Posted on January 27, 2020
This blog post is probably more for me than for you but since this is my blog, and a place I record my thoughts about my life, it felt important to write and post. A lot has happened in the last decade and I wanted to write about some of it, especially the bits that I know I will carry forward and even the bits I’ll leave behind, because I don’t need them anymore or because they’re damaging to the person I’m growing into.
There are a handful of things that I think are important to include – for context – before I write about this decade because otherwise important things won’t make sense. I moved from London to Brighton when I was six, eventually made friends and then lost all of them when I was 12, made some much better (amazing) friends, struggled with Glandular Fever and then Chronic Fatigue, which has continued to affect my life. And in 2008, my Dad died fairly suddenly. So I brought a lot into the 2010s.
So I’ve collected up some of the big things that happened in this last decade. I thought I’d write a little bit about them from a perspective ten years on.
- GCSEs – Wow, GCSEs seem easy now. Some of them were even multiple choice. Now my assessments involve weeks of research and planning and essay writing. But that’s not the point of this section. I look back at my GCSEs and remember feeling fairly confident – anxious in the way that we all feel when asked to prove ourselves or our knowledge but I felt like I knew what I needed to know. Mostly. I remember even being excited by some of the questions that came up because they were the particular sub-subjects (if that makes sense) that I knew well. My only frustration (other than my brother then doing better than me) was that I got an A not an A* in Maths after having always worked so hard and performed so well. And I really wanted to make my teacher proud although I think he was (of how hard I’d worked – he was like that). But I wanted to get the A* for him, to reflect how well he’d taught me and taken care of me.
- A Levels – My A Levels were very stressful, which we – me and my family and my mental health team – think was partly to do with my depression and anxiety starting to get really bad. Some classes were great and I loved them but others were actively traumatic. My Maths teacher for example was a real bully. By the time I got to the final exams, I was in such bad shape that, after doing relatively well for two years, I had to drop out of one of my classes and didn’t do nearly as well as I’d hoped and was expected to. It was very upsetting. But there were good times. I made some really good friends that I’m still friends with and we had a lot of fun together. The games of Irish Snap will never be forgotten. (Fun fact: I re-sat a couple of the exams but didn’t open the grades until after I’d gotten my degree.)
- Got a Degree with First Class Honours – My degree probably deserves it’s own post (although I wrote one about graduating). There’s just so much I could say. I studied songwriting and although there were classes that I didn’t like or caused me extreme anxiety, I loved it and I learned so much. It’s the place that made me a real songwriter. The tutors were fantastic and I made some really amazing friends there, that I hope will stay my friends forever. I think my favourite part was the monthly Songwriter’s Circles where people were selected and would talk about and play a few of their songs. I got to play twice and my favourite experience was in my third year (even though I’d cracked a rib a week earlier). The circle involved Sweet Billy Pilgrim who I love (Tim Elsenburg is a tutor at ICMP and he was one of my favourites) and Lauren Aquilina (who was probably my favourite artist for most of my teenage years) and I played my debut single, ‘Invisible,’ live for the first time. It was a pretty big deal of a night.
- Started an MA – So, as of last September, I started a Masters Degree in songwriting, at the same university where I did my BA. I’ve only done one semester and I was seriously struggling with my mental health for a significant part of it but it was amazing. I mean, I’ve written a whole blog post about it so that gives a more detailed look at the experience but despite the hard stuff, I loved it. I loved the classes, I loved what we studied, I loved writing the songs, I loved my tutor, and I loved the people in my group. There were a lot of positives, despite the severe anxiety I suffered from (and my OCD came back with a vengeance). It was mixed but I regard it ultimately in a positive light. I haven’t got my grades back yet for the module’s exams yet (which I’m very anxious about) so I’m just not thinking about that yet.
- Snubby was put to sleep – My gorgeous (if incredibly grumpy) cat developed cancer and had to be put down, which was one of the most traumatic moments of my life. I held her while they put her to sleep and I felt the moment she left – or however you want to describe it. It was so upsetting and I still miss her, even though we didn’t have a lot of cuddling or stroking time.
- Got Lucy – It took me a good while before I was ready to have another cat because I felt like I was replacing Snubby, something I’m sure many people feel after a pet dies. But I missed having a cat in my life so we started looking for a kitten and we found Lucy. I feel so, so lucky to have her. She’s the most gorgeous cat ever. We call her Queen Lucy because she gets whatever she wants (within reason for a cat/pet) and because she’s the Queen of the feline clan we having living in our house.
- Three sets of kittens – I’d always wanted to raise kittens so we decided to let Lucy get pregnant. She had three kittens and they were all just so adorable (there are many pictures on my Instagram). We found new homes for them all (somehow all in the same family and friends network) and life went on. Normal returned weirdly quickly. Then we decided to do it one more time and she had two kittens. We moved house before we could rehome them and through that process, we ended up deciding to keep them. And that’s how Mouse and Tiger came to be part of the family. And then six months ago, we were getting them spayed and Mouse needed to gain some weight before they’d do it. Turns out she was pregnant and had two kittens. We named them Sooty and Sweep and they’ve been a godsend in the last few incredibly stressful months.
- Hydro-ed Lucky – I can’t believe that ten years ago, Lucky was five years old. That seems so young. He’s obviously now fifteen (his birthday is in February) so he’s pretty old and wobbly now. But he’s still full of enthusiasm and affection. It reminds me that, even if you struggle with something that does diminish your quality of life some (he’s very arthritic and had Geriatric Vestibular Disease, which had left him even more wobbly), there’s still joy to be found in life. Because he does. I love him to pieces. Anyway, my point was that I got to guide him in one of his Hydrotherapy sessions and it was such hard work. It took SO MUCH CONCENTRATION, guiding him and trying to keep an eye on all of his limbs and how much they’re working and stretching and extending. But it was a really cool experience and I felt very lucky to do it. No pun intended.
- Major Depression and Anxiety – These developed when I was doing my A Levels and I’ve been battling with them ever since, even when on medication. My depression can get really bad, leaving me wishing I was someone else or wanting to die. But I find that easier to deal with than the anxiety, that winds me so tight that I feel like my spine might snap. I feel like I’m being strangled. It’s awful and right now, it’s as bad, if not worse, than it’s ever been.
- Self Harm – I’ve struggled with self harm on and off since I was twelve but it was really bad between the ages of eighteen and twenty three. I don’t want to talk about it too much because I don’t want to trigger anyone and I haven’t used it as a strategy in a while. I did write a post about it a while ago, as well as one with tips for talking about it.
- Trichotillomania – I took a year out between A Levels and university to do resits and at some point during that year, I started pulling my hair out (I wrote about that a couple of years ago). It was like this weird manifestation of my perfectionism: any hair that didn’t feel perfectly smooth had to go and so I would pull it out. I’ve made multiple attempts to stop but so far, I’ve always ended up starting again, especially when I’m under stress. I don’t know what to do about it really. I did see a specialist hypnotherapist once but I haven’t really had time to do much more than that because life is just so busy.
- OCD – I wrote early on about my struggles with OCD, with my compulsive writing and for a while, it was manageable. But then, after a particularly vicious meltdown, it was retriggered and it got really, really bad. My psychiatrist had taken it off my list of diagnoses but he’s now rediagnosed me because I have to write everything down. Everything. Which is very hard to do while doing a Masters and has caused me significant stress. It’s a constant battle between working and writing. And now, at the beginning of the semester, the work is okay but I’m so behind on the writing.
- BPD – I had to work very hard to get my psychiatrist to consider Borderline Personality Disorder as a diagnosis. I basically wrote a dissertation to convince him, just to consider it, not even to diagnose me with it: I have serious problems with abandonment, intense relationships, an unstable sense of self, self harming behaviour, unstable moods, feelings of emptiness and so on. I felt like it was at least worth pursuing and eventually he did diagnose me with it. That’s what got me to my therapist. We’re working on elements of it, as they pop up and become problematic, but it’s really, really hard to live with.
- Autism Spectrum Disorder – Being diagnosed with Autism wasn’t a shock by the time it finally happened. The presentation is different in women and as it turns out, I fit the criteria perfectly. The diagnostic process was very long and complicated so I’m gonna link to the post about it rather than repeat myself here.
- Tried many medications – I’ve tried many medications in the time since my diagnoses, as you guys know since I’ve documented many of those experiences on this blog. I’ve lost count at this point, but it’s probably between fifteen and twenty. The side effects have been awful and most of them have made me feel worse rather than better but I’ll never give up trying to find the one (or the combination) that makes life joyful again.
- Hours of therapy – I’ve been doing DBT for five years this February and it’s helped me so much. Sometimes it’s hard to tell because I can’t always say ‘it’s helped me do this’ or ‘it’s helped me overcome this’ because it’s day by day. But it’s helping. It’s been complicated the last year (that’s a story for another time) but it’s helped me so much. My therapist is absolutely incredible and I’m so, so grateful for her.
- Autism research studies – I’ve done quite a few Autism research studies for multiple reasons. I want to know more about Autism and about the life that I’m gonna live. I want to know more about the differences in my brain and body and how to manage them. I also want it to be easier for the next person, for the next generation, for scientists, for doctors, for teachers. I don’t want to be an obstacle to be manoeuvred around and I don’t want that for anyone else and the only way to do that is to make it more understandable for everyone.
- Blog – And of course, there’s this blog. It’s been really helpful for me to have a place to put all of my thoughts about mental health and so on. And I’ve heard from others that some of these posts have helped them and that’s amazing.
- Concerts: I have been to so many concerts and shows over the years; it’s the only thing I really spend my money on. They just feed my soul. I’m not gonna talk about all of them but I wanted to list some and tell a couple of stories: Tim Minchin, Taylor Swift (RED Tour, 1989 Tour, and Reputation Tour – I can’t pick a favourite), Emeli Sande, Kacey Musgraves, OneRepublic, Sara Bareilles (she dedicated ‘Uncharted’ to me after I left a letter for her and it was one of the best moments of my life), Against Me!, James Bay, John & Jacob, The Shires (I’ve seen them more times than I can count – we met before their album came out so we’re kind of friends, maybe?), Fall Out Boy, Imagine Dragons, Rachel Platten, Halsey (every show is amazing: she puts everything into it from the graphics to the outfits to the stage), Adele, Kelsea Ballerini, Kalie Shorr (only in Song Suffragettes so far but I would love to see her new solo show but I won’t be in the US yet), Natalie Hemby (at Tin Pan South – I adore her), Liz Rose (she invited a load of us up to sing ‘You Belong With Me’ by Taylor Swift with her and it was this completely magical experience), Frank Turner, Jordan Gray, Lauren Aquilina (I saw her a couple of times when she was an artist and then we played a Songwriter’s Circle together at my uni and then we wrote a song together – what is life?!), Sugarland (after years of loving them), Jennifer Nettles (solo), Cassadee Pope, Maren Morris (from a tiny show at Omeara to the front row at the Royal Albert Hall, I’ve seen Maren multiple times and she never fails to blow me away), East of Eli, Lady Antebellum, Paramore, Ingrid Andress (I first saw Ingrid in Nashville and then again in London and she remembered me, which made me so happy), Kina Grannis (who I’ve been following on YouTube for YEARS and was desperate to see live), Kelly Clarkson, and Carrie Underwood.
- People I’ve Met: I’ve met some of these incredible people after shows or at special events and some of those experiences are the most special of my life: Rachel Platten (I won a meet and greet totally by chance and it was a really special experience – she gives amazing hugs), Halsey (I went until about two am in the freezing cold and then, when I tried to talk to her, I suddenly couldn’t say what I wanted to say – hopefully I’ll get another chance one day), Kelsea Ballerini (it was really early in her career so I’d love another chance now that she’s written so much more because those songs mean so much to me and I wish I could talk to her and tell her why), Kalie Shorr (I’ve met her a couple of times and she’s so lovely and as much as I wish we could be friends, she’s way too cool for me), Liz Rose, Emily Shackelton, Natalie Hemby (she’s so lovely and has been so kind to me – I can’t wait to see her again when I’m back in Nashville), Frank Turner, The Shires (As I said, we actually kind of know each other, although not well, but I’ve met them so many times and they’ve been lovely every single time), Emeli Sande, Jordan Gray (we had this amazing chat before the show and she gave me some really important advice for which I’ll always be grateful), Lauren Aquilina (I was so nervous the first time I met her that my legs were shaking so badly that I thought they’d buckle; after that we met a few times, and then wrote a song together), Maren Morris (I’ve met Maren twice and as hard as I’ve tried, my anxiety has prevented me from saying what I’ve wanted to say but hopefully one day I’ll be able to), and Ingrid Andress (it was really, really nice to see her when she played in London and although we’ve been trying to write together for years now – being in different countries does make it hard – hopefully we’ll manage it at some point).
- Musicals – I’ve also seen a couple of musicals: Wicked (which I love and Willemijn Verkaik will always be my Elphaba), Hadestown (the cast were amazing but the show didn’t really move me), and Waitress (which is one of my favourite things ever and I’m about to see it with Sara Bareilles, who wrote the music, playing the main character, Jenna – I’m so, so excited).
Ingrid Andress at The Courtyard Theatre in London (2019)
- Learned to play guitar – I started playing guitar just before my sixteenth birthday and got my own for that birthday. I’ve been playing ever since. I wish I was better but my mental has really interfered with my ability to play/practice. But I’m working on it.
- Rock Choir – I spent a handful of really amazing years singing with Rock Choir. I was the Rock Choir Baby because I was the youngest by quite a bit (I was fifteen when I started). I loved it. It’s just a shame that that time ended so negatively.
- Starting performing – Playing in front of people was scary but it felt right. I felt this stillness, like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
- Wrote many, many songs – I started writing songs in 2011 so who knows how many songs I’ve written since then, especially writing three songs a week at university. Probably hundreds, which is pretty cool.
- Written with some amazing people – I went to uni with so many amazing writers and I’m now studying with some amazing writers again so
- Made amazing friends, met one really important co-writer – I’m still friends with many of my course mates but there’s one, Richard Sanderson (or Richard Marc on social media), who has been my partner in crime for years now. We have so much fun together and I love writing with him. He’s been incredible – instrumental even, pun intended – in the whole Honest EP project. A legend if ever there is one.
- Performed a lot – I tend to do it in phases due to university and so on but I’ve definitely performed a lot in the last few years.
- Went to Nashville multiple times – Nashville is a magical place, I think, for anyone who loves music. I’ve been there several times now and it’s just so awesome and if I didn’t have the difficulties I do, I’d seriously consider moving there. But alas, that’s not possible. We always go for Tin Pan South, the songwriting festival in March, which is a week of two songwriter’s rounds a night and it’s just an amazing, amazing experience, especially if you’re a songwriter I think. My favourite Nashville memory is in the next point…
- Saw and Played Song Suffragettes – Song Suffragettes is an all female weekly songwriter’s round for up and coming songwriters. I’ve been to quite a few now and they’re always so cool. The songwriting is incredible and I’m always amazed that these girls aren’t signed and releasing music, supported by record labels. And then the second year I visited, I got to play, which was one of the best moments of my life. I loved every second.
- Played The Bluebird in Nashville twice – I also got to play at the very famous Bluebird Cafe during my first trip. It was the open mic rather than an actual show but I’ll most gratefully take what I can get. Everyone plays and then, if there’s time at the end, they pull names from a hat to see who gets to play again and I did! That was very cool and very special.
- Played a label showcase – Playing a label showcase is a very surreal experience. For me, it was just a normal show but you’re very aware of the high stakes. It ended up being a really fun show, even though I was incredibly nervous about screwing up. But it went really well. And all my people showed up for me, which meant so, so much. Afterwards, I was offered a management deal but it turned out not to be the right thing for either of us. It was a big compliment to be sought after though.
- Performed for charity events including Oxfam, TWLOHA, Young Minds, Ambitious For Autism, Disability Pride, Autism’s Got Talent, Brighton Soup, SummerFest, Sussex Mental Health Forum, and more – Playing for charities is always really rewarding, even though you rarely get paid. I’m always trying to help and make things better and it feels so good to be part of something that helps people, that’s creating change, and hopefully the songs I’m playing resonate with the people listening. I’ve actually been invited to play at a couple of these things, which is another big compliment.
- Made an EP – Despite one of the worst periods of depression I’ve ever experienced, me and Richard managed to put together an EP with the help of a handful of very talented musicians, finished off by an awesome mixer and masterer. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for so long and I will always remember this first project; it will always be special. There was a period where I was too depressed and anxious to even talk about it but thanks to Richard, the work continued and I’m endlessly, endlessly grateful. I’m really proud of it, even as a self proclaimed perfectionist so that must be saying something.
- Released music – I’ve released a single and two songs from my current EP, Honest, something I’ve been dreaming of for years. So it’s amazing and exciting and wonderful, even if it is the most freaking stressful experience of my life.
- Made and released music videos – I get very stressed out by watching myself, especially watching myself lip-sync but of the two videos that are already out, it hasn’t been too bad. I worked with two very thoughtful and generous people, which made the process actually enjoyable and I’m really grateful to them (Rosie Powell and Richard Sanderson) for making something so stressful so collaborative and fun. I actually can’t wait to keep releasing them.
- Got some radio play, including BBC Introducing – Radio play?! What?! BBC Introducing?! What?! It sounds so surreal to me, that people are choosing to play my songs on the radio for people to hear. It’s amazing and I’m so grateful. Plus the songs have been added to some really cool Spotify playlists, which I don’t know a whole lot about (I don’t often use Spotify) but watching the streams go up is very exciting.
Photographer: Andy Voakes Music Photography / bigbearphotographybrighton
- Australia and New Zealand – We spent five weeks travelling up the East Coast and into Central Australia when I was fifteen. It was an incredible trip and I’d love to go back, especially to Sydney (and the super-speed boat rides around the bay – one of the most fun experiences of my life). I particularly loved The Whitsunday Islands (the sand there is so fine that it squeaks when you walk on it). I think that was my favourite place. But travelling around in a caravan with my family was really fun, if stressful at times. I’m so glad it’s a trip we got to do together. And then me, my Mum, and her Mum flew over to South Island, New Zealand for five days and I just fell in love. I don’t know what it was but I just loved it from the moment we got there. Another place I think I could happily live if I didn’t have all of my problems. We explored Christchurch, flew up to the top of a Glacier, and watched baby seals play under a waterfall while the adults lounged on the beach. It was incredible. Absolutely incredible.
- Berlin – Me and my family went there for a long weekend and it was incredible and beautiful. I mean, it’s a city, so it’s not all perfect and pretty but we saw some amazing things: art galleries and installations, memorials, cool restaurants, and so on. I felt very attached to it as a city.
- Turkey – Some family and I went to a little village on the coast of Turkey between my AS and A Level year (I remember this vividly because I had to do my summer work in the bedroom, the only room with air conditioning). It was beautiful. We had a tiny balcony where we ate breakfast every morning and above (well, I guess, behind) the village were these spectacular) mountains and that was when I fell in love with mountains. I’m very grateful for the trip but it was very hot – hot enough to melt the tarmac off roads in certain areas – and I don’t handle the heat very well so it was a struggle. I wish it hadn’t have been so hot so that we could’ve done more. I did have a relaxing time though: reading books and eating good food in fabulous weather.
- Netherlands – I have family in the Netherlands so I’ve been there several times, especially when I was younger (and we’ve often stopped briefly in Belgium). While I do like Amsterdam and Driehuis, Alkmaar has been my favourite place so far. It might be a city but it felt like a small town and I loved walked around and discovering the little shops and restaurants and churches. Plus we ate plenty of poffertjes (they’re like teeny, tiny pancakes but not quite and you can eat them with almost anything). SO GOOD.
- Paris and Venice – For my Granny’s 80th birthday, she took us to Venice, via Paris. Unfortunately they’d just had the highest rainfall in twenty years so the water was almost knee high. They were providing Wellie Boots that looked a bit like they were made out of (sturdy) plastic bags. Apart from my Granny’s safety, the whole thing was pretty funny. Even with the inconvenience of the extra water, I loved the city and we travelled to some of the islands. I particularly loved watching them blow the glass on Murano.
- Switzerland – I was lucky enough to go to Geneva for two days with my best friend from sixth form and although I was anxious as all hell for the whole trip (this was when my anxiety and depression were becoming a life altering problem), it was really cool and I’m really grateful to her and her Dad for having me along. We got to go to CERN (we’re Physics nerds) and although the underground tours weren’t running, we got to see the control room of the Large Hadron Collider and that was REALLY, REALLY COOL. Plus the science-centre-sort-of-thing attached to it was fun. The lake was beautiful and I loved looking at the mountains in the distance. I love mountains.
- Ireland – Mum had to work in a couple of different places in Ireland and decided to make it a little trip, starting in Dublin, and it was a surprisingly wonderful place. Not that I thought it would be boring but I didn’t expect to enjoy the experience so much. There was music everywhere and all the people were so nice and there were so many interesting little shops. At least where we were situated. Then we went further south and it was just so green. It was so beautiful. I loved it.
- Iceland – I went to Iceland at the end of 2018 and as you’ll know if you follow my blog, I wrote a whole blog post about it. It was very stressful because new experiences are stressful for me but it was absolutely incredible. I know I’ve used that word a lot. But the glaciers were beautiful and the diamond beach was the most stunning thing I’ve ever seen and the Northern Lights, as faint as they were, were one of the most magical things I’ve ever witnessed.
- Norfolk – I’ve been going to a little seaside Norfolk town every year since I was two and it’s become really special. It’s my home away from home. I step onto the beach and I feel different, like I’ve found something I didn’t realise I’d lost. We used to stay in a cottage but now we stay in a caravan closer to the beach, which is so nice. I love it there. It will always own a piece of my heart.
At the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, Germany (2011)
- Had my heart broken – Being in love is always kind of complicated for me because I can love someone without it being romantic. But I still love them with all my heart. Anyway. At nineteen, I had my heart broken for the first time and it was crushing. She was so cold and just cut me off without a word. It took me more than two years to get over it and feel like myself again. I did see her again, just once. But I didn’t get a decent explanation. In fact, it seems like she was rewriting history to make herself feel better. But I’m good now, in that regard at least.
- Christina Grimmie was killed – The night Christina Grimmie died, I was out at a friend’s EP launch, spending time with lovely people. I went home on a high. And then I woke up to social media posts praying for her and using RIP hashtags, telling stories about what she meant to them. I was in total shock. She’d been such a big part of my teenage years and I’d always been so inspired by her videos, by her incredible voice and dynamic personality. I’m only glad I didn’t have to be in university that day because I don’t think I could’ve managed my emotions. I kept crying, bursting into tears at random moments. I spent most of the day on the floor with the young kittens we had at the time: they were exploring the world with excitement and wonder and that helped. A bit. It reminded me that there was still good in the world, that there was still innocence. I still think of her often, watch her videos and I wear a bracelet to remember her, so that she’s always with me.
- Moved out of my childhood home – Last year, I moved out of my childhood home (or at least the one I’d lived in for about about fifteen years – so most of the life I’m aware of) and it was hugely traumatic for all of us, especially since we weren’t going to continue living as one unit. We all cried a lot and slept terribly and it took weeks to not hate it. I don’t hate it anymore. There’s a lot I like about the new situation but I think that the old house will always be home in my mind. But whether it is or not, we’re doing okay. We’re doing good here.
- Ten years without Dad – I don’t really want to write about this; I’d rather write about it in it’s own post. But it was hard. It felt like the day should feel big and important but it just felt like a normal day. And that was really hard.
- Claire Wineland died – I discovered Claire’s YouTube videos in early 2019 and I just fell in love with the way she talked and her perspective on life, her perspective on so many things. It made my day every time I saw that she’d posted a new video. I was so excited for her to get her new lungs and I spent every moment of that week when she was in a coma, thinking about her and her family, sending them all the love I could. And then she died and I was devastated. I still am. Writing this is making me cry. I miss her. I still really miss her and like my Dad and Christina Grimmie (and my Grandad), I wear a bracelet so that she’s always with me.
- Autism and Mental Illness – As you’ve probably just read in that specific section, there’s been a lot of struggle and pain. It’s been really, really difficult and sometimes I don’t even know what to do with all that pain.
- Made some amazing friends – I have friends I’ve known for ten years, friends I hope will still be my friends in ten years, friends who also have Autism and understand me in a way that others don’t, and I have new uni friends who I’ve only met recently. They’re all freaking wonderful in their own unique way and I’m grateful to know every single one of them.
- Met Amanda Tapping – Amanda Tapping has been one of my heroes for so long so to meet her was amazing. I was so nervous but she was so kind and attentive and she held my hands the whole time we spoke. It was a really special experience that I’ll always be grateful for.
- Voted in multiple elections – This is something that’s always been really important to me and although, in that time, we’ve never had the overall result I’ve hoped for, the person I’ve voted for in my constituency has always gotten in and she’s incredible.
So there you have it: a rough guide to my decade. I hope this wasn’t boring as all hell because it was very therapeutic for me. So, yeah, I hope you like it. Have you written something like this?
Posted on January 19, 2020
Today I posted a new video, telling the story behind the inspiration, the writing with Imogen Davies, and the production of my current single, ‘Clarity.’ I’ll let you watch the video but again, it does relate to mental health so I wanted to post it hear, as well as on my social media. I haven’t explained the experience that gave me the idea because I don’t want to get in the way of the way someone applies the song to their life or interprets the story. It’s a song about something difficult so I feel weird saying, ‘I hope you like it!’ but I hope, when you listen to it, it means something to you. I hope it makes you feel something.
If you haven’t heard the song yet, you can buy or stream it here and the music video will be out soon.
Posted on January 18, 2020
Now that I’ve finished my assessments, I thought it might be an interesting idea to sit down and write about my experience of the first semester of my Masters Degree. Because I’m doing it part time (mainly to protect my mental health), I’m only doing one module rather than two, which is what the full-timers do. The module I did was called ‘Creative Process’ and it was four hours of uni time, a two hour seminar where we talked about different areas of the creative process and then a two hour workshop where we played the songs we’d written based on the ideas and concepts we’d talked about the week before. It was a really interesting module and I wish my mental health had been better so that I could’ve focussed and enjoyed it more.
I feel really lucky when it came to my group and my tutor.
My group was only about nine people (when the other groups were much larger as far as I know) and they were all absolutely lovely. We were all really different, both musically and life experience wise (but I guess that’s what happens when you get to Masters level), which was really interesting when it came to writing and socialising and… just everything. It was a completely new experience and one that I’m really grateful for. Up until now, I’ve mostly been surrounded by people my own age with similar experiences.
Everyone was so, so good, all in their own way. They all had their own style (some had particularly beautiful musical signatures, some wrote from interesting perspectives with thoughtful lyrics, and so on) and it was so interesting and exciting to see how they developed over the semester. We were and I know will continue to be so supportive of each other’s music and development as songwriters. It always felt safe to bring in something I felt unsure or insecure about and the feedback was always constructive and because the person wanted you to get better; I never once felt like someone was being mean or looking down on me. It was such a supportive atmosphere and I’m so grateful because I think that was a huge part of what helped me to grow so much as a writer.
I made two really good friends in particular, both of whom I’m still in the same group with to my absolute delight. They’re truly beautiful souls. One of them, Luce Barka, wrote this amazing song during the semester and has said she’s happy for me to share it with you guys. I really, really recommend it…
I also had a fantastic tutor, Isobel. She’s a really cool, independent singersongwriter, which I think made her an especially good teacher because she’s very immersed in the industry we’re all trying to get into, in her own, distinctive way. She’s also dealt with serious health problems (which she has talked about publicly so I’m not breaking her confidence or anything) so I felt like she was a really good tutor, especially for me. She understood, or had a kind of understanding, of what I deal with. She was a really, really great tutor, in discussions and when giving and guiding feedback. But for me personally – and this is my blog after all – she was incredible when it came to helping me manage the course against all of my issues. When my anxiety was overwhelming, she helped me adjust the tasks to make them easier while still allowing me to do the task and learn the skills. I am massively appreciative of how accommodating and generous and kind she was, even before she received the Student Support Agreement (the document with all my information and recommendations).
Anyway, she was amazing. I learned so much, obviously from the course but also from the way she delivered it and the feedback she gave me. I feel like I’ve grown so much as a writer and I feel like she’s a really big part of that. Plus, I’ve never had a teacher who was so understanding, who helped without hesitation, with just my word to guide her. I can’t properly express how much I appreciate that. It’s never happened to me before and it felt so wonderful to be treated as if it was something you just do, rather than being made to feel like a burden or an obstacle to be manoeuvred. So, as much as I learned (and I learned a lot), that is what I’m most grateful for and one of the things that I will always remember about this semester.
The first few weeks were really, really tough. After my massive meltdown in Victoria station, I was having meltdowns every day (as I wrote about here), which was having a big impact on my mental and emotional health, also leaving me physically exhausted. That significant meltdown was triggered by an email from the Disability Coordinator (who was also an Autism Specialist), suggesting a very last minute change of plan for our scheduled meeting which still leaves me bewildered. As an autistic person, sudden changes of plan are known to be highly problematic. That, plus my existing anxiety, caused a massive meltdown that took a very long time to recover from. And it left me feeling less than confident in her ability to support me even though we had had a positive first meeting and I had left feeling cautiously optimistic that this time it might be different. It then didn’t improve as actions promised at that meeting didn’t get done, leading to more meltdowns. So that was a real complication and painful part of the semester.
Having said all of that, I loved the classes. We learned about songcraft, collaborating, imposter syndrome, professional practice, perfectionism, and so much more. It was fascinating and fun and the briefs, while often stressful (with only a week to write the song), were interesting and challenging. I wrote some songs that I’m really proud of and I feel like my songwriting grew a lot because the briefs were challenging.
We watched this video in one of the classes and I thought it was really good so I thought I’d share it:
I loved it – loved getting better at songwriting – even the bits that pushed me and made me feel uncomfortable.
However, out of class was another matter. We were expected to do research that would later become the foundations of our assessment essay and presentation. Except whenever I asked, they wouldn’t tell me what the assessment entailed and just said it was ‘self directed learning’ so I didn’t know what I was actually researching, which caused me terrible anxiety. I created a reading list of books, articles, and interviews about creativity and songwriting but as hard as I tried to do the work, my OCD – my need to write everything down – battled against it. And usually won. So if I wasn’t writing, I was reading. I had no downtime. I was constantly anxious, like, end-of-the-world-anxious. And I felt like I was failing.
They explained the essay and presentation in the last couple of weeks but I still didn’t really understand. The language was complicated and vague and while I understood the general idea, the grading criteria was pretty ambiguous. I didn’t know what I had to do specifically to get good grades. I need clarity. It was incredibly stressful.
It took a couple of last minute meetings with my module leader to really understand what was expected of me but I was now facing a myriad of problems. The research I had been doing had little relevance to the subject I was writing about so I’d have to redo all of that, as well as actually write the essay and prepare the presentation. Plus we were in the final two weeks of the semester and the university would soon be closed for the Christmas holidays so I would have no way of contacting anyone for any support. I was wound so tight I felt like my spine might snap. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I’m really grateful for those meetings but I just wish the assessment had been clearer earlier in the module so the research I was doing could’ve been more focussed. With all the problems associated with Autism, like chronic fatigue and chronic pain, time is something I have to be incredibly thoughtful about.
I worked every day of the entire holiday (apart from Christmas Day, which I spent with my family – something I don’t often get to do) but the assessments were always in my head so I felt like I couldn’t take a break or have any time to rest and recharge. I still didn’t feel sure that I was doing it right but still, I worked hard on it and gave it everything I had. I finished both the essay and the presentation with time to spare, allowing myself time to redraft and prepare, giving myself the best chance of doing well. I submitted the essay, despite big technical problems with the system, and I did my presentation to the best of my ability, despite finding presentations incredibly difficult. Now I just have to wait for the marks.
Now, having run through the whole semester (and having reflected a lot on the difficulties), I just wanted to share a couple of specific, positive experiences:
- For one of the early seminars, we had a guest tutor, who works primarily as an expert in Personal Transformation, come and talk to us. Because we were such a small group, he was able to really talk to each of us about our lives and our creative struggles. Considering how little we knew each other at the time, it was amazing how open everyone was and I think it’s part of the reason we became so close and supportive as a group. It was a real bonding experience to hear all of these personal stories and I personally felt really honoured to be part of it, to have been trusted with those stories.
- One week I brought in a song that I was really proud of. It had a repeated line in it – “it’ll get easier” – and everyone picked it up really quickly, singing along and harmonising. It was beautiful and emotional and it was one of the most special moments of the semester for me.
- During my research, I found a quote by Paul Gardner that I’m endlessly inspired and intrigued and excited by: “A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places.” There are so many things that could mean. What do you think it means? Or what does it mean to you about a particular thing in your life?
Overall, it was a very mixed bag. The good moments were great and made me feel amazing. I got a lot out of it. But I spent a lot – A LOT – of the semester in crippling anxiety and I had a lot of meltdowns. It was fucking hard. And the marks haven’t even come back yet. I’m terrified that I’ve done horribly. But I’m trying not to think about it. I’m just trying to get through this new semester. Which may be even more stressful than the last.
Posted on January 11, 2020
So, for those of you who don’t know, DSA stands for Disabled Student Allowance, something you can apply for as a disabled student to help you get support during your university experience. They can help you with technical support, in uni support like 1-to-1 sessions, and so on. You apply for an assessment and then, if you get one, you talk with the assessor about the support you need, discuss what DSA can provide you with, and then they make a recommendation.
I had an assessment during my undergrad degree and they were really good. They provided me with a load of useful tech, including a macbook, a handheld recorder, and several pieces of software to make doing my work easier. I was (and still am) really grateful, even though the laptop’s memory isn’t actually big enough to run all of the software. It was still a laptop and a much lighter one than the one I had, which made commuting a lot easier – I was coming home with bruises from the bag I was carrying because it was so heavy.
The at uni support was less helpful. The first person I saw acted like a therapist (which I’m not sure she was supposed to be doing) and I already had a therapist so that wasn’t helpful. I spent the hour answering questions about my mental health and my Autism that I’ve answered a hundred times before. So I didn’t continue with that. And the second person upset me so much that I left before the session finished.
So it was a mixed experience but I’m endlessly grateful for the laptop because the old one was causing me serious problems.
I had to redo the application process for my Masters as what they offer is different and today I finally had my assessment – between the disability coordinator being very unhelpful (an understatement) and the semester being incredibly stressful, we’d just kept postponing it. It was too much to manage. But recently we finally managed it and it was a complete nightmare.
The guy was nice and we discussed everything – the problems with the disability coordinator, my first semester, my general experience of life, what would make university easier – but when it came to talking about what support was possible, it was very disappointing and upsetting.
- They will offer me a Windows laptop (which I would have to part pay for) but I can only run the software I need on an Apple computer.
- They will not offer me a (lighter) Apple computer.
This is despite the fact that I need a light laptop, due to the chronic fatigue and pain I struggle with and an Apple one to run the software I need for the course. But apparently this is because these are ‘course specific’ needs rather than disability needs, yet I – a disabled student – can’t do my course without them.
- They will not cover or contribute to the train tickets to London.
- They will cover cabs to the station.
This is because, apparently, I choose to live at home rather than living in London like most students studying in London despite the fact that I am unable to live alone and look after myself because of my disabilities. Apparently, this would give me an advantage above other students, which is bullshit because in reality, it would simply put me on a level playing field because I am disadvantaged by my disability. And the amount of effort that would go in to justifying each cab trip to Student Finance when Mum usually takes me (because they won’t simply give you an allowance for it) would take more effort and energy than I have to spare on something used so rarely.
And uni support wise:
- They have no direct contact with the universities and so cannot offer any support through them.
So I will continue to have no specialist support at uni.
There was a moment during the discussion that I just realised that they weren’t going to help me and that I was going to be left unsupported, abandoned, again. And I just started crying. They’re not going to provide me with any support because my needs don’t fit their guidelines, because my disability doesn’t fit with their idea of disability. The assessor said it happens to a lot of people like me. I’m not sure why he told me this. Is it supposed to make me feel better? Because it doesn’t.
We’d run out of things to discuss so the assessor left the room to give us a few minutes to talk and I just started sobbing. I just feel so unsupported. I feel so let down. These are people who are supposed to help me. Their very job is to help me and they are… letting me down. There was nothing to talk about and I was moments away from a meltdown so Mum packed me up and we headed for the door.
I was passing through the door when I saw this:
What a joke. What a fucking joke. I’d walked in there calm and was walking out feeling… I don’t even know how to explain it. Just devastated all over again, I guess. I’m so tired. I’m so tired of working so hard to prove to everyone that I need help only to be ignored time and time again. I’m tired of being dismissed and invalidated because I don’t fit someone else’s arbitrary concept of something they have no real idea of but that I live with and suffer with every day. I’m tired of nobody thinking that researching or training in the understanding of Autism is important. I’m so tired. Of all of this.
Mum pointed out to the assessor how ironic the flyer was. I think offensive or appalling are more appropriate given the previous hour and a half but whatever. I cried all the way home and for a long time afterwards. I don’t know what to do now.
Obviously this is just one person’s experience. I’m not sharing this because I want people to avoid applying for DSA. It helped me during my BA. But I just don’t want anyone going into it without knowing how hard, how upsetting, how traumatic it can be. Getting benefits of any kind can be a real struggle and this one is certainly no different.
Posted on January 10, 2020
My new single, the second single of the Honest EP, is now officially out! It’s called ‘Clarity’ and is available on all major music platforms!
laurenalexhooper: AND ‘CLARITY’ IS OUT!
I wrote this song a couple of years ago with my friend, Imogen Davies, inspired by the idea of desperately chasing a person or bad habit, a habit that you know is harmful, to find some sort of relief from all of the difficult emotions.
Please, please buy/stream it. It would mean everything to me and all the people who have worked so hard on it. 💜
I’d hoped today would be exciting and fun but it’s turned into a really difficult day instead. I just want to cry and cry and cry. So I’m gonna do all the work for this and then have a gentle, calm day to recover.
I hope you like the song, that it makes you feel something. Please share it around. It would mean the world to me.
Posted on January 4, 2020
So the 19 for 2019 was probably overambitious, especially considering the instability of my mental health. I just didn’t realise how fragile it really was until it crashed. A lot of this year is going to be about looking after and rebuilding my mental health. So this year, I’m going for something a little gentler: a handful of goals that aren’t super specific. They’re more about trying than achieving.
GET BACK TO SWIMMING – For a year, I swam almost everyday and I loved it. It made me feel really good in my body. But then the depression, the medication side effects, the fatigue, and the meltdowns all made that impossible. I was either too unwell or too physically weak. But I really miss it. It wasn’t possible during the first semester of my Masters (my anxiety was so high and I was having so many meltdowns that I just didn’t have the energy) and I’ve spent the holidays working on my assignments but I’m optimistic that this next semester will be a bit gentler and I’ll have the time and energy to start building the swimming in again.
START WEARING MY INVISIBLE BRACES AGAIN – Again, I did really well at this for a while but the mental health crash derailed it and it was just one thing too much. I was going through so much during the day that pressure in my face during the night was just more than I could take. But my teeth haven’t completely regressed so at least I’m not starting from the beginning. I’m wearing them again and it’s uncomfortable and hard but I’m trying my best to focus on the end goal: straight teeth that make me feel confident when I smile.
COMPLETE YEAR 1 OF MY MASTERS DEGREE – Because of the way the part time course is set up, I only have one more semester this academic year and from what I understand of it, it shouldn’t cause me the same levels of anxiety as the last one, as much as I enjoyed it. I’m also kind of looking forward to the assessment because it’s an essay where you can write about anything music related. How cool is that?! All the possibilities! And that’s year one done so all things going well, that should be possible. I’m cautiously optimistic.
CONSUME NEW MEDIA RATHER THAN JUST FAMILIAR MEDIA – With all the mental health stuff, it’s been hard to engage with anything that isn’t safe and comforting. It’s been especially difficult in the last few months when my OCD has been so bad, because it’s hard to concentrate on something new when I’m trying to write everything down. I’m going to be working on that specifically but also my mental health in general this year so hopefully those needs won’t take up so much time, leaving some time for watching, reading, and listening to new things.
GET BACK TO THERAPY AND FOCUS ON MY MENTAL HEALTH – I only went to therapy sporadically in the second half of the year last year because my therapist and I couldn’t get our schedules to match up and because of certain things going on in our lives and although I don’t yet know my timetable for the new semester, we (me, my Mum, and my therapist) are all determined – furiously so – to make it work because I really need the support. Things have gotten really bad and I really, really need the support.
WORK ON NOT COMPARING MYSELF TO OTHERS IN MUSIC – This is probably the hardest one and a lot of the time, it feels unbearable to even think about. While I need to work on not comparing myself to others in general – in all situations – I figure that’s too big a task for such a difficult feeling so I just picked one area. Music has always been my happy place and I want it to stay (or go back to being or something) my happy place and it’s not, when I look at other artists and feel lost and sad and lonely and angry and bitter. So I want to work out – probably with therapy – how to focus on me and not worry about other artists beyond a practical, objective sense. This feels really, really hard so I don’t know if I’ll manage it in a year or whether I’ll even manage to start but I want to so I’m trying to think about it and figure out a place to start because I don’t want to feel all of these things. I want my happy place back.
So these are my goals for this year. It’s difficult to really even think about things like this at the moment because everything feels so, so hard that I just feel overwhelmed. I feel like everything chips off pieces of me and at twenty five, I shouldn’t feel so small. I shouldn’t feel like there’s so little left of me. I’m struggling and I don’t know how to keep going and I don’t know what to do and a big part of me wants to just give up but I don’t know how. How do you give up? Because life just keeps going on without you. I guess that’s why my main goal this year is my mental health because I don’t know what to do anymore.
Posted on January 1, 2020
In January, I was inspired to try the 19 for 2019 challenge, setting myself nineteen goals to achieve by the end of the year. They didn’t have to be massive goals; they could be one off things to simply try. I was inspired so I came up with nineteen things and gave it a go. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of what a hell of a year I was about to experience.
- Stop pulling my hair out – Complicated. I’ve gone long stretches without pulling my hair out but then the stress induced habit has usually been replaced by another one. Right now I’m going through an incredibly stressful time and have recently started pulling again. Maybe next year’s the year.
- Read ten books – I read a handful of books early in the year but I didn’t really start to enjoy reading again until I read This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay. I devoured that: he has a beautifully personal writing style. Not long after that, I started my Masters Degree and I had an overly ambitious reading list so I read a lot. Plus, I had a phase of reading books from my childhood when I went through my bookshelf. So I definitely read more than ten books.
- Get a tattoo – I still haven’t managed to do this. I still like the thought of getting one and have multiple ideas but I really don’t like the way they blur over time. I don’t think I could bear to have a blurred tattoo on my body so I still haven’t gotten one.
- Continue swimming (or let it evolve) – There were periods of the year where I did manage this but sometimes the medication I was on meant I physically didn’t have the energy. And then when the kittens were born, I loved watching them in the early mornings, which was when I swam (before the gym got busy and stressful). Add in doing the Masters and what a drain on my energy that was, I haven’t been swimming half as much as I’d life. It’s definitely something I want to get back into in 2020.
- Write more songs – Given all the changes of medication (something that always seems to affect my songwriting) during the first six months or so of the year, I wasn’t able to write. I tried. I tried really hard and managed a few with the help of some wonderful cowriters. But now that I’m back on the Phenelzine, I am able to write again, alone and with others and I love it. For me, writing a song is the best feeling world; it’s feeling alive, it’s feeling connected to myself, to my soul, to the universe. It’s feeling real. So I’m writing again, as much as I’m able. And as I’ve started my MA, I’m writing for that too. I’m very aware of how much I’m learning and how much my songwriting is developing.
- Get my photo albums up to date – I did. And then they got out of date again. It was something I’d hoped to do over the Christmas break but I’ve literally been working on my assessments every single day. Fortunately my photos are well organised so when I have some time, it won’t be a terrifying task to attempt.
- Pursue the cause of my tiredness – I’ve tried. My god, I’ve tried. I’ve seen doctors and been to the Chronic Fatigue Clinic for a general session but that wasn’t at all helpful. I knew everything they told and have known for years and the other people there hadn’t been dealing with it for a fraction of the time I have been. So I didn’t feel very positive about that experience. I’m waiting for a follow up from them but I had no idea when that will be or how much it will help me.
- Improve my instrument skills – I barely did anything musical for a significant part of the year due to medication side effects and crushing depression so I’ve probably gone backwards in my instrumental skills. Having said that, I have been working on them since I started the Masters (particularly the piano so I didn’t have to carry a guitar up and down from London). So not a total loss. And hopefully this will continue as I continue with the Masters.
- Watch a meteor shower – In January actually, I did manage to catch a meteor shower and it was beautiful. I don’t think I’ll ever get over how magical meteors are; they’re just takes me breath away. And there was one huge one that streaked across the sky, like a knife cutting through the roof of a tent and letting in light. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
- Write more poetry – I did write a little poetry, but that was only during NaPoWriMo. Either my mental health was going down the drain or I was too busy writing songs for poetry. Why is there never enough time? Sometimes I feel like the world is moving really fast around me while I move at an ordinary speed.
- Finishing decorating and organising my room – I started to and then I somewhat undecorated it with the creation of the music video for my single, ‘Bad Night.’ While it’s mostly been returned to rights, there’s still some damage (a fist sized crack in the plaster that I haven’t gotten around to repairing). It’s just one of those things that’s always on the list but slips down to more urgent things. Hopefully I’ll get there at some point.
- Find an alcoholic drink I like – I’m now back on a medication that means I can’t really drink. The odd drink is fine but yeah, I can’t really drink. Before that though, I tried a lot of different types of alcohol and just really hated all of them. I also discovered that I’m allergic to limes, which are in a ridiculous amount of alcoholic drinks, including one that I actually did like. The one drink that I do enjoy is a passionfruit mojito even though it does contain lime extracts. So far, drinking them – and I’m not drinking them very often – doesn’t cause a reaction.
- Find a tea or coffee I like – Nope, they all still taste awful to me. I find it frustrating because drinking coffee is such a ‘normal’ thing and I feel like, having been denied so much by my Autism, it’s unfair that I don’t even get to be normal in this tiny way.
- Get invisible braces – Success! I was fitted for invisible braces and have received the first half of the set. I did really well at wearing them for a while but during the second half of the year, I haven’t done so well. It just felt like too much when I was struggling with serious anxiety. I’m hopeful that, with what seems like a less stressful semester starting January, I’ll be better at wearing them.
- Go rock climbing – Nope. I would’ve loved to but again, all the medication and energy stuff made that impossible. Another dream for another year.
- Participate in FAWM – I tried really, really hard to take part in February Album Writing Month but as it was (obviously) at the beginning of the year when I was trying different medications and therefore really struggling with my writing, I didn’t get far. I made several solid attempts and wrote several parts of songs but I didn’t manage to write even one full song.
- Participate in NaPoWriMo – Again, I tried and did write some poetry but nothing I was terribly enthused by. And I wasn’t particularly consistent and didn’t do it everyday but I tried. I tried.
- Donate blood again – I would’ve loved to have donated blood again but a lot of the medications made me ineligible to donate, which sucks because it’s something that’s really important me. So this is off the cards for the moment but as soon as it’s possible again, I’ll be back.
- Join the bone marrow register – Another one I’ve failed at. There’s just been too much health stuff and I’ve just been too unwell to think about it. Plus there were long stretches where I simply forgot. I want to do it so it will stay on the list until I manage it.
So it’s a pretty mixed bag and considering the year I had, I’m surprised I managed any of them at all. I’ve struggled throughout the year, especially recently, with how little I’m achieving and the frustration and anger and guilt that comes with that, that comes with living with mental health problems and a developmental disability. I’m trying to focus on the fact that, where I could, I tried. I tried to do as many of these things as possible.
Overall, an interesting challenge but I think I’ll try something different for 2020. I haven’t found the right kind of goal system yet so I’m just gonna have to keep looking and keep trying.