Posted on March 6, 2021
At the end of last year, I bought an AncestryDNA kit when, on the off chance, I saw that they were doing a sale. I’ve always wanted to know more about my history and where my family comes from so I bought the Genetic Ethnicity Test (at this point in my life, I don’t really want to know how at risk I am for various health problems – I’m dealing with enough medical stuff as it is), spat in the tube, and sent it off. And then, while I waited for the results to come back, I started building my family tree.
While my primary interest was in my genetic ethnicity, I was interested in what I could discover about my family tree. My Mum’s side of the family is already well researched and well documented in my Grandfather’s memoir so I wasn’t too focussed on finding those relatives as the information is all right there but I know practically nothing about my Dad’s family so that’s where I’ve been really dedicating my time and energy in this search.
I’m not sure what I expected to find when I started looking but very quickly, I built up a picture of my Dad’s family, all the way back to the 1800s. And some of the information I found was really interesting. For example, one of the women multiple generations back worked as a stenographer, interesting not only because it’s a job I find intriguing but also because she had a job, something that would’ve been very unusual considering the times. There was also somewhat of a family scandal involving one woman who disappeared, leaving her husband and children to start another family with a new partner; however she then all but combined the families, introducing certain family members so that the children never realised that they were half siblings. There were clearly some pretty strong personalities and I get the feeling that the women weren’t to be messed with.
A number of the people I found myself related to linked to other public family trees, including one run by a man who has extensively researched the extended family and made a family tree that’s more like a family database: there’s over twenty thousand names in there. It’s incredible. I think that, in theory, we all know that we come from somewhere, that we’re descended from real people with full lives but it’s kind of amazing when you start to learn who those people were/are. It has a way of making you feel so… connected. It gives you this sense of being a part of something so much bigger, in a way that the theoretical knowledge just can’t manage.
This is roughly what my family tree looks like at this point. I wanted to show some sort of visual but felt it was safer for me and everyone named if I blurred out the details.
All of that was relatively easy. The hard part has been my Dad’s generation, the generation I’m most interested and invested in. The only thing I knew about my Dad is that he had a brother who is still alive and a sister who isn’t, both older. I found the older brother, discovered another older brother, but found nothing on the sister or, in fact, my Dad himself. I’ve tried searching with every variation of known information, tried super specific searches, tried vague searches… but I can’t find anything more than what I found in my first search. I’m not sure what to do at this point.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this searching, the DNA results came back. Unsurprisingly, the results showed that most of my ancestors are from the United Kingdom; I’d expected as much. But there was a nice, more interesting surprise buried in there: I have some Swedish DNA. That was not something I’d predicted. Where that comes from, I’m not sure – I haven’t found a Swedish relative as of yet – but there have already been a handful of jokes about how that must be where the songwriting spark comes from (given how many successful songwriters have come out of Sweden). I don’t mind. There are definitely worse jokes.
Even though the results were pretty much what I’d expected, it’s cool to actually know. But it’s also kind of weird, an odd juxtaposition to what I guess you could call my ‘cultural DNA.’ Multiple members of my family – of my closest family – aren’t actually related to me so while I don’t genetically carry the DNA of their home countries, I was raised by them and the cultures they grew up with (to a degree, at least). So, while I may genetically be of the UK and Sweden, I’ve always felt strongly connected to my parents’ homes of England, Australia, and the Netherlands.
So it’s been an interesting journey up to this point, with fascinating discoveries and unforeseen frustrations. It’s definitely been a rewarding experience but I’m not done. Not by a mile. There are still so many things I don’t know, things that I need to know. So I’m not giving up yet.
I’m still investigating but I’m not sure how much further I can get with the limited amount of information I have. There are a couple of people – friends of my Dad’s – that I’ve reached out to but no one’s responded to me. I’m not sure what my next steps are, to be honest. Unless I pay someone to conduct a more thorough investigation (something that is very expensive, much more than I can afford at this point in my life), I’m not sure what more I can find out.
Posted on November 21, 2020
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve struggled with extreme fatigue all my life (I talked about this in my ‘Tired‘ blog post); Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (often referred to collectively as ME/CFS) have been tossed around since I was twelve years old but I wasn’t officially diagnosed until last year. This kind of acute ‘unexplained’ fatigue – unexplained as in there is no obvious cause, such as exercise or lack of sleep – is also a common experience for autistic individuals, as well as related symptoms like headaches and bodily pain.
I’ve been managing these high levels of fatigue for most of my life, trying various things to improve my quality of life. And I continued searching for a cause. I had test after test but nothing ever gave us an explanation. I resisted the ME/CFS diagnosis even as it seemed more and more likely because there’s no cure, not even a reliable method of management, but eventually it seemed the only way to move forward. So, after a long talk with my GP, she officially diagnosed me with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and we began discussing various options for next steps and support. She referred me to the local Chronic Fatigue Clinic and I anxiously awaited my session.
It was a bitter, heart-wrenching disappointment. I left in tears. Maybe it would’ve been helpful when I first started experiencing these symptoms (I think the longest any of the others there had been struggling was two years) but twelve years in, I knew more than the person delivering the information, had found everything suggested to make no difference or be outright unhelpful, and I just felt so patronised. It was an awful experience and I couldn’t help but feel so angry that this was the best on offer for what I was trying to manage and had been trying to manage alone (in terms of the health system) for more than a decade.
When we spoke to them after said awful session, they referred me to a doctor that we realised I’d previously seen – years and years ago and had a very traumatic experience with. I was obviously very reluctant to go. My Mum and I spent a lot of time talking about it, about the pros and cons of going and not going. The scary thing is that it’s so easy to get kicked off every list with one refusal so I said that I would go, despite having had such a distressing appointment with him – one I’m sure he doesn’t even remember. But before we contacted that clinic, we spoke to my GP again. We explained how upsetting the experience had been and how worried we were that it was only going to be worse this time, considering I would be going in with the baggage of the previous appointment; we told her that I would go if that was how it had to be to continue on this path but she felt that we were right, that it wouldn’t be helpful given the circumstances and as I’d technically already seen him, it wouldn’t cause any problems in the system. We asked if there were any other options and this was when she referred me for the hypermobility assessment (these posts are now out of order, not only because it’s been such a confusing and complicated process, but also because I’ve had trouble keeping things like this clear and ordered in my head since the pandemic started).
I’ve now had this appointment and been diagnosed with hypermobility, which potentially explains (at least in part) my problems with fatigue and pain. (At some point, we’re going to need to lay out all of these diagnoses and work out whether there’s any overlap, whether any of them are now redundant. But that’s a job for another day.) Apparently those with hypermobility are seven times more likely to be autistic, which is a very interesting piece to add to the whole puzzle. The post goes into it in more detail but basically, we’re now waiting to find out whether or not various routes are possible. For example, I’ve been referred for hydrotherapy but we don’t know whether I’ll get it and if I do, when it will be possible with the pandemic and lockdown. That has really stalled things. So it’s one waiting game after another.
But we’re not simply waiting. We – my Mum in particular – are also looking into other angles, other medical professionals who specialise in fatigue or who have studied fatigue in depth. We’ll take any advice we can get. I resisted a diagnosis of CFS for so long because it felt like admitting defeat – an expectation that I would just have to live with it with limited options – but I don’t accept that, not anymore. I’m participating in every research study I can find that I qualify for and my family and I continue to research potential specialists and potential avenues of treatment or even simply more effective management of the symptoms. The pandemic makes it hard but I am not willing to accept that this is going to be my life, that there’s no hope. Not that long ago, NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) removed ‘graded exercise therapy’ as a treatment for ME/CFS, after both research and those suffering with the condition proved that it was actually unhelpful at the very least. It’s slow but it’s progress. And I’ll take all the progress I can get.
Category: autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, covid-19 pandemic, diagnosis, sleep, treatment Tagged: asd, autism, autism spectrum disorder, autist, autistic adult, cfs research, change, chronic fatigue, chronic fatigue clinic, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain, diagnoses, diagnosis, doctor, fatigue, gp, graded exercise therapy, hydrotherapy, hydrotherapy referral, hypermobile, hypermobility, hypermobility diagnosis, lockdown, lockdown 2020, me/cfs, multiple diagnoses, myalgic encephalomyelitis, NICE, pandemic, pandemic 2020, progress, referral, research, research study, research volunteer, tired, treatment
Posted on September 26, 2020
Not long ago, I volunteered for a research study into ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and part of it involved keeping a photo diary as a visual representation for how my life is affected by my CFS. Obviously my life before the pandemic and my life now are quite different and so the researcher asked me to include pre-pandemic photos as well, to ensure that both experiences were recorded for the study. The collection of photos (and descriptions) I sent her was very long but I thought I’d do an abridged version to post here because it was a really interesting exercise.
(It’s worth noting that this was put together before I started back at university, hence why there aren’t any current references to classes or assignments.)
1. During my BA, I frequently took naps in quiet corners of my university between classes and then at my best friend’s flat when he moved onto the same street as the university. I found the commuting exhausting and the classes were long (some of them three hours) and took a lot of concentration. By the end of the semester, I was often really struggling to wake up to go back for the next class. A few times, I slept straight through both my alarm and my class. Fortunately that only happened a couple of times!
2. I’m currently doing a Masters Degree in songwriting part time and pre-lockdown, I’d go up to London usually once or twice a week for lectures, workshops, and cowriting sessions. This is an example of one of the assignments we had during the first module, which was called Creative Process.
3. Because living alone would be too much for me – I wouldn’t have the energy to look after myself, let alone do anything more – I commute to university (pre-pandemic anyway), involving lots of underground travel and multiple train journeys a week, something that I find exhausting. This is one of the reasons I chose to do my Masters part time because it reduced the amount of travelling and therefore allowed me to spend more energy on the course/work rather than on travelling.
4. At the end of any day that involves hard work or anxiety, I’m utterly exhausted and usually end up horizontal on the sofa or going to bed as soon as I get home from wherever I am. In this instance, I’d just done the assessment presentation for the first module of my Masters – which I’d been incredibly anxious about – and was completely exhausted. Plus the day had involved practicing it in the morning as well as travelling to London and back. I was so tired that I could barely stay awake long enough to eat dinner before going to bed.
5. I spent most of my days out of uni on the sofa, working on music, my mental health blog, or catching up with my diary, a favourite movie or TV show on in the background because I work better with background noise. I’m usually joined by a cat or two.
6. As a singersongwriter, I try to perform as often as I can, both in terms of opportunity and having the energy (I once played three gigs in three days after which I could barely function for over a week because I’d just used up so much physical, mental, and emotional energy). That’s not a common problem – managing my energy around the amount of gigs – as there aren’t a huge number of opportunities with so many aspiring singers in the two cities I perform in, London and Brighton. I love performing. It’s the place I most feel myself, especially if I’m singing songs that I’ve written. I don’t feel any fatigue while I’m performing – I’m feeling so much joy that it’s like I’m flying – and I don’t feel any fatigue until the adrenaline wears off, anywhere between thirty minutes and several hours later.
7. Since getting an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis, I’ve been able to get access to disabled seats at concerts, which does (in certain ways) improve my concert experience. It can be more stressful and it can make no difference at all but at the very least, it makes me feel better. I am in the disabled section and therefore no one can judge me or think that I don’t deserve to be at the show because I’m not dancing around, not ‘enjoying myself enough.’ That makes me feel more able to sit as I need to, which does make the concert experience easier on me and my body. Having said that, I’m not always so sensible out of sheer enthusiasm.
8. Before the pandemic, my best friend, Richard, and I had almost weekly writing and production sessions. My current EP was made almost entirely by the two of us in various rooms in the various places we’ve lived in over the last few years. These sessions are so fun and invigorating and even when it’s a struggle to find the right words or get the production to sound exactly how I want it to sound, it always feels right. I often feel very drained afterwards because it involves a lot of concentration and communication and we often work for four hours or more at a time. We have had sessions that last all day where I’m barely coherent by the end.
1. We have five cats in the house and I’ve been spending a lot of time with them. They’ve always been really good for my anxiety – probably because they are so mindful and live so fully in the moment – but they’ve been an extra comfort during these stressful times. I always try to get a good cuddle in the evenings since I get particularly anxious before bed because I’ve been sleeping so badly and having lots of nightmares during lockdown.
2. I generally drink at least two Red Bulls a day to keep myself awake and somewhat alert, although I don’t think they work as well as they used to. I’m sleepy all the time, but whether that’s from the CFS or the side effects of my anti-depressants or both, I don’t know. I hate feeling like I need to drink it and I worry about the effects on my health but it’s currently the only way I can stay awake for at least most of the day. My Mum and I are investigating other options, or we were until the pandemic brought everything to halt. We haven’t given up though.
3. This is my usual day-to-day view at the moment. I have a desk designed for bed or sofa use so that I can work from the sofa, which is more comfortable for me than working at my desk since I’ve been have problems with pain during lockdown (I’ve been referred to various hospital departments but I’m still waiting for the appointments). I’m usually working on my laptop – on my mental health blog, on my diary, on music stuff, etc – and there’s usually a cat draped over me.
4. I usually have the TV on in the background because I seem to be more productive with familiar background noise, like a familiar TV show or movie. But I’ve also been watching new things during lockdown, both to escape from all of the stress around the pandemic but also as inspiration for my music as not much is happening in my personal life to draw from for songs. This is the very last episode of Agents of Shield, my favourite TV show and I was hugely sad to see it end although the ending was as perfect as the end of something you love can be.
5. Since face-to-face writing sessions aren’t safe at this current time, I’ve been doing all of my writing sessions via Zoom. I’m currently doing about two a week, mostly with my writing partner, Richard. We alternate sessions: one on my songs and then one on his songs and so on. It’s harder work and not quite as fun or productive as a normal pre-pandemic session (who would’ve thought that not being able to point at something would trip up the creative process?) but it allows us to keep creating, which I’m grateful for. I’m always careful not to plan anything too difficult afterwards because these sessions are really draining and after about four hours, my ability to concentrate starts to fade.
6. I’ve been playing a lot of piano during lockdown. It distracts me from all that’s going on, I want to improve my skills, and I just genuinely love playing, especially in the lower octaves. I find them very soothing. I can play for hours without noticing the passing time; it’s lovely. Playing and singing for hours is, of course, tiring but it’s worth it because I get so much enjoyment out of it.
7. Because of my fatigue, I spend a lot of time on the sofa, which can get boring and frustrating, but it’s not so bad when I have my Mum (she’s self-employed, primarily working from home – especially now) and the cats around.
8. Most days consist of sitting on the sofa, working on my laptop. I’m writing a lot of posts for my mental health blog at the moment, preparing for when university starts again and I have less time to write. My Mum often does emails similarly, keeping me company even if we aren’t actively engaging with each other.
So that’s my condensed photo diary for the study. There are, of course, other areas of my life and other areas of my life that my CFS affects, like food and exercise but I don’t have any photos relating to those. For example, swimming is my main form of exercise but pre-pandemic I wouldn’t take my phone further than the locker room and since lockdown began, I’ve been struggling to find a way to swim that feels safe. I may have found one but I’m trying not to get too excited: I’ve missed it so much and I’m so desperate to get back to it, for my physical health, my mental health, and my relationship with my body. I was also reluctant to include other people; my exception was Richard because our work and social media presence are so intertwined. So there are obviously gaps but I tried my best to give an overview. Hopefully it will be a useful contribution to the research.
Category: about me, animals, anxiety, body image, chronic fatigue syndrome, covid-19 pandemic, depression, medication, mental health, music, research, sleep, university Tagged: agents of shield, asd, autism, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, blogging, caffeine, cat, cats, cfs, chloe bennet, chronic fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome, commuting, concentration, concert, cowriting, daisy johnson, degree, desk, diary, diary writing, disability, disabled, energy, energy levels, exhaustion, family, fatigue, film, friends, inspiration, laptop, lockdown, lockdown 2020, logic pro x, masters degree, me/cfs, myalgic encephalomyelitis, pain, pandemic, pandemic 2020, pandemic anxiety, performing, photo diary, piano, production, recording, red bull, remote writing session, research, research study, research volunteer, richard marc, richard marc music, singer, singersongwriter, singersongwriter life, sleep, sleepiness, songwriter, songwriting, songwriting degree, songwriting session, student, tv show, university, work from home, writing session, zoom
Hi! I’m Lauren Alex Hooper. Welcome to my little blog! I write about living with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as several mental health issues. I’m a singersongwriter (and currently studying for a Masters in songwriting) 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.
I’m currently releasing my first EP, Honest, track by track and all five songs are now available on all major music platforms. However, there’s still more content to come…