look at the photos of myself and… I really struggle with looking at photos of myself. This whole topic really needs its own post but it was part of the day and so I didn’t want to leave it out. I’m trying to separate how I feel when I look at the photos and how it felt to hear people say positive things. That’s all I can do right now.

CEREMONY

Between a very early alarm and getting to London in time, it wasn’t the most relaxing start to the day and I found it very stressful (which didn’t help the migraine and nausea I had to battle all day – it was unfortunate that coming off my antidepressant and graduation overlapped). But we got there (Union Chapel is a beautiful venue and it was very cool to be graduating there), the COVID precautions were really good, and it wasn’t long before I was heading in with a handful of my coursemates.

There was the usual sprinkle of chaos. We had to get into order by surname, despite the fact that a not insignificant number of us had never met or even seen each other in the one set of online lectures we all had together. And it didn’t help that multiple people had been left out of the program (and some, myself included, didn’t get the official certificate after crossing the stage). So it was… interesting. But it was lovely to see some many people that have been a pretty significant part of the last two years of my life; I’m just sad that some of my favourite people couldn’t be there due to other commitments.

There were five or so courses that walked the stage before us, plus the head of each course gave a speech. Given how little time I was actually onsite during my course (not even six months of the two years), I was surprised how many people I knew. When you’re in the building, it’s not hard to end up becoming friends with people from other courses but with everything online, those casual encounters don’t happen and, to me at least, it felt like the different courses existed in their own bubbles. But having said that, I realised I knew a lot more people than I thought and it was an unexpected bonus to get to celebrate their achievements along with those of my close friends and coursemates. And some of the speeches were great, inspiring and moving; there were some great quotes there that I’ll take away with me.

When it was our turn, the head of our course gave a great speech and then, one by one, we were walking across the stage. Because they didn’t have my certificate (due to the aforementioned screw up around my graduation) but  as I was receiving a separate award (more on that in a moment), they asked if I’d wait until the end of the line. That was fine with me; it was really nice to get to watch everyone do their walk and cheer for them.

AWARD

My name was finally called and I got to walk across the stage. It was kind of a blur of sensory information – lights, noise, the ground felt like it was moving under my feet – but I made it across the stage. I didn’t take it in at the time but watching the video my Mum had taken and hearing the cheer for me… it makes me pretty emotional. It’s a bit like with the dress: I guess I’m just not used to being noticed. I’ve spent so much of my life feeling invisible that being seen – feeling seen, really seen – kind of takes my breath away. I don’t know how to describe it, if I’m honest. It just means a lot to me.

As I said, there wasn’t a certificate for me but each course gives an award to one student for ‘outstanding achievement.’ And given everything I’ve just said about feeling invisible, I was very emotional when I found out that I was being awarded it; I’m still processing it, to be honest. So, having crossed the stage, my head of course (who has also taught me on and off over the last seven years) had me stand to the side while she introduced the award. She said some really, really special things – particularly about my final project, which I absolutely poured every part of myself into – and presented me with the award. We took the picture and I slid back into the row with my coursemates. Everyone was so lovely about it and I’m just so grateful to all of them for making my Masters experience what it was; despite all of the hard stuff, I wouldn’t have had it any other way because of the people I met.

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RECEPTION

After the final few courses walked the stage and the last of the speeches, the ceremony concluded and we moved upstairs to the bar for the reception. It was somewhat surreal to be seeing and hugging and hanging out with people I’ve (pretty much) only seen online for the last eighteen months or so, surreal but wonderful. I saw so many of my friends; I got to meet their families; I caught up with a handful of my tutors, both from the MA and from my BA (some of them I haven’t seen properly since early 2020 at the latest since they didn’t teach on the MA and so I only ever saw them in the halls, something that obviously didn’t happen when we moved online). I had some really lovely, really special conversations that I will treasure. These last two years have been so weird – with such extremes of difficult and wonderful – and, with all of that still so fresh and still going on to varying degrees, I just felt so aware and so grateful for the good things, many of which are tied to my MA and therefore graduation.

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I was absolutely exhausted and in a lot of pain afterwards. I could barely walk to the car. But all of the time on my feet, all the anxiety, the medication withdrawal, the emotion… it just hit me like a train. It took me days to recover – not an unusual experience – and, with my Granny’s Celebration of Life a few days after and the whole medication change, I don’t think I’ve fully processed it yet. It’s been such a weird, busy, emotional time and it’s just been hit after hit after hit. I’m doing my best to cope with it all but it’s a lot. But I did it. I finished my Masters. I am Lauren Alex Hooper, MA. Those two letters after my name mean so much to me because they represent how hard I worked to be here and I can’t be anything but proud of that.