Posted on May 18, 2019
For those of you who don’t know, this week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme for this year is body image. I’ve spent the whole week reading articles and looking at social media posts and wondering what on earth I should write, what I could say that’s worth adding to this movement. Body image is not something I’ve ever really written about and that’s because it’s something I find really hard to talk about. I haven’t even talked about it with my therapist. I just find it impossible to get the words out.
This afternoon, I was scrolling through the #BeBodyKind tag on Instagram and it made my soul really happy to see so many people working to embrace their bodies, even when they’re dealing with really difficult stuff. How wonderful and brave is that? But I’m just not there yet. My relationship with my body has always been difficult. I’ve never liked how I looked; I’ve always felt uncomfortable in my skin. And if I’m being honest, I haven’t been body kind. In fact, I’ve been really unkind. I’ve hurt my body, starved it, pushed it too hard, not pushed it hard enough. I’ve hated it. Most of the time I still do.
I’ve got a lot of shit to deal with at the moment but I’m trying. I’m not there yet but I’m trying. And that has to be okay. For now, at least.
Posted on May 14, 2019
I’m so excited to announce that the ‘Invisible’ music video is finally out. This time last year, I put this very special single out and although I’d planned to put the video out straight away, life and mental health got in the way. But now it’s Mental Health Awareness Week again and I thought it was time this video saw the light of day. I would love it if you’d watch and I really hope you like it. It’s so, so special to me.
Almost two years ago now, I got together with Rosie Powell (my incredible director and videographer) and we planned this video. I really wanted to focus on the lyrics and the story behind the song so we came up with the idea of painting the lyrics on a wall (shout out to one of my parents for letting me paint all over my old bedroom wall). I was super excited. But having never been ‘in’ a music video before, I was also really nervous about being on camera. I felt really self conscious and worried about how my issues with eye contact would affect the video. Autism problems, am I right?
Day one was painting day. We set up in my childhood bedroom (and by that I mean, we lugged all the furniture out – which I then fell over multiple times) and got to work painting the lyrics on the wall.
It was really fun but weirdly, really hard work: it was very physical and I was exhausted by the end of it. It was also really cathartic to physically put those words out into the world. I’m not very artistic – I’ve never been very good at drawing or painting – so this was all new to me: seeing what I’d imagined in my head out in the real world. It was very satisfying to see this…
… turn into this:
It was a really good day and I’m really proud of the work we did.
Day two had Richard (my writing partner and general partner in crime) coming down to Brighton and we shot the ‘performance’ section of the video. I felt very self conscious with the camera on my face so much but both Rosie and Richard are so lovely that I felt very safe. Again, it was exhausting – that might be my issues with fatigue coming into play – but really satisfying and fun.
I had a lot of plans for this single and the video but alas, they weren’t to be. Life happened and my mental health took a lot of hits (if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll be aware of some of them). My depression has been brutal and made doing anything musical almost impossible. It’s been a long, hard road but I’m so, so glad this video is out in the world. I’m so proud of it and I’m so grateful to have worked on it with such lovely people. I wouldn’t have wanted my first music video to have come to life any differently.
Category: mental health, music, video Tagged: anxiety, borderline personality disorder, bpd, debut single, depression, invisible, invisible illness, invisible music video, mental health, mental health awareness, mental health awareness week, mental health awareness week 2019, mental illness, music video, new music, obsessive compulsive disorder, ocd
Posted on May 11, 2019
One thing I’ve really learned over the last few years is that, as important as support and help are, so are recognition and validation of what we’re going through. To feel like someone understands how we feel can ward off the intense isolation that can come hand in hand with mental illness. To have our struggles dismissed is sometimes even worse than them being ignored altogether.
In a continuation of this series, here are some quotes that validated my feelings and helped me feel understood. I hope they can do the same for you.
“I’m afraid I’ll be a book that no one reads. Music that no one listens to anymore. I’m afraid I’ll be abandoned like a movie playing in an empty theatre.” – Tablo
“We are all museums of fear.” – Charles Bukowski
“I exist too much, I feel too much, think too much. Reality is crushing the life out of me.” – David Jones
“I’m really afraid to feel happy because it never lasts.” – Andy Warhol
“Have you ever had to get through a day, smiling at people, talking, as if everything were normal and okay, while all the time you felt like you were carrying a leaden weight of unhappiness inside you?” – Elizabeth Wurtzel
“I get it now. I get it. The things that you hope for the most are the things that destroy you in the end.” – John Green
“I’m numb and I’m tired. Too much has happened today. I feel as if I’d been out in a pounding rain for forty-eight hours without an umbrella or a coat. I’m soaked to the skin with emotion.” – Ray Bradbury
“The truth is, I pretend to be a cynic, but I am really a dreamer who is terrified of wanting something she may never get.” – Joanna Hoffman
“The incredible pain returns again and again and again.” – Susan Sontag
“I can only connect deeply or not at all.” – Anais Nin
“Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.” – Jonathan Safran Foer
“I’m not sure which is worse: intense feeling, or the absence of it.” – Margaret Atwood
“That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.” – John Green
“I need to be alone for certain periods of time or I violate my own rhythm.” – Lee Krasner
“I am deathly afraid of almosts. Of coming so very close to where I want to be in life that I can almost taste it, almost touch it, then falling just a little short.” – Beau Taplin
“I’m just dying to say, ‘Hey, do you ever feel like jumping off a bridge?’ or ‘Do you feel an emptiness inside your chest at night that is going to swallow you?’ But you can’t say that at a cocktail party.” – Paul Gilmartin
“It’s all too much and not enough at the same time.” – Jack Kerouac
“She felt everything too deeply, it was like the world was too much for her.” – Joyce Maynard
“Even if you know what’s coming, you’re never prepared for how it feels.” – Natalie Standiford
“The sadness will last forever.” – Vincent Van Gogh
“How do we forgive ourselves for all of the things we did not become?” – David ‘Doc’ Luben
“There is a certain clinical satisfaction in seeing just how bad things can get.” – Sylvia Plath
“No one warns you about the amount of mourning in growth.” – Té V. Smith
“I am half agony, half hope.” – Jane Austen
Posted on May 4, 2019
A while back, I discovered the 30 Day Self Care Challenge (here) and I’ve been really wanting to try it. I’m always on the look out for more and better ways to help myself manage my life. As April was Stress Awareness Month, I figured this was a good opportunity. Stress and anxiety aren’t necessarily the same thing but there is an overlap and anyway, we could probably all use a little more self care in our lives.
I’ll admit that I was only semi successful at completing the daily challenges. I managed most of them but there were busy days, illness, and various other roadblocks. But I tried, and I thought I’d share some of the ones I did manage to do:
Day 4 – Write down 3 things you love about yourself
Day 7 – Burn a candle/incense
I burned my pink pepper and grapefruit candle (my absolute favourite candle) with the special wooden wick from The Candle Bar in Nashville. The wooden wick makes a crackling noise, like a fire burning. It’s lovely and the smell always relaxes me.
Day 8 – Unfollow people on social media who don’t inspire you
I don’t think I’ve unfollowed anyone since I joined Twitter and Instagram and it definitely needed doing. I was following a lot of people and organisations that only stressed me out. More and more, jobs are involving social media so it’s not always possible to just unfollow every account that doesn’t bring you joy but there were definitely some that were unnecessarily stressful. So I started unfollowing. I went through my Following lists and unfollowed thirty accounts on Instagram and forty on Twitter. My social media sphere has felt a lot safer since then.
Day 9 – Take yourself out on a date to eat/see a show/go to a gallery/museum
I had to shuffle things around a bit for this one but for one of my parents’ birthdays we went to see Waitress the Musical. She’s always encouraged my love of music and the music in this show is so good. We decided to do something together for her birthday and this is what we landed on. We had so much fun and we laughed a lot. It was a good night.
Day 26 – Read a chapter of a book
I technically failed this one but the day before, I read the whole of This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay. It’s a collection of diary entries from when he was a doctor and it’s hilarious and disgusting and tragic in equal parts. It was a really good read and it reminded me of why I always loved reading. It’s like the rest of the world stops for a bit and I really needed that, even if it wasn’t the easiest read.
Day 27 – Take a nap
Mid morning, I went down with a migraine and the only coping mechanism I have for migraines is to sleep through them. So I ended up having a six hour nap.
Day 29 – Explore affirmations, and write three of your own
Before this, all I really knew about affirmations was that they were positive phrases that you repeated to yourself. But I did some research and it’s a really interesting practice – this article was particularly good. So I’m having a go at it:
Self care isn’t a one size fits all scenario and what I think is so great about this challenge is that it allows you to try all these different things that you can incorporate into your routine as self care. Some will work for you and some won’t. The last day of the challenge allows you to reflect on the successes and failures and while some were practices I already use as part of my self care routine, there were others that weren’t but will be now: I’m getting back into reading, I’m learning about affirmations, and I’m more comfortable on social media. I’d definitely recommend this if you’re not sure where to start with self care; it gives you a lot of options. Hopefully there’s something for everyone.
Posted on April 28, 2019
The last few months have been tough, medication wise. I had a wonderful, un-depressed Christmas (which I’m massively grateful for) but since then, I’ve been struggling. My mood just kept dropping and my anxiety just kept getting worse and we tried to alter the medication to compensate, to find that perfect balance, but it’s gotten to the point where we just need to try something new. So I’m taking stock of everything and trying to figure out how I feel about all of it.
The Clomipramine (a Tricyclic anti-depressant) worked for a while. As I said, I had a really good Christmas where I felt joyful and energetic and actually happy for the first time in a really, really long time. But then it seemed to lose its effectiveness and my mood dropped, whether that was because I was taking a magnesium supplement (I talk about that here) or because it just had a short shelf life. I don’t know. But it stopped working and my depression returned. Since then, my depression has been stifling and I’ve really struggled with suicidal thoughts, at an intensity I’ve never experienced before.
My anxiety also skyrocketed so, in addition to the Pregabalin (also known as Lyrica) I was already taking, I started taking Flupentixol to help manage it. At first I felt no different but after adjusting the dose, my anxiety decreased dramatically and I started to feel a bit more functional. But in the months since then, it seems there have been a number of difficult side effects: my energy levels dropped dramatically, to the point where even a shower is a real struggle. Standing for any length of time is impossible and I ended up being wheeled around multiple airports in a wheelchair during my Nashville trip. The worst part though was that my hands felt thick and clumsy, like my fine motor skills had just evaporated into thin air. Playing guitar was practically impossible.
At first I didn’t realise that these things were connected to the Flupentixol but thanks to my Mum and her incredible attention to detail, we realised that the dates all seem to match up and since we reduced said medication, these problems have disappeared. I’m ridiculously grateful to have my hands back, even if my anxiety has flooded back in.
We’ve reached a point where I can remain where I am or start over. So I’m starting over. I don’t want to live like this. So, after a lot of thinking and talking to my psychiatrist, I’m coming off both the Clomipramine and the Flupentixol. I’m not a massive fan of the Pregablin either to be honest but even changing two things at once is ambitious. So that one can wait. I’ve already started reducing the meds and I’m bracing myself for a barrage of mood swings, depressive episodes, and more. It’s not going to be fun. But it will be worth it. Hopefully.
The current plan is to come off the two drugs, go the ‘wash out’ period (two weeks of no drugs – apart from the Pregablin – so that there aren’t any negative interactions between the medications), and then start Phenelzine again. Yes, Phenelzine – the drug I stopped taking two years ago because it had stopped working, because the joyfulness it gave me felt fake and suffocating. BUT it’s the only drug that’s allowed me to be functional – creatively and otherwise – so we’re giving it another try. It did work for a long time and if it doesn’t, we’ll try another MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) anti-depressant.
I’m not sure how I feel about it, to be honest. Part of me is frustrated and disappointed. I’ve spent two years trying to find something better only to end up where I started. But on the other hand, that’s two years of knowledge, experience, and confidence that I didn’t have before. I’m a different person and chances are, my reactions will be different: our bodies change and our chemical makeup is constantly shifting. These medications all but cause a hurricane inside us. So I’m trying to be optimistic. I’m trying to be hopeful.
Category: anxiety, depression, medication, mental health, treatment Tagged: actuallydepressed, anti anxiety, anti depressants, anti-depressant, antianxiety, antidepressants, anxiety, anxiety disorder, clomipramine, depressed, depression, flupentixol, maoi, maois, medication, medication change, medication review, mental health, mental illness, mentally ill, mentally unwell, mono amine oxidase inhibitors, phenelzine, pregablin, side effect, side effects, treating depression, tricyclic antidepressants, tricyclics
Posted on April 13, 2019
This trip to Nashville wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. I’d had this vision of going out there and writing a load of songs and going to show after show after show and seeing all the friends I’ve made out there. I managed to do some of those things – and I’m really proud of what I achieved – but my mental health really dominated the trip, much more than I’d hoped it would.
We got off to a pretty rocky start when I forgot to take my medication the night before we flew out. We had to leave at two o’clock in the morning so I never really went to bed and therefore my nightly routine was disrupted. Plus I was excited and nervous and just generally all over the place. We got to the airport and I couldn’t even walk the distance to security, I was so completely out of energy. I thought it was the lack of sleep and stress of travelling but I physically couldn’t do it. We ended up asking the airport staff for assistance and they were absolutely amazing, at every airport we travelled through over the trip: they got me a wheelchair and took me wherever I needed to be, getting me early access to the planes, and so on. It was so helpful and honestly made the whole thing possible. I don’t know what I would’ve done without their help. It took a few days to recover and it was only then that we realised what had caused it.
The reason we go at this time of year is because the Nashville Songwriters Association International hold the Tin Pan South songwriters festival, where hundreds of songwriters perform songs that they’ve written. They have a great mix of famous and up and coming so you get a lot of different, beautifully written songs. All of the shows that I went to were good and some of them were fantastic. My favourites include Lori McKenna, Alyssa Micaela, Emily Shackelton, Hannah Ellis, Natalie Hemby, and Travis Meadows. They were truly incredible.
There were a couple of other musical highlights too. By some wonderful coincidence, Kelly Clarkson was playing the Bridgestone Arena while we were in Nashville. I’ve always wanted to see her and I’ve always wanted to go to a show at Bridgestone. And to make it even sweeter, Kelsea Ballerini – who I LOVE – was opening. So it was perfect. The show was amazing and I had a blast. Totally a bucket list moment.
The other musical highlight was getting to see my friend, Caylan Hays, perform. We’ve written together several times and on my last trip, she came to see me play a gig and by another beautiful coincidence, she was playing on the last night of our stay. She was fantastic. She’s such a talented writer and I love her voice. Throw in some gorgeous electric guitar and I was in love. You can check out her music here.
And of course, I got to go to two Song Suffragettes rounds. I love this organisation with my whole heart and so it meant so much to me to see both shows while I was there. They – the people who run it and the girls who play – are so inspiring and I hope I can play with them again someday.
I had several writing sessions while we were there and for the most part, they were a struggle. I love the people I was writing with dearly but my brain still isn’t right: a casualty of my depression and the medications I’m taking. We’re still trying to find the balance where I’m emotionally stable and not creativity stifled. Still, I’m trying and I so appreciate these writers for having patience with me while I work through this. I also got to spend some time with friends, old and new, and they really inspired me in this dark patch of my life.
But throughout the trip, I really, really struggled. My anxiety was so high that I actually had trouble breathing and my depression was so overwhelming that I found myself falling apart (even in public places, which I’m usually able to avoid doing) multiple times. There were lots of tears and lots of Diazepam; it was very hard. I struggled desperately with wanting to go home and I was battling suicidal thoughts (helpfully described by Claudia Boleyn as, “my brain trying to kill me”) for most of the trip. In truth, it was a bit of a nightmare but there were some really great moments that helped me manage it and of course, I had my wonderful people (my Mum and my writing partner, Richard Sanderson) there to support me. The trip wouldn’t have been possible without them.
Also, shout out to Pancake Pantry for teaching me what it’s like to get excited about food.
Category: anxiety, depression, event, holidays, medication, mental health, music, suicide, video Tagged: anxiety, creative block, creativity, depressed, depression, diazepam, kelly clarkson, kelsea ballerini, medication, mental health, mental illness, nashville, nashville tennessee, nsai, song suffragettes, songwriter, songwriters, songwriting, songwriting festival, suicidal thoughts, tin pan south, tin pan south 2019
Posted on February 9, 2019
Since I’ve already posted this week (tips for talking about mental health), I wasn’t sure whether or not to post again today, whether I wanted to write something else as well as that. But last night, I went to the opening night of Waitress the Musical in London. The music was written by Sara Bareilles (who I LOVE) and the songs I’d heard from it (she released some of them as an album) were absolutely gorgeous. So I was very excited to go.
The show was amazing, hilarious and heartbreaking, and exactly what I needed. It’s not the story of the chosen one facing ridiculous obstacles; it’s about a woman who found herself very unhappy and how she tries to find happiness. Jenna, a baker at heart, discovers that she’s pregnant and starts making plans to run away but of course it isn’t that straight forward. I won’t give anything else away because if you can see it, you really should. Plus they make the theatre smell like a kitchen full of freshly baked pies. It was lovely.
It was a great evening but what made it all the more special was that Sara herself was there, introducing the show and then bidding the audience goodnight. I haven’t seen her since her two London shows in 2014 and I’ve really missed her. She’s funny and warm and genuine and she even sang us a little of her latest single. It was so nice to see her again.
I went to both London shows in 2014 and at the first, I left her a letter. I was really struggling with depression and social anxiety and I just wanted to thank her for all her music had done for me, how much it was helping me with all I was dealing with. And during the second show, she dedicated her song ‘Uncharted’ to me. It’s my favourite song of hers and it was such a special moment. That show was just a beacon of joy and having that through the difficult stuff that followed is something that means so much to me. I’m more grateful than I’ll ever be able to express.
I’ve been listening to Sara’s music since I was thirteen and I’m now twenty four. A lot has happened in that time: I got through sixth form, took a lonely year out, decided that I wanted to be a songwriter, worked through my degree, moving out of my childhood home, plus all my mental health stuff. I’ve had her music through all of that and it’s helped me process it and get through it.
When my depression is at its worst, I can’t listen to music. I find it hard to put into words because it’s so deeply rooted in feeling but it’s suffocating and miserable and painful. It takes me a long time to recover from that state and coming out of it leaves me feeling fragile and raw. It’s like I’m made of glass and anything too loud will shatter me. It causes me a lot of distress. I can’t listen to music straight away – it’s just too much, in terms of both emotion and sensory information – but I can listen to Sara Bareilles songs. They’re gentle and genuine and they strengthen my soul. I’ve had her music in the best of it all and the worst of it all and that means the world to me.
I also really connected to and loved her book, Sounds Like Me. I read it in one sitting and just fell in love with this new form of her writing. Again, her writing was so gentle and I loved getting even more of the stories behind the songs. If you want to understand me, read the chapter ‘Red.’ Reading the book, I felt connected to her and that was very strengthening.
She’s also one of the reasons I got into songwriting. Her lyrics are beautiful and honest and heartbreaking and I learn something from every song. If I could write songs half as well as her, I’d be ecstatically happy. And when it comes to pursuing music as a career, her choices as a creative have really inspired me: to be authentically me, to try out everything I can, to be brave, to stick to who I want to be and to what I want to create. When you’ve got people trying to mould you or redirect you at every turn, that’s magic.
Sara Bareilles and her music will always be so special to me. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to thank her.
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.