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.

Grateful 2021

I found this post incredibly hard to write, which was very unexpected because, when I started putting down ideas for this post a few months ago, my thoughts just poured out of me. I was overwhelmed by how grateful I felt but now, while I can say I’m grateful, that all of that feeling is still there, for all of these things, my feelings don’t feel quite as accessible as they did before. I’m assuming the medication change is behind it somehow. So this post isn’t quite what I imagined it would be but it still felt important to try, even if I couldn’t get it ‘perfect.’ Done is better than good, as the saying goes. So some of these are shorter than they have been in the past, shorter than I’d like them to be, but the meaning is there. I hope that makes sense.


My family – I’m not sure if there’s anything I can say about my family that I haven’t said before but they are just the best. I love them more than I could ever put into words. It’s been so, so hard to be separated from so many of them for so long but I am grateful that everyone has been so careful over the last year. It’s been a really scary time and it’s just made me even more grateful for them than I was already.

Mum – Again, I’m not sure if there’s anything new I can say but my Mum is just so incredible and I’m grateful for her and everything she does every single day. This year has been so difficult for so many different reasons but there hasn’t been a moment that she hasn’t been there for me, regardless of what was going on for her. I don’t know how she does it but she’s my hero and I don’t know what I’d do without her.

My Granny – While my feelings about my Granny’s death are still an absolute mess, the one thing I do know is that I’m so grateful for her: for the time I had with her, for what I learned from her, for the memories I will always hold close. I am so proud to be her granddaughter and I just hope that she would be proud of me, wherever I go from here.

My friends – Between the lockdown, managing my Masters, and my health, this has been a really weird year in terms of spending time with my friends. But whether that was in person, on the phone, or over Zoom/Microsoft Teams/FaceTime, all of the time I did get to spend with my friends this year has been so special and I wouldn’t trade a second of it.

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As always, there are more people and photos than I could fit in this little montage. I love you all. 

Seeing people in real life and HUGGING – What more can I say? The opportunities to see my loved ones in real life and getting to hug them for the first time in months have meant so much to me.

The technology that’s allowed me to stay in contact with people – While I have been able to see more people and see them more often this year than last, I’ve still been very dependent on technology to stay in touch with friends and family. Between FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams, I’ve been able to talk to family and friends, complete my Masters, write songs, continue with the puzzle that is my health, and so on. I am so grateful that all of these things have been able to continue through the chaos of the last year; I don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d had to stop.

The cats – Ah, the family of cats. They are such a source of joy in my life: their cuteness, their playfulness, their cuddliness, their obliviousness to the world going on around them… They make every day better. They always bring me comfort and calm and they always make me smile. The timing of the pandemic has meant that I’ve gotten to spend so much time with them while they’re all still so young, especially the youngest generation, and that’s forged a really strong bond. They mean the world to me and I’m grateful for them every single day.

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Writing songs and creating music – I’ve written so many songs this year that I’m so proud of, that I love so much. I’ve written with so many people and I’m so excited to put together my next project. It’s kind of hard right now (because the medication is messing with me so much) but when I’m writing songs, everything is good. I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing; it’s the best feeling. I’m so grateful to have had such a good year and I really hope that all of this medication stuff will be sorted soon so I can get back to writing.

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My Masters – Looking back at September 2019, I really had no idea what the Masters would be like but I’m so, so glad I did it, even if most of it ended up being done in a pandemic. I met some incredible people and wrote a lot of songs I’m really proud of. The two modules I did this year were my two favourite modules of the whole course, The Writer’s Voice and the Major Repertoire Project. The latter was amazing and so much fun; it gave me the opportunity to really explore and experiment with my writing and I’m so proud of the work I did. I’m also really grateful because, for the first time ever, I had neurodivergent support. It made such a difference and I know I wouldn’t have done as well – or explored as widely – as I did if not for that support. I got so much out of the course and as excited as I am for what comes next, I’m really sad that it’s over.

Getting to gig again – I have missed gigging so much and so, getting to perform again was so, so much fun. It’s such a unique form of joy. As I said in my birthday post, “Performing songs that I’ve written about things that matter to me… it’s when I’m doing that that I feel most comfortable in my own skin, most in sync with the world around me. It’s the best feeling.” It was a bit awkward to start with, like the muscle memory didn’t kick in straight away, but then it all came back and I just had the best time. I’m definitely looking forward to doing more, COVID dependent of course.

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Performing at The Hard Rock Cafe on Park Lane and at Piccadilly Circus in September (x) (x)

My new diagnoses – While I don’t feel great about having hEDS and ADHD, I am grateful to know about them so that I can start to figure out how to manage them. My attempts so far haven’t been hugely successful (and in some instances, pretty unpleasant) and that has been distressing but I have to hope that things will get better at some point, that I’ll find something that works, that it won’t be like this forever.

The cool opportunities I’ve had (despite the pandemic) – While the pandemic has disrupted a lot, I still managed to do some cool things, aside from my Masters of course. I got to release the Honest EP on CD with a run at the awesome local independent music shop, Resident – something I’ve always wanted to do. And playing live again, at the Hard Rock Cafe no less, was very exciting. But I think the most exciting thing and the thing that I’m most proud of is presenting my first academic paper at a conference. And to make it even more perfect, it was the first Taylor Swift Musicology conference and I got to write and present a paper exploring a particular songwriting technique that I find really interesting. I loved writing it and I loved being a part of the conference and I may or may not be thinking about what I could write for next year.

Weekend swims – About a year ago, we found a pool that essentially does quiet evening swimming sessions. The lights are dimmed and they only have a certain amount of spaces so it’s always quiet (and feels about as safe as is possible in current times). These things make it about as Autism friendly as possible and we’ve been going as often as possible, swimming being something I’ve always loved and the least painful form of exercise right now. I’m still trying to find somewhere that feels as safe and as calm to swim during the week as these nights are only on weekends but I’m so glad to have it at all.

The exciting things coming in 2022 – Next year is already filling up with so many cool things: plans to release new music, new creative projects, some long awaited concerts, getting back to Nashville and all of the amazing things that that entails… If the pandemic taught us nothing else, it’s that we have no idea what may be just around the corner but even with all of this uncertainty, I don’t want to give up being excited about things. Yes, they may not happen but that’s a pretty miserable way to look at the future. So I’m going to stay excited about things. Or try to, at least.


I’m in a weird place emotionally at the moment, swinging between feeling completely overwhelmed and not feeling anything, so I’m not sure whether this flows or not. But hey, I tried. And I am grateful – so, so grateful – even if I can’t quite seem to access it all of the time.

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.