Mental Health Awareness Week 2021

So May is here and Mental Health Awareness Week has rolled around again. This year the theme is nature, which I was initially unsure about but after reading The Mental Health Foundation’s website, it made a lot more sense to me, even if I wouldn’t have necessarily made the same choice…

  • “During long months of the pandemic, millions of us turned to nature. Our research on the mental health impacts of the pandemic showed going for walks outside was one of our top coping strategies and 45% of us reported being in green spaces had been vital for our mental health. Websites which showed footage from webcams of wildlife saw hits increase by over 2000%. Wider studies also found that during lockdowns, people not only spent more time in nature but were noticing it more. It was as if we were re-discovering at our most fragile point our fundamental human need to connect with nature.”
  • “Nature is so central to our psychological and emotional health, that it’s almost impossible to realise good mental health for all without a greater connection to the natural world… During Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, we will pull together the evidence that demonstrates the powerful benefits of nature for our mental health. We will look at nature’s unique ability to not only bring consolation in times of stress, but also increase our creativity, empathy and a sense of wonder. It turns out that it is not just being in nature but how we open ourselves up and interact with nature that counts. We will show that even small contacts with nature can reduce feelings of social isolation and be effective in protecting our mental health, and preventing distress.”
  • “We have two clear aims. Firstly, to inspire more people to connect with nature in new ways, noticing the impact that this connection can have for their mental health. Secondly, to convince decision makers at all levels that access to and quality of nature is a mental health and social justice issue as well as an environmental one.”
  • “2021 is going be a huge year for nature: a new Environment Bill will go through the UK Parliament which will shape the natural world for generations to come; the UK will host the G7 nations where creating a greener future will be a key priority and a historic international UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will be hosted in Glasgow in November. There could not be a more important time to understand the links between nature and mental health.”

So, with all of that in mind, I thought I’d make a list of all the nature-related things that make me happy. The list started out pretty short but the more I thought about it, the more things came to mind. I could’ve kept going but I decided to stop before the post got out of control. We all know me and lists…


1. THUNDERSTORMS / RAIN

I love thunderstorms. I mean, I freaking love them. I love the thunder; I love the lightning; I love the pouring rain; I love how the air feels. I read that thunderstorms release negative ions into the atmosphere and that’s what makes the air feel electric and invigorating after a storm (x); I love that feeling. There’s something so incredible and powerful and emotional about thunderstorms; I don’t really know how to explain that response but that’s how they feel. They make me feel really alive in a way that nothing else does.

“There was a crash of thunder, the sky shattering right above our heads.” – Abby Geni


2. THE CATS PLAYING IN THE GARDEN

As soon as it starts getting warmer and drier, my cats are out in the garden all day every day. We basically only see them for meals. Most of the time they lounge around in the grass, soaking up the sun, or in shady corners, when it gets too hot, but they also play, which is just the most adorable thing in the world. They dig, they chase butterflies and bees, they pounce on unseen things, they bat at the wavy grasses, they chase each other, rolling around and leaping in the air… It’s so cute. It’s like nothing else exists, something that’s been a source of calm for me over the last eighteen months.

“Concrete is heavy; iron is hard — but the grass will prevail.” – Edward Abbey


3. THE BEACHES IN NORFOLK

I mean, I’ll take any beach going because I love beaches but the beaches in Norfolk have always been extra special for me. I can’t really explain it. Those beaches are one of the few things that make me feel like I’m in sync with the world when usually I feel like I’m not, like I’m on a different frequency to everyone else. But the sand, the sea, the sky, the air… it makes me feel more real. If that makes any sense at all.

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“Nature’s law is stronger than any little law you have made for yourself.” – Frank A. De Puy


4. MY YELLOW ROSES / MAGNOLIA TREES

When we moved into the ‘new’ house, there was a yellow rose bush and every year, it blooms magnificently. It’s utterly stunning with these huge, liquid gold roses and I fell in love with it from the first flower. I look forward to them every year and I love watching more and more buds open and practically shine in the sun. The petals are big and soft and gorgeous too. The plant itself is taller than me now and even as the family member least inclined to gardening, I’d do anything to keep it alive and healthy.

I’ve loved Magnolia trees since I was a child: my Granny had one in her big, beautiful garden and me and my brother used to climb into it (it wasn’t very big so we’d sort of climb inside it rather than climb up it), hidden by the flowers, and play in our massive imaginary worlds. I’ve always had a fondness for them ever since. Then there was a huge one outside my therapist’s office and it always used to make me feel better when therapy felt overwhelming and just too hard. We have one in our garden now although it’s still a baby and has a way to go before it’s a ‘real’ tree.

“Flowers rewrite soil, water, and sunshine into petal’d poetry.” – Terri Guillemets


5. SITTING IN THE SUN ON THE DECK

I don’t often sit out on the deck – I’m not very good at just relaxing and not doing anything – but when I do, I love the feeling of the breeze in my hair and the sun on my skin. The word kind of makes me cringe but it feels so nourishing. I have to be a bit careful though: for some reason, my skin seems only able to take a certain amount of direct sunlight before reacting, getting red and overheated (so far no one has figured out what causes it). But in small doses, I love it and I can almost feel an inner meter going up, like a health meter in a video game.

“In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect.” – Alice Walker


6. SWIMMING

While I’m not swimming in a ‘natural environment’ (especially with the pandemic, the water has enough chemicals in it to make your eyes burn), water itself is a natural environment so I’m going to include it anyway. Due to my chronic pain, swimming is currently the only exercise I can do – at the very least until my joints, strength, and stamina are better – and fortunately, I love swimming. As you can probably tell from the photos below. It’s always such a relief to get in the water and be essentially weightless, and I love being able to exercise and work hard without pain (even though I have been known to overdo it and suffer the consequences the next day). The whole experience makes me so joyously happy.

“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” – Henry David Thoreau


7. SUNRISES / SUNSETS

I’ve always loved sunrises and sunsets. I don’t think there’s an incarnation of the sky I don’t find beautiful but, being a person that feels so emotionally connected to colours (especially the ones we see in the sky), sunrise and sunset are always particularly special to me. And the more striking they are, the more I love them. Like this one below: it was an ordinary day made extraordinary by the sunset. The really stunning ones always feel like a rare gift. Photos never really do them justice but I often find myself coming back to this photo because I remember just how beautiful it was and how it completely took my breath away.

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“Clouds blaze brilliant colours in a sky on fire.” – Terri Guillemets


8. STARS / THE NIGHT SKY

I’ve been going out to watch meteor showers (especially the Perseid meteor shower in August) for the last several years and I love it. I love staring up, barely breathing as you wait for a meteor. Then suddenly one will streak across the sky; sometimes they’re so light that they’re like a white pencil barely touching black paper and sometimes they’re so bright, like a knife cutting through the roof of the tent and giving you a split second glimpse of blinding sun. I’ve only seen a few of those but they’re breath taking every single time. The whole experience is just magical. And just looking at the sky, I love how the longer you look at the stars, the more you see, like you’re seeing further and further into space. It’s amazing (although a little scary if you think about it too hard).

“The stars are the street lights of eternity.” – Unknown


9. NATURE DOCUMENTARIES

I know it’s not exactly ‘engaging in nature’ but I think it’s still staying connected to nature, just in an indirect way. It’s not like any of us can just jump on a flight and see these animals in real life on a whim so a documentary is the next best thing. Me and my brother used to watch all of the David Attenborough documentaries with my grandparents when we were little so they’re a huge part of my childhood; they’re probably a big part of why I’ve always loved animals so much. I especially loved the ones with big cats, although I never liked the parts where they killed other animals (I know it’s essential for their survival but I still don’t like watching it happen).

“Nature is new every morning, but its cycles are ancient, independent of all our anxieties, oblivious to our plans.” – Barbara Cawthorne Crafton


10. ICELAND

I’m not sure that this is something that really fits on this list because it’s not like a place you can just visit whenever you feel like it but if we’re talking about nature and the power of nature, then I have to mention my trip to Iceland. Seeing the waterfalls, the mountains, the glaciers, the Northern Lights… I’ve never felt as connected to nature as I did there. Even the air felt different as I breathed in and out. It was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited and I really hope that one day I’ll get to go back, one day when I’m stronger and fitter and can manage the more difficult walks and therefore see even more.

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” – Frank Lloyd Wright


So here are ten of my most important nature-related things. If you made a list, what would go on yours?

The Mental Health Foundation has a lot of resources on their website for this week but they’re also issuing a challenge…

“During Mental Health Awareness Week, we are asking you to do three things: 

  • Experience nature: Take time to recognise and grow your connection with nature during the week. Take a moment to notice and celebrate nature in your daily life. You might be surprised by what you notice!
  • Share nature: Take a photo, video or sound recording and share the connections you’ve made during the week, to inspire others. Join the discussion on how you’re connecting with nature by using the hashtags #ConnectWithNature #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek
  • Talk about nature: Use our tips, school packs, research and policy guides to discuss in your family, school, workplace and community how you can help encourage people to find new ways to connect with nature in your local environment.”

EDIT: This post is in response to The Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme of ‘nature,’ which is important when it comes to managing your general mental health, but I do think it’s important that we all acknowledge and are aware that managing your mental health is not the same as living and coping with a mental illness. I think, too often, they’re lumped together as the same thing when they’re very different. Maybe we need a different week or separate days for different conditions because whilst connected, managing your mental health and managing a mental illness are not the same and can require vastly different approaches.

Mental Health Update (May 2021)

Trigger Warning: This post contains mentions of self harm, but it’s simply a statement that it happened and there are no descriptions, graphic or otherwise. If this could upset or trigger you, please don’t read any further. Please always put your mental health and emotional state first.

So we’ve reached the last semester of the Master’s, with the big, final project that we’ve ultimately been working towards throughout this whole course. It’s a big deal, exciting and scary because – obviously – I want to do well and create a project that I’m proud of. But I am worried about my health, mental and physical, getting in the way and making it a difficult to both work hard and enjoy the process. So I thought, with all of this in mind, I’d write down where my head’s at and how I’m doing – I guess, so that I have a record of how I’m feeling right now, at the very beginning of the project.


At the moment, my biggest difficulties seem to be chronic fatigue and pain that are a result of my recently diagnosed Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I’m tired and sleepy all the time; some days, I can barely keep my eyes open during the day. While the physical tiredness is likely due to the hEDS, at least in part, we suspect the sleepiness is due to my antidepressant, Phenelzine. I want to switch to something else as soon as I can but mid-Master’s is not exactly a great time, given how long it generally takes for antidepressants to take effect and my track record of reacting badly to all but Phenelzine (so far, at least). So I’m having to just put up with that, with the dwindling help of Red Bull.

The pain has been really bad, particularly in my legs, arms, and back. For months, I’ve been taking painkillers daily but I feel like, over the last few weeks or so, it’s started to get slightly better. I’ve been doing the Occupational Therapy exercises for my wrists and hands and I’ve been able to start swimming again (yay!), both of which do cause pain of their own but it’s a very different pain and actually wears off pretty quickly while the hEDS pain tends to just get worse and worse unless I take painkillers. I’m getting better at figuring out where my limits are and stopping before I overdo it – most of the time. It’s hard but I do feel like I’m seeing progress.

My depression has been okay recently, much less of a problem than it has been in the past (she says while still on the ‘end’ of one, but I’ll get to that in a minute). I had one awful episode at the beginning of April, which did result in self harming. And then I had another episode last week, which I’m still feeling even if I’m not drowning in it anymore (it was kind of forced to the back burner by the worst migraine I’ve ever had). Both episodes were triggered by really upsetting news; they didn’t come out of nowhere like they sometimes do.

My anxiety has been a lot to deal with, but then there have been a lot of things to be anxious about: keeping up during the semester, the assessment and doing well in the module, all things COVID related (I’ve developed this weird house-separation-anxiety-like-thing whenever I’m out of the house too long, which is horrible), all of my health stuff, preparing for the new module and final project, trying to balance everything in my life, and so on. It’s exhausting and has a knock on effect; the rest of my mental health issues are all affected by my anxiety.

The two areas that are most tightly linked with my anxiety, I think, are my Trichotillomania and my OCD. My Trich hasn’t been too bad of late – not great but not unmanageable. But my OCD has been much more of a struggle lately than it sometimes is. I wrote about it in general here (so if you need a refresher on what my OCD is like, this is probably a useful read) but with everything going on recently, it seems to have kicked up a gear. I just can’t seem to do everything and then write all of it down; there aren’t enough hours in the day, which just leads me to getting more and more behind with everything, which just makes it worse and worse. Again, it’s just exhausting. I feel suffocated by it but I don’t know what to do about it; it feels like the walls are closing in around me and there’s nothing I can do to stop them.

As for autistic meltdowns, I haven’t had many of late. I think that’s because, despite my anxiety, I’ve had a really good few months. As I said in my previous post, this last university module and all the writing that came part and parcel with it was really good for me and I felt really good in myself so, in general, things didn’t build up to the point of meltdown. There were a number of occasions where something took me by surprise (for example, an unexpectedly triggering advert – I hadn’t even known that it was something that would trigger me so that was unfortunate for everyone) and I had a meltdown but as things go, it’s been better than it has been.

I’m not entirely sure how my ADHD manifests yet, having only received the diagnosis recently. If only it were as simple as getting the diagnosis and everything making sense… So I still have work to do in that regard. But I’m fairly certain – as certain as I can be at this point – that my issues concentrating and the feeling of my brain working against me are part of this picture. For the moment though, I’m in the dark about all of this. I’m in an impossible position medication-wise (I’m going to write about this in more detail at some point – it’s just that I’m still processing it all) so I’m stuck and unsure how to manage these problems. It’s frustrating and tiring and I wish there was an easy answer. Or even an easier one than I’m currently faced with. But there doesn’t seem to be. So I’m not sure where to go from here.

And the newest problem – because I really needed more problems… – are these migraines that I’ve been having over the last month. In the past, I’d have a migraine every few months or so but recently they’ve been different. They’ve been completely debilitating, painful to the point that I’ve ended up in A&E and had to have an ambulance called to the house because they’ve been so bad. They’ve also gone on for days when previously I could sleep them off and they’d be gone in twenty four hours. I’ve yet to find pain relief that does a decent job and I find that very scary. Calling 111 and them sending an ambulance because I was in so much pain but so light sensitive that even a darkened room felt too bright is a big deal and I’m scared of what’s next, of how it could get worse. I don’t know what’s causing them and no one else seems to either.

And finally… I’ve been the most consistent with therapy I’ve been since the pandemic began, even if I still find it hard and less productive when doing it over Zoom. But it’s looking like we’ll be back to face-to-face soon, which is exciting if scary – as I said, I’m finding it quite stressful to be out of my house. But hopefully, therapy will go back to being as helpful as it was pre-COVID, when it was face-to-face all the time. I don’t know exactly why it doesn’t feel the same over Zoom – maybe I find it harder to connect and talk about the hard stuff when I’m not in the same room as my therapist – but it just doesn’t, so I’m looking forward to getting back to the room.


So that’s it, I guess. This is my mental health (and I suppose, physical health update) before I start the final module of my Master’s, The Major Repertoire Project. Everything feels very messy and complicated right now, which isn’t exactly reassuring. I want to do well in the module, of course, but I also want to really enjoy it and really get the best out of it. The module doesn’t officially start until tomorrow but I’ve already started working on my project. I’m so excited. I just hope I can manage it with all of this other stuff going on.

The Fourth Semester of My Masters

And that’s another semester, another module done. The time is positively flying by and now there’s only one module left. But, before I move into that one, I wanted to reflect on this last module. The Writer’s Voice has been my favourite module so far (as I thought it would be) and I wrote more songs than I did in any of the others so far. I also think I wrote my best – and favourite – songs.

We were in lockdown when the module started so all classes were online. When lockdown started to lift, universities being one of the first things to open up, some of my uni’s courses started having in person classes but my course didn’t as we could continue to function online while other courses, like the performance or production courses, couldn’t. I have to admit I was relieved: I didn’t feel up to handling a big change, especially after having worked so hard to build a good rhythm with the online classes and writing sessions, and I really didn’t feel confident about commuting to London, meaning I probably would’ve stayed in online classes while many of my friends would’ve been onsite. I would’ve barely seen them. I really felt for everyone struggling with online learning (and that’s not to say I love it) but I was really grateful not to have to make a big adjustment in the middle of the semester. So we stayed online.

It was a really great semester and I’m really sad that it’s over – I’m not sure I can do it justice in a simple blog post – even if I’m really excited for what’s next.


We spent the twelve-week module looking at various different techniques related to lyric writing, from song maps and types of rhyme to sensory imagery and ekphrasis. Some of it was difficult, some of it was easy; all of it was an exciting challenge.  The first half of the semester was focussed on the more technical, structural side of things, what my tutor (who is just awesome) called ‘thought architecture.’ And then the second half of the semester was focussed on the content of the lyrics and how that content is expressed. We had lectures on the techniques and then we’d get a week to write a song using that technique. I loved it: lyrics have always been my favourite part of songwriting and I’d been looking forward to it since I began the Master’s.

While the lecture group was big, my workshop group was small, made up of just the Part Time Second Years; there were about ten of us and they are all really, really lovely, thoughtful, creative people. I’ve had some great groups throughout this course but this one has felt extra special (although my first group was super special too). I feel like we were a really close-knit group: we shared a lot of stuff, both through our discussions and our songs, and we all cowrote extensively together in various combinations. I actually wrote with everyone in the group, an unintentional achievement that I’m quite proud of.

I think my favourite thing about this module was that the whole point of it was ‘learn things and then write as many songs as possible, learn more things and then write as many songs as possible, and so on, and so on.’ To a degree that’s what most of the other modules wanted you to do too but something felt different about this module; maybe it was because we were focussed on lyrics and that’s my favourite part, maybe it’s because of how much we’ve learned since starting the course and getting to this module, maybe it was because I was in a much better place mentally than I had been in a long time, despite everything going on outside of uni stuff… I don’t know. But something felt different. I was invigorated by the challenge of writing, of just writing all the time. It was awesome. It was so much fun. And I wrote so many songs that I’m so, so proud of:

  • I wrote a song called ‘A Thousand Cuts,’ about the slow death of a friendship.
  • I wrote a song that I actually really needed to hear myself called ‘One More Time’ as a reminder to always keep going.
  • I wrote a song called ‘Astronaut,’ which is something I’ve wanted to do for ages.
  • I wrote multiple songs from various fictional characters’ points of view, which I’ve completely fallen in love (I used to really hate it).
  • I wrote a song about grief called ‘Incomplete.’
  • And so many more…

And that doesn’t include the songs I wrote with others for their projects (I wouldn’t want to give anything away if they decide to release those songs). I love cowriting and I did so much of it this semester, sometimes four in a week, although I admit that that was stupid and completely draining. But it was just so fun and I loved every second of it, even when my brain was exhausted and moving slower than a snail. I loved learning their songwriting languages – each one different, of course – and I loved the challenge trying create the perfect song for them (and I still love both of these things, obviously). I made some really great creative relationships and some really great friends (or strengthened existing friendships) and that’s been the other wonderful thing about this module. These people are just so wonderful and I love writing with them and I sincerely hope that that continues for a long time.

The assessment for this module was a portfolio of four songs and an analysis of some of the techniques used. The song choice was pretty straightforward (at least it felt straightforward – I guess we’ll find out when the grades come out) but the analysis was harder. With the Masters in general, it’s felt harder to understand what they want from us, especially in the written work. I don’t know if that’s just part of Master’s level work or whether the difficulty is something to do with me and my Autism or ADHD. Either way, the constant uncertainty is exhausting. And even explained to me, I’ve still rarely felt confident about what I need to do to get a good grade. So assessment time is always a stressful time. But I worked hard and got through it with the support of my tutor and my friends and my Mum and now all that’s left is waiting for the results.

I also had some really exciting and fun opportunities come up during this module. They’re not over just because the module is but it would be remiss not to at least mention them when talking about the module. First of all I was chosen to be part of the judging panel for a songwriting competition, which has definitely been an experience and a half so far. I’ve learned a lot and, for the most part, it’s been really interesting and really fun.

The other exciting opportunity is a more academic one. There’s going to be a musicology conference in July focussed on starting to build a body of research on Taylor Swift as she’s such a phenomenon (in music, in pop culture, in business, etc) and there is very little research so far. We were invited to attend this (online) conference but also invited to submit research proposals, which, if accepted, meant speaking at the conference. As a major Taylor Swift fan, this seemed like a dream. So I got to work, wrote a proposal, and submitted it. And a few weeks later, I found out it was accepted so I will be speaking about Taylor Swift at an academic conference! I’m so excited, even if the idea of presenting alongside established and accomplished academics is more than a bit nerve-wracking.


Despite all of the changes going on in my life over the last three-ish months (managing my mental health, managing my chronic fatigue and pain, getting the ADHD and hEDS diagnoses, and just coping with all the stress of the pandemic), this is the most I’ve felt like myself in months – in over a year, I think. All the writing has been really good for my mental health and I feel like that and the classes were a very stable thing in my life, like a rock to cling onto in a really wild ocean. Somehow, everything about this module was exactly what I needed exactly when I needed it (apart from a few mishaps here and there). I learned so much and had so much fun; it was really good for my soul after a really hard year so I’m really grateful for these last three months.

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