Posted on July 11, 2018
From the age of about two years old, I’ve been going to a little town in Norfolk almost every year on holiday. While I was in school, we – me, my parents, and our dog – would go during the October half term but in recent years, we’ve been going in the early summer, before the schools break up. We stay in a caravan less than a ten-minute walk from a stunning sandy beach and I absolutely love it.
Some people find it strange that we always go back to the same place but as far as I can tell, there are two basic types of holidays: going to explore and going to relax. Both have their pros and cons. This is definitely a relaxation holiday. It’s familiar and calm and beautiful. It’s a bubble away from reality where I can just be, in a way I can’t at home. And, of course, familiarity and Autism go together like fish and chips. We also ate a lot of fish and chips…
I’ve been back from Norfolk a few days and I just really wanted to write about it. After having had so much change with the house move, the changing of medications, and the decision to keep my cat’s kittens, it was really nice to be somewhere so familiar and safe. And as much as I love the cats, I really enjoyed having some dedicated dog time with Lucky. Because he’s now so arthritic, we have to be careful to not over walk him (his enthusiasm far exceeds his physical ability so he’s not much help there) but we manage a couple of trips to the beach, which he loved. He can’t really run anymore but there was a fair amount of skipping, one sure-fire way to know he’s enjoying himself. It’s very cute.
The beaches in Norfolk are just beautiful. The closest beach, the one we jokingly call ‘our beach,’ is particularly close to my heart. Every year, I step onto that beach and everything just clicks into place. It’s subtle but I suddenly feel like my head’s a little clearer, like I can breathe more easily. Something inside me settles. It’s like I leave a little piece of myself there, that I miss all year round, and then, when I get back, it’s an overwhelming relief. I’ve spent some glorious evenings on that beach.
It was ridiculously hot all week so I spent a lot of time inside with all the windows and doors open. I’m really not good with heat. It’s something I’ve heard from quite a few other people with Autism; I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a link, given the hypersensitivity that often comes as part of being autistic. Anyway. It gave me the opportunity to do a lot of writing and catch up a bit with my diary (if you’ve read this post, you’ll know that my writing can be quite compulsive). That felt really good. I also rewatched some of my favourite films and played chess. The latter is something I haven’t had the concentration to do for months so that felt like a victory in itself, much more exciting than actually winning at chess.
Being there doesn’t eradicate my anxiety entirely but it does a pretty good job of dampening it. Sometimes anxiety feels like this constant vibration that I can’t stop, can’t take a break from. But in Norfolk I can. I still get anxious about specific things but that relentless vibration momentarily ceases. And that’s such a relief.
Posted on July 7, 2018
Travelling is hard work for everybody. It’s exhausting and stressful and frustrating. But add in sensory issues or anxiety or whatever it is you struggle with and it can be a traumatic experience. Since we are now in the summer holidays and prime travelling time, I thought I’d put together some things that I found helpful to do as an autistic person who struggles with anxiety. I would like to point out (again) that there is a maddening lack of resources (and even simple testimony) for or from the point of view of autistic people. I spent hours searching for something but there was next to nothing; all the advice was for parents of young autistic children. Of course that information is important but it’s very demoralising to an autistic adult – essentially being compared to a child – especially one who was diagnosed late and has had to work so hard, often unaided, to manage their difficulties.
PLAN AHEAD – I know, this is my advice for everything, but it really does help. Struggling with unexpected change is a common trait in Autism and while planning can’t prevent all of those changes, it can make a huge difference. It can also give you a confidence boost, knowing that your actions have prevented a certain amount of anxiety.
SPEAK TO A TRAVEL AGENT – Being able to hand some of the responsibility off to someone else can be really helpful, especially if you have limited energy. You have to prioritise the tasks and if there are people who can help, that is a valuable resource. These people are also more likely to know the ins and outs of booking flights and accommodations etc and will therefore be more equipped to help you get what you need and want to get the most out of your trip.
CHOOSE YOUR ACCOMODATION CAREFULLY – Having somewhere where you can have time out and recharge is so important when travelling. We all have different sensory needs and different things we can tolerate so choosing a place to stay is really important. For example, staying with other people (people I don’t know) causes me a lot of anxiety so when we look through Airbnb, we look at places that allow us to be the sole inhabitants. It won’t be the same for everyone but if you can identify what you need, you can hopefully find somewhere to stay that can be a restful place rather than a stressful one.
WRITE A LIST OF EVERYTHING YOU’LL NEED AND HAVE SOMEONE CHECK IT – Having a list makes packing so much easier and having someone check it for you just reduces the chances of making a stupid mistake like forgetting your pyjamas. Because that really isn’t something you need to deal with when you arrive wherever you’re going. Also make sure that you’ve got any medications or medical equipment that you need because those can be particularly difficult to get hold of, especially if you’re in another country.
PACK AN EMERGENCY KIT IN YOUR CARRY ON BAGGAGE – On the off chance that your bags get lost along the way, pack a change of clothes, some medication, etc in your carry on bag so that you can at least get up the next day and work out a solution.
BRING YOUR OWN FOOD – You’d need to check with your airline but there are certain foods that you can take in your suitcase that won’t cause you any problems while travelling. That means that, at the very least, you’ll have something to eat when you get to your destination. But in my case, it gave me a staple food that I knew I could eat in case I couldn’t find anything I could tolerate. It took away some of the anxiety, for which I was grateful.
PREPARE SPECIFICALLY FOR THE FLIGHT – Apparently, we’re flying in this hypothetical. Many people have fears associated with flying and while I don’t have any magic words of wisdom there, there are a couple of tricks to make it slightly less difficult, especially if you have sensory issues. Take sweets to suck on and relieve the pressure in your ears. Wearing a mask over your face can help if you’re worried about bad reactions to everyone’s germs in one confined space, as well as chemicals from perfumes etc. I’ve also found that a playlist of familiar music helps with the constant noise of flying. And wearing comfortable clothes: you’re most likely gonna look awful when you get there anyway so why bother with anything more than a T-shirt and leggings.
BUILD IN TIME OUT AND DON’T FEEL GUILTY FOR IT – Easier said than done, I know but burning yourself out in the first couple of days doesn’t make for a good trip. So try to take breaks between things and listen to your body: if you need to rest, rest. It will make the whole trip more enjoyable and worthwhile if you do.
As of now, I think that’s all I’ve got. But if you guys have any tips that you’ve found helpful, please let me know!
Posted on April 21, 2018
Ten points if you understand that reference.
As many of you know, I was in Nashville from 1st April to 11th April so here is a post all about that: the travel, the being away from home, some of the things I did, and how I felt about it all. A big part of this is that I do just want to write down some of my thoughts about it but I also think that documenting these experiences as a person with Autism, as a person with mental illness, could be helpful, especially when there is so little information and testimony about living with these issues.
The flight out was smooth. In the literal sense, anyway. But about an hour before we arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina, I started sneezing. I didn’t think much of it until we were walking through the airport and it still hadn’t stopped. And then my nose started to run (this is gross and probably too much information, but it was like water was just leaking out of my nose) and all the sniffing I was doing to try and stop it gradually gave me a terrible headache. So that was a struggle. And it just wouldn’t stop. By the time we arrived in Nashville several hours later, I had the beginnings of a migraine and was practically useless. Fortunately, I was travelling with my Mum and one of my best friends, Richard (who is also my writing partner), so I could hand over responsibility and focus on staying upright. We got to our accommodation and I fell asleep as soon as I sat down (getting back up and walking to the bed was the most asleep I’ve ever been while awake and, no joke, I laughed hysterically until I fell asleep). The jetlag got me good – I was so tired that I fell asleep in the middle of the afternoon every single day – and I still hadn’t gotten myself in sync by the time we were flying home.
Before I get on to the rest of the trip, I have to say that none of it would have been possible if my Mum hadn’t come with me. This was my third trip to the US and she has been with me each time, sometimes working and sometimes taking a holiday – she freaking deserves one with how hard she works, at everything – and I could not do it without her. This probably deserves it’s own post but in short: she helps me keep my anxiety under control, helps me process everything that’s happening, removes the stress around food by either being there to catch me when I fail at it or completely assuming responsibility for it… She is the certainty I need when every other thing around me is uncertain. All of these things make it possible for me to be functional, let alone make the most out of the trip and the opportunities I’m presented with. She is a complete superstar and I’m so, so grateful.
Another thing that I think is important to mention is how much I struggle with food when I travel. I have huge, huge anxiety around food (see my recent post) and there aren’t many things I can manage. I remember thinking, before my first trip, that there would finally be things I could eat but my perception of the food was wrong; I was convinced I’d gain loads of weight but I actually lost more than half a stone. Since then, both me and my Mum have been more prepared: we travel with things like rice cakes (one of my staples), shop on the first day, and never rely on restaurants or venues. So, this time, we made a huge thing of Stir Fry at the beginning of the week and I basically ate that all week. I know that some people would find that boring but for me, it was comforting to know that there was a meal a day that I wouldn’t have to worry about. Sometimes that’s all I can manage so I need to know that it’s something I can eat. Again, a major shout out to my Mum for supporting me with that. And to Pancake Pantry for getting me excited about food.
The reason for going at this time of year is the Tin Pan South songwriting festival. Over five days, there are a hundred songwriters’ rounds where all of these incredible songwriters play their songs – some famous, some never released – and tell the stories that inspired them. As a songwriter, it’s the most amazing and motivating experience. As you guys probably know from my playlist post, I saw so many people that I was so excited by but I’m not sure anyone is interested in that, given that this is primarily a mental health blog. Let me know if you would be interested in that. But having said that, I can’t not mention some of them: Natalie Hemby (one of my all time favourite songwriters) was incredible and hilarious; Alyssa Micaela and Emily Shackelton were wonderful; Abby Anderson’s ‘History’ was one of my favourite songs of the festival; the show with Jeff Cohen, Kara DioGuardi, Jamie Hartman, and Ingrid Andress (one of my favourite finds of the week) was mind blowing and definitely a highlight; and Nikita Karmen was another great discovery. All of the shows were fantastic though and I felt so lucky to be there. I felt (and do still although my mental health has crashed since) so, so inspired and can’t wait to write new songs having learned so much.
And on that note, I got to hang out and write songs with one of my favourite people in Nashville. Her name is Caylan and we met during my first trip to Nashville in 2016. We wrote one of my favourite and most personal songs several days later. She is such a beautiful songwriter and again, we wrote some really cool songs and it was so, so nice to see her again. I also did some writing with Richard, which is one of my favourite things to do.
The biggest, most exciting part of my trip was playing a Song Suffragettes round. I’ve been following them on social media and watching their shows on Periscope for years now and I have always been so inspired by their mission to promote these incredible up and coming young women in country music. I’ve always done my best to see the shows in person when in Nashville and it has truly been a dream of mine to play at one of their rounds. And on this trip, that dream came true. It was nerve wracking but it was one of the most positive experiences I’ve ever had and definitely so in the last year: everyone behind the show was so lovely and the other girls were so sweet and so welcoming. My performances weren’t perfect but I’m still proud of them and I felt so, so honoured to be there. It was inspiring and motivating and so special. We finished the show with a cover of ‘Delicate’ by Taylor Swift, which we’d put together in the back room before going on stage and, again, that was really fun. Oh, and the video of that is now on YouTube!
After the show, we went out to the lobby to meet and talk to anyone who wanted to talk. That turned out to be a real highlight. I hadn’t expected anyone to want to say more than hello since it was my first time playing and no one would’ve known me before the show but so many people came up to me and the conversations we had were and are very special to me. Two of the three songs I played are incredibly personal, including one about my experiences with trying to get help with my mental health, and these are the songs that seem to really connect with people. I’ve had people come up to me, tell me what it meant to them to hear these songs, and share some amazingly personal stories. It blows my mind that a little song that I wrote in my friend’s front room on a Thursday afternoon has made people feel safe enough to share these really important things with me. I’m so honoured. That whole night was so special to me. A massive thank you again to everyone behind Song Suffragettes for all you guys do and thank you, thank you, thank you for inviting me to play.
The last couple of days were a bit of a blur after that but my last activity in Nashville was a memorable one. We went to The Candle Bar to make our own candles, something I’d seen on Instagram and really wanted to do. I really, really struggle with candles because of how sensitive to smells I am so I was excited to find out whether I could create a candle that I could not only tolerate but also enjoy. Because you’re pouring out the fragrance and the wax, you are in control of how strong the candle will smell; obviously you want to be able to smell it but this made it possible to add slightly less of the fragrance so that it won’t be overwhelming. It was a really fun experience, simple and chilled and interesting. I had commitment issues over which container to use and had to change once I’d chosen the fragrance because the colour of it didn’t match how it smelled, but choosing the fragrance was easy: there were only two that I liked. I ended up going for the pink pepper and grapefruit because, as a smell, it had no sharp edges, if that makes sense. There was nothing jarring about it. Since I’ve been home, I’ve only lit it once but I really like it. It’s subtle, which is perfect for me, but I can still smell it and it does actually smell like the fragrance I chose. So I’m really happy with it and would definitely recommend the experience.
And then it was time to go home. Usually I dread going home but after the roller coaster of emotions that I went through on this trip and having the kittens waiting for me, I was ready to go. But it was still hard. I’ve jokingly compared my love for Nashville to a long distance relationship but fortunately, I know it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I’ll be back and it will be there, waiting for me. The plane ride home went fine, although we took extra precautions and I wore a mask for most of it. I felt ridiculous but I kept reminding myself that I was trying to avoid more illness and discomfort, that I am allowed to take care of myself.
Before I sign off, there are a couple of other things that I wanted to mention and the first one is about the emotions throughout the trip. The first half of the ten days was really hard: I was overwhelmed by anxiety and struggling to stay ahead of a particularly bad episode of Depression, my self doubt was paralyzing, and I just had this overwhelming longing to go home where I felt safe and less like I was going to fall apart at any second. It was horrible, but fortunately it did pass (although it’s come back in full force since I’ve been back) and I was able to enjoy the rest of the trip apart from some anxiety (which is totally normal – I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t anxious, and very anxious at that). The lows were very low and the highs were very high, as usual. And with everything on top of that, I was completely and utterly exhausted. So it was definitely a rollercoaster.
The other thing I want to say is that it was vital that I had some time out from it all. I’m going to write a ‘tips for travelling when you’re autistic’ post but I also want to include it here. With all the emotions, the anxiety, the walking and standing, etc, I had to have some recovery time. Apart from the times where I just fell asleep on the sofa, we would watch TV together (shout out to Episodes and Queer Eye – highly recommend both). I tried to ignore the little voice in my head that kept telling me I was wasting the trip by doing that but I tried to remember that I was doing it to ensure that I could make the most of the trip. It’s hard to see it that way sometimes. But without rest, I wouldn’t have been able to go out every night – sometimes to two shows – and I wouldn’t have been able to write the best songs I could and I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the experience. So yes, if you need to take breaks, take breaks.
And that’s it for this post. I hope it was interesting, that there were a few helpful things in here. I have lots of blog posts on the go or in the planning stages so I’ll talk to you all soon!
Category: anxiety, autism, depression, emotions, event, food, mental health, music Tagged: actuallyautistic, aeroplane, america, anxiety, autism, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, autistic spectrum disorder, candle, candle making, depression, festival, flying, music, music festival, nashville, nashville tennessee, nsai, self care, self doubt, singersongwriter, song suffragettes, songwriter, songwriters, songwriting, songwriting festival, tennessee, tin pan south, travelling, united states, usa
Posted on April 14, 2018
So, as you guys know, I’ve been in Nashville and I just got back on Thursday. I’m working on a post all about the trip – partly because I just really want to write about it and partly because I think there is some stuff in there that could be useful to others – but that’s taking a while so, in the mean time, here is a little list of songs that I listened to while I was away, one for each day. Since I was there for the Tin Pan South songwriting festival, many of these songs haven’t been released yet or were performed by the original writers rather than the person that usually performs them. So, for the songwriters out there, I hope this will be interesting. Also bear in mind that, especially while the festival was going on, I was hearing between twenty and fifty songs a night so a lot of thinking went into these choices…
SUNDAY – ‘Love Is A Wild Thing’ by Kacey Musgraves (Written by Kacey Musgraves, Ian Fitchuk, and Daniel Tashian)
I hadn’t had a chance to listen to Kacey’s new album until I got on the plane and I just fell in love with it. She’d performed this one at Country2Country and I was so excited to hear it again. It did not disappoint and it’s one of my favourites of the album.
Even if you lose it, it will find you
There’s no way to stop it so don’t try to
Running like a river, trying to find the ocean
Flowers in the concrete
Climbing over fences, blooming in the shadows
Places that you can’t see
Coming through the melody when the night bird sings
Love is a wild thing
MONDAY – ‘Give It All Back’ by Jordyn Shellhart
I first heard Jordyn at a Song Suffragettes show (an organisation aimed at showcasing new female songwriters in country music) and I instantly fell in love with this song, with it’s energy, with it’s golden hope. You know when you’re listening to a song and it feels like your lungs are expanding, your head tilts up, and your whole body gets lighter? Yeah, I had that with this song. And then I was lucky enough to hear it in a Tin Pan South round later in the week.
If we got all we ever wanted
But it cost us all we ever had
Pinkie swear, baby, let’s shake on it
If it comes to that,
We’ll give it all back
TUESDAY – ‘Fight Like A Girl’ by Kalie Shorr (Written by Kalie Shorr, Lena Stone, and Hailey Steele)
This song has been out for a few years now but hearing it live is just another thing altogether and, of course, Kalie performed it when I saw her play at Song Suffragettes. I sort of forget how much I love it and then it just smacks me in the face and leaves me breathless. It’s such an anthem and I particularly love the lines about her Mum because I feel exactly the same way.
I’m little but I’m loud
Just wanna make my mama proud
And you can tell without a doubt that I’m her daughter
She raised me to believe
That I can be anything
So when you push me, I’ll just push back harder
WEDNESDAY – ‘Rainbow’ by Kacey Musgraves (Written by Kacey Musgraves, Natalie Hemby, and Shane McAnally)
I freaking love this song and have loved it since Kacey started performing it way back when. I was really disappointed when it wasn’t on her second album and absolutely ecstatic when it was on her third. And then Natalie Hemby performed it at Tin Pan South and I loved it even more, especially when she talked about the writing of it: it’s about how hard it is to recover from a traumatic experience or period in your life and how, even once you’ve come through it, it can be hard to recognise that. I really relate to that.
‘Cause the sky has finally opened, the rain and wind stopped blowin’
But you’re stuck out in the same old storm again
Hold tight to your umbrella, oh darlin’, I’m just tryin’ to tell you
That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head
THURSDAY – ‘Doin’ Fine’ by Lauren Alaina (Written by Lauren Alaina, Emily Shackelton, and Busbee)
This was a hard pick (honorary mention to ‘Between Me and a Bar’ by Alyssa Micaela because it’s freaking awesome and was a very, very close second to this song) but I connected to this song so strongly that it had to be this one. Emily Shackelton performed it during a Tin Pan South round and I fell in love with it straight away. This is my kind of anthem: not rainbows or confetti or fairy tales, but the moment when you realise you just might be okay after a really long struggle.
I’m doing fine enough to know that everyone’s a little broken
Fine enough to learn that hearts are best when they’re wide open
I still got fear inside of me
I’m not okay but I’m gonna be
For the first time in a long time I’m doing fine
I’m doing fine
FRIDAY – ‘History’ by Abby Anderson
Again, this one was a really, really difficult choice. Shout out to Ingrid Andress because all of her songs were amazing, especially ‘Ladylike.’ But, like the last one, I related to this song so powerfully that I had to talk about it here. As far as I can tell, she only wrote it recently so I’m not sure if it’s available anywhere yet or even if it will be. I really hope it will. It’s the song I’ve been trying to write my whole life.
It may be something that nobody sees
Something that we carry that will always be
If our paths don’t cross and we never speak
And the world moves on, believe you’ll be
A part of me, part of me
‘Cause we have history, history
SATURDAY – ‘First Last Name’ by Madison Kozak
I’ll stop saying this now but this was another one that I really struggled to narrow down. I was absolutely sure that I would choose a Nikita Karmen song because I was absolutely blown away by her in the first round (seriously, go and check her out) but then I heard this song and I couldn’t not write about it. Songs about fathers speak to me on a very specific level and this one just made me cry because it made me think about what our relationship might’ve been like. It’s a beautiful song.
He’s the son of a salesman
Short glass old fashioned
‘How’s your car been running, baby?
Call your mama when you get home safely.’
My hall of fame
He’s never missed a game
My first last name
SUNDAY – ‘Delicate’ by Taylor Swift (Written by Taylor Swift, Max Martin, and Shellback)
I listened to this song a lot on Sunday because I was performing at the Song Suffragettes round the next night and at the end of each show, the girls perform a surprise cover to finish. I was out of my mind excited to play that show so I listened to it on repeat to make sure I really knew it. Anyone who knows me knows that I love Taylor Swift. It wasn’t one of my favourites on the new album but the experience of learning it and performing it in that setting has made me absolutely love it.
Third floor on the west side, me and you
Handsome, you’re a mansion with a view
Do the girls back home touch you like I do?
Long night with you hands up in my hair
Echoes of your footsteps on the stairs
Stay here, honey, I don’t wanna share
MONDAY – ‘Brand New Heart’ by Lucy Scholl
I first heard this song last year when I saw Lucy perform at a Song Suffragettes round and I instantly fell in love with it. The chorus just spoke to me so clearly. I think it’s much better than the ‘I’m grateful you broke my heart because it made me a better person’ songs because, while it acknowledges the other person’s part, it’s about how she made that new heart, that new person. She hadn’t planned to play it at the round we were both performing in but I asked and she very kindly obliged.
Never thought I’d be so proud of these scars
Showin’ ‘em off like they’re a work of art
I took all the pieces that you broke apart
And I made a brand, brand new heart
TUESDAY – ‘Let Me Be’ by Savannah Keyes
Savannah played this song during the Song Suffragettes round and it’s been on my mind ever since. She talked about how she’d been out with friends and how they’d seen a shirt in a shop window, which had the words ‘eat less’ emblazoned on it. That example of how much pressure is put on girls inspired this song, which I just loved, as did my Mum. It was very powerful.
Let me be daring
Let me be kind and caring
A dreamer with a flower in her hair and
Let me be young and free
Let me be sweeter
Let me be an innocence keeper
A follow-my-heart believer
Let me be seventeen
Let me be
WEDNESDAY – ‘Oh What A World’ by Kacey Musgraves (Written by Kacey Musgraves, Ian Fitchuk, and Daniel Tashian)
And in a strange full circle of sorts, I ended up listening to Kacey Musgraves on the flight home. After the ten days I’d just had, ‘Oh What A World’ feels like a pretty appropriate closing track.
Oh, what a world, I don’t wanna leave
All kinds of magic all around us, it’s hard to believe
Thank God it’s not too good to be true
Oh, what a world, and then there is you
Category: event, favourites, music, video Tagged: country music, festival, golden hour, kacey musgraves, kalie shorr, music, music festival, nashville, natalie hemby, playlist, song suffragettes, songs, songwriter, songwriters, songwriting, songwriting festival, taylor swift, tin pan south, tin pan south 2018, travelling
Hey! I’m Lauren Alex Hooper. Welcome to my little blog! I write about living with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as a number of other mental health issues. I’m also a singer-songwriter so I’ll probably write a bit about that too.
My first single, ‘Invisible,’ is now available on iTunes and Spotify, with all proceeds going to Young Minds.