ADHD Awareness Month 2021

Not long after I learned that October is ADHD Awareness Month, I saw this challenge on Twitter and you know me, I love a good challenge.

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Via @roryreckons on Twitter (x)

I thought it would be annoying to post something every day, especially since I knew just from looking at the prompts that there would be days when I didn’t have much to say, so I decided to do the month as one self-contained post. Having ADHD and everything that comes with that… it’s all still relatively new and I’m still trying to figure it all out, especially considering the crossover with autistic traits. I thought that, maybe, this might help with gaining a better understanding of ADHD and how it affects me individually.


So, here we go…

Day 1 – Introduction

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may know some of this stuff already so bear with me…

My name is Lauren Alex Hooper and I’m a twenty seven year old woman (I use she/her pronouns), although I’m not really sure how I identify in terms of gender and sexuality; up to now, all of my energy has been spent on figuring out and managing my health so there hasn’t really been the time to explore that area of my identity. Between the ages of twenty and twenty six, I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (Inattentive Type), Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), Treatment Resistant Depression (TRD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). These conditions all affect me daily and I live with both chronic pain and chronic fatigue, believed to be due to my hEDS. Given the often overwhelming challenges that these all present, I’m still living at home with my Mum and our family of five cats (made up of three generations). Two of my other parents live nearby, with my fourth parent in London. My younger sibling, Charlie – who is an amazing artist of many disciplines – is also based there.

In roughly the same time period, I completed a BA and an MA in Songwriting, my biggest and most enduring special interest. In 2018, I released my debut single, ‘Invisible,’ a song that documents my struggle to be seen and heard as I tried to get help for my mental health and ASD; I’m incredibly proud of that song and all of the proceeds go to YoungMinds, a charity supporting young people with their mental health. Then, in 2019, I began the release cycle of my debut EP, Honest, which was completed in late 2020 (delayed somewhat by the pandemic). The EP is a collection of my experiences with mental health, centered around the idea that things only really got better when I started being open and honest about what I was going through. As of October 2021, this little, self released EP that was made in various bedrooms has reached over 120,000 streams with a limited run of physical copies on sale at Resident Music, THE independent music shop in Brighton (UK), where I live. It’s been an absolute rollercoaster but I’m really proud of it and all it’s achieved. And now, with that era all but wrapped up and my Masters done, I’m working on several new projects, including an album about my experiences as an autistic woman.

Day 2 – What I love about being an ADHDer is…

Given the overlap between Autism and ADHD, I’m not entirely sure where which traits come from, if it’s possible to really separate them. I’ve done some research and it seems that there’s too much overlap to truly say that one trait belongs to one and not the other but the following things are what seem to commonly come up in relation to the positives/strengths of ADHD…

    • Hyperfocus – Although the timing may not always be ideal, I love that my brain gets absolutely obsessed with something and just has to know more about it. I’ve always been super curious and I’ve always loved learning – part of the reason why I’ve already studied to Masters level and hope to pursue a PhD at some point – and so I often end up going down rabbit holes, researching a particular subject as much as I can until physical or external limits force me to stop; I remember being asked, probably aged about seven, what I wanted to do when I finished school and finished learning and I was just horrified by the idea that there would come a time not dedicated to learning things. Sometimes my fascination with a thing will only last a day or so but sometimes it’ll last months; that’s sort of where the the line between hyperfixation and special interest blurs.
    • Creativity – I’m not sure that having ADHD is what made me a creative person but I think it’s pretty safe to say that I am one. I love writing is pretty much every form, I love making music, I love photography. I would love to try some different visual forms of art, like painting or graphic design or videography or sculpture (I’ve loved Andrew Drummond since I saw his ‘Observation / Action / Reflection‘ exhibition in Christchurch, New Zealand and I’ve recently fallen in love with Anna Berry’s work). Oh, and I love how amazingly creative some people are with make up; I’d love to learn how to do some of the incredible stuff that make up artists create. There just isn’t enough time to try and get good at all of the things I want to do! I’m also fascinated by physical arts, like dance, aerial silks, and martial arts. But given my physical limitations, I can’t engage in those at this point in time but hopefully one day I will be strong enough and have the stamina to at least try them.
    • Problem solving – Given my late diagnosis, it’s hard to know whether these traits are learned or due to my ADHD (I mean, maybe it’s a combination: a natural ability that’s been honed by experiences requiring problem solving) but I’ve always been a good problem solver, good at looking at a problem and seeing it from various different angles. I’m the person people tend to go to when things go wrong or don’t work (electronics in particular) and I’m just weirdly good at fiddling around with them until I figure out what the problem is and how to fix it, if it can be fixed without specialist training.
    • Determination – There’s not much to say about this. I am a determined person. I think the David Foster Wallace quote, “Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it,” sums me up quite well, both in positive and negative ways. I will fight for things until I have nothing left, even things that I probably should’ve given up on long ago.
    • Perfectionism (to a degree) – While I’m aware that my perfectionism can put me under immense pressure, I do like that I’m always striving to produce the best work I can. Especially when it comes to my music, every detail is important and I’m not completely satisfied until everything is exactly as I want it. But I am aware that that’s not always possible and most of the time, I can dial it back a bit when necessary; regardless of whether it’s been possible to make things perfect or not, I’m always proud of the fact that I tried to and tried really fucking hard.
    • Open – Again, I don’t know if it’s the ADHD that makes me an open person but I am. I am an honest person. That doesn’t mean I share everything (I’m not very good at telling where the exact lines are but I know that people would find that annoying unless they’ve clearly invited me to do so) but there came a point where I realised that I had to be honest about how I felt and what I was struggling with and how I experienced the world in order to protect my mental health. And it has really helped me but what came as an unexpected pleasure is that it seems to have inspired other people to be more open and honest, both with others and with themselves: the stories some people have shared with me have been so moving. While I think they themselves deserve the credit for making those changes in their lives, I’m deeply honoured that they consider me a part of that journey.
    • The opportunity to help – I’ve had some really difficult experiences due to being neurodivergent and due to being diagnosed in adulthood. But working through it, facing the invalidation, the ignorance, the ableism… it’s given me purpose. I want to make things better and help other neurodivergent people and I can do that using my experiences. I’m already getting little opportunities to do so and that means so much to me.

@roryreckons, who I got this challenge from, wrote a really interesting post for this day, including some fascinating information about ADHD that is really worth reading.

I have to say I’m not wild about the term ‘ADHDer.’ It feels very clumsy. It also feels a bit like something I actively participate in, like I chose it, like I’m saying, “I’m a runner,” or “I’m a painter.” I don’t know; I’m not convinced by it as an identifier.

Day 3 – My Identification/Discovery Story

I was being assessed for hypermobility (and was subsequently diagnosed with hEDS) and at the end of the session, it came up in conversation that I was thinking about getting tested for ADHD (I’d been researching the ways I’d been struggling and ADHD had come up as a possibility, which I know often occurs alongside Autism) and the consultant said that she was qualified to do that so we could schedule an assessment if I wanted to. So we did and a few months later, I was diagnosed with Inattentive ADHD.

Day 4 – Reactions to Identification

Since this is just another step on my journey of trying to make sense of myself and why I struggle the way I do, I haven’t really felt the need to make an announcement or anything like that. I told my family and friends, of course, and I’ve brought it up when necessary, like when trying to get accommodations at uni, but otherwise it hasn’t been been a huge thing, not like discovering I was autistic was. So everyone’s just kind of taken it in stride, adding it to their picture of me – those who know about it anyway.

Day 5 – Hobby Graveyard

I’ve never really thought of moving on to a new hobby as leaving them in a ‘hobby graveyard.’ I’ve always felt like it was more that I was prioritising certain stuff or that I was just finding my way to more ‘suitable’ hobbies. Technically, yes, I have multiple hobbies that I’ve stopped doing but rarely because I got bored of them and more because I evolved away from them. But here are some of my past hobbies…

    • Gymnastics
    • Clarinet
    • Flute
    • Playing in an Orchestra
    • Horse riding
    • Writing fanfiction
    • Writing fiction
    • Watercolour
    • Origami

That’s all I can think of off the top of my head. I still love most of these things but I just can’t physically do all of these hobbies: I don’t have the time, they’re expensive, and there are other things I love doing more. But hopefully I can come back to them one day in some way or another.

Day 6 – Supports and Appreciation

I am super lucky to have a lot of great people in my corner. I have a wonderful, close-knit family who have all been deeply supportive; not only have they all been great in general but they’ve all been so incredibly helpful in different areas of my life over the years. I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am, especially to my Mum. She has been a hundred percent with me every step of the way and she’s just been a force of nature in the pursuit of getting people to listen to and help me. And not just that, she supports me every day, helps me to manage just being alive, just being a person in this difficult, inflexible society. I don’t know what I’d do without her. Oh, and there are also my cats who, while they have absolutely no idea about any of this I’m sure, help maintain some level of calm in all the chaos.

I’m also very lucky to have some really great friends. They’ve never been weird about all of my diagnoses, only ever respectfully curious about the parts they don’t know much about. And I’m always open to questions. Once, while in conversation with a friend, I said that I was always happy to answer questions and in reply, she said that all she needed to do to understand me was listen to my songs. I probably looked like a deer in headlights. I mean, that’s what I try to do with my songs but to hear her say it so plainly kind of took my breath away. My friends are really sweet about supporting me and accommodating the issues that make my life hard, that make spending time together hard. I appreciate it so much; a lot of these things that I struggle with make maintaining friendships (from both sides) really hard and it means so much to me that my friends have stuck with me.

And although I’ve had some really supportive tutors over the years, I only recently had a neurodivergent tutor for the first time and it was amazing. It’s like we spoke the same language and she was able to translate this confusing academic world into ideas and words that I understood. I got so much out of my course and out of the work I was doing in the time she was my supervisor; it was pretty amazing to work with the guidance of someone who has a real understanding (and also appreciation as well) of how differently my brain works. And considering how well I did in the module, I think that shows just how well a neurodivergent person can do when they’re understood and supported.

Day 7 – The ADHDer Community

I haven’t really found ‘the community’ yet. After my ASD diagnosis, it was about three years before I sought out any kind of community; I had to figure out what being autistic meant to me first before I could engage further, if that makes sense. So I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes me a while to feel ready to reach out but then maybe it will be quicker this time since I’ve already gone through a similar process. I’m part of multiple Facebook groups relating to Autism, one of which is for women with Autism and ADHD, and I’ve enjoyed those interactions a lot so far. I also have a friend who’s going through the ADHD  diagnostic process at the moment so it’s nice to be able to share those experiences with someone I already know since I didn’t go through it that long ago.

Day 8 – Favourite ADHDer Blogs/Comics

I have to say, I haven’t really found any ADHD blogs or comics that really speak to me yet. But I also haven’t been looking in any kind of dedicated way. I’m still making sense of this diagnosis, still trying to manage the struggles, and still trying to get help for it. That’s my main focus at the moment.

Day 9 – Favourite ADHD Owned Business

With Christmas not that far away, I have been looking for present ideas and I do like to buy from independent shops when I can. I’ve found a few autistic owned shops but as of yet, I haven’t found any ADHD owned shops yet. But I’m still looking.

Day 10 – Sensory Seeking/Aversion

I’m generally a sensory-seeking person but they’re very specific sensory experiences that I crave. I love colour and I love lights, especially colourful lights (as long as they’re not in my eyes or face). I love glittery things and shiny things. I also love patterns: smooth curves and crystalline angles. I love the patterns in nature, like the symmetrical patterns in the petals of flowers (Dahlias and Gerberas, for example). They just make my eyes feel good and looking at them relaxes me.

Sound is a bit more complicated (volume can be a real issue for me, especially when I’m stressed) but as a musician, I love the details and nuances in music and in sound. I could talk about music for hours but for this, I think I’ll stick to just distinct sounds. I love the sound of thunder, of heavy rain, the rustle of leaves as you walk through them, snow or frost crunching under foot, the crackle of a fire, the sound of typing. I find all of those sounds so soothing. But then there are also noises that really upset me, that can send me into a meltdown even. Metallic sounds, voices low enough that I can’t quite make out what they’re saying, babies crying, sudden loud noises like fireworks or sirens, shouting or raised voices, mechanical sounds (like buzzing or humming, or that high pitched tone/whine)… they all, at the very least, get the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. Oh, and snoring.

Smell is a really tough one for me. The smells I like, I love: most fruits, especially satsumas; the beach and the sea; forests, pine, cut grass; wood fires and the smell in the air after fireworks (a tough one when the sound of fireworks can cause me to have a meltdown). But the smells I don’t like have me scrambling to get as far from them as possible so that I don’t throw up: metallic, rotten, sickly sweet smells and the way they catch in your throat and leave you choking on them. I’m sure there are more, and more specific ones, but that’s all I can think of right now and it’s not exactly the most enjoyable thing to think about.

Taste is another difficult one, given that food is a complete minefield for me. I crave sweet tastes a lot, especially artificially sweet tastes (although I read recently that that is common in unmedicated ADHD), and I like salty things but anything more complicated than that is unpleasant and overwhelming. Even the lowest point on the spice meter is too spicy for me. (And the texture of food is a whole other issue…)

I’m also super sensitive to what I’m touching. There are sensations that I love, like frost or snow crunching under foot, feeling loud music in your body at a concert, fabrics like velvet, the sensation of being in water, the weightlessness of being in water, how your fingers feel against ice, my cats’ fur, my lovely old dog’s ears, and so on. And there are sensations that I hate, that I can’t bear feeling, that I have to wash off in order to think clearly (and sometimes even that isn’t enough): touching something sticky, clammy, metallic, oily or greasy, slimy, powdery or dusty. They make me shudder just thinking about them.

I’m sure I could talk more about sensory stuff but I think I’ll save it for another day or this post is going to get even longer than it’s already bound to be.

Day 11 – Fidgets and Stims

I go through phases with fidget toys: one will satisfy me for a while and then, out of nowhere, it stops doing whatever it is that helps and I move onto another one. Hence why I have a box of them so I can quickly and easily choose a different one. I’m currently fiddling with two: I tend to play with my tangle one-handed (especially when I’m trying to sleep) and I’m also wearing (or at least trying to remember to wear) a necklace made out of a shoelace with a hairband attached. I’m pretty sure my hair-pulling is how I stim but I really don’t want to be pulling my hair out so I’m trying to redirect the urge; this little set up is as close as I can get to the motion of hair pulling and hoping I can move from hair pulling to that and then a movement that doesn’t put so much repetitive strain on my elbow and shoulder.

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From left to right, top to bottom: black tangle, black fidget pad, black fidget cube, two sensory glitter tubes, homemade stimming necklace, three blue magnetic spinning rings, silver elephant spinning ring.

Day 12 – Favourite ADHD Charity

I have yet to go looking for ADHD charities, to be honest. I just haven’t had the headspace but there are a few, local ones especially, that I’d like to investigate further when I feel like I can properly commit to it.

Day 13 – Family

I’ve already talked quite a bit about my family, back in the ‘Supports and Appreciation’ prompt. I have four fantastic parents; then there’s my Dad who died when I was 13. I don’t know much (don’t know enough) about him. Finding out who he was and what he was like is an ongoing project. I also have a younger sibling; we were super close as kids and although we’re not as close now, that’s simply as a result of growing up and building our own lives. We still have a great time whenever we can get together. Due to my various disabilities, I live at home with my Mum and our family of cats. I love them all so much and I’m so proud to call them my family.

Day 14 – Order from Chaos

I feel like I’m more mentally chaotic than physically; I’m not the most organised person in the world but I manage pretty well, particularly with help from my Mum. But my thoughts are another matter. Sometimes my thoughts move so fast that I can’t keep hold of them long enough even to figure out what they are; I find those times really scary. Trying to find something to hold on to in the chaos is hard and it’s easy to feel untethered and panicked. Fortunately it isn’t like that all of the time though. I still feel like I have an overwhelming amount of stuff in my head that I’m constantly sorting through.

@roryreckons, the creator of this challenge, made a really in depth post for this day with lots of useful resources that I’m looking forward to digging into.

Day 15 – Everyone Should Know

It’s not that we’re not trying. We are trying. We’re trying so hard. A big part of ADHD is struggling with executive function, mental skills that help us with organisation, planning, start, stay focussed on, and finish tasks, among other things. What some people assume is laziness or lack of care, is actually difficulty with executive function and struggling with these skills can cause those with ADHD great distress. Being told to ‘try harder’ when you’re already trying so hard is not just frustrating but makes you doubt yourself, wonder whether you actually are lazy. This should never be the case. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder (the debate about whether neurodiversity should involve words like disorder or deficit is ongoing and important but too big to get into here); it’s a medical condition. Difficulties with executive function are ‘part of our wiring.’ That’s not to say that it’s fixed, but telling someone to ‘just try harder’ or ‘just focus more’ when their brain doesn’t respond to that kind of motivation is unhelpful and unkind. They’ve probably already thought of that, you know?

Day 16 – Work/School

Education has been a mixed experience for me. I’ve always been incredibly shy and I struggled socially although no one really realised the extent of it, myself included: I learned to mask very well very quickly, long before I knew what masking was, long before I even knew I was doing it. And being a huge perfectionist, I felt a lot of pressure and anxiety around my grades, sometimes to the point where I made myself unwell. Having said that, I’ve achieved some great things academically and while I’ve never had masses of friends, I get on well with people and have a group of close friends that I absolutely adore. So, yeah, it’s been very mixed.

I think it’s fair to say that the undiagnosed ASD and ADHD clearly contributed to the difficulties I’ve had throughout my time in education, which is most of my life really. And I don’t think it helped that I missed the first two and a half years of secondary school (a period of illness that was half-heartedly diagnosed as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, diagnosed formally in retrospect, and now it may be that it was due to the hEDS – I’m really not sure what to think now), putting me at a disadvantage academically and socially. But what was probably a combination of natural ability, my terrible fear of getting in trouble, and my perfectionism meant that I did relatively well in secondary school. Sixth form and my A Levels were mostly dominated by the strengthening symptoms of my anxiety and depression: I did well in the subjects that I loved but otherwise I struggled. I couldn’t get information to stay in my brain, I couldn’t understand certain concepts as hard as I tried, I felt like I was running an endless obstacle course that only seemed to get harder, and I was constantly exhausted. It all kind of spiralled and I barely managed my exams. I tried to resit several of them the next year but my mental health was so poor (plus whatever was going on with the undiagnosed ASD and ADHD) that I didn’t do any better. Fortunately though, I did have the grades I needed to pursue my BA in songwriting so it all worked out in the end.

University was, obviously, very different from secondary school and sixth form but I didn’t exactly get the same experience as most of my peers. Because of the challenges I live with (my mental health problems weren’t diagnosed until the January of my first year and my ASD wasn’t diagnosed until the summer break between first and second year), I lived at home and commuted to London for university, staying with family when I had two of more days of classes in a row. It was necessary but hard; I was so tired all the time (I was actually taking naps on the sofas at uni at certain points) and it didn’t help the feeling of separate-ness, being so far away and unable to join the spontaneous meet ups and so on. And again, the classes I loved, I absolutely loved but when it came to the classes I didn’t enjoy or found difficult, I really struggled – I still don’t feel like I have a good grasp of music theory (not that I’ve given up). It felt like there were just some things I couldn’t learn, like my brain just wasn’t capable of processing the information (something I’m working on, especially after learning more about ADHD and hearing similar stories from others). And although it wasn’t a constant feeling, I struggled with feeling invisible and feeling like I was never going to be good enough to do the one thing I wanted to do: write and release songs. As amazing as it was to study my very favourite thing and therefore spend most of my time doing it, doing it surrounded by other people who all want the same thing was really challenging at times: you’re constantly exposed to new, amazing music and as cool as that is, if you’re doubting yourself even the slightest bit, that can just make the feeling ten times worse. It’s easy to slip into comparing yourself and seeing all of the ways in which you aren’t as good as this person or that person. So, yes, it was an amazing experience but it was incredibly hard.

The MA was a very different experience (apart from, you know, doing most of it in a global pandemic). The pandemic definitely played a big part: my anxiety was so high, I felt completely overwhelmed by everything that was going on in the world, and I was adjusting to a whole new way of learning (and cowriting). I’m sure those things affected my ability to take in, process, and use new information. I loved the practical part, the constant writing of songs and constant cowriting; I loved that and I feel like I did a lot of my best work so far. But the modules that included extended research and essay writing were a struggle: I found it incredibly difficult to focus on the research I was reading, to digest it enough to pull out the useful information, and then construct the essays themselves. In the first year, my Mum sat with me for hours and hours, helping me to collect all of the relevant information and painstakingly put it together. In the second year, for the final project, I had an excellent supervisor (who is also neurodivergent and therefore had a personal as well as professional understanding of how I’d potentially need to approach things differently), which made a huge difference. I did still struggle though. Staying focussed, attempting to keep my attention from wandering, pulling together all of the information (it was a lot: four-ish months of work that had to be condensed into an hour’s presentation)… it took every drop of energy I had. I was concentrating through sheer force of will and when it was all finally over, I was beyond exhausted.

While I’ve pretty much considered myself a student up to this point, I guess I am self employed: I am dedicated to being a singersongwriter and even though I love it and it started out as a hobby, it’s now my job and one that I want to spend my whole life doing. I’m dedicated to making that happen but it’s freaking hard work sometimes and there are a lot of challenges. I love the creative side and those related decisions often feel very easy, almost instinctive, but the logistical, business, marketing side is really hard for me. For some reason, I find those decisions and tasks much more likely to overwhelm me and money-related tasks are particularly stressful for me (something I’ve seen other people with ADHD talk about). I’ve had some really great help with this up until now and I’m so grateful for that but I would love – so much – to find a way to make this stuff less challenging. So often the level of stress in response to these tasks isn’t proportional and I have to believe that it doesn’t have to be this hard. Now that I’m not studying (although I still have a lot to do), I’m hopeful that I can dedicate some time to this. And I’m cautiously hopeful that the ADHD meds I should be starting in a few weeks will improve things too. As I said, I’m committed to making this happen so I’m doing my best and I have some good people in my corner to support me.

This one has gotten very long so I’ll stop there, I think.

Day 17 – ADHD People I Admire

Kalie Shorr – I’ve been a fan of Kalie’s for years – she’s a fantastic songwriter and performer, she’s super creative, she’s incredibly hardworking, she’s hilarious, she’s a really lovely and genuine person, and she uses her voice for the things that she’s passionate about (always in creative and interesting ways that emphasise her words, of course) – and then, earlier this year, she made a podcast episode about how she’d been diagnosed with ADHD and what she’d learned about herself and certain past experiences in the light of the diagnosis. She described experiences that I really relate to and her positive experience with medication (which she’s been documenting on Twitter – often hilariously, as is her way) has helped me in my own ADHD journey. And as someone who is pursuing the same career path as am I (and is doing so very successfully), it gives me hope that my ADHD isn’t something that will make this path impossible. It might not be easy but it’s not impossible and I’m really grateful to have someone (and someone I think so highly of) remind me of that at this moment in time. (I love this quote from a recent interview: “That’s why I love co-writing as well, I actually think it has a lot to do with… because I love writing by myself and I’ve written some great songs by myself. It’s not that I can’t, it’s that I love the process of co-writing. I think it’s because I have ADHD with the massive dopamine deficiency. The immediate feedback you get when you put out a good line and the people in the room freak out over it, that feels so much better than when I write a good line in a song I wrote by myself and I’m like ‘I think this is good, but I’d rather wait for someone else to tell me that it’s good.’ I get so energized by all these tiny pings about writing a song, and then you get the big hit of dopamine.”)

Emma Watson – I’m somewhat hesitant to include Emma Watson since she hasn’t spoken personally about having ADHD but the information is out there so, if it’s true, I would have to include her in this list. Growing up with Harry Potter, with the characters and the cast, she was always someone I looked up to and I remember an interview where she talked about how her Dad really didn’t have the money to send her to the school he did and how her birthday presents were her uniform and her school supplies and how she worked hard every day (finishing with nine A*s!) because she wanted to make him proud, to show him how much she appreciated it. Of course I’ll probably never be able to completely detach her from Hermione (as I’m sure is the same for many people and probably for her too), it’s been very cool to watch her grow and experiment with different roles and engage in important social issues (I think a good example is this video interview where she talks about finding the constructive criticism in social media, educating herself and broadening her understanding of feminism, the need for the education system in the UK to revise and improve the teaching around Britain’s involvement in foreign affairs (including how the country profited from slavery), transgender issues, and more) while still remaining a very normal, relatable person. She’s achieved so much, she’s pushed her own limits and challenged her comfort zone, and she’s trying to use what she has to make a positive change in the world (despite feeling like she’s still figuring herself and her life out) alongside the challenges of living with ADHD, whatever they are for her, and I find that really inspiring. (x) (x)

Simone Biles – I think it probably goes without saying that Simone Biles’ talent, skill, and incredible work ethic is enough to consider her a person worth admiring. But she’s also repeatedly shown such incredible emotional strength in very difficult circumstances (this year’s Olympics being the most recent example) and has handled them so thoughtfully and gracefully. At the Olympics, even with so many people criticising her for even considering it (and then for doing it), she put her mental health first and stood by that decision. No doubt she made that choice for herself but by making it and talking about it publicly (and talking about it unapologetically, without any shame), she sent such a powerful message that meant so much to so many people, that sometimes you have to prioritise your mental health regardless of the situation and that that is okay. It’s something even the most self aware of us struggle with, even if we understand why we should to do it; it’s a vicious cycle that, often when you’re struggling mentally, it becomes even harder to remember and/or accept that. Seeing someone actually do it, do it under immense pressure, and continue to stand by it after the fact is very powerful and hopefully it will help a lot of people to remember that it is possible, that the world won’t end if they need to stop and take a break from everything. So I can only admire and respect her strength and her willingness to share her experiences because there’s no knowing how many people she’s helping. (x)

I’m sure there are more people I could add to this list but these three are all I can think of at the moment.

Day 18 – Someday…

On a personal level, I can’t help hoping that – someday – I won’t feel so ‘othered’ by being neurodivergent, that I won’t feel so different and so deficient when and after spending time with neurotypical people. It’s not that I don’t enjoy spending time with these people because I do: almost everyone I know is neurotypical and those that I love, I love dearly. But there are throwaway comments and common experiences that just make me feel so different to everyone around me and it’s just so exhausting to have these constant, endless reminders. It’s so hard to try and accept my ASD and my ADHD when it feels like, everywhere I turn, one thing or another is telling me that I’m… less than or wrong or broken. Someday, I’d like not to feel that way.

Day 19 – I love it when…

I can just totally hyperfocus on something without interruption or pressure to do something else. I just love falling down a rabbit hole and reading everything I can find on a subject, learning as much as I can about a particular songwriter’s process, the theories around alternate universes, the different types of typewriters, why thunderstorms make certain people (myself included) feel so much better… I don’t remember it all but I love the feeling of soaking it all in. And it does mean I have a random fact about almost everything.

Day 20 – Communication Style

I’m not really sure what this prompt is asking of me, to be honest. Googling ‘communication styles’ gives me so many different possibilities that it’s hard to know what the right one for this prompt is. Maybe this is something I’m going to have to investigate further but for now, the way I feel I communicate best is through the songs I write. Being able to use lyrics, melody, harmony, instrumentation, production… the right combination of those things can convey a feeling or an experience in such a pure way. Not long after I met one of my now best friends, we were talking about me being autistic (I think it was in the context of a song she was helping me write, I’m not sure now) and I just made the casual comment that if there was ever something that she wanted to know or something she didn’t understand, she could always ask. And she replied, ‘I just have to listen to your songs to understand you.’ I’m not gonna lie, I was kind of floored by that response (and I still am a bit – it makes me very excited about the music projects I’m currently working on). I mean, that’s the goal – to find connection through the songs I write – and my friend had just confirmed that for me. So that was a big moment and a special one but I think I’d still be saying the same thing had that not happened. Songwriting feels like the way I communicate best and to have that in my life is something very special indeed.

Day 21 – One thing other people don’t understand…

From my admittedly limited personal experience, I think a lot of people find it hard to reconcile ADHD with good grades: if you’re turning in work on time and getting good marks, you couldn’t possibly have ADHD, for example. Thinking like this can prevent those struggling from getting support because they don’t show the stereotypical signs of a condition like ADHD. Apart from 2013 (the year when my mental health problems really started to manifest, resulting in such a crisis that I barely made it through my A Level exams), I’ve always turned in work on time or early (unless I had an extension due to health stuff) and achieved high grades in pretty much all of my classes. Personally, I think that, up until A Levels at least, this was largely due to a natural ability, the fact that I enjoyed learning, and very intense perfectionism. Getting to do a BA and MA in songwriting, my most enduring special interest, helped to balance out my struggles with executive function, I think: because I was so passionate about what I was studying (for the most part at least), it wasn’t as hard as it might’ve been had I been studying something that I was less passionate about. I’ve definitely had areas and periods of time in which I’ve struggled – I wouldn’t have sought out what resulted in my ADHD diagnosis if I hadn’t – but I guess I’m just saying that you can have ADHD and be a good student and the idea that you can’t is a harmful one.

Day 22 – Dispel a myth

I don’t know whether this myth still persists but I definitely grew up with the impression that having ADHD meant an inability to sit still. If that myth does still exist, I’m definitely proof that that isn’t true, as a constant of ADHD at least. I can sit in basically the same position all day without moving because I’m so absorbed by what I’m doing. I forget to move, to the point where it’s actually causing me problems: my chronic pain (thanks to my hEDS) is exacerbated by these long periods of no movement so I’m actually trying to move around more. So, yeah, we can sit still.

Day 23 – Can’t live without…

My family. On any and every level, I could not live without them (and I include my close friends in this circle too). But I’ve talked about them quite a lot so I’m gonna say songwriting as well. When I’m writing a song, the rest of the world goes away and I feel like I can just be me, focussed on something that I love more than pretty much anything else. And then, when I finish a song and feel like I’ve really said what I wanted to say, that feeling is so special. I feel like, for a little while at least, I’m in sync with the rest of the world and all of the usual friction that exists just disappears. I feel calm and relaxed, like I’m finally still; usually I feel like I’m constantly vibrating, which is just so exhausting. So, while I love the creative discipline of writing songs, I love the way it makes me feel. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

Day 24 – ADHD Political Issue

A massive problem with conditions like ADHD, as well as other neurodivergencies, is the lack of support available, for those who appear to be functioning well especially. So many individuals, myself included, have had to fight for support – in education, from medical professionals, sometimes from the government – because, so often, people just don’t understand the challenges that these conditions present or don’t believe those asking for help. I can’t get too deeply into this (especially at the moment, given that I’m overly emotional due to the reduction of my antidepressant medication – an unfortunate but necessary step in order to try medication for my ADHD) because I’ll just get too upset but the society we live in is so deeply ableist, and it’s so entrenched that no one even notices. And worse, a lot of people don’t seem to care about changing it. We’re in the minority, right? Why should society change to make the lives of the few better when the lives of the many are just fine? Honestly, the apathy so many people have towards those with disabling conditions (I know not everyone with ADHD considers themselves disabled but some do) – conditions that are often made worse by how our society is structured – makes me so, so angry and just so sad.

Day 25 – Symbols

To be honest, I’m really happy to stick to ribbons of specific colours; I like the simplicity. But I also understand that, at some point, the various colours are going to get too similar and people aren’t going to be able distinguish one from another. But I’m not sure how an entire community will ever be able to agree on one symbol. I’m more familiar with the various Autism symbols but for ADHD, I’ve seen the orange ribbon, the rainbow infinity symbol (which is often used in the autistic community), the butterfly, the rainbow butterfly. Ultimately, I think that what we experience with ADHD is too broad to be summed up with an image like an animal or a symbol because they have their own associations. This is why I like the orange ribbon.

Day 26 – Favourite ADHD Book

I’ve yet to read any books about ADHD, given that I was diagnosed in the middle of my Masters and had to give everything I had to that. Plus I’ve found it hard to focus when reading books over the last few years. But I have had multiple options recommended and I think these are the ones I’m going to look into first…

    • You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy?! by Kate Kelly
    • Delivered from Distraction by John Ratey
    • Smart But Stuck by Thomas Brown
    • Taking Charge of Adult ADHD by Russell Barkley
    • Queen of Distraction by Terry Matlen
    • Scattered Minds by Gabor Maté

Day 27 – Identity Language

Personally, I don’t really have an issue with how people identify themselves; they should use the language they feel comfortable with and respect that in others. As a general rule though, I think identity-first language is important for the neurodivergent community. With conditions like Autism or ADHD, they affect the way we perceive and process the world; they are intrinsic to who we are, to our identities. Having said that, I’m not sure how identity-first language works with ADHD. With Autism, we have the word ‘autistic’ but there isn’t an equivalent for ADHD, at least as far as I can tell. I’ve seen people use ‘ADHDer,’ but I find that awfully clumsy and awkward to say. I don’t have any other ideas though.

When it comes to my own circumstances, I am autistic. Absolutely. But I still feel like I ‘have ADHD,’ maybe because it’s still a relatively new diagnosis and I haven’t had the time and headspace to process what it means and how it fits into my constellation of diagnoses and my identity.

Day 28 – Dealing with Boredom

I’m not sure I’m ever bored; I always have too much to do (or I’ve crashed after trying to do too much). The closest state I get to boredom is not knowing what to do and that’s usually because I feel overwhelmed by all of the things I could do. (@roryeckons’ post on this is great though.)

Day 29 – Favourite Memes

I’ve seen a lot of ADHD memes so choosing a favourite or even favourites is hard.

burning-candles

(x)

hmm-this-subject-looks-interesting-adhd_memetherapy-hyperfocused-deep-dive-till-death-by-exhaustion

(x)

EcmT8WSXoAEBVwt

(x)

EcpAUktWkAEzOE4

(x)

4lat5z

(x)

man-time-management-have-adhd-okay-shouldnt-take-long-between-an-hour-and-um-11-months

(x)

animal-adhd-is-superpower

(x)

can-do-all-three-things-brain-know-now-going-do-none-them-wait-232-pm-12019-twitter-android

 (x)

I could also share most of the memes on this page and this whole thread is hilarious (x).

Day 30 – Hyperfocus

I find the concept and research behind hyperfocus really fascinating. I was about a breath away from hyperfocusing on hyperfocus to write this day’s post (when I realised what was happening, I had to laugh) but I managed to reign it in before I really got lost in it. Some of the stories I read were fascinating. Personally, I love it when my brain hyperfocuses, although it can be annoying when I get sucked into something (or repeatedly sucked into one thing and then another and then another) at the exact moment when there’s something I really need to do. But when there isn’t an impending deadline, it can be so fun. I love going down the rabbit hole of a new subject and learning everything I can about it. Sometimes it’s resulted in essays about the subject and sometimes it even turns into a full blown special interest.

Day 31 – Acceptance means…

I don’t know what real acceptance looks like, if I’m completely honest. Yes, we can learn to and practice accepting ourselves and our friends and family can be understanding and supportive but I think acceptance – real acceptance – is bigger than that. Real acceptance is when ADHD is understood, acknowledged for what it is, and accommodated, and done so without persuading or convincing or fighting for it. But I don’t know if that’s a realistic expectation. How can that kind of acceptance be possible when we, neurodivergents, are the proverbial square peg in the round hole, living in a world that is not only built in a way that doesn’t accommodate us but actually disables us further? As I said before, when so many people don’t want the world to change, it can all feel deeply dispiriting. So I don’t know what we do in that regard. But, to quote Amanda Tapping, “The best thing you can do is to make your corner of the world as good as possible,” and so that’s what I think we focus on. We work on accepting ourselves and using the gifts we have to create as much good as possible, for ourselves and for others. Maybe I’m thinking too big when it comes to this prompt but there have just been a number of things recently that have just highlighted how ableist the world can be and that’s been upsetting. And much as it makes me want to flip tables and scream that the world isn’t fair, I want to focus on the good and the good that I can do.


As I said, this is still all very new and it’s a lot to take in. But I do feel like I’ve learned a lot by doing this challenge, both from my research and from reflecting on my own experiences. It’s been a mixed bag – some of it fun, some of it upsetting, and some of it overwhelming – but I’m learning and I’m figuring stuff out and hopefully it won’t be long before I feel a bit more confidant about it and about how I can manage the challenges that come with it.

Who knows, maybe in a year, I’ll do this challenge again and see how much has or hasn’t changed…

World Mental Health Day 2021

‘MENTAL HEALTH IN AN UNEQUAL WORLD’

As I’m sure many of you know, today is World Mental Health Day and the theme, chosen by the Mental Health Foundation, is ‘mental health in an unequal world.’ WHO seems to be building it around the pandemic, rather than as a problem of its own, but from what I’ve seen in the newsletters and on the social medias of many mental health charities and organisations, most seem to be following the lead of the Mental Health Foundation.

According to the Mental Health Foundation’s website: “2020 highlighted inequalities due to race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, and the lack of respect for human rights in many countries, including for people living with mental health conditions. Such inequalities have an impact on people’s mental health. This theme, chosen for 2021, will highlight that access to mental health services remains unequal, with between 75% to 95% of people with mental disorders in low and middle-income countries unable to access mental health services at all, and access in high income countries is not much better.” It goes on to say: “Many people with a mental illness do not receive the treatment that they are entitled to and deserve and together with their families and carers continue to experience stigma and discrimination… The stigma and discrimination experienced by people who experience mental ill health not only affects that person’s physical and mental health, stigma also affects their educational opportunities, current and future earning and job prospects, and also affects their families and loved ones.”

Statistics provided by Mind (x)


I have my own experience with the mental health system – which I do want to touch on – and have heard from many others about their experiences but I wanted to read into the research around these inequalities further, both to get a better factual understanding and to put my own experience in context (beyond an anecdotal one). The research is sporadic at best but here are some of the statistics I found…

ACCESS TO MENTAL HEALTH CARE

  • “NICE [The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] recommends that people should be able to access services when they need them. However the proportion of people who felt they had definitely seen NHS mental health services enough for their needs reduced from 47% in 2014 to 43% in 2018.” (x)
  • In 2020, it was reported that approximately 1 in 3 people who experience mental health problems are able to access the support they need. (x)

From these statistics, it’s clear that far too many people aren’t getting the support that they need.

INEQUALITIES IN ACCESS TO TREATMENT (x)

  • For those with common mental health problems, 36.2% reported receiving treatment.
  • Women are more likely than men to receive treatment for all mental health conditions, with 15% of women receiving treatment compared to 9% of men.
  • Young people aged 16-24 were found to be less likely to receive mental health treatment than any other age group.
  • White British people are more likely to receive mental health treatment (13.3%) compared to BAME groups (7%). The lowest percentage of people receiving treatment were those from black ethnic minority groups (6.2%).

These statistics clearly show the disparities in the availability of treatment, more supporting evidence for the statement that the Mental Health Foundation is making with the theme for this World Mental Health Day.

YOUNG PEOPLE

  • “There is very little national information about mental health services for children and young people, and what information there is suggests quality is declining. [Research] indicates substantial cuts to services, increasing demand, increasing thresholds for treatment, very long waits (more than a year) for specialist services, and a resultant decline in accessibility.” (x)
  • Approximately 1 in 3 children and young people with a diagnosable mental health condition get access to NHS care and treatment. (x)
  • More than 338,000 children were referred to CAMHS in 2017, but less than a third received treatment within the year. (x)
  • Around 75% of young people experiencing a mental health problem are forced to wait so long their condition gets worse or are unable to access any treatment at all. (x)
  • In a YoungMinds survey, three-quarters (76%) of parents said that their child’s mental health had deteriorated while waiting for support from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). (x)

This research all indicates that young people in particular are being let down by the health care system.

SECONDARY [LONG TERM] CARE

  • Demand for secondary care (which generally treats people with severe mental health problems) is increasing, and there is evidence to suggest services are becoming less accessible… There is little information available on the outcomes that services achieve.” (x)
  • “There is no high quality national information on waiting times for secondary mental health services. In a 2014 survey, 20% of people with severe mental illness who were offered talking therapy reported waiting more than a year to access it.” (x)

The statistics show not just that the need for mental health care is increasing but the need for long term mental health care is increasing but that it’s also very difficult to access.

HIDDEN WAITING LISTS (x)

“A study of 513 British adults diagnosed with a mental illness also reveals the damaging consequences that hidden waiting lists – the wait between referral and second appointments – have on the lives of patients living with severe or common mental illness.”

  • “Of those on a hidden waiting list, nearly two thirds (64%) wait more than four weeks between their initial assessment and second appointment. One in four (23%) wait more than three months and one in nine (11%) wait longer than six months.”
  • Respondents living with severe mental illness – including eating disorders, bipolar disorder and PTSD – were left waiting up to two years for treatment. Others were left waiting up to four years for treatment for depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.”
  • Two-fifths (38%) reported that they, or someone on their behalf, had contacted emergency or crisis services while waiting for their second appointment, while 39% said that waiting led to a decline in their mental health.”

It’s clear that, beyond the difficulty of even getting into the mental health care system, once in it, the process of actually getting the support you need is much too slow – so slow in fact that it’s exacerbating the mental health problems that those waiting are seeking help for.


Now I want to look at my experience of getting support for my mental health…

  • For more than two years, I was repeatedly dismissed and had my feelings and experiences invalidated by multiple doctors and services. No one took me seriously. Eventually, my Mum took me to a private psychiatrist and I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Depression, and OCD. Having had no idea what I was struggling with, I’d done a lot of research and asked about the quiet presentation of Borderline Personality Disorder, which my psychiatrist initially rejected but then reconsidered and diagnosed me with it after reading my research and personal notes (it has since been recommended to me multiple times – sometimes by doctors who don’t even know me – that I have this diagnosis removed from my file because “people might make assumptions”). Getting an NHS referral for an Autism Diagnostic Assessment was similarly difficult as he felt that I didn’t fit the classic presentation (I do apparently fit the classic FEMALE presentation though).
  • There was no follow up after this diagnosis and we were told there was no support available so my Mum investigated private therapists. I tried CBT for a while but didn’t find it helpful so I tried DBT instead, which has been a much better fit.
  • All of this private treatment is obviously not cheap and I am so beyond grateful that my family is fortunate enough to support me financially. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without it, whether I’d even be here. But the cost of it does cause me significant worry, only adding to the anxiety I already experience.
  • With so many of my problems connected to my Autism, had this whole process been… easier, simpler, quicker, less traumatic, or something… so many of my health problems wouldn’t have deteriorated to the level that they have. Had I been diagnosed earlier – had even one medical professional believed me – things might’ve been so different. I try not to dwell on that because there’s no point wasting my energy on what might have been but it is the truth.
  • Having said that, considering some of the stories that I’ve read or have had shared with me, my story isn’t that bad. I’m positively lucky compared to some and that’s a confusing, complicated thing to say, knowing how traumatic this has all been… and continues to be.

Since then, I’ve developed near constant chronic pain throughout my body – something that’s obviously had a big impact on my mental health – but over a year later, I’m still waiting for the NHS physiotherapy and hydrotherapy referrals to go through. I have started Occupational Therapy and with the Pain Clinic (both through the NHS) but with the end of my Masters, I had to take a break because they were too painful and/or upsetting to manage alongside all the work. I’m starting back this week. It still bothers me that no one’s ever even tried to find out why the pain started though.

Almost six years after my ASD diagnosis, the Neurobehavioural Clinic called to offer me an appointment, to do what I had no idea. But at the end of the two part session, I’d been diagnosed with Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and ADHD – aged twenty six – both conditions having gone unnoticed because no one had ever taken my associated problems (problems that have been there my whole life) seriously. They’re both conditions that often occur alongside ASD. The hEDS diagnosis would, in theory, push my physiotherapy and hydrotherapy referrals but, as I said, I haven’t heard anything and almost a year later, my ADHD is still untreated. My psychiatrist was happy to ‘move’ that condition to his care but the consultant I saw didn’t want that, which is especially frustrating because she’s so difficult to get in contact with.

And finally, I may be getting answers to another ongoing medical problem: severe dizziness, light-headedness, nausea, physical weakness, and breathlessness when I stand up for too long. We’ve been trying to get support around this for so long that I can’t even remember when it started. This too may well be related to my Autism and I can’t help thinking that it’s another thing that should’ve been discovered sooner.

All of these things have had a profound impact on my mental health and going through the agonising process of diagnosis again and again has left me wary, fearful, and angry at medical professionals. It’s deeply ingrained in me to be polite and respectful but it doesn’t take much to send me flying off the handle; I walk into each appointment feeling like a tightly coiled spring. I leave pretty much every appointment in tears at best, raging at worst. Because I’m so. freaking. tired. of feeling like this. Of feeling like no one believes me, of being made to feel like I don’t know what I’m talking about, of being made to feel like I don’t know what I’m feeling. I feel so worn down by the constant let downs. At this point, I think I’m only going back because I don’t know what else to do.


I have no doubt that social media will be filled with nice words and encouraging quotes today. But we need more than that. World Mental Health Day is about more than that. Or it should be. It should be about pushing for change and improvement. The Mental Health Foundation is absolutely right that the inequalities in the mental health care system need to be addressed but looking at these statistics, it’s also clear that the standard of care needs to be better. For everyone’s sake. After all, there’s very little difference between not getting any support and being on a list waiting years for support.

MHF_WMHDay2021_INSTA_1080x1080

The Fifth Semester of My Masters

The time has come to sum up the final semester of my Masters. I am done. That’s sort of unbelievable. Given everything that’s happened since I started the course in September 2019, the end of the Masters always felt so far away and although I have lots of plans, I do feel a bit lost now that all of the work is done. Maybe it’s because I haven’t received my final grade or because I haven’t actually graduated yet; maybe once those things happen, the experience will feel a bit more… finished. It was always going to be weird – I’ve been going to this uni on and off for the last seven years – but knowing something and actually feeling it are so different.

So, here is my final semester review.


The final semester of my Masters course involves a largely independent project called the Major Repertoire Project and as long as you’re developing your songwriting skills and knowledge in some way, you can pretty much do whatever you want. People have done projects exploring identity, exploring their heritage, writing song cycles or musicals, digging deeper into their own songwriting and pursuing an artist project like an album, experimenting with newer applications of songwriting (such as in various therapies), and so on. It’s a fascinating module because everyone ends up doing something so different and so interesting. And after a spending a year or two focussing on their craft, the songwriting is so incredible; the final works that I’ve heard are amazing. It would probably take a month but I would happily listen through everyone’s projects.

For my project, I chose to explore my experiences as an autistic woman through songwriting, attempting to translate those experiences both through the lyrics and storytelling and the execution of the song, from the structure to the arrangement to the production and so on. I wanted to write songs that autistic individuals would hopefully relate to and that neurotypical individuals would hopefully gain some insight from. But while the overall goal was to create a body of work, a large part of the project involved researching our chosen area – Autism, in my case – responding to the research (sometimes that was through practice and sometimes it inspired specific songs), and reflecting on my songwriting process and how it was evolving during the project.

The module officially began in the second week of May but I’d already started working on it: I’ve been thinking about this project ever since I applied for the Masters so I was super excited to finally start doing it. But I’d barely begun when I started getting debilitating migraines that lasted for days at a time and resulted in several ambulance visits because the pain was so bad. We eventually traced the source back to one of my teeth: the emergency dentist thought the nerve was dying and diagnosed an abscess. I was top priority for an extraction and given antibiotics (which I had to have a second round of when it flared up again midway through the semester). Fortunately my university granted me an extension – giving me back the time that I’d lost – but it was a flexible extension in case I suddenly got pulled in to have the tooth taken out and needed some recovery time. Due to the long waiting list (and bear in mind that this was the waiting list for emergencies), I still haven’t had the tooth taken out and while the antibiotics and some good painkillers have prevented any more similar episodes, I’ve still been dealing with some tooth pain and migraines. So that hasn’t been ideal.

We only had four classes over the semester but since everyone was researching something different, they weren’t exactly classes. They were more group discussions where we’d talk about how our research and writing was going, whether we were struggling in a particular area, what we could do if we felt like we weren’t fulfilling one or more of the overall objectives, and so on. We had individual supervisors for the more specific guidance and problems whereas this was more general and we were able to share with each other what we’d found helpful, etc. These classes were online but we were finally able to come into the building. With most of the other courses finished for the summer, it was pretty empty and I felt safe there; you had to test negative just to get in the building and with no one around (pre-COVID, it could be a bit of a crush at times), my pandemic anxiety was a lot lower than it usually is when I’m out in the world. Being there after so much time and getting to see some of my friends again made me positively giddy! And there were some friends that I was actually meeting in person for the first time, which was just wonderful! I’m really going to miss it; I mean, I’ll pop in now and then for events and stuff but I’m really going to miss it being part of my day-to-day, week-to-week life.

Anyway. My supervisor was truly awesome. We had fortnightly and then weekly sessions and she was fantastic, not only with the academic stuff but with helping me to manage my anxiety, the things that tripped up my neurodivergent brain, and so on. And while we worked together well, we also had a lot of fun: we went on some epic tangents and there were multiple conversations that we had to mentally bookmark for later in order to actually get our work done. We got on really well and our sessions were always fun and thought-provoking, as well as helpful. I hope that this isn’t the last time we get to work together.

I obviously know a lot about Autism already so, after finding sources for that information, I started writing songs about my experiences and researching Autism further. Having the foundation of knowledge that I did, I think allowed me to research both more deeply and down different avenues since I didn’t have to spend so much time on the basic knowledge. And some of that research, from academic papers to anecdotal stories to art made by autistic individuals, sparked some really interesting song ideas (for example, I ended up writing a love song after watching Love on the Spectrum, which I found both upsetting and deeply depressing as an autistic person).

I don’t want to give too much away about the songs because I hope to release them but, over the semester, I wrote eighteen songs with a handful more that still need finishing. For the most part, I wrote alone – first because it was more convenient and then because I felt like my experiences were conveyed with more clarity that way – but I did work with a few different people, when I was struggling with a concept for example. I wrote with a couple of my friends – Richard and Luce (known as LUCE) – but I also wrote with new people that I’ve met during my time on the Masters – Luke (known as leadmetoland), Phill Vidler, and Katherine Moynihan – which was fun and exciting. It was nice to do both: I love cowriting and the back and forth of ideas but doing so much writing by myself really restored my confidence; I’ve spent so much time cowriting over the last two years and really not that much solo writing so I was nervous when I started to write alone again but after a while, it started to feel really good and that was really exciting.

But while I didn’t manage to write with Richard as much as I’d originally hoped to, we had many production sessions, mostly over Zoom. While I’d never considered the production unimportant, the project evolved to a place where the production was just as key to the representation of my autistic experiences and the emotions attached to them as the lyrics conveying the story or message. So the two of us spent a lot of time working on every little detail. While I’ve always been involved in the production choices of my songs, I’ve also always been aware that Richard knows a hell of alot more than me so I was happy to defer to his judgement. But with this project, for the first time really, I was taking the lead on production decisions – on occasion, I had the whole arrangement and production planned out before the session. But I felt more like a producer than I ever have: I was coming up with ideas that actually worked from idea to execution; I was able to pick out specific instrument, arrangement, and effect details in a way I haven’t been able to do up to now; and so on. Along with the songs themselves, that’s something I’d really proud of. I really feel like I grew as a musician and as a producer.

I absolutely loved working on my project. To be researching and writing songs about something I’m so passionate about was just so creatively invigorating. That’s not to say it wasn’t hard though. There were, of course, periods of doubt, insecurity, and anxiety over the academic elements and whether I’d be able to do as good a job as I desperately wanted to. Plus, some of the experiences I was digging into were pretty raw and writing those songs did get difficult, especially since I was suddenly doing the project without the support of my therapist, something I’d put in place to help me manage that. But apart from one bad bout of depression, my mental health was – somehow – reasonably stable (apart from my day-to-day, ongoing anxiety). As I said in my previous post, I think it was the constant creating (and creating things that I’m really proud of) that did it, that kept everything on a reasonably even keel.

Having said that, my chronic pain was almost constant, worse than it’s ever been. There were periods where my knee, for example, was so painful that I could barely walk and my back so painful that I could barely move. My Mum (once a massage therapist) said that it felt like I was storing rocks in my muscles. It certainly felt like they were made of concrete. Maybe it was my anxiety around the project, I don’t know, but the pain was keeping me up at night. I also struggled on and off with my hands and wrists, presumably from all of the typing, piano, and guitar playing I was doing. God, my various health issues are like freaking buses sometimes. I’m still waiting for physiotherapy and hydrotherapy, have been for months. I’ve just started with the Pain Clinic but one appointment was never going to change anything before the Masters ended. So all I had were various painkillers that were only sporadically helpful.

But my biggest ongoing obstacle was my difficulty concentrating, which I’m assuming is due to my (still untreated) ADHD. Staying focussed on my work was very difficult; I exhausted all of my energy trying. It felt like my concentration was so delicate that the smallest distraction would shatter it and then there was no way to know when it would come back; I felt like I was clinging onto it by my fingertips. So I couldn’t stop (really not healthy, I know). I couldn’t waste a second of it. That was super stressful and I often ended up sitting at my computer for hours and hours; there were multiple fourteen hour days, some successful, some not. People kept telling me to at least take a day off now and then but I just couldn’t. I was too scared of losing my concentration when my hold on it felt so tenuous.

During the semester, I also had a few other commitments; it was awkward timing but they were all great opportunities:

  • As I mentioned in my post about the previous semester, I was part of the judging panel for a songwriting competition. That ended up being a lot of work but fortunately I managed to get it all done in time for this module to start. The end was pretty stressful because our deadline was suddenly brought forward but it was a great experience and I learned a lot from it; there were so many amazing songs and so many talented songwriters and they’re all still pretty young. I hope they keep writing; some of them I’d love to see pursue songwriting as a career. The final winners weren’t the ones I personally would’ve have chosen but I guess that’s what happens when you’re judging by committee and there are so many good songs to chose from.
  • I also submitted work to a competition: three songs, two already written and one that I wrote as part of this project. I was supposed to find out whether I’d made it through the first round in August, I think, but, because they’re also an organisation and not just a competition, COVID has thrown a wrench in the plan and so the whole thing has been delayed until February. So I guess I won’t know anything for a while.
  • One of my tutors is doing a research project on the many reasons why we write songs and I volunteered to share my thoughts. In mid July, a handful of students came together for a Q&A panel about our personal songwriting intentions, processes, and experiences. It was really interesting with a pretty wide range of reviews and even a couple of debates. Hopefully some of what we said was useful for the research.
  • Also in July was the Taylor Swift focussed musicology conference I mentioned in my post about the previous semester and I presented my paper on some of Swift’s lyric writing techniques: her repeated use of certain imagery and the ongoing themes throughout her discography. I loved researching it (and hope to research it further in the future) and writing the paper – so much so that it ended up being over ten thousand words long and I had to do some major editing work. Presenting the paper – I ended up recording it and presenting it in video form because I was so nervous – was very nerve-wracking: everyone was lovely and very welcoming but I was just so aware of how inexperienced I was. But it went really well and I really enjoyed the whole conference; there were so many interesting papers. I hope it’s a conference that can happen again (not just because I have so many ideas that I’d love to research but because Taylor Swift is so fascinating on so many levels; there’s a lot that can be learned from her, not just around music but in business, in the development of pop culture, and so on). 

In the last month, my approach reached a new level of intensity. I was working constantly, quickly when my concentration was good and agonisingly slowly when it was bad. But I didn’t stop. I even worked while I ate. I know that’s not a healthy way of doing things but I was just so terrified of getting a grade I wasn’t happy with, that made me feel like I was letting everyone down, myself included. If I wasn’t working, I felt guilty so I just kept working.

Finally it came time to try and distill all my work down to the most important points for the final presentation. My god, that was hard. Months of research, almost twenty songs, and a lot of reflection on my creative process all into an hour… Or, as I said, the most important points. But figuring what those important points were was a real struggle. Throughout the whole Masters, I felt like the module objectives were designed to trip me up – not me specifically, of course, but anyone reading them. Reading them felt like trying to interpret another language that you barely understand so I felt like I was just waiting to discover that I had it all wrong. Maybe it was my autistic brain, I don’t know. My supervisor was great regarding this anxiety but two years of feeling that way made it a hard feeling to exorcise. So I just did what I know how to do and worked through it, hoping it would be enough. And on the 6th September, I had my final assessment. Two tutors watched my presentation and then, after a brief discussion, they asked me a couple of questions, both of which were pretty straightforward to answer. And that was it. The project and the semester was over.


According to the usual rules, the results will be released in twenty working days, although I don’t know if that will apply given that my assessment was so much later than everyone else’s and they all received their results the day after I presented. So I’m just waiting to hear. I’m trying not to stress about my grade but, as I said in my previous post, I’m finding it hard. I’ve been working relentlessly – with so many obstacles to navigate – and the idea that that still wasn’t enough to get the Distinction I want so badly does upset me. I mean, I’d get over it in time but, yeah, it would be distressing. I just really hate the idea of thinking, “I could’ve gotten a distinction if I wasn’t autistic or had ADHD, etc.” I know that that’s not a healthy way to think but the standards and expectations I have for myself are somewhat warped, something that I think is due to the late ASD diagnosis and the clash between twenty-ish years with neurotypical standards and then having to adjust those expectations in accordance with what I now know is a neurodivergent brain. It’s a mess basically. But I’m waiting for the results – they should be out on the 6th October – and hoping desperately that it went as well as I hope it did.

While the ‘project-for-assessment’ is over, I definitely want to keep working on the songs, write some more on various elements of my autistic experience that I just didn’t manage in the timeframe, and then, hopefully, release it in some form. That’s the dream. I’m so proud of so many of these songs and I really, really want people to hear them and hopefully find strength or comfort in them. We’ll have to see because these projects are just so expensive to put together, from the production work to making music videos to all of the marketing.

And while this is a topic for another post, it should be acknowledged that the semester ended on a very sad note. I found out the morning after my presentation that my Granny had died. Between that news and an intense semester’s worth of work and my brain is just at overload. I can’t tell if I’m not feeling anything or feeling everything. I don’t really want to get too deeply into all of this, partly because I’m not ready and partly because, if only on my blog, I want to keep this semester and this project separate. I really just wanted to mention it in the context of all the emotions I’m dealing (or maybe not dealing) with right now.

So that was the final semester. But there’s still a couple more chapters in this story, so to speak. Graduation will hopefully go ahead as planned – in person – in November and then who knows? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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My apologies if this post is a bit all over the place: everything’s really hitting me and I’m just exhausted but I wanted to get this out while it’s still fresh.