Posted on March 28, 2020
When it comes to TV shows, movies, and books, I see myself fairly regularly in the physical sense: I’m a young white woman. But when it comes to the things that I most associate with myself – being Autistic and struggling with my mental health – there is very little. Depictions of neurodiversity and mental illness are usually very stereotypical and often downright wrong. And that only adds to the stigma around mental health.
Now, I’m a twenty five year old woman with ASD and several mental health problems (including anxiety, depression, and BPD). I recognise that my experience is very specific. I’m not asking for a fictional version of myself; I just want some characters that I can really relate to. That isn’t an unreasonable request, is it? Seeing yourself in the world around you is so important, at least it is in my experience. It validates my emotions, my experiences, and makes me feel less alone when those things often make me feel very isolated and, if I’m completely honest, broken.
I’ll give you an example:
In Season 2 of Supergirl, the character Alex Danvers comes out as gay and a major part of the season is dedicated to her coming to terms with that and her relationship with another character, Maggie. This storyline meant a lot to a lot of people but the thing that I really connected to was Alex’s emotional journey and her relationship with being happy. In episode 9, her sister is abducted (said sister is Supergirl so she gets into trouble a lot but that’s beside the point) and her reaction is: “I was happy for five minutes,” revealing a belief that she doesn’t deserve to be happy, that somehow she is being punished for trying to be happy. This is brought up again later when she says, “I feel like the universe is just magically smacking me down from being happy.” These two moments were huge to me. This is something that I really, really struggle with and I have never seen it anywhere but inside my head. So to hear it from a character I admired meant everything to me. It made me feel less alone and less ridiculous for feeling this way. Because if this woman (who is more or less a superhero) feels like that, then it’s not unreasonable for me to feel that way, is it? Of course, I’d love for it to be revisited because it’s not something that goes away overnight but the fact that it was mentioned at all kept me going for days – weeks – and even a couple of years later, I can watch that episode and feel better.
And recently, Chyler Leigh – who plays Alex Danvers – has revealed that she lives with Bipolar Disorder. She first started experiencing symptoms at twelve years old and struggled through her teens and most of her twenties: “The mania would come and go, but the depression felt like it was always there. There are a lot of different ways mania manifests: I had extreme irritability and felt like an engine running on overtime; I couldn’t sleep at all; and I felt disconnected from reality, almost like I was high. As a teen, I did a lot of drugs, and that made me feel better, but crashing was devastating.” She tried to be the one in control of everything when she felt so out of control. She was diagnosed in her late twenties* but before her diagnosis, she says she felt like she was drowning and saw multiple medical professionals and multiple medications that just made her feel nothing: “[They] made me feel nothing, and that to me was more important than feeling happy or feeling sad. I withdrew and I shut down… I just didn’t know how else to function. And so I lied about a lot, I hid a lot. I kept to myself. And that caused an incredible amount of chaos and just destruction in the family.” Eventually she hit an awful breaking point, a mania so high that she couldn’t sleep at all and ended up hospitalised. Once she was released, she talks about how she needed to start fresh and find what worked for her. It was “very, very difficult” but now she’s in a good place: “I did find a medication that works that I still take, which keeps me very level, much more even. There are not really big peaks and valleys. It makes me function as a human being where I feel like, ‘Okay, I can manage when things are really hard and I can also really celebrate victories.'”
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Like many of you, I’ve struggled. I’ve also kept quiet about it. I felt like my story didn’t deserve to be shared. But I’m ready to speak up about living with bipolar disorder – for myself, for my family, and for the millions of people who are experiencing something similar. I’m also very excited to announce that I am partnering with @bevocal.speakup, an initiative that encourages people to speak up for #mentalhealth – for themselves and their communities. Partnering with Be Vocal is my way of saying my voice matters. YOUR voice matters. Let’s do this together. Visit @bevocal.speakup to learn more about my story. #MentalHealthMatters #BeVocalSpeakUp #sponsored
Ten years later, she’s ready to talk about it and use her platform to support others and raise awareness: “It’s something that’s terrified me for a long time because it feels like I’m admitting some sort of secret, or some sort of way that people are going to look at me differently or judge me but I’ve been met with nothing but acceptance and love and support, which is just amazing.” Her story is complicated but unfortunately very common and she and her husband are raising three children who either have mental health problems or are neurodiverse. The link to the initial interview (I believe) is here in case you want to read more about it. She also talks about talking about mental health and mental illness with her children in a healthy way that isn’t scary and that’s really incredible. She’s now teamed up with the Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health movement to advocate for mental health awareness and acceptance: “We have an incredible opportunity to change the narrative and change the conversation, and lead people to places that can encourage them and really take them where they need to go… It’s OK to not be OK. And it’s incredibly important to reach out. Be willing to let your guard down a little bit to be able to find that community. And also know that if you’re really struggling that there are so many resources.”
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#ValentinesDay gives a chance to reflect on and honor our relationships, romantic or otherwise. I want to use today to specifically talk about how my #mentalhealth has connected to my relationship with my husband and family. Through it all – the highs, the lows, the inbetweens – my husband has been my rock. In my lowest of lows, he and my children have been incredibly open and supportive, lifting me up and encouraging me when I needed it the most. That is what got me through. For those who are going through it: surround yourself with people you can trust and reach out to them. Talk about it. If you don't feel you have people you can open up to, there are many organizations who want to hear from you and help you. You can go to @bevocal.speakup for more information on how to reach out and speak up. #BeVocalSpeakUp #MentalHealthMatters #Sponsored
*”When I first got the bipolar diagnosis it was sort of like, ‘Oh my gosh, if that was me, how on earth am I going to deal with this? Am I in the same place? Am I equipped? Do I have what it takes to actually really genuinely take care of myself?'” I find this quote really helpful because that’s how I feel everyday. I wonder EVERYDAY if I’m ever going to be equipped to look after myself.
And here’s another example:
One of my favourite fictional characters is Daisy Johnson from Agents of Shield (which will be ending soon, something I am genuinely devastated over – it’s going to take actual therapy time to adjust to such a meaningful change in my life). Again, she’s practically a superhero (there’s a theme, I know) and ever since I started watching the show, I’ve been very inspired by her and her storyline. She’s a force of nature. She’s experienced great tragedy and each time, she uses it to reinvent herself, searching for ways to do good and make positive change in the world. She might be a fictional character but she means so much to me. And that led me to following the actress that plays her, Chloe Bennet, on social media. A few months after I started watching the show, she did an interview where she talked very honestly about her mental health: “I suffer from anxiety, I’ve had depression… it’s hard.” She talked about having panic attacks. She talked about the importance of mental health. And she talked about having therapy: “I see a therapist on a regular basis and that has helped me so much.” Reading all of that meant a lot to me. Knowing that someone I admire has had a similar experience makes me feel less alone in that experience.
Bello Magazine (November 2016)
It goes without saying that I wish none of us had to deal with these challenges but hearing people talk about these experiences really helps me. It makes all of this less lonely, less isolating. And seeing strong, smart, insightful, compassionate people (real or fictional) deal with the same things I do, reminds me that I can be those things too, that my mental health problems don’t make me less of a person with less of a future. Seeing people succeeding in what they do, while living with these challenges makes me believe that that’s possible for me as well. Representation is a powerful thing.
Posted on March 25, 2020
A while ago, I released the music video for my latest single, ‘Clarity,’ directed by myself and Richard Marc with animation by Lois de Silva…
It’s been a while since it was released so I thought it was about time I posted the behind the scenes video. It was a really fun and fascinating process to make for me so I thought you guys might like to see some snippets of the process…
I hope you liked it! More music to come soon…
Posted on March 18, 2020
NB: This post is probably more for me than it is for you but it was a really significant experience so I wanted to record it. I hope you read it (or some of it – I know it’s very long) and I hope you like what you read. I promise there’s mental health and Autism content coming.
Last week, I was lucky enough to see Halsey not once but twice. I booked a ticket for London and then, as a very late celebration for my 25th birthday (as I explained in this post), me and my Mum decided to take a little trip to Dublin to see her again for a second date. She’s an incredible performer and her shows are amazing and as I’ve said in previous posts: “I often get overwhelmed mid show and so seeing [a show] multiple times allows me to get the full experience – and why would you not want to see a show you love more than once [if you can afford to], especially if it’s only on for a limited time?” Plus, she’s recently said that she’s not going to tour for an indefinite period of time so suddenly, seeing her that extra time became extra important.
The first show was in London at The O2. I couldn’t get a disability ticket so I had to get a regular ticket and because everyone was standing up to dance and jump, I had to stand up to see, which was not good for my fatigue and pain. I’m still not used to ‘being disabled’ and so I’m still ‘toughing it out’ and usually regretting it later. I leaned against my chair but it didn’t help much. I wish I could be in the standing section and stand at the front, hold her hand when she comes down to the crowd, but just looking at all of those people packed together made my throat and chest tighten with anxiety.
We were on the side so the screens were difficult to see, blocked by the lighting rig and whatever else they have up there, which I was a bit disappointed by because Halsey always has such beautiful images on the screens behind her. I could still see them but I just couldn’t take any photos, which I love doing so that I remember all the details.
I wanted to list some of the moments I want to hold onto:
- The first song was ‘Nightmare’ and everyone shouted the lyrics, ‘I’m tired and angry but somebody should be,’ which felt pretty appropriate for International Women’s Day. The shouting filled the arena and it was kind of amazing.
- She had the blue black eye, like she has on the album cover. She’s done several variations over the tour so I was intrigued to see which one she’d do for the shows I was going to.
- She has everyone jump during the choruses of ‘Castle’ (another song I think is particularly relevant to IWD, since it includes lyrics like, ‘There’s an old man sitting on the throne that’s saying I should probably keep my pretty mouth shut,’) and she usually stops the track at the end of the first chorus to tell the crowd that they can do better but this time, she said it was, “the best of the whole fucking tour.”
- Everyone sang along so loudly to ‘You Should Be Sad.’
- She finally paused to speak to the crowd and everyone was really ready: “I’ve been looking forward to playing this show for a very long time. I mean, I’ve been looking forward to playing this show since the first time that I ever played a show in London. And as luck would have it, I somehow ended up here on International Women’s Day. And I don’t know what’s gotten into me but it’s like all that rage and that excitement and that ambition and that fire… I’m feeling electric tonight, I gotta be honest with you guys. If you are a woman, young or old, in this crowd tonight, I’m looking at you. I’m looking at you for that sheer unbridled lightning energy that’s gonna get me through this fucking show. And I know you’re capable of it because I’ve met women from London.” That caused a lot of cheering. “I wrote a song about one. She had quite the attitude. But we’ll get back to that in a little bit. There’s a lot we’re gonna do tonight. We’re gonna laugh, we’re gonna cry, we’re gonna get angry, we’re gonna get happy, we’re gonna get to know each other a little bit, alright? So I guess now feels like the right time to formally welcome you to The Manic World Tour!”
- The set for ‘Haunting’ (I did not expect her to play that one) was incredible. It looked like some kind of diner with fluorescent lit windows and someone could be seen walking back and forth through them. It was very eerie.
- The platforms (that also tipped so that they could be stairs) were so cool and a really unique piece for a concert. I’ve never seen a set like it.
- The colours on screen for ‘Forever … (is a long time)’ were so beautiful and there was also all of this brain imagery, like something from medical scans, and they were oddly beautiful. But I couldn’t take any pictures or videos of it because of the stage structures in the way.
- Her vocals were even more incredible than the last time I saw her and I noticed it especially at the end of ‘Colors’ and in ‘Bad At Love.’
- “Wow. I can’t believe I’m performing here right now. It’s so funny… I keep forgetting… I forget, like, every fifteen seconds and then I look up and I look up some more and I look up some more and then I look up some more and I’m like, ‘Oh, shit. That is a lot of people.'” She talked a bit about why she’s decided not to tour for a while: “I announced pretty recently that I was going to be taking a break from touring after this tour. And that might seem pretty strange because I look like I’m having fun up here, right? Right?! Well, that’s because I am. ‘Cause my favourite place in the world is being on stage. The thing is I pride myself on being able to make mistakes and then write about them so that you don’t have to make ’em: you can just learn the lesson through listening to the song. I know. It’s a hard job. You guys have watched me make a lot of mistakes. You’ve watched me date a lot of people. In fact, you guys have watched me go on so many dates, you’ve watched me go on dates I don’t even remember going on. But I read the articles about them and think, ‘Oh, that must be nice. Maybe I’ll go on a real date with them.’ You guys have watched me say the wrong thing at the wrong time, make friends with the wrong people, be in the wrong place… You have watched me do all of it. And I write songs about it so that you can learn from those things but I started noticing something. I started noticing that you guys are growing up right in front of my eyes. All these familiar faces I talk about, that I see on Twitter, on Instagram, on Tumblr, in the crowds… Some of you guys, I met you or I saw you or I liked your tweet from the first time when you were sixteen years old and now you’re twenty two. I have watched so many of you getting married, go to university, get your braces off… and I started realising that I can’t do my job anymore because you guys are growing up faster than I am. So I can’t write those songs for you anymore to help you out in your times of need so I decided that it’s my turn to do some growing up so that I can write you better music when I come back. Because truth be told, as much as fun as I’ve had watching you guys grow up, I wanna grow up with you.”
- She joined her band, playing ‘3am’ on the electric guitar, and the crowd sang along so loudly. It’s such a catchy song.
- She had everyone hold up their phone lights during ‘Finally // beautiful stranger,’ which is always one of my favourite moments in a show. I always wonder what it would be like to see an arena of people do that for me (I’ve had a room-ful and that was pretty fucking special so an arena must be amazing). And there were these beautiful, moving colours on the screen behind her, like the northern lights. I loved it and I’m really sad I couldn’t take photos of it.
- She introduced her band and asked them what they were going to do on the break from touring and it was nice to see the relationships between them.
- She performed an acoustic, gentle version of ‘100 Letters’ compared to the version that was full of power and self empowerment on the hopeless fountain kingdom Tour. Not that this version wasn’t empowering, just in a different way. The song itself is empowering but this performance was softer and more delicate, letting the lyrics speak for themselves.
- She performed ‘Is There Somewhere’ next, which is one of my favourite songs of hers. She said that it was the first song she released and it became a fan favourite so she promised to sing it on every tour. She climbed down into the crowd as she always does, which makes the fans at the front so happy (I just wish she’d move around a bit so that the same fans don’t get that same opportunity over and over because they know where she’s going to be; that way other fans could have that opportunity). And she herself also looked so happy, which made me really happy. I just wish I could be down there.
- She does these crazy mic flips and I’m always worried she’ll drop it or it’ll go flying across the stage. It looks freaking cool though.
- She had these beautiful starry backgrounds, like a night sky, for Graveyard that morphed into flowers that then caught fire after the bridge along with flames and sparks on stage. Aesthetically, I think it was my favourite performance of the night.
- “Oh, London, you are a fucking treat.”
- The last song of the main set was ‘929,’ which is probably my favourite song off the album but it usually makes me cry because of the lyric, “And I remember this girl with pink hair in Detroit, what she told me: she said, ‘Ashley, you gotta promise us that you won’t die ’cause we need you,’ and honestly, I think that she lied,” but for the live performance she changed the lyrics to “honestly, I think she was right.” I almost lost it right then because I was filled with so many emotions.
- The butterfly outfit was beautiful.
- She left the stage and for the encore, she returned to perform ‘Ashley,’ ‘Experiment On Me,’ and then she played ‘Gasoline.’ And as usual, she turned the mic to the crowd to scream the lyric, “do you call yourself a fucking hurricane like me.” There’s something so empowering about that moment. And then, at the end, she repeated it over and over again with the crowd shouting along. It was new and empowering and special. And on the screen behind her, the word Manic appeared. It was gorgeous.
– From @u1123ae’s Twitter.
- “Yeah, this is the best show I’ve ever played. I wanna tell you something really special: not only is this the best show that I’ve ever played in my life but it’s also completely sold out. Thank you for giving me, not only my dream show at The O2 but a sold out dream show at The O2. London, thank you for my dream.” She talked about how her family were there and how much she loves us, but if there’s anyone who loves us more than her, it’s her family because we gave her a second chance at life. “I promise you that I will not take this opportunity for granted because without you, this is a world without me.” It was a very emotional speech and listening to it again (I videoed it on my phone) made me cry and cry and cry.
- There’s something so special about the way she talks to the crowd. She’ll shout to pump up the crowd but then she’ll just talk, about the songs and about herself, like she’s talking only to you. And afterwards, it feels like the show is a secret between just you and her. I actually wanted to get out really quickly afterwards because I wanted to keep that secret safe, because I didn’t want anyone to find out about it. It’s silly, I know.
- She ended the show with ‘Without Me’ and it was amazing. Everyone was singing so loudly, so aware that it was the last song, like they were trying to enjoy every second left of the show. It was magical.
- “Thank you so much! It’s being the greatest night of my life! I love you from the bottom of my heart!”
This is what I was tweeting afterwards, my feelings just bursting out of me…
And this tweet made me laugh:
And the next morning, once I’d gone through my photos and my emotions had settled a little bit, I posted on Instagram…
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I have no idea how to properly sum up last night. @iamhalsey was absolutely beyond words incredible and seeing her on International Women’s Day was pretty fucking cool. Her vocals were amazing, the stage was stunning, and the energy was electric. And the way she talked to the crowd was so special that I cried. Despite the thousands of people, it felt like a secret between her and I. She is really, truly something special. It’s going to be a hard show to beat. // “And I remember this girl with blue hair out in London and she told me, she said, ‘Ashley, you gotta promise us that you won't die, ‘cause we need you,’ and honestly, I think she was right.’”
After standing for the whole show, my legs were very sore. I had several muscle cramps in my calves (and this went on for a couple of days) but one particularly bad one that lasted for about five minutes. Eventually it passed, which was a huge relief, but I had serious pain in that leg for days, so bad that I limped when I walked.
Now, as I said earlier, if you read my last post you’ll know that me and my Mum decided to go to Dublin, to see Halsey, as a very late 25th birthday celebration. So I went into uni on the morning of the Tuesday, went to my lecture, saw my friends briefly, and then headed for the airport.
We basically had to go straight to the arena, which is a beautiful space. The disabled seats are right at the back, which is fine because it’s not a huge room, but we were on the side of the room so, again, the screens were blocked by the stage equipment, lighting rig, etc, which was frustrating. I’m focussing on how grateful I am to have gotten to see the show twice, but it does feel like you miss part of the show when you can’t see the beautiful art that she’s created to be a part of each song. Having said that, I was really grateful to be sitting down, which was such a relief after the O2 show and the pain in my leg.
The show was amazing, just as expected. Halsey is always amazing. But even in a highly choreographed show, she still manages to make each show feel different and special.
- During ‘Castle,’ she did what she normally does: “Stop the track. What the fuck was that? I said, what the fuck was that? Okay. Okay, okay, okay. Look. I know you guys better than that… Are you guys gonna let London do a better job than you? I mean, fuck, even Norway did a better job… Let’s try that one more time.” The screaming just got louder and louder as she talked.
- And then, a few songs later, she said: “I’m starting to rethink all that stuff I said back there. You guys are actually shaping up to be a pretty fucking amazing crowd. And plus, I gotta be honest with you: there’s a whole fucking lot of you squeezed in down there on that floor.”
- At one point, everyone started chanting ‘Halsey! Halsey! Halsey!’ and she got all cute and embarrassed: “You guys are just too fucking sweet.” She said she never knows what to say or do when a crowd starts doing that.
- Again, she explained why she’s not touring for a while, saying something very similar to what she said in London.
- The arena lighting up for ‘Finally // beautiful stranger’ was beautiful: “You see, this is a love song and when you sing a love song in a big arena like this one, everyone has to take out their lights. Don’t you know the rules?”
This is what the colours behind her looked like during ‘Finally // beautiful stranger.’
- After ‘Finally // beautiful stranger’: “Everybody thinks that a love song is the easiest one to write, right? Because… okay, like, you write a love song and it’s like, oh, it’s so trite and cliché and easy to write a love song. Anyone can write a bullshit love song. Fuck all the love songs on the radio… That’s bullshit. A love song is really fucking hard to write and I’ll tell you why. Writing a love song means you are opening yourself up to the world and telling them, ‘I was foolish and stupid enough to open up my heart and let someone in.’ It says to the world, ‘I might look like I have my shit together’ – personally I don’t, but maybe other artists do – ‘I might look like I have my shit together but I am a big dumbass who opened up my heart for somebody to walk right into.’ But that’s okay because you’re supposed to do that. You’re supposed to open up your heart and let people walk right inside and just trash the living room that is your heart, just fuck up the carpet, flip over the couch, break a lamp… because that’s how you learn. That’s how you get better at loving the next person, but I’ll tell you what… writing that song, I would rather stand on this stage butt-naked in front of you guys than write another love song like that. But that’s not a problem because if I ever do, I promise I’m going to keep my clothes on, I think. And I hope that I do because, you know, you guys have really spoiled me in a way. You have shown me a love that is so unconditional, I don’t think I could ever recreate it with another person. You’ve spoiled me.”
- She actually stood somewhere else for ‘Is There Somewhere,’ after my internal commentary on how moving around would give different fans the opportunity to hold her hand and have that moment. God, I wished I was down there, wished I was able to be down there. Oh, and the guitar solo in the background was to die for; it was gorgeous.
- She’s so free with her body but so confident in it, in the way it moves. It’s like she has complete faith that every muscle will do exactly what she expects and intends it to do. I wish I could be like that; I wish I could feel like that.
- Introducing ‘Clementine’: “I wrote a lot of those songs when I was nineteen years old and I’m twenty five now. And some of the songs on Badlands… But most of them, I wrote before I had ever done a headline tour so I had no idea what it was like to have an audience of my own. So I wrote Badlands so that you could listen to it in your bedroom, not so that you could listen to it at a concert. Then I started to play shows, and I started touring, and I started getting in the studio and thinking, ‘what do I want to sing with them?'”
- If you haven’t heard it, there are parts on the recording of ‘Clementine’ where you can hear a double track of her shouting the lyrics behind her singing the lyrics and the crowd shouted those shouted parts so loudly, louder than London. It was strangely powerful and I wish I’d gotten a video of it.
- For ‘Graveyard,’ she asked – if it felt safe – for people in the standing area to get on each other’s shoulders because it’s an outside in the summer song and so many people did it, so many more than at The O2. And everyone was singing so, so loudly.
- In ‘929,’ she was singing the lyric, “And I remember this girl with purple hair down in Dublin, she told me… She said, ‘Ashley, you gotta promise us that you won’t die because we need you and honestly, I think…” and then she stopped because the crowd was singing so loudly: “she was right.” I almost dropped my phone. I almost cried.
- The crowd screamed, “do you call yourself a fucking hurricane like me,” maybe even louder than in London, although that might be because the room is smaller with a lower ceiling. But it was epic and she did the same thing at the end, repeating it over and over with the crowd shouting along. It was awesome.
- Introducing ‘Without Me’: “We’re into encore time, motherfucker.” That made me laugh. “I’ll keep it quick. I know I haven’t shut the fuck up this whole show but I’ve got six years worth of talking I wanna do. I’ve got six years worth of stuff that I wanted to say to you guys that I had to pack into one show so… I’m gonna use my time wisely and I’m gonna tell you that a lot of you guys get to read all of the super bad shit about me because that’s what people like to write about. They like to write about all the dark moments in my life. They like writing about the shit that I’ve been through or the dark times that I’ve faced. For whatever reason, that’s what people like to write about and it used to really bother me, but now I’m kind of okay with it because… because all of those things did happen to me and some things even happened that, you know, the media, the press, whoever, they don’t know about. And some of this stuff has happened in the last couple of years while I’ve been Halsey. You know, I’ve kept it to myself at certain times but every time shit gets terrible, I always have you.” There was major cheering. “And every single artist who’s ever played a concert in the history of time gets on stage and says to the crowd, ‘I would be nothing without you,’ right? And sometimes I really believe that but, you know what? Sometimes I fucking don’t. And I think to myself, ‘You would probably be okay actually. Maybe you wouldn’t be as happy or as, you know, successful but you’d get a job, get married, do whatever, but there are so many times where I have been so, so unsure. So unsure. And you guys have made me absolutely positive. So basically this is a really long-winded way of saying thank you because without you, this would be a world without me.” That last sentence still got to me, even though I’d already heard it in London.
- This is what the background looked like during part of the song, although it started off more like a ribbon:
It was incredible, another incredible show, and I’m so grateful to have been there. It was an amazing birthday present. Getting back to the hotel was a struggle and my emotions felt very mixed up and messy. For over an hour, I just didn’t feel anything. I think I was just struggling with it all being over, with the idea of not having them to look forward to. Eventually that settled and real feelings started to bloom again but they were still confusing, like a lump of different coloured pieces of play dough stuck together. Impossible to separate and really identify.
The next day, when I got home and had a bit more control over my emotions, I posted to Instagram…
And now I’m home and the European Tour is over. The adrenaline crash was pretty brutal, the physical pain from London was bad, and I was exhausted after a wild three (actually four) days but it was so worth it. Halsey – Ashley – and her music mean so much to me and I’m so, so grateful for this experience.
Posted on March 14, 2020
Last year, I wrote a post around my birthday about adding some rules to the celebration, mainly to make the experience more enjoyable and more memorable: do something you wouldn’t normally do and buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy. For my twenty fourth birthday, I ran my dog’s hydrotherapy session and bought myself a typewriter. It was really special so I thought I’d do it again this year… I’m just very late. Last September, my mental health was awful and I’d just started my Masters so my birthday wasn’t the first thing on my mind. A lot of the celebrations got delayed; I only got one of my birthday presents a couple of weeks ago. But that doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that it matters, that it feels special.
So here are the results of the rules for my 25th birthday…
Rule #1: Do something you wouldn’t normally do.
On Sunday 8th March, I saw Halsey at the O2 Arena and she was absolutely incredible, as I knew she would be. Back when I booked the tickets, I knew I would want to see her again. As I’ve said before, “I often get overwhelmed mid show and so seeing [a show] multiple times allows me to get the full experience – and why would you not want to see a show you love more than once [if you can afford to], especially if it’s only on for a limited time?” So after booking the London tickets, I talked to my Mum about seeing Halsey again, despite the fact that the closest possible show was in Dublin. We’d talked about taking a short trip – a few days somewhere – to celebrate my 25th birthday and up until now, I haven’t been able to think of somewhere I wanted to go (we’d thought about a few extra days in America but it clashes with university stuff this year) or do until now. So we planned our little trip to Dublin, trying to miss as little uni time as possible. And I’m really glad we did because she, Halsey, has since said that she plans not to tour for an indefinite period of time after this. So taking this extra opportunity to see her before that happens became very important to me.
As I said, she was incredible in London – it was probably one of the best shows I’ve ever seen – but I want to focus on the Dublin show (on the 10th March), as that was my birthday trip. And besides, the London show being special doesn’t make the Dublin show less special. It was just special in different ways.
The arena wasn’t hugely well organised and the disabled area didn’t have a great view – Halsey has such beautiful images on the screens behind her that it was frustrating to have a significant section of it blocked by the lighting rig, etc. So it wasn’t ideal but being able to sit and still see is always such a relief. After the London show where I couldn’t get a disabled ticket and ended up having to stand to see (I’m still not used to being ‘disabled’ or ‘partially disabled’ – I’m not sure what the right term is for someone with Autism, mental health problems, chronic pain, and chronic fatigue is – so I do keep trying to tough it out, which often turns out to be a bad idea). That caused terrible leg pain that’s ongoing. So sitting down for the show was a huge, huge relief, even if we weren’t in a great position.
The show was amazing. Halsey is an incredible performer and some of the highlights for me were ‘Castle,’ ‘Forever… (Is A Long Time),’ ‘3am,’ ‘100 Letters (Acoustic),’ ‘Is There Somewhere,’ ‘Graveyard,’ ‘929,’ ‘Ashley,’ and ‘Gasoline.’ I could list all of them really because each performance was so powerful and so full of passion and electric energy. The vocals, the band, the backgrounds, the platforms hanging from the ceiling… they were all SO GOOD. She gives everything to every song, to every aspect of the show. And as much as I love all of that, the part I love the most is the way she talks to the crowd. It’s so honest and sincere and special and somehow she makes it feel like the concert is a secret between you and her. I don’t know how she does it. But I’m in awe.
It was a really special birthday present and I’m really grateful. We had barely any time in Dublin but the point of going was the concert and the concert was amazing. Halsey and her music are so special to me and her shows are so special to me but this show – these two shows – have been the most special. Turning twenty five was really scary and stressful for me and so, to celebrate that milestone – and celebrate coping with it – with someone who actually shares the same birthday as me… well, that was extra special.
Rule #2: Buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy.
I was browsing through a vintage jewellery shop recently, just looking really, because I’d seen some jewellery in the window that might work for a music video. I didn’t find anything for the video but I found this ring that I just fell in love with (and another similar one that I also loved). It’s not a colour I’d normally choose and it was a bit expensive when I’m about to go on several trips but I took a couple of weeks to think about it and even went back several times to look at it. But eventually I decided that I really, truly loved this one so I decided to buy it.
It’s a little bit big and probably needs to be resized slightly but I’ve been wearing it around the house ever since because I’m just in love with it. It’s beautiful. I can’t wait to wear it out during the day. I’m so happy with it and my choice to buy it.
So it was a very late birthday celebration – almost six months late – but they were really good celebrations. I just wasn’t ready or capable at the time. I like to think that they showed up when I was ready. So maybe I’m ready to be twenty five now. Or maybe not. But I sure as hell celebrated it.
Posted on March 8, 2020
Happy International Women’s Day! The theme this year is #EachforEqual, based around the idea that we can all choose to challenge stereotypes, improve environments, and celebrate women’s achievements. “Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world. Let’s all be #EachforEqual.”
So to celebrate the day, I wanted to share some of my favourite female creatives, from writers to artists to musicians. Having said that, these are all ‘smaller’ artists, artists that aren’t supported by major companies or big record labels and so on.
Laura Greenway – Laura is an incredible artist who I’ve known for a while now, after seeing her gallery crowdfunding page. She makes beautiful visual art and immersive art, based around various mental health problems. Her pieces are thought provoking and meaningful and I look forward to everything she posts about her art.
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Still so pleased with how our group show at @deptforddoesart came out. Here’s a shot of my three text pieces that were on show including the middle piece ‘Body Poems’ that features the poem I recited as part of my live performance. #art #artist #artwork #contemporarypainting #fineart #modernart #contemporaryart #contemporaryartist #textart #mentalhealthart #blackandwhite #mentalhealthawareness #bodystandards #poetryart #bodyimage #liveart #deptforddoesart
Isobel Anderson and The Female DIY Musician – Isobel is an amazing musician and sound artist and I was lucky enough to have her as a tutor at university last year. She was encouraging and inspiring and truly motivating. She’s one of the best tutors I’ve ever had. She also runs a community that supports and empowers women wanting to be musicians, specifically those wanting to learn how to record and produce. It’s really helpful and positive, which is hard to find in such a male dominated industry.
Deerful – Emma is a really good friend of mine and she makes so many different things: music in many forms, art, loops, and so on. She’s incredible, skilled at so many things and I would absolutely love to work with her on a project one day. You can find her music here.
Aislin Evans – Aislin is another of my good friends and she’s an amazing songwriter. I love everything she writes. She’s also an actor, multi-instrumentalist, and mental health advocate. She’s doing impressive and inspiring work as a human being and I’m so proud of her and to know her. (You can find her music here.)
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You don't need a new you this year. The person you are right now, were yesterday, last week, year, have always been, is enough. So ridiculously enough. You don't need a new you. Sure, have goals and things you want to strive towards and learn and ways in which you want to grow, but you are already enough. In case no one told you. Happy new year 🖤
Laura Zocca – I’ve followed Laura on YouTube and social media for years and she’s a beautiful songwriter. She’s also a lovely human. Even though she’s now pursuing other career paths, she’s still releasing music, which makes me very happy. I’m still hoping for a few of my old favourites to see the light of day…
NADINE – Nadine is an awesome singersongwriter and I love her songs. I’ve been to several of her gigs and the atmosphere is incredible; everyone is picking up the words and singing along by the end of the first chorus. It’s magical. A handful of her songs actually move me to tears. She’s also a tutor at my university and although she only taught me for one class, she was great, really encouraging and thoughtful in her responses to our songs.
Write Like A Girl – “Only 17% of UK songwriters are women. Write Like A Girl aims to put female songwriting talent back in the spotlight – and inspire more women to create original music.” This showcase is so cool and so inspiring, full of amazing female songwriters. I try to go whenever I can and I would absolutely love to play in one of their shows at some point.
Liberty’s Mother – I’ve talked about Liberty’s Mother and the woman behind the project, Sophie Daniels, but I had to include her in this list. She’s doing amazing things (an EP, launch event, month long challenge) to raise awareness and money for the baby loss charity, Tommy’s. It’s so inspiring and encouraging to see someone use art and music to do such good for so many people.
Caitlyn Siehl – This girl is an incredible writer and her book, What We Buried, is one of my favourite books, poetry and in general. She writes beautifully: some of the poems are painful, some of them are joyful, some of them are so real it’s like they were written about your own life. It’s a fantastic book and you should definitely read it.
Rosie Powell – Rosie is an amazing photographer and videographer and I absolutely love her work. I’m so happy and so grateful that my first music video was done with her because she made it so easy and so comfortable when I was so nervous. I should probably post some of her other work but I wanted to post what we worked on together because I’m so proud of it. I would absolutely love to work with her again at some point.
Betsy Lane – Betsy is a light of a human being, practically a ball of positivity and sunshine, although that’s not to say she doesn’t bravely share her struggles and vulnerability. She’s a lovely human being and a stunning singersongwriter. I finally got to meet her and see her play a garden show a couple of years ago and she was just as sweet as I’d expected her to be. You can find her music here.
Lois de Silva – I’ve been friends with Lois for years, since we were about sixteen or seventeen. She’s one of the kindest, sweetest people I know and she’s an incredibly talented artist, in multiple forms. She’s done the animation for the last and an upcoming music video and they are so beautiful. Again, I’m so happy and so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with her and I’m so, so proud of the results, to have them be the visuals for my music. And again, I should share some of her other projects but I love the work she did on my song so much that I just have to share our current video. You can follow her on Instagram here.
Annerb – Annerb isn’t someone I know or have had more than the occasional Tumblr ask but she writes the most amazing fanfiction and she’s legitimately all I’ve read in the last year or so. The dedication to these stories, which are thousands of words long, is incredible and the stories are just beautiful. And even when the stories are tense, the reading of them and the familiar characters are very calming and really helpful with my anxiety.
Song Suffragettes – And while Song Suffragettes is the biggest person/organisation on this list, I had to include them because they are doing such incredible work for young, female songwriters in and visiting Nashville. They’re doing some really, really impressive work and the community they’ve built is so strong. I feel very lucky to be part of it, even in a really small way and from such a long way away.
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These girls. All incredible, all lovely, and all so special. I said this during the show but I wanted to say it here too: there was a moment when I looked around and I thought, “I’m drowning in talent.” But then I thought, “No, I’m swimming in talent.” It was a bit of an epiphany. As singers, as songwriters, and as women, we’re constantly compared and pitched against each other and after a while that seeps into your brain. So this show was a real reality check. What they can do doesn’t diminish me and what I can do doesn’t diminish them. I’ve always loved @songsuffragette for their mission statement but last night, it all clicked into place. We can exist in a highly competitive industry and still support each other. It is possible. #letthegirlsplay
This list could go on for a pretty long time – I’m tempted to list every creative I know who is working hard and making beautiful things – so I’ll stop there but before I go, I want to give a short series of shout outs to some of my friends who are just badass creatives (several of whom I’ve mentioned before): Luce Barka, Francesca Morris, Charlotte Black and her platform Self Love London, Foxgluvv, and Tragic Sasha. The list was just getting too long but I wanted to mention them because they all really are amazing.
Posted on March 7, 2020
So I thought it might be fun to document a week in my life, both as a person with mental health problems and Autism and as a person doing a Masters in songwriting. So recently, for a week (one of my more interesting weeks), I took notes on each day so this is those days collated, a week in my life right now.
My Monday started at home in Brighton (doing origami for the #30dayfeb) but I was hugely nervous (and excited) because I was playing my university’s songwriters’ circle that evening. And what made it extra special was that it was the LGBTGIA+ History Month Special. I proudly come from a proudly LGBT family and identify as queer myself, although that label is as far as I’ve gotten. When your mental health and Autism take up your whole life, there’s not a lot of time for figuring out your sexuality. I haven’t talked about sexuality on here much because I felt like I needed to know specifically what I identified as (gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc) before I said anything but now I’m thinking that not knowing yet is also important to talk about. I don’t want to do too much of that here though because I think it deserves its own post.
Anyway, I was nervous but also really excited.
I caught the train to London and the tube to uni where the songwriters’ circle was being held. I met Richard (Richard Marc, my best friend and writing partner) there and we practiced for a bit: we were playing a song we’d never performed before. So we worked that out, ran through it until we were confident with the performance, and then went to get food before going back for our soundcheck. That went well and we met everyone else who was playing; they were all absolutely lovely.
The special guest was an alumni, RIS, described as: “an up-and-coming Sofia-born electropop artist based in East London. The queer singer-songwriter’s brooding vocals bring euphoric melodies to life over dramatic alt-pop tracks, rich with sizzling synths and sonic ear candy.” They were really lovely and I absolutely love their songs: I can’t wait for them to release more.
The other students, Lea Frances, Francesco Pio Ricci, Becky Kerly, and our host tutor, Anjali Perin, were all amazing and interesting and different and it was a really incredible experience to be a part of. You can actually listen to the whole circle here and hear everyone’s beautiful music and stories. There’s something strangely spiritual about a songwriters’ circle and I hope you can feel that without actually being there. Speaking for myself, it felt magical and exactly how songwriting and songwriters’ circles should feel: a coming together and sharing of stories, of songs, and of souls. And holding it in a music university, getting a sing-a-long isn’t difficult and that’s one of, I think, the most special things you can experience as a songwriter, as a performer. The whole event was so wonderful and I felt so lucky to be a part of it.
My lecture didn’t start until eleven so I got a bit of a lie in after the late-ish night and all of the emotion but then I had a bit of a headless chicken morning, running around, back and forth, getting ready and packed up for uni. But I made it on time, a little early even so I got to chat to my friends. It felt like a very weird morning: I just felt super emotional and like crying at every little thing. It was hard work to stay composed.
The lecture covered the grading criteria for the assessment essay, which was really helpful. I find the language really confusing so going through it with a tutor explaining it in detail and in real, human language made is much more accessible and easier to understand.
But the main part of the lecture focussed on Max Martin – we cover one songwriter a week and look at techniques they use and so on. It’s really interesting, especially because they’re all really different. So, for Max Martin, we focussed most on melody, syllable count, and melodic math: a device used to make melodies really tight and memorable. It was fascinating, especially to someone who puts lyrics before melody. I don’t know if I could ever do it consistently because lyrics are so important to me but it’s definitely something I’d be up for trying out, just to see what the result sounded like.
Then I have a four hour break before the next class but I spent some of it hanging out with my friends, an hour at a meeting about the upcoming Nashville trip, and then two hours writing with one of my best friends on the course, Luce, while our other friend, Sharné sat in the room with us and worked on some of her own work. We worked on a song for a couple of hours, getting quite methodical and looking at the deeper message of the song and so on but I don’t think either of us were in quite the right frame of mind to write so the three of us just ended up talking. They’re such lovely people that talking with them, whether it’s about random stuff or intense, emotional stuff, the conversations mean a lot to me.
The second and final class of the day was the workshop, where we play songs we’ve written based on the previous week’s artist’s techniques. A lot of people don’t turn up, presumably because it’s not assessed and they need the time for other things, so it was just me, Luce, and Sharné, which was actually really nice. There was a lot of time for feedback and I really enjoyed working on their songs and my song more intensely than we would usually have time for. They had both written great songs, both of which I really loved.
My only complaint about the classes is how cold the classrooms are. They’re absolutely freezing, so cold that we’re wearing our coats, scarves, and gloves in class. The air conditioning is on even in December and January. We’ve asked them to turn it off but there’s been no change. Especially on a day when I was very emotional, being so cold just made me want to cry.
Fortunately, my Mum was working in London and the end of our days coincided so she picked me up and we drove home together, catching up about our days. We got home and I was so exhausted that I went straight to bed. It had been a long and emotional couple of days.
After my busy Tuesdays (and this busy Monday), I take Wednesday as a rest day. And I tend to work on at least one weekend day. I might technically be doing my course part time but I have to be very flexible about the way I work because of Autism and mental health problems cropping up and making work difficult. I can’t write a song or research an essay if I’m recovering from a meltdown for example. It sucks, because it means I have to plan my life very carefully to allow for these problems but also be very flexible in case they do. It’s so frustrating. I hate it.
I did my origami and then spent the day bouncing between writing my diary and the continuation of moving my songs all into one notebook. They were very calming tasks. I tried to work on a song but just couldn’t make my brain work (I think I was too tired) and then, when I gave up, I lay down on the sofa and accidentally had a three hour nap.
All of the cats!
I finished the day having dinner and watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit with my Mum (it’s the show that just the two of us in the family watch). It was very relaxed and really nice to spend some time with her.
I had had serious anxiety about the work I have to do all day but had been managing it with Diazepam. It’s something I deliberately try not to think about on rest days because they’re my weekend where I have fun or recharge. I’ll spend the other days of the week working on those things but rest days are for resting. It’s still hard to shut off that anxiety though, even with the Diazepam.
As had become my pattern, I started my day with my piece of origami for #30dayfeb. On this day, it was another bird. I did a lot of birds. They were pretty and not too challenging (I wanted challenging but some of the origami tutorials I watched were virtually impossible for a beginner like me).
Most of my morning involved going to therapy. It ended up being a very intense, upsetting session – therapy can be a bit of a funny paradox because if you leave feeling exhausted and drained, chances are you’ve worked really hard and done some important work; you’ve just got to look after yourself afterwards. We were talking mainly about a difficult relationship in my life and how to handle it as well as my OCD and how it’s affecting my Masters work. Trying to control it enough to get the work done is gruelling and exhausting and sometimes it feels just too hard. It spiralled into harder and harder stuff and I ended up in tears. Getting myself together to leave was a struggle. And then, to make things worse, the cab I needed to get home didn’t turn up and I was left waiting in the rain for half an hour, until my therapist came to check on me. She lent me her phone and I called another one.
I eventually got home and called my Mum at work, sobbing down the phone because it had been just too much after a difficult session. Plus changes in plans really throw me. Talking to her managed to come me down a bit and I felt a bit better when we hung up. I was tired enough to sleep but my brain was whirring too fast so I was still awake but groggy when Mum got home.
We had some dinner (and some red bull) and caught the train to London. We were going to see Waitress again, mainly so that I could try and meet Sara Bareilles after the show. She’s had such an impact on my life that I just really, really want to meet her and thank her. And getting to see the show again isn’t exactly a hardship. I love the music, the cast is fantastic, and the story always inspires me; it makes me feel like I might end up happy, even if it’s not in the way I expect or currently want it to. That’s big for me. And Sara is just amazing. She just is Jenna. She’s plays the part like it was written for her and she sings like Jenna is a part of her. ‘She Used To Be Mine’ is one of my favourite songs ever and there’s something magical about hearing her sing it live. This show is so important to me and it always will be.
We rushed outside to see if I could meet her and we met some of the other cast who kindly chatted with us and signed my ticket but Sara herself didn’t appear. After a while, the security guard said she’d left but I was reluctant to just go, having been told the same thing in the past and gone home only to see people posting selfies with her on Instagram. But this security guard had been really nice to us earlier in the night – so I felt I could trust him and his explanation – and he told us that she had an early engagement the next day and so she’d had to leave straight away (as it turns out she was on This Morning the next morning so it was entirely true). So we went home. We have one more opportunity to meet her before her run ends so hopefully I’ll get to meet her then. I know a lot of people don’t get my dedication to seeing shows more than once (I often get overwhelmed mid show and so seeing them multiple times allows me to get the full experience – and why would you not want to see a show you love more than once, especially if it’s only on for a limited time?) and meeting the artists but they’ve really shaped my life and therefore become part of my life so it feels important to connect, even if in the tiniest way.
Marisha Wallace (who plays Becky – she has an incredible voice and is utterly hilarious) signing my ticket.
We caught the train home and fortunately got back not too late, considering we’d waited afterwards (I appreciate that they hadn’t just left us waiting in the cold). I went straight to bed and was asleep in seconds.
I did my origami (an apple) and then spent the morning doing some reading for my Masters, working on my songwriting book when I needed a break. It was very gentle and chilled after the emotional day and late night from the day before – the perfect antidote.
Lucy keeping me company.
I had a late shower but ended up sitting on the bathmat, sobbing because there’s just so much sadness in me. There’s so much sadness, past and present, happening in the world and to the people I love. It overwhelmed me and I just got so upset. It happens sometimes, quite a lot in fact. I’m an emotional person but I’ve been particularly emotional recently.
In the afternoon, I had an appointment with the doctor. Mum always comes with me to these appointments, especially with doctors I’m not familiar with (the Autism specialist doctor has been away), in case I get overwhelmed and because she knows my mental health and Autism history really well, sometimes better than me. We talked to the doctor about the pain I’ve been having from my fingers to my shoulders (I was, at that moment, having some really bad pain in my hands and left shoulder), which is obviously cause for concern. We talked about support for people with Autism, which there still seems to be a distinct lack of, plus several other things. I found it very unhelpful and distressing but Mum seems to think that the information we got, good and bad, means movement – in her plans and research, I suppose. So I guess that’s something.
To cheer me up, we went home via the nearby pet shop. We need to replace the cat tree/scratcher so we went to look at the ones they had and there were some possibilities but we need to do some measuring before we commit and buy one. But we did buy a couple of little cat toys, mainly to make me happy: a little unicorn and a little Grumpy Cat (we try to avoid buying toys that look like real animals so that they don’t give us a huge shock, thinking the cats have brought in a mouse or something). They’re really cute.
The unicorn toy and the Grumpy Cat toy.
Then we came home and had a gentle evening. I did some reading for my essay and then me and Mum had dinner in front of SVU. When I finished eating, I did some diary writing. It was an attempt at calm but I was still very anxious, even taking Diazepam. I’d intended to go to a friend’s gig in London but I just had too much pain in my hands, arm, and shoulder that I just couldn’t do it. I felt so bad because it’s been so long since I’ve been to one of her shows and I felt like a bad friend for ‘not supporting her.’ I could’ve managed the show but the travel just made it too much. I felt really guilty for not going, something I struggle with a lot – guilt, that is. So it was a difficult evening.
I spent most of Saturday songwriting (after doing my origami). I tried to write both with a pen and on a computer – diary, blog writing, or research – but my hands felt thick and stupid (which we think was a side effect of a medication I’ve now stopped taking since it wasn’t helping and there were too many side effects – none of them serious but all of them unpleasant and unhelpful) so it was a real struggle. Playing piano was really the only thing that wasn’t difficult in that sense and so I spent a lot of the day playing, writing, and editing songs, several of which I really like.
I also put up my blog post about Lucky, which I’m really proud of.
Me and Lucky on Christmas Day with his new toy.
Me and Mum spent some time in the afternoon and early evening talking about a presentation I have coming up, talking rather than writing since my hands were still struggling. Then we had dinner and watched some TV together. I ended up falling asleep on the sofa at seven because I was so exhausted by everything going on and Mum had to all but drag me off the sofa and steer me to bed.
I woke up stupidly early (at half past four) and couldn’t go back to sleep as hard as I tried. Eventually I got up and moved to the living room, putting the TV on low and getting to work: sending emails, social media messages, and so on. I’m better in the mornings, more awake and less anxious, so those things feel easier. I organised my diary and did some blog writing. It was a productive start to the day, despite the painfully early start.
Mouse keeping me company while I worked.
Once Mum was up and we’d had breakfast, we did some house jobs (such as fitting the new cat flap) and I talked to a friend who was very upset before getting down to work on my presentation. I’d been talking to various people since it was set as an assignment so I felt prepared when I sat down to make the presentation slides. I spent the day working on the slides and beginning a script for what I was going to say.
In the evening, I ran it past Mum (who does a lot of presenting as part of her job) and she critiqued it for me. Then one of my other parents came over and we had dinner in front of Tim Minchin’s Orchestra Tour DVD. He’s truly an incredible musician and performer.
It was a productive day and I went to bed as late as I could manage – about ten o’clock – and took a sleeping pill to make sure I got a good night’s sleep.
I hope that was interesting, that it gave you a glimpse into my life. Let me know if you want more of these because it was definitely interesting to write.