The New Plan

The last few months have been tough, medication wise. I had a wonderful, un-depressed Christmas (which I’m massively grateful for) but since then, I’ve been struggling. My mood just kept dropping and my anxiety just kept getting worse and we tried to alter the medication to compensate, to find that perfect balance, but it’s gotten to the point where we just need to try something new. So I’m taking stock of everything and trying to figure out how I feel about all of it.

The Clomipramine (a Tricyclic anti-depressant) worked for a while. As I said, I had a really good Christmas where I felt joyful and energetic and actually happy for the first time in a really, really long time. But then it seemed to lose its effectiveness and my mood dropped, whether that was because I was taking a magnesium supplement (I talk about that here) or because it just had a short shelf life. I don’t know. But it stopped working and my depression returned. Since then, my depression has been stifling and I’ve really struggled with suicidal thoughts, at an intensity I’ve never experienced before.

My anxiety also skyrocketed so, in addition to the Pregabalin (also known as Lyrica) I was already taking, I started taking Flupentixol to help manage it. At first I felt no different but after adjusting the dose, my anxiety decreased dramatically and I started to feel a bit more functional. But in the months since then, it seems there have been a number of difficult side effects: my energy levels dropped dramatically, to the point where even a shower is a real struggle. Standing for any length of time is impossible and I ended up being wheeled around multiple airports in a wheelchair during my Nashville trip. The worst part though was that my hands felt thick and clumsy, like my fine motor skills had just evaporated into thin air. Playing guitar was practically impossible.

At first I didn’t realise that these things were connected to the Flupentixol but thanks to my Mum and her incredible attention to detail, we realised that the dates all seem to match up and since we reduced said medication, these problems have disappeared. I’m ridiculously grateful to have my hands back, even if my anxiety has flooded back in.

We’ve reached a point where I can remain where I am or start over. So I’m starting over. I don’t want to live like this. So, after a lot of thinking and talking to my psychiatrist, I’m coming off both the Clomipramine and the Flupentixol. I’m not a massive fan of the Pregablin either to be honest but even changing two things at once is ambitious. So that one can wait. I’ve already started reducing the meds and I’m bracing myself for a barrage of mood swings, depressive episodes, and more. It’s not going to be fun. But it will be worth it. Hopefully.

The current plan is to come off the two drugs, go the ‘wash out’ period (two weeks of no drugs – apart from the Pregablin – so that there aren’t any negative interactions between the medications), and then start Phenelzine again. Yes, Phenelzine – the drug I stopped taking two years ago because it had stopped working, because the joyfulness it gave me felt fake and suffocating. BUT it’s the only drug that’s allowed me to be functional – creatively and otherwise – so we’re giving it another try. It did work for a long time and if it doesn’t, we’ll try another MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) anti-depressant.

I’m not sure how I feel about it, to be honest. Part of me is frustrated and disappointed. I’ve spent two years trying to find something better only to end up where I started. But on the other hand, that’s two years of knowledge, experience, and confidence that I didn’t have before. I’m a different person and chances are, my reactions will be different: our bodies change and our chemical makeup is constantly shifting. These medications all but cause a hurricane inside us. So I’m trying to be optimistic. I’m trying to be hopeful.

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Claudia Boleyn on BPD and Obsessions

I’ve written about Claudia Boleyn’s videos before but this is another great one that I think really clearly explains something that happens with Borderline Personality Disorder (also becoming known as Emotional Intensity Disorder) and various other mental health problems. I really recommend watching it.

In this video, Claudia talks about how, when you’re struggling with your mental health, you can develop obsessions with certain things, particularly fandom related things: fictional characters, books, TV shows, etc. These special interests can overlap with autistic special interests but they can also come about as a coping mechanism; they can become an escape from the difficulties of the real world.

She talks about how she can categorise her life by her obsessions, including Emmerdale and Anne Boleyn and certain areas of art history. She talks in particular about her obsession with Anne Boleyn, how it strengthens her and gets her through the really tough times. She even uses Boleyn as a surname: “I use it to exist in the world.” She talks about how she uses this obsession and others to understand herself. All of this makes those obsessions really special and important. I can definitely relate to this. My life can be divided up by my obsessions: animals but particularly horses – I obsessively read the Animal Ark and Saddle Club book series – Harry Potter, crime dramas, Taylor Swift, certain youtubers, anything superhero related…

“My identity and my life is sort of filled up with the stories of other people rather than stories of my own.”

With BPD, there’s the extra layer of struggling with your identity and your sense of self. Claudia talks about how she would go to school dressed as her favourite characters and how a teacher once asked her, ‘When will you come to school dressed as yourself?’ But that’s really hard when you don’t know who you are. I’ve always found it very easy to lose myself in fandoms or characters because I don’t know who I am to begin with and I’ve had a couple of experiences where I’ve done things I didn’t actually want to do because I thought that’s what a character would do, i.e. what I should do to embody those good characteristics.

“I’ve never felt like I have a proper identity in myself so I’ve sort of constructed one in a way based on what I admire and what I want to be and what will make me as good a person as I can be and what will make me contribute to the world but it’s really tough.”

It can be a good, helpful strategy – until it starts to dictate your emotional state.

“I think this isn’t spoken about enough with BPD, especially because we can struggle with identity and who we are and what sort of people we are. I think we often construct ourselves based around fiction and around those characters we admire and I think it matters a lot to us. It feels like it becomes a part of our identity in a way, so when it goes wrong, it feels like we’re falling apart. Yeah, it’s difficult.”

Another problem in BPD is that of regulating your emotions. Small things – day to day things – can have massive impacts on your mood. It can be exhausting and stressful to go through such ups and downs and it’s constant; there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty involved. So escaping into an obsession or fandom can be helpful and soothing but then, when something goes wrong in or around that fandom, for example, it can cause really negative emotions because your escape, your safe place, has been threatened. It might seem extreme from the outside but it’s very real and personal if you’re going through it.

I really relate to this video and I’m really grateful to Claudia for putting it out into the world. We need to talk about all parts of living with mental health, not just the relatively straightforward ones.

A Letter Under The Floorboards

Today is exactly a year since we moved house. That was a terrible day. It was stressful and upsetting and exhausting. I had a meltdown when we finally collapsed in the new house (surrounded by boxes and carefully balanced furniture) and neither me nor my Mum slept that night. It was all just too much.

It’s better now. I’m still adjusting, but then I had spent most of my life in that house so I didn’t expect a quick recovery. I’m getting there. My room almost feels like my room.

Since we moved out, we’ve actually learned quite a bit about the history of the house and the people who lived there. Our favourites are two women who lived and worked together their whole lives, the first head and deputy head of Varndean School. We even found pictures of them, which is really cool. We were all weirdly moved to learn these stories.

When we moved out, I wasn’t thinking about the history of the house and our part in it. I was just trying to figure out a way to say goodbye. So I wrote a letter and tucked it under the loose floorboard in my room. It was a letter to any and all future occupants, asking them to look after the house for us, for me. We’re part of the house’s history now and perhaps, one day, someone will find this letter and feel the same way about us as we feel about these two women. And since we live in a technological age and the first step of investigation is to google something, I thought I’d put this out into the internet. Maybe one day they’ll find me.

To whoever finds this,

This has been my bedroom, on and off, for about seventeen years. That’s most of my life. That’s a surreal thought, one that I’m trying not to obsess over. It took a long time to feel okay about moving and I’m scared that thinking too hard about all of it will be the wind that blows me back into that storm. I didn’t think I’d survive it the first time. I don’t want to leave but I don’t want leaving to be a life altering tragedy. I’m trying to remember that I don’t need this room to be me, even if it feels like that sometimes.

A lot has happened in this room, in this house. I grew up here, watched thunderstorms, brought friends over for dinner, celebrated birthdays and Christmases. I wrote stories and songs and my brother learned lines and turned the flickers of ideas into masterpieces. I said a last goodbye to my cat of fifteen years, learned that I could love another one, and then raised two litters of kittens with her. I taught my dog to sit, sneaked him onto the sofa when no one was home, and sang to him while emptying the dishwasher. I studied for GCSEs, A Levels, and my degree. I graduated with a first and I found out in this room. I had my heart broken. I struggled with my health and my mental health. I found out that my Dad had died.

 I worry that leaving this room, this house, means leaving all of those things behind and that I’ll lose myself because of that. It may not be rational but it’s how I feel. I hope that I’ve managed to box all of that up with my belongings but I guess I’ll see when I get to the new house. There’s a little voice in my head that says that the rooms feel empty because we’ve packed all the memories and emotions but I’m scared to believe it.

Maybe this is all too flowery and fluffy for you. That’s fine. A room can be just a room. A house can be just a house. But regardless of whether you see it as four walls or a time capsule, please take care of it for me. For us. We have loved it dearly and hope that you will do the same. Fill it with life (and extra radiators because, as you’ll soon find out, it’s practically impossible to keep it warm). I hope you will feel as safe here as I have.

Look after this place. I’m trusting that you will.

LAH

16/04/18

Nashville Looks Good On You

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This trip to Nashville wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. I’d had this vision of going out there and writing a load of songs and going to show after show after show and seeing all the friends I’ve made out there. I managed to do some of those things – and I’m really proud of what I achieved – but my mental health really dominated the trip, much more than I’d hoped it would.

We got off to a pretty rocky start when I forgot to take my medication the night before we flew out. We had to leave at two o’clock in the morning so I never really went to bed and therefore my nightly routine was disrupted. Plus I was excited and nervous and just generally all over the place. We got to the airport and I couldn’t even walk the distance to security, I was so completely out of energy. I thought it was the lack of sleep and stress of travelling but I physically couldn’t do it. We ended up asking the airport staff for assistance and they were absolutely amazing, at every airport we travelled through over the trip: they got me a wheelchair and took me wherever I needed to be, getting me early access to the planes, and so on. It was so helpful and honestly made the whole thing possible. I don’t know what I would’ve done without their help. It took a few days to recover and it was only then that we realised what had caused it.

The reason we go at this time of year is because the Nashville Songwriters Association International hold the Tin Pan South songwriters festival, where hundreds of songwriters perform songs that they’ve written. They have a great mix of famous and up and coming so you get a lot of different, beautifully written songs. All of the shows that I went to were good and some of them were fantastic. My favourites include Lori McKenna, Alyssa Micaela, Emily Shackelton, Hannah Ellis, Natalie Hemby, and Travis Meadows. They were truly incredible.

There were a couple of other musical highlights too. By some wonderful coincidence, Kelly Clarkson was playing the Bridgestone Arena while we were in Nashville. I’ve always wanted to see her and I’ve always wanted to go to a show at Bridgestone. And to make it even sweeter, Kelsea Ballerini – who I LOVE – was opening. So it was perfect. The show was amazing and I had a blast. Totally a bucket list moment.

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The other musical highlight was getting to see my friend, Caylan Hays, perform. We’ve written together several times and on my last trip, she came to see me play a gig and by another beautiful coincidence, she was playing on the last night of our stay. She was fantastic. She’s such a talented writer and I love her voice. Throw in some gorgeous electric guitar and I was in love. You can check out her music here.

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And of course, I got to go to two Song Suffragettes rounds. I love this organisation with my whole heart and so it meant so much to me to see both shows while I was there. They – the people who run it and the girls who play – are so inspiring and I hope I can play with them again someday.

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I had several writing sessions while we were there and for the most part, they were a struggle. I love the people I was writing with dearly but my brain still isn’t right: a casualty of my depression and the medications I’m taking. We’re still trying to find the balance where I’m emotionally stable and not creativity stifled. Still, I’m trying and I so appreciate these writers for having patience with me while I work through this. I also got to spend some time with friends, old and new, and they really inspired me in this dark patch of my life.

But throughout the trip, I really, really struggled. My anxiety was so high that I actually had trouble breathing and my depression was so overwhelming that I found myself falling apart (even in public places, which I’m usually able to avoid doing) multiple times. There were lots of tears and lots of Diazepam; it was very hard. I struggled desperately with wanting to go home and I was battling suicidal thoughts (helpfully described by Claudia Boleyn as, “my brain trying to kill me”) for most of the trip. In truth, it was a bit of a nightmare but there were some really great moments that helped me manage it and of course, I had my wonderful people (my Mum and my writing partner, Richard Sanderson) there to support me. The trip wouldn’t have been possible without them.

Also, shout out to Pancake Pantry for teaching me what it’s like to get excited about food.

Nashville Playlist 2019

Hello friends! I’m back from Nashville! I’m jet lagged as hell right now so a full blog post is a bit much for me but I did one of these last year and really enjoyed it so I thought I’d do it again. So here are thirteen (well, actually fourteen) songs for the thirteen days I was in Nashville…


FRIDAY – ‘Great Ones’ by Maren Morris (written by Maren Morris, Ryan Hurd, and Mikey Reaves)

Maren Morris is one of my all time favourite artists and songwriters and I spent the journey listening to her new album, ‘Girl’. It usually takes me a while to get into new albums but this song immediately jumped out at me as a favourite. I love the detail in the lyrics and the congruence of the mythical, atmospheric production. It just gives me this sense that love like that is really possible when I often doubt that.

You’re the perfect storm

So let it pour down on me

If they tell the story in a hundred years

No one would believe that you and me were really here

Just a memory of what the real thing can be


SATURDAY – ‘This Town Still Talks About You’ by Natalie Hemby (written by Natalie Hemby)

I first listened to the ‘Puxico’ record on my way into Nashville and so every song reminds me of Nashville and vice versa. This song is one of my favourites (so much so that I’ve written about it multiple times). Wandering around Nashville and reacquainting myself with the city really brought it back.

Oh this town still talks about you

Like you never left

Hidden sounds in cracked sidewalks and church pews

How could we forget?


SUNDAY – ‘Loving You, Using You’ by Caylan Hays

I got to see a lot of my friend Caylan while I was in Nashville, which was absolutely wonderful. I love her a lot and her songwriting is just beautiful so of course I had to include her on this list.

Maybe I’m loving you because I’m lonely

Maybe I’m holding you because you know me

Maybe I’m loving you

Oh, because you’re lonely too

Maybe I’m here because I’m grieving

Maybe I’m terrified of leaving

Maybe I’m loving you

Maybe I’m using you

I wish I knew the truth


MONDAY – ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Kalie Shorr

I love Kalie’s music so it was a real treat to go to Song Suffragettes and hear three new songs. The level of care and detail in her songs just takes my breath away. She’s recording her first album at the moment and I’m honestly so excited for it. She’s one special songwriter.

Before you know it every bottle says drink me

Before you know it, yeah, you’re gonna start shrinking

He’ll make you feel small, and there’s so far to fall

When you’re loving a madman

So hey Alice, how is Wonderland?


TUESDAY – ‘Humble and Kind’ by Lori McKenna (written by Lori McKenna)

On the Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of seeing Lori McKenna perform again, which is a bit of a spiritual experience, especially when it comes to this song. The lyrics, the melody, and her voice just come together in this perfect way and it’s absolutely stunning.

Hold the door, say “please”, say “thank you”

Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie

I know you got mountains to climb

But always stay humble and kind


WEDNESDAY – ‘Rainbow’ by Kacey Musgraves (written by Kacey Musgraves, Natalie Hemby, and Shane McAnally)

This is one of my favourite Kacey Musgraves songs and it has been for years. At the late show on the Wednesday night, Natalie Hemby talked about it and then sang it and it was absolutely gorgeous. Easily one of my favourite moments of the whole festival.

Well the sky has finally opened

The rain and wind stopped blowin’

But you’re stuck out in the same ol’ storm again

You hold tight to your umbrella

Well, darlin’, I’m just tryin’ to tell ya

That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head


THURSDAY – ‘Black’ by Travis Meadows

Travis Meadows is an astounding songwriter and after missing his show last year, I was very excited to see him again this year. He was a complete standout. He told some great stories and his songs are just beautiful. The imagery and the emotion are just SO good.

You taught me there was more to life than getting by

If you want your dreams, the only limit is the sky

If you use your head, you won’t have to break your back

You taught me how to drink my coffee black


FRIDAY – ‘Miss Me More’ by Kelsea Ballerini (written by Kelsea Ballerini, David Hodges, and Brett McLaughlin) / ‘Since U Been Gone’ by Kelly Clarkson (written by Max Martin and Lukasz Gottwald)

There just so happened to be a Kelly Clarkson concert while we were in Nashville. She’s an artist I’ve always wanted to see and I’ve always wanted to see a concert in Nashville so I couldn’t resist. Plus Kelsea Ballerini was opening and I just adore her and her music. Her current single, ‘Miss Me More’ is one of my favourites off her current album, ‘Unapologetically.’

I thought I’d miss you

But I miss me more

I miss my own beat, to my own snare drum

I miss me more

Miss my own sheets in the bed I made up

I forgot I had dreams, I forgot I had wings

Forgot who I was before I ever kissed you

Yeah, I thought I’d miss you

But I miss me more

As you can imagine, Kelly Clarkson is a fantastic performer and the show was incredible. There were so many moments that took my breath away but there’s nothing quite like a whole arena screaming along to the same song. It was so much fun and so freeing.

But since you’ve been gone

I can breathe for the first time

I’m so moving on

Yeah, yeah

Thanks to you

Now I get what I want

Since you’ve been gone


SATURDAY – Born on a Windy Day by Anna Vaus

On the last day of the festival, I went to a really good show. It was really hard to choose a song for this day but this song by Anna Vaus just captured my imagination. I loved the story and the imagery and I keep going back to the little video I took of it.

And a bird’s gonna fly if it’s got wings

A cowboy’s gonna run off when the sunset sings

It’s just one of those things that I can’t change

Oh, I was born, I was born on a windy day


SUNDAY – ‘I’ll Be There For You’ by The Rembrandts (written by Phil Solem, Danny Wilde, David Crane, Marta Kauffman, Michael Skloff, and Allee Willis)

The day after the festival finished, I was exhausted and so me and my writing partner had a chill day watching Friends while I recovered. I find it very difficult, especially in Nashville, to take down time and let go of being productive all the time. But I know that I have to build in recovery time because otherwise I burn out and have meltdowns. So we took a day off and watched Friends, hence this song choice.

So no one told you life was gonna be this way

Your job’s a joke, you’re broke

Your love life’s D.O.A

It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear

When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month

Or even your year


MONDAY – ‘Hypocrite’ by Savannah Keyes

I met Savannah when we played Song Suffragettes together and I love her and her music so much. Her lyric writing is just so detailed and clever. I’m so excited that she’s releasing music and this is her first single, which she played at the Song Suffragettes round I went to that night. I love her performance of it; she’s so cheeky and honest.

We all wish we weren’t so human sometimes

But we’re trying, yeah, we’re trying

We all wish we weren’t so human sometimes

But I’m trying, damnit, I’m trying


TUESDAY – ‘Flavor’ by Maren Morris (written by Maren Morris, Jimmy Robbins, and Laura Veltz)

Maren Morris is pretty much always on in the background of my life, ever since I discovered her first EP, so it’s not surprising that she features on this list so many times. I loved this song when she started playing it on tour a few years back and I’m so happy that it made the new album – it’s a true Maren Morris song.

I’m cooking up my own flavor

Even if it ain’t your style

You only see one layer

Original can take a while

Making a mess straight out of scratch

Think what you think about that

Oh I’m just tryna make good a little bit greater

I’m cooking up my own flavor

(This was also the evening I went to see Caylan (Caylan Hays) play a show and I wish I could choose all of the songs she performed. I can’t wait for her to release them – they were utterly gorgeous.)


WEDNESDAY – ‘A Song For Everything’ (written by Maren Morris, Jimmy Robbins, and Laura Veltz)

A fitting end for a trip focussed on music and songwriting. I love Maren Morris and I love this song. It’s beautifully produced and the melody and lyrics are just gorgeous. It’s definitely one of my favourite songs on the album and I only hope I can write a song as good as this one day.

One danced you through love

One rocked you through lonely

Mixtaped your heartbreak

And made you feel holy