Posted on March 12, 2018
So, while this isn’t specifically a post about mental health, it is about how my mental health affects my life and the things that I want to do so I think it’s still relevant and maybe useful to someone else. There still aren’t a huge amount of resources for people with Autism and music festivals aren’t a naturally autism friendly situation: they’re loud and busy and overwhelming. The obvious advice is to avoid the conditions that cause you distress but when you love music and live music, it’s not that simple. This thing that I love is also a great stress. So it has to be about balance. Am I having a good time? Is this taking more than it’s giving?
So, let’s begin. For those of you who don’t know, Country2Country is a country music festival in London, Glasgow, and Dublin. In London, it’s three days at the O2 Arena with little stages throughout the complex and a big arena show in the evenings. I love country music and I love the country music community in the UK so there are a lot of positive moments but a lot of stressful ones too. I thought I’d write out a little overview of the festival, the good points and the bad, and how the whole thing fitted into the picture of my mental health and experience of Autism.
The biggest consideration for events like these is my lack of energy, especially with my recently increased struggles with fatigue. Standing is a huge part of any festival and for me, standing for extended periods of time (and by that I mean more than a few minutes) results in shaking, dizziness, and overwhelming nausea. Not to mention the disproportional levels of fatigue that build and build until I physically can’t stand up anymore. Most of the shows are standing, especially the ones during the day. And like any concert, there’s the expectation that you stand, as if standing means you care more than someone who’s sitting. My fatigue has been so bad lately that I only went to shows where I knew I could sit down and even then, I really struggled. I had to really pick and choose what I could go to and that came down to an upsettingly short list. But I was determined to enjoy what I could manage.
My 2018 C2C experience began on the Thursday night with a Songwriters’ Circle where a group of songwriters take turns playing songs they’ve written (that have often been released by other artists) and sharing stories about writing them. I love these events: they’re usually pretty laid back and very inspiring. It is one of my favourite things to hear songs as they were originally written and to hear how they turned from nothing into something. I was almost at the back but I was just so happy to be there. The line up was Brett James, Luke Combs, Nicolle Galyon, Kip Moore, and Natalie Hemby who is one of my all time favourite songwriters so I was very excited and they did not disappoint. They played old favourites as well as new songs but I think everyone agreed that Natalie’s performance of her song, ‘Jealous,’ recorded by Labyrinth, completely stole the show. Although I must also give an honourable mention both to Nicolle’s performance of ‘Consequences,’ recorded by Camila Cabello, and Luke Combs’ new songs. And to round off the night in the most perfect fashion, I managed to hang out with Natalie for a few minutes after the show and she was even lovelier than I remembered. So with that as a first night, the standard was set pretty high!
My excitement was so high that I did crash afterwards. I was completely overwhelmed by nausea twice on my way home, to the point where I had to sit on the ground and just breathe until it faded. This is one of the side effects of my most recent medication (for depression) and it’s one of the worst I’ve experienced but once it passed, I was okay. The emotional energy I get from live music and from being inspired and from talking to these wonderful people is unlike anything else. I could live off that night for days, even weeks, and that’s without the rest of C2C. It’s like feeding a dying fire; I come back to life.
Having had to go back home to Brighton, Day 1 of C2C began with travelling into London. My first event of the day was a very exciting one: an exclusive listen to The Shires’ upcoming album. I’d applied for a ticket and not gotten one but one of my friends in the UK Country community offered me their plus one. I can’t put into words how much that meant to me. I’ve been listening to The Shires since their first single came out and I actually went to one of the events they held when releasing their first album. I’ve already said it but I absolutely adore the UK Country community: I’ve met so many wonderful people (and now great friends) while queuing for gigs or while waiting in meet and greet lines and it is just the kindest, most generous group of people. For this event in particular, I saw so many people offering their tickets to people they knew desperately wanted to go and I was so touched to witness that. Personally, I had three people offer me a ticket because they all knew how much I wanted to be there. How amazing is that?! You’ll get no spoilers from me but it was better than I’d hoped it would be and I felt honoured to be there. Ben and Crissie are such lovely people and it has been so special to watch their journey up to this point. I’m honestly so excited to listen to all of these new songs over and over when the album comes out.
We weren’t allowed to use our phones in the session so, for the purposes of this blog post, I took a photo of The Shires appearing in the official highlights video.
I genuinely loved hanging out with everyone and catching up afterwards but it wasn’t long before I started to struggle. I powered through for a while but when my legs started to shake, I had to call it and headed back to where I was staying, although I did have to sit in North Greenwich station for a while because the shaking and dizziness got so bad. I would love to be able to wander around and spend the day listening to artist after artist but it’s just too much for me: my lack of energy, the constant high level of noise, and the overwhelming amount of people. With the latter two, it’s like my brain becomes overloaded and that can trigger a meltdown. I haven’t written about meltdowns very much so far on this blog (although I mentioned them here – a more in depth post is on the list, I promise!) but one way to explain it would be to imagine tapping on glass that has a crack in it. While one knock doesn’t do much damage, they build up and eventually it shatters. That’s how incoming sensory information feels to me. When I reach overload, I experience extreme anxiety and that can lead to crying, screaming, self harming, etc. Obviously that’s not something I ever want to experience in public, with people that I don’t know, where I don’t feel completely safe, so I have to be aware of how close to that point I am and retreat to a safe place when everything starts to feel too much. I went back to where I was staying and had a couple of hours of quiet time before heading back to the O2 for the arena show.
Kelsea Ballerini was my priority with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s headline set coming in second; I would have to assess my capabilities throughout the night. Getting into the O2 Arena always stresses me out: there could be a problem with the ticket, they might not let me take my bag in, the metal detector could go off and they’d want to pat me down… All of those things cause me a lot of anxiety before going into a concert but fortunately everything went smoothly this time (having said that, that anxiety still takes a lot out of me, even when the things I’m worried about don’t come to pass). It always surprises me that people can’t seem to tell how anxious I am because to me, it’s everything. It’s all I can think about. But as I said, it was simple, so that anxiety didn’t turn into anything else.
“Can I be Kelsea Ballerini when I grow up? What a fab show. I loved every second of it. I may have cried a little bit because I want to write songs and sing them too and I want it so badly but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We are made to love things and I love music unapologetically.” (x)
Kelsea Ballerini was fantastic. I’ve now seen her three times in the last year and she’s such a great performer. I got completely lost in it and that was wonderful, even if I did cry a bit because I want that to be me so badly – that’s not something I can ever really separate myself from. But I had a really awesome time, and I actually managed to lose myself in the music and not feel so self-conscious about enjoying myself. Normally, I can barely move for feeling so exposed to everyone’s opinions. So that was really fun. Also, we all need someone to look at us the way Kelsea looks at her audiences…
By the end of her set, I was feeling very shaky and since I wanted to be well enough for Sugarland the next night (I’ve been waiting eight years to see them live!), I decided to go home. That was derailed a bit by some stuff going on with a friend that didn’t exactly help my anxiety and by the time I got home, I was completely exhausted. As is normal after days and evenings of high emotions, it took me a long time to get to sleep but then I slept so deeply that when I woke up, I was so disorientated that a week could’ve passed. Apparently the previous two days had tired me out more than I’d thought because I slept for most of the day and only really managed to get up in time for the arena shows. I was pretty shaky and anxious but having some of my family with me definitely helped.
Sugarland were freaking awesome. One of my parents played me a few Sugarland songs about eight years ago and ever since, I’ve absolutely loved their voices, their songs, and their energy. If I’m jamming out in the car, it’s most likely to a Sugarland song. So we were both super excited when they announced that they were getting back together and even more so when they were on the line up for C2C. We sang and danced (while sitting down) through the whole thing and it was so, so fun. It couldn’t have been better. I mean, there were more songs I wanted to hear but I do understand that they couldn’t just keep playing until they’d performed their entire repertoire. Mostly… Anyway, I was and am a very happy bean for having finally seen them live. It was a dream come true.
“I didn’t think I could love Sugarland any more than I already did but after last night, I absolutely do. The show was incredible and after waiting eight years, it was a dream come true. Apologies to the people behind me for all the crazy dancing and dramatic singalong.” (x)
The headline act of the night was Kacey Musgraves who I have loved since her first album. When I bought my tickets, I decided that I wanted to see her more than anyone on the Sunday so I decided to push myself to stay for her and then not go the next day. I was okay with that trade off and it was worth it. I’d sort of forgotten how much I love her and her writing style and it was so great to hear both my old favourites and some new songs from the upcoming album. I struggled a bit with the graphics on the screens; they made me a bit dizzy and gave me a headache. But it was a great show and I can’t wait for her to come back to the UK in October. I was worried about being in the underground with masses of people so we left a little bit early and had a relatively easy journey home.
“Kacey Musgraves is a princess. I’m loving the new songs.” (x)
It was a good weekend, if a tiring one. I spent the next day in bed, tired and achy and a bit overly emotional, but that’s not an unexpected consequence of an event like this. It takes a lot out of me, on lots of different levels. Because of all the thinking and restricting and careful planning, it wasn’t too bad but I wish it were easier. I wish I didn’t struggle so much and I wish my abilities and my needs weren’t so incompatible with the way the world typically works. Being out in the world is stressful and overwhelming and most places don’t come with a built in quiet room to hide out in while I recharge. It doesn’t help that I find it really difficult to ask for support. I feel like I’m failing for succumbing to these problems and that I should be strong enough to power through, which I think comes from being diagnosed so late: I’ve spent my life thinking this way and it’s not an easy habit to break.
I hope that this has been helpful, or at the very least gives an insight into what it can be like to go to a festival such as Country2Country when you have Autism, when you struggle with your mental health. The positive moments are unrivalled but the difficulties are freaking difficult.
Category: anxiety, autism, event, mental health, music, snapshots Tagged: actuallyautistic, anxiety, autism, autism awareness, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, autistic spectrum disorder, country music, country2country, country2country festival, exhaustion, fatigue, kacey musgraves, kelsea ballerini, medication, meltdown, meltdowns, mental health, mental health awareness, music festival, natalie hemby, nicolle galyon, overload, sensory overload, side effects, songwriters, songwriting, sugarland, the shires, tiredness, uk country
Posted on March 7, 2018
About a month ago, I went back to my psychiatrist. We discussed the Venlafaxine and since it hasn’t had the effect we’d hoped for, it was time to think about what to do next. The most obvious option, the one most likely to work in the shortest amount of time, was to add an ‘augmenting agent’ and so I started taking Lithium. I’m aware of the perception of Lithium but it didn’t worry me, not any more than any other medication anyway. I’m always hopeful that a new medication will work, and if that comes with the opportunity to defy expectations then it’s even better. So I was feeling optimistic and, as I did with the Venlafaxine, I took notes so that I could track any progress and/or side effects.
FIRST NIGHT AND NEXT DAY
As the first night and then day was pretty interesting, I thought I’d write this one up separately. I slept restlessly and woke up multiple times with night sweats. The first time I woke up was very surreal: I was overwhelmed by the physical sensations in my body. I remember thinking, “I can really feel my hands. I really have hands.” It was very strange. I struggled to get back to sleep and when I got up in the morning, I felt very nauseous. I had a headache all day and by the evening, I felt very spaced out and tired.
The restless sleep and night sweats continued, joined by complicated and busy dreams. I found it very difficult to wake up and I was so sleepy that I was falling asleep multiple times during the day. When I was awake, I was tired and weak, like there was no strength stored in my body. It was frustrating and upsetting to struggle to do everything I would normally do. I was spaced out and nauseous and shaky; if I stood up for more than about thirty seconds, I got dizzy and nauseous and my vision went white. It was horrible.
I was still having difficulty sleeping and was struggling with sleepiness during the day. I continued to struggle with nausea and feeling spaced out but I also felt low; I think I would’ve felt depressed if I was able to really feel anything. The shakiness and weakness also continued.
And we STILL have difficulty sleeping. It was taking me hours to get to sleep and hours to wake up and in the few hours between, I slept very restlessly. Then when I was awake, I was very sleepy. The shakiness, weakness, and nausea combination was still around. I also started to struggle with almost constant anxiety; there were stressful things going on but I couldn’t seem to shake it off once I’d done those things so it was around all the time.
Continued difficulty sleeping, especially staying asleep and then I was so tired that I fell asleep during the day. Those short sleeps were actually the best I’ve had in months, much better than the hours I got at night. I was also still struggling with the shakiness, dizziness, and nausea, as well as the anxiety.
The restless sleep continued, as did the struggling to wake up. On several occasions, I fought to wake up only to fall asleep again; I also fell asleep during the day multiple times. I was constantly tired. The nausea and dizziness also continued, as did the anxiety.
I did not like taking Lithium. It didn’t actually help my depression – I’m still feeling very emotionally numb and the fatigue has only gotten worse – and the side effects were constant and actually got worse over time: the difficulty sleeping, the shakiness/dizziness/nausea combination as well as all of those as separate symptoms… I was struggling so much that I had multiple doctors’ appointments to make sure that nothing else was going on. I had blood tests and blood pressure tests and even an ECG. They didn’t show anything outside the normal ranges but the fact that it was bad enough to warrant those tests meant that I booked an appointment with my psychiatrist for as soon as possible to look at my medication.
I have now had that appointment and we’ve decided to stop the Lithium; he was surprised and impressed, I think, that I’d stuck with it so long considering how bad the side effects were. Since the Venlafaxine hasn’t done much for me, I’d like to try something else but given how much is happening in the next couple of months, I’m reluctant to put myself through the ordeal of getting off it, the period of no medication, and then getting onto something new. So for now, I’m trying a new augmenting agent and I guess we’ll see how that goes. I think the emotional numbness is preventing me from getting too low about anything but regardless of that, I’m still optimistic about medication, even with all the bad experiences I’ve had recently. I fully believe that it was Phenelzine that made going to university possible and even now, years later, I still remember so clearly how good I felt when I started taking it. It felt like I was flying. It was amazing. Searching for that will always be better than letting the depression take over, even if I have to let it take over to remember that.
Category: anxiety, depression, medication, mental health, sleep, treatment Tagged: anti depressants, anti-depressant, antidepressants, anxiety, depression, dizziness, fatigue, lithium, medication, mental health, mental health blog, mental health blogger, mental health blogging, mental illness, nausea, psychiatrist, shakiness, side effect, side effects, sleep, venlafaxine
Posted on February 17, 2018
What with the medication and the side effects and the day-to-day consequences of my specific Venn diagram of issues, I have been feeling incredibly unwell over the last several months. It’s been really tough: I’ve been dealing with nausea, dizziness, weakness, shortness of breath, shakiness, and so on. Having spent so much time and effort convincing people that a mental illness is actually an illness, that it isn’t less important just because the symptoms are inside your head, I think it’s easy to forget that these problems also have physical symptoms. I’m guilty of it too and I’m not very good at accepting that reality. But I’ve had to of late. Or, at the very least, try not to give myself such a hard time over it.
But this week I had my first gig in a really long time and I was going to do it, come hell or high water. The hardest thing has been not being able to do the things I love the most, namely singing and songwriting. That makes me a kind of stir crazy that I’m not sure I can put into words. So I did my absolute best to make sure I was ready, in both the health and music sense, and I thought I’d share some of the things I did in case they’re useful to anyone else.
Make sure your expectations are realistic – In the last six months, I’ve been offered a couple of gigs that I knew I just couldn’t do, regardless of how much I wanted to do them. I just wasn’t well enough. But this one was perfect: a short set, a relaxed atmosphere, lovely and supportive people… It was a really good opportunity to do this thing that I love so much without too great a cost to myself.
If it feels right, let those in charge know – I don’t think this is always necessary but when you know it could affect your performance, it can be a good move. It’s my default position to be open and honest and because I write songs about my experiences with mental health and Autism, they find out soon enough anyway but I’m also aware that people can jump to incorrect conclusions when they hear the word ‘Autism.’ So there are pros and cons but it’s something to consider.
Practice in small doses – There’s no getting away from the fact that you need to practice to be ready to perform well at anything. But it doesn’t have to be a huge, daunting black cloud that swallows up your day. I hadn’t been doing much consistent practice because I just felt so awful but I managed to build in fifteen minutes a day. It felt pathetic given that I used to be able to sing and play for hours but I’m trying to just acknowledge the thought and then put it aside. Even fifteen minutes was leaving me shaky but it gave me back some of my confidence and even though I don’t have another gig for a while, I am going to try and keep to this. It gives me more than it takes away.
Physically prepare your body – Make sure you’ve slept enough, eaten enough, and drunk enough water. These can be hard; I’ve struggled with all of them. But try to remember why you’re forcing yourself through it and do your best. It puts you in the best possible position to perform well which is, after all, the goal. Hopefully that motivation is enough.
Do whatever it is that gives you a boost and if you can’t do that, avoid the things that bring you down – I usually listen to music to inspire and energize me before a gig. They’re not necessarily happy songs but they are all high energy or high intensity. That helps me get into the right mindset to perform and that usually overrides whatever I’m dealing with physically.
If you need to stop, stop – I’ve been to multiple gigs where acts have had to call it quits mid set because of a terrible cold or whatever and every single time, the only thing anyone says is how impressed they are that the person got as far as they did. That may not always be the case but would it be better to push through and end up face planting onto the floor when the dizziness turned into fainting? No, it would not. Do what you can for as long as you can and then gracefully retreat.
Now I can’t prove that these things helped but I know they didn’t hurt. The gig went really well and it felt so good to be performing again. A couple of days later and I’m still tired and shaky but if that’s the price, I’m more than happy to pay it. For the first time in weeks, I feel like I’m in sync with my life; my anxiety has dissipated and I actually feel calm. That’s not something I can say very often.
Posted on February 10, 2018
As I’ve said before, I struggle with how powerful my emotions can be. When I’m happy, I feel like every cell in my body is glowing; when I’m upset, it feels like my chest is collapsing; when I’m angry, I feel like I could destroy buildings, and when I love someone, if I could take on all their pain myself, I would do it in a heartbeat. These feelings can completely overwhelm me, making it impossible to think rationally and I’m often left absolutely exhausted afterwards. Occasions like these are closely linked with my autistic meltdowns but they also do occur separately. Over the last couple of years, I’ve gotten better at managing this so I thought I’d write down some of the ways I do this (of course there are still times when something emotionally difficult just comes out of nowhere but we can’t control everything so we work on the things we can).
Allow myself to feel everything – I think it’s so important to actively feel and process your emotions. Ignoring my emotions does me no good. So I let myself feel them and let them settle and usually then, I can feel what the right thing to do is.
Prepare for events I know will be emotional – When I know an event is going to be stressful or upsetting or emotional, I seriously think about how important it is that I attend. If I don’t need to go and I can see that it is going to negatively affect me, I do consider not going. There’s nothing wrong with protecting your mental and emotional health. If I either need to go or think it’s the right thing to go, I make sure that I’m prepared for it. I make sure I have everything I need, I plan the elements that I can (like travel arrangements) to minimise stress, and I do some of the other things on this list. I also factor in the number of people. Big crowds of people can really stress me out so it is something I consider when deciding whether or not to do something and then how I handle it.
Create a safety net – Again, when I know something (an event or period of time) is going to be stressful, I take certain precautions. I’ll arrange an escape plan ahead of time in case I need it or I’ll arrange to have someone I know with me. Most of the time, I’m fine but that’s usually because I know I’ve made these plans and so I’m not worrying about what will happen if something goes wrong.
Build in time to recover – I am easily exhausted, especially at the moment, so I allocate time before and after an event to make sure that I’m as rested as I can be before it and then to give me recovery time after. I struggle with the reality of this: I get very frustrated about tiring so quickly and wish I could jump from one event to another like many people I know can. But even when I’m raging and swearing about this, I do it because I know objectively that I need it.
Writing or journaling – I’ve written about this before but I’m such a believer in writing down your emotions. For me, it gives me somewhere to put them so I don’t have to carry them around with me. I can leave them where they are and move on. It also makes them more manageable because I’ve put words to them; they’re no longer an intangible mess overwhelming me.
Therapy – Talking about how you feel is invaluable and having someone who is professionally trained, someone outside of it all who can look at what’s happening objectively is even better. I’ve been going to therapy for three years now (three years today in fact!) and having that safe space where I can talk about anything is so important to me. I wouldn’t be where I am now without it. I might not be alive without it.
Specific amounts of medication – Certain medications I have taken have had a little leeway about them and my psychiatrist trusts me to use my judgement with them. For example, when I know I’m going to need as much energy as I can get or have really needed some sleep to recover from something, I have increased my sleeping medication temporarily to make sure that I sleep well. Of course, this is something you only do with the guidance of your healthcare professional.
It does still happen. I do still get completely overwhelmed by how I feel but I am better at managing it. I guess these things just make the experience easier on me and everyone else, and less stressful than they were before. Despite all of this though, the strength of my emotions is something I really value about myself. Everything matters. I care with everything in me. It’s hard but ultimately, I wouldn’t want to be any different. Life is bigger this way.
Category: anxiety, bpd, emotions, mental health, therapy, writing Tagged: actuallyautistic, asd, autism, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, borderline, borderline personality disorder, bpd, emotional, emotions, feelings, health, journaling, medication, rest, therapy, tips, tired, writing
Posted on January 1, 2018
I’ve been thinking a lot about whether or not to have resolutions. In this particular phase of my life, everything seems so uncertain, both in terms of my mental health and my life post university. I have no idea where I’m going to be in a month so it seems reductionist to start imposing constraints. I don’t really like the expectations around them but I do like the concept, the decision to move forward with better habits. So I’m trying to think of some habits I want to foster and some goals, all which should be achievable, that I’d like to work toward in 2018.
WRITE MORE SONGS – While I was still at university, I was writing a lot of songs, which was awesome, but I haven’t been writing nearly as much since I left. That has mainly been due to a suffocating bout of depression and then the medication-induced rollercoaster that I’ve been riding to try and get out of it. I want to get to a place where my mental health becomes more stable and conducive to writing and then, hopefully, it will be all systems go.
RELEASE MUSIC – This was a goal for last year and it almost happened but the whole process has just taken longer than I’d hoped. But it’s still on track so hopefully my first single will be out soon. That feels like a real milestone that I’m so, so excited for.
FIND THE RIGHT MEDICATION – I’ve already kind of mentioned this but I want to reach a place where my mental health is relatively stable and to get there, I need to get my medication right. The Venlafaxine has been better than nothing but I’m not convinced by it. I feel like I should be feeling better by now, better than I am. It’s been a FREAKING LONG journey already, which will be worth it when we find the right drug or the right dosage or whatever. But while it’s on going, it’s really wearing me down. It’s easy to think that I should’ve stayed on the Phenelzine but I know it wasn’t really helping me by the end. So, yeah, I want to get to a reasonably good place in the next few months.
WORK ON BEING HEALTHIER – This is vague but it’s such a process and I figure that, as long as I’m trying, I’m achieving this goal. I want to work on drinking more water, swimming more, and so on. I was just starting to get into a really good routine when my mental health took a nosedive and suddenly it was all I could do to get through the day. I’m not sure I’m back to the level of being able to go to the gym but I do feel capable of starting the small changes, like drinking more water. Hopefully, as my mental health improves (as it is starting to, if very slowly) I can work on this more. I’m also aware that my relationship with food isn’t very healthy – again, another casualty of my mental health problems. So I’m throwing that in there too.
BECOME MORE INDEPENDENT – This is something I want to write more about in relation to Autism because it’s really important. For some people, Autism makes is really difficult to be independent and that can be a hard thing to get your head around. I’m constantly beating myself up for not having moved out like all my friends, for not having learnt how to drive, for not having a job. But the cold, hard truth is that, at this moment in time, my Autism does not allow me to be independent. With the meltdowns, fatigue, getting overwhelmed by sensory information, getting overwhelmed by emotions, executive functioning struggles, and so on and so on and so on, it’s just not possible. This goal is deliberately vague because it depends hugely on my mental health and what I feel up to doing (and because I’ve only just really started thinking about it) but by the end of this year, I want to be a bit more independent. That’s a journey that I will definitely document.
READ MORE BOOKS – I cannot remember the last time I read a book (that wasn’t for college/university). I think a big part of that comes from my mental health struggles. My concentration has been absolutely terrible so I haven’t really felt able to get into a book but I’ve also felt quite alienated by the books I’ve tried to read. So, so many books are about relationships, about finding ‘the one’ (this seems to be especially true of the Young Adult genre – even when the main storyline is about something different – which is what I was searching through when I last tried to find something to read), and I’m just not interested in that. I don’t want my whole life to revolve around my mental illness but as for my life right now, it really does. That’s fine; it won’t be like that forever. But that means that, right now, I want to read about people like me, people struggling with their mental health, and I just haven’t been able to find much that I connect to. It’s an on going struggle. If you have any suggestions, let me know! This year, provided that my concentration improves as I get my medication right, I want to finish five books. That’s a low goal but I’d rather set a low goal and achieve it than struggle with feeling pressured. I am now part of a book club with my friends and although I haven’t yet been available to go, I’m hoping that that will help with this goal.
IMPROVE MY MUSICAL SKILLS – This is another one from last year, which was again derailed by my mental health. Having no energy and no motivation is a horrible place to be. So my hope is that that will improve (it already has a bit) as well as my concentration and then I will be able to get back to guitar and piano lessons and really improve those skills.
GO THROUGH MY POSSESSIONS – This sounds like a massive job but as I’m moving house this year, I’m going to have to pack everything anyway. I might as well go through it all at the same time. I do really struggle to throw/give things away – I probably fit at least some of the criteria for hoarding disorder – but I’ve been working on this and it feels like the right time. A clean slate and all that.
I’m a big fan of the idea that you can start fresh everyday, or even within days, but I think New Year is a good excuse to get some perspective and create a sense of purpose for yourself. I don’t think New Years Resolutions are useful when they cause anxiety but if you can use them to empower you, I think they can be really helpful. I guess we’ll see how well I do.
2018, I’ll make you a deal: you do your best and I’ll do the same.
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 29, 2017
I meant to post this yesterday, which actually was the 100th day, but then I managed to break my memory stick, where the file was saved. So that threw a spanner in the works. But here we are. The files were recovered. No harm done.
I’ve been taking Venlafaxine for 100 days now so I thought it was time I compiled my notes and summed up the whole thing. I know that when I started taking it, it would’ve been really helpful to know about someone’s experience. My psychiatrist gave me all the medical information but that didn’t really prepare me for what it felt like. So if you’re about to start taking Venlafaxine or are thinking about it, maybe this will help you. And if not, maybe this will give you a little insight into one experience of taking medication for a mental illness.
Week 1 (Dose: 37.5mg)
The nausea was so strong that all I could think about was not throwing up. I was very dizzy and tired all the time. But it was much easier to wake up in the mornings, quickly rather than having to drag myself into consciousness.
The nausea faded a bit. I had headaches and was exhausted all the time. I continued to wake up early.
Week 3 (Dose: 75mg)
I was so tired that I fell asleep at random but I was still waking up early. I felt very faint and was too shaky to do anything but I had no concentration so I couldn’t do much anyway.
The week was overshadowed by severe, unexplained leg pain. I had several doctors’ appointments to rule out the medication and DVT, the next most likely explanation, but eventually it faded by itself. Aside from that, I felt a bit lighter emotionally.
I had some leg pain but it faded much more quickly. I was exhausted and very sleepy, regardless of how much sleep I got.
I was so very, very tired, so tired that I could barely do anything. But I was still waking up very early.
Again, still very, very tired but I was also feeling very anxious and depressed. I also noticed lots of bruising, especially on my legs that didn’t seem to have a cause. All I had to do was lean on something hard, like the edge of a table, and I’d have a bruise.
Week 8 (Dose: 150mg)
A bad week. I felt very disconnected and depressed. I was also exhausted so I didn’t have the energy to do any of the things that can help. I was also pretty unwell for a couple of days but I don’t know if that was related or just a coincidence.
I started struggling desperately to wake up. It was like being trapped between being awake and asleep. It took all my concentration to wake up but all I had to do was blink and all that effort is wasted and I have to start all over again. I was exhausted and sleepy all the time.
I was struggling desperately to wake up and still exhausted and sleepy all day.
I reduced the Quetiapine from 125mg to 100mg (which I was prescribed while taking Phenelzine to help me sleep – I’d wanted to come off it straight away but was advised to wait so that I wasn’t dealing with reactions from both medications), which made waking up easier but I was still exhausted, depressed, and without any motivation.
The sleepiness started to creep back in and I was still exhausted and without motivation.
Again, I was really struggling to wake up; I couldn’t stay awake but I also couldn’t get back to sleep either. I managed to get the Quetiapine down to 50mg but I wasn’t sure if it was helping or not. I still had very little concentration and motivation which was really difficult and upsetting.
Week 14 (Dose: 225mg)
To combat the sleepiness, I reduced the Quetiapine to 25mg so my sleep was very all over the place. I was waking up really early and not getting more than about six hours. But I did feel more awake and alert which was a relief. I had several really productive days and wrote two songs after not being able to write for more than six months. That gave me an evening of complete joy, something I can’t remember feeling. Unfortunately that only lasted one night and my mood dipped afterwards because I missed it so much.
My mood was fairly stable, no major ups or downs. I wasn’t depressed but I wasn’t feeling that positive either. I was tired and sleepy and feeling a bit lost.
I just wanted to draw particular attention to how long this process can take. When I started my last medication, I felt better very quickly but it’s been a very different story this time. It’s not as simple as taking the pills and feeling better. There’s the time it takes to decide or justify that you need a new medication (or a first medication), the time it takes to come off the old one, the time it takes to build up and adjust to the new one… I started this process in May and it’s now December. Seven months and I still don’t feel that much better. I’m hanging on to hope that things will start to get better – I’m holding on to that one really good day – but it’s hard.
I think there is a lack of understanding when it comes to this stuff. From the outside, it can seem like you’re not doing anything to get better and there’s a lot of guilt attached that, from other people and from yourself. But on top of whatever mental health problem you’re dealing with, there’s adjusting to the medication and whatever side effects come with it. That’s a lot. It’s exhausting physically, mentally, and emotionally and you shouldn’t feel pressured to do things you feel unable to or feel guilty about whatever you need to do to get through it. I’m still trying to learn this. I constantly feel like I’m not trying hard enough, even when I’m so exhausted that I don’t think I can get out of bed. But that’s a topic for another day.
I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and I’ll see you in the next post.
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.