A Week In My Life (Going Back To University In A Pandemic)

So, I’m officially back at university, which feels very weird to say after six months of unstructured time in lockdown. With the ongoing pandemic and my mental health issues, it may be overly ambitious but, as I said in a recent post,  I really needed to try. So I thought I’d write a blog about the first week back as it was bound to be an ‘interesting’ experience. I’m only ‘in’ one day a week but that doesn’t account for extra work and assignments, as well as trying to balance extra theory lessons, therapy, and so on. So, unsurprisingly, I was pretty anxious going in.

The week in this post started on Tuesday 22nd September and ended on Monday 28th September 2020. It begins on a Tuesday as my academic week begins on Tuesdays this semester and I thought the week’s activities would make more sense in that context.


TUESDAY

I’d tried to go to bed earlier than usual the night before, which I had managed to a certain extent, but getting up was still a struggle. It’s been so long since I’ve been required to get up for something relatively early in the day and finding the motivation to get out of bed was a problem I’d long thought I’d conquered. It was very tempting to roll out of bed at five to nine and attend my lecture as I was. But I really didn’t want to look like a befuddled, just unfurled hedgehog so I eventually managed to drag myself up and into the shower. That was fine but apparently my makeup skills have drastically deteriorated since lockdown began; getting my eyeliner to match was practically impossible – I’d decided to wear makeup in the hope that it would make me feel more motivated, more normal, more in a university mindset, since I always wore make up to university. I got dressed – smarter than my usual lockdown attire but still comfortable – and put on jewellery for the first time in ages. Then, as the day’s classes were on the whole more introductory than anything else, I set myself up on the sofa with my collapsible desk and laptop and logged into the online class, ready for the nine am lecture.

My lecture class is online and we spent two hours going over the new module, Musical Language in Songwriting. We went through the learning outcomes, the details of the assessment, and listened to a selection of songs, hearing some of the musical concepts we’ll be learning about to then try out in our own music. I’ll admit to being anxious about this module: it relies on music theory more heavily than the other modules do and that’s not an area I feel super confident in. So while my tutors are really nice (I’ve met them both before) and I know I could go to them if I needed help, I am still nervous about not being able to do what is asked of me.

We had a two hour break where basically all I managed to do was eat some lunch. I’d forgotten how exhausting it is to go back into education when you’ve had a significant break, how exhausting university can be in general (especially when you’re dealing with issues like anxiety, for example), and how exhausting it is to study/work in an entirely new format. I’ve used Zoom and FaceTime and so on to socialise but I haven’t used it in this context before and it definitely felt like new territory. So I watched some TV and made sure I had a track ready to play in the Workshop.

The Workshop was much more of a challenge than the lecture. This was the onsite class but as I’ve already discussed, I’ve opted to do the whole module online. I felt that feeling safe and being safe was worth a little added difficulty in class. But it was a lot of added difficulty. I was one of two online students – and the other will usually be onsite – and I just felt very removed from the class. The position of the camera meant I couldn’t see any of my classmates and I couldn’t really hear what they were saying or the songs they were playing. That made it very hard to engage as part of the group and anyway, my only way to do that was to type into the chat box that showed up on the tutor’s laptop. Not exactly a great system in group discussions. I spoke to my tutor about the problems and made a note to speak to my student support person. It did make the class a struggle but hopefully, with some feedback, the situation will get better.

I don’t really know what I expected it to feel like. There had been so much administrative drama beforehand that I hadn’t really thought beyond the actual day ‘at’ university. But then it was over and I felt restless, anxious, and depressed. I don’t know what I expected it to feel like (or what I would’ve expected if I’d thought about it) but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that. So that was a bit upsetting.

Given that my lectures finished at three, I’d planned to log out of uni and get on with stuff: work on some blog posts, write in my diary, or even work on my songwriting assignment for the week. But I was so exhausted and so drained that I couldn’t concentrate on anything – staying awake took all the energy I had. I know I watched a Harry Potter movie (they’ve always been comfortable and familiar background noise) but I don’t really remember watching any of it. I made several attempts at blog writing but suddenly it was the evening and I hadn’t really done anything. I know that going back to uni and going to classes, even undemanding ones, is a big deal and that we shouldn’t base our self worth on our productivity but I felt really frustrated that I hadn’t managed to do anything. I feel like I have so much to do all the time – too much to do – and it just feels impossible to keep up. It’s exhausting, mentally and emotionally.

In the end, I just went to bed early but, of course, I couldn’t sleep. After a while, I was getting so frustrated that I got up for a bit and tried out Dare Me on Netflix. I watched a couple of episodes and although it felt pretty exaggerated and over the top, I found the characters and their motivations interesting and I found it visually appealing: the styling, the settings, the colouring. I don’t know if I’ll keep watching but it helped distract me from everything and eventually I was able to get to sleep.

First day back at university since late March: attempting to navigate online classes, trying to remember how to talk to people rather than cats, and desperately hoping not to make an idiot of myself on camera. (x)


WEDNESDAY

After such a disturbed night, I really, really struggled to get up. I just wanted to sleep all day. But eventually I dragged myself out of bed, got ready, and managed to eat something just in time for my Zoom session with Richard at eleven thirty.

Despite only officially receiving the first assignment the day before, the goal of the session was to work on this first song: a song with a modulation (a key change, for those of you unfamiliar with music theory) and the title ‘Little Pieces.’ I had, in fact, already written a song for this brief. I’ve been speaking to one of my tutors on and off over the summer to make sure I was as prepared as I could be for the module (hence my music theory lessons), especially considering how nervous I was about it and at one point, he mentioned what the first assignment was going to be. Knowing that I really struggle with modulations, I spent some time experimenting with them in various songs, in different moments of songs. And then recently, a concept matching the ‘Little Pieces’ idea popped into my head and I had to write it down before it disappeared. I tried out multiple possibilities for a key change and finally landed on one that felt like it matched the song rather than feeling like it had been shoe-horned in. Since the homework hadn’t been assigned yet, I didn’t do any more – I just emptied the ideas out of my head.

Once the task had been assigned, I looked at it again (I decided it was okay to use my song since it had been explicitly stated that we could use an older song if we did happen to have one called ‘Little Pieces’), made some tweaks, and sent it to Richard. We’re supposed to write the songs ourselves but we can bring in producers or session players as long as we’re making the artistic decisions. Richard and I usually produce very collaboratively but this time it was really on me to choose the arrangement, the specific instruments and effects, and give direction, if not exact instructions, on how instruments that I don’t know or have great experience in, should be played. So, to give you some examples: the track was based around my piano recording; I chose the electric guitar sounds, sometimes from a reference and sometimes from hearing a plugin, and in some cases, I sang a riff that Richard then interpreted (but made them better as he’s a much better guitarist than me, which was fine as they were sketches I was suggesting rather than exactly what I wanted); I directed how the song built and where that began; I suggested dropping beat one after the chord change to emphasise it as I was trying to make it a moment in the song rather than move smoothly over it. Having said all of that, I did use the opportunity to learn from Richard as a more knowledgeable and experienced arranger and producer. He told me about specific things that he would do, explained why certain things made sense musically, and suggested effects (like creating a pulse within a bass pad) that I didn’t even know existed. It was all my call but being so new to being in the production driving seat, it was very helpful to have someone point those sorts of things out to me. I definitely learned A LOT.

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We worked for almost four hours and I was absolutely exhausted by the time we closed the video call. I was also weirdly emotional. I just felt really raw and anxious and overwhelmed. I felt like I had too much to do but time was passing too quickly to do it all and I could already see myself getting behind in everything; the thought made me feel like I couldn’t breathe. I did take some Diazepam but it didn’t shift the feeling completely.

I spent most of the rest of the day trying to work on blog posts but ultimately just flipping from one screen to another. I think I was just too tired to concentrate. Nothing could really hold my attention so it felt like I’d wasted the afternoon and evening, which just made me feel frustrated and even more overwhelmed.

Me and Mum had dinner with Friends – mainly because I was feeling too overwhelmed to choose something else (nothing felt right) and because we knew we were both too tired to watch something new, that we’d both just fall asleep and end up rewatching it. We do have a list of new things to watch though and I don’t want to give up my progress in consuming new media just because I’m back at uni. Having said that, it will probably be less, just because I have more things to fit into a week now.

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Eventually we just abandoned the day, gave the cats their before-bed snack (otherwise they wake us up at five, demanding breakfast), and went to bed. I was completely exhausted and although it did take me a while to relax, it didn’t take too long to get to sleep.


THURSDAY

I slept better than the night before but still not hugely well and it was a struggle to get up. I keep making plans to dedicate a day to a massive sleep in but it always seems to get pushed down the list of priorities. There’s always something to do, something I feel I need to do more. I never wake up feeling particularly refreshed so it’s difficult not to think of sleeping in as a waste of time. Why do something that’s supposed to be enjoyable if you don’t actually enjoy it?

I spent the morning working on various different blog posts. I honestly love writing for this blog, even when it’s difficult. Putting my thoughts or experiences into words – turning them into something tangible – just makes the world feel a little more manageable. And I really needed that. I was feeling really quite fragile and overwhelmed. I felt like I might start crying at any moment.

The list of the semester’s assignments had been added to the module resources so I looked through them and identified which ones felt more difficult than others, which ones I might need help with the theory of before working on the actual song. When my theory lesson rolled around at one thirty, we worked on different time signatures and how to play them on the piano, as well as different modes. That particular assignment involves multiple time signatures, a mode other than the most commonly used (the Ionian), extended chords, and an example of chromaticism – basically, my worst nightmare. I’m not going to achieve all of that in a week so I thought getting a head start on how to actually put those ideas into practice might help for when the assignment comes around.

I spent the rest of the afternoon working – very slowly – on blog posts and my diary. Again, I was just exhausted. I think this week is just A LOT and hopefully it will get at least a bit better as I establish a rhythm and better organise myself around my classes and assignments. I’m learning that booking in sessions and appointments in the morning just knocks me out for the day so I’m going to try, moving forward, to move them to the afternoon so that I can at least get some stuff done in the mornings while I still feel awake(ish) and capable.

I also finished Dare Me. It was definitely interesting. I think it did try to juggle too much in too short a season, making certain moments pretty blunt when they could’ve been more subtle and nuanced, but I loved that it predominantly revolved around female relationships: Beth and Addy, Addy and Coach French, Beth and Coach French, the spiderweb of connections within the cheer squad… I also found the characters themselves, especially the central three, really interesting and I liked that my opinions and feelings for them evolved throughout the season, according to the choices they made and so on. Originally, Addy was my favourite and I definitely related to the magnetic pull of a powerful, female authority figure in her life but over time her naivety began to grate on me as Coach French became more and more obviously manipulative. My first impression of Beth was that she was vicious purely because she got a kick out of it and because she liked being in control but the more I learned about her, the more I felt for her; she was so much more complicated than she seemed on the surface and she definitely ended up my favourite. I’ve been turning it all over in my head ever since I finished it and although I initially wasn’t that bothered about whether there was a second season, I do want one now, having done all this thinking about the characters. I want to know more about them and see how their stories continue to unfold.


FRIDAY

I woke up in the middle of the night, wide awake, but my cat, Lucy, came for cuddles so it wasn’t all bad. Eventually I managed to get back to sleep but then I was so tired that it was a really effort to wake up in time to be ready for my therapy session at eleven. But then, after much stressful back and forth, it was put off until next week. I hate it when plans change suddenly on the day. It just throws me for a loop and I think that, if I hadn’t already taken a Diazepam, I would’ve been having a serious anxiety triggered freak out.

It took a while to settle again, to be able to focus again and I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon working on blog posts. With this week being relatively light in terms of uni work, it made sense to create a buffer of posts so that, if things get really stressful down the line, I can focus on other things with the reassurance that I can continue posting on the blog even though I haven’t been able to write.

In the afternoon, one of my parents – who is in a bubble with us – came over for a visit. We did some catching up and I gave her the recording equipment she’d asked if she could borrow. Then she and Mum went out to get fish and chips for dinner so that they could both have a break from cooking and we ate together, watching Lucifer. I did some diary writing and it was just a really nice, chilled evening. After two episodes, we had a hug – based on one of those ‘how to safely hug during a pandemic’ guides – and said goodnight. Me and Mum (and Lucy) watched some Agents of Shield (we’ve almost reached the end, which is very sad) before going to bed.

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Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to sleep. No matter what I tried – and I have many techniques for getting to sleep – I just couldn’t drift off. At about one am, I got up and read for a bit – just because I was so bored and frustrated, which probably wasn’t helping – and then eventually, I managed to go to sleep around three.


SATURDAY

Despite plans for a lie in (my Mum had actually forbidden me from setting an alarm), I woke up at half past nine, not much later than usual. My sleep did recover a bit after the initial few months of restless, nightmare filled nights but apparently that’s over and we’re back to this mess of a sleep schedule.

Eventually I managed to drag myself out of bed and spent a couple of hours writing up my diary, before having a shower and getting myself put together (ish – as much as I ever do in lockdown) for the day. Then I went back to my laptop and did some admin. Facebook recently charged me a big amount for no reason that I can figure out and looking through my bank statements, there are some things that don’t add up (oops – maths pun) so we’re trying to get that sorted out. I also set up my bullet journal for the month of October and filled in all the dates I have so far. I’m trying to juggle a lot and for the sake of my mental health, I really need to not let stuff get on top of me, overwhelm me. And the only way I know how to do that is to plan as much as possible.

In the afternoon, I got hit with a wave of anxiety. I’m not sure what was behind it. It’s probably just everything: ongoing pandemic anxiety, a big change in my routine with starting uni, uni assignments that stretch my abilities, lack of sleep, and so on. But I don’t know what exactly triggered it in the moment. I had thought I’d try going for a swim but all the anxiety was just too much so I stayed home and worked on a couple of things. I all but finished a track I’ve been working on with Richard, finalising the arrangement and mixing the levels, and I worked on an upcoming blog post. So even though I didn’t get to swim – I’d really been looking forward to it – I did get some good stuff done so I felt good about that.

I also started watching Blood & Water on Netflix. I didn’t get very far before needing to go to bed but I’m definitely intrigued. The missing person concept has always interested me (in fiction – I don’t think I can think of anything worse in real life) so whatever happens, I’ll probably HAVE to watch it through to the end, just to know what happens. And on a more personal note, listening to the South African accents was quite soothing: one of my best friends is from South Africa and I haven’t seen her (apart from video calls) since mid March when she had to fly home. Obviously not every South African accent is the same, just like with any accent, but every now and then, I hear a word or sentence that really reminds me of how she speaks and I can’t help but smile.


SUNDAY

I finally had a halfway decent night’s sleep, even though I wanted to go straight back to sleep as soon as I woke up. I stayed snuggled up under my duvet for a while, reluctant to leave my warm nest, but eventually I dragged myself out and got straight to work. I recorded some extra vocals on my current track and did all of the editing and mixing for them. I’m not very good at it yet but I think I did an okay job.

I went on to work on an upcoming assignment that involves a lot of complicated elements – multiple uncommon time signatures, an uncommon mode, extended chords, and an example of chromaticism – but that just turned me into a frustrated, teary mess. It’s so hard and I can’t figure out how on earth I’m going to manage it, hence why I’m starting it now because there’s no way I could do it in a week. I’m struggling with just the time signatures; I haven’t even attempted to tackle the rest. In the end, I had to give up because I just felt so overwhelmed and incapable. And it doesn’t help that I’m worried that if I don’t submit this song (with all of its examples of different musical techniques), I won’t get a good grade. So it wasn’t a particularly good start to the day: feeling stressed and anxious and stupid because I can’t figure out how to do this one assignment.

After a bit of chill time (Netflix and blog post writing), I headed for the bathroom and Mum helped me dye my hair. I usually refresh it before a semester starts but I just ran out of time last week so we decided that doing it for the second week (and my birthday, which is on the 29th) was good enough. It’s not the most thrilling of things to do but it gives me such a confidence boost that the amount of time and all the faff it takes is worth it.

Mum and I spent a couple of hours watching Agents of Shield while I did some blog writing and then my brother and his Mum came for a visit to celebrate my birthday. We’ve all been super careful around going out and everyone (apart from me as I’ve barely left the house) has recently had a Covid test so we figured we were safe, or as safe as possible. We caught up, had dinner together, and then put a candle in a lemon meringue pie. I got a deliberately out of tune ‘Happy Birthday’ and I blew out the candle; I think we can probably all guess what I wished for.

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It was a really nice evening and a really, really lovely way to start my birthday celebrations. I love my family so freaking much and not seeing them has been so hard. So getting to see them, even just for a short visit was so special.

When they left, it was a bit too early to go to bed so me and Mum watched another episode of Agents of Shield, quite possibly my favourite episode of Season 7: ‘As I Have Always Been.’ It’s an amazing episode and it just has everything: incredible acting, high jinks and hilarity, gorgeous character moments, and emotion in spades. It’s one of the best episodes I think they’ve ever done. So that was a good way to end the day.

Despite almost falling asleep on the sofa, I couldn’t sleep when I got to bed. After trying various tricks – running stories through my head, writing stories in my head, listening to a movie on my laptop (with the screen off), listening to music – for about three hours, I took half a sleeping pill and eventually fell asleep.


MONDAY

I woke up suddenly from vivid, disturbing dreams at seven thirty but didn’t get up straight away. I needed a little while to straighten out my thoughts, separate the dreams from reality. They’d had a weird, almost video-game-like quality. I can’t really describe it; it was just unlike any other dream I’ve had before and it really threw me.

I had a gentle morning, catching up with my diary a bit and writing some stuff for the blog. I was aiming for a quiet day, considering that I had uni the next day plus an extracurricular class late afternoon but then it all went wrong. I got the opportunity to get some help on what I’m currently calling ‘the nightmare assignment’ (which I mentioned on Sunday) but I just ended up feeling even more anxious about it. It feels like an impossible task. I haven’t even managed to improvise a melody over these new time signatures; I guess I’m so used to 4/4 (we probably all are as a huge chunk of mainstream music uses that key signature) that trying to sing over 5/4 and 7/4 feels both completely unnatural and unmusical. I ended up in tears because I’m finding it so stressful and although I did recover enough to continue with my day, I felt very low and tired. My eyes in particular felt weird and sore, even hours after crying. So it wasn’t the best day.

I spent the afternoon jumping from one task to another, getting bits and pieces done but not really fully engaging with anything. I just felt like a switch had flipped and I wasn’t quite as ‘there’ as usual. I was anxious about the next day as well, which didn’t help, even though I’d put everything in place to be as ready as possible. And I did get an email from my Workshop tutor, saying that they were going to try out a couple of different things to see if that made the class easier – easier to hear, easier to participate in, and so on.

Mum and I had an evening of Agents of Shield while I tried to finish up this post. We had dinner, I FaceTimed with some of my parents, and then tried to go to bed early. I achieved that – it was better than usual anyway – but then I couldn’t sleep and after three hours, I took half a sleeping pill since I had to get up early for uni.

It was also my birthday the next day, which I had a lot of feelings about. I don’t think I dislike my birthdays but I do sometimes find them difficult in the context of my mental health and ‘how far I’ve come (or not).’ But not only was there that this year, I also feel extremely unready to be twenty six, like I only got to have six months of being twenty five. And I think it’s pretty safe to say that that’s to do with the pandemic and the lockdown. I feel like everything I should’ve or would’ve learned, experienced in that year has been cut in half and so I’m not ‘ready’ to be twenty six, as if people are going to expect me to be capable of things a twenty six year old could do (all mental health and Autism stuff aside) that I won’t be able to do because I didn’t get the full experience of twenty five. I feel like this all sounds ridiculous but hey, feelings are weird and then don’t always make sense.

It’s been a long week.


So that was my first week back at university, my first week of a hundred percent online study, as well as balancing the other areas of my life such as my energy levels and my mental health. It’s been emotional and intense and exhausting. I’m not sure how I feel about it all yet, just that it’s a big adjustment. I’m still finding it very stressful and exhausting. Hopefully it’ll get easier and less emotionally taxing with time.

I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned from this week and what I can do to manage everything better going forward and this is what I’ve come up with:

  • Scheduling appointments later in the day is better for my productivity – If possible, having meetings or writing sessions in the afternoon seems to work better as a system. They tend to wear me out and if they’re in the morning, I don’t get as much done in the afternoon. So working in the morning and having appointments in the afternoon is more efficient as someone who has to ration their energy so carefully.
  •  This is going to take a lot of energy – While I knew this from last year, my body kind of forgot in the six months since I last had to manage a university schedule. It takes a lot out of me. I’m not sure if I’ll adjust over time and find it less tiring or if it will just be something I have to manage day-to-day, week-to-week.

I’m sure there’s more but this is all I can come up with for now. I’m sure I’ll learn more as I go.

And A(nother) Week In My Life (In Lockdown)

I hadn’t intended to do another of these posts so soon but again, when I looked back at my diary at the end of the week, it felt like another very different week in my experience of lockdown. I guess I’m just trying to represent my experience of this time – and the variation within it depending on both the internal and external circumstances – as accurately as possible, for myself as much as anyone else.

The week in this post started on Monday 3rd August and ended on Sunday 9th August.


MONDAY

I was up by eight thirty and already at work. I planned out my week and then more specifically my day in my bullet journal before clearing my email inbox of rubbish and attending to the rest.

Next, I got to work on the ‘Back To Life‘ music video. Richard had sent me the first draft and I went through it clip by clip, making notes on what I liked, what I didn’t, any changes I wanted to make, any suggestions I had (all against their time codes). It’s not the most fun job in the world: staring at your own face for hours can get pretty draining, whether you’re a self conscious person or not, but I got it done and sent my notes back to Richard.

My main plan for the day was a writing session with Richard but I had a bit of time before our start time so I did some work on my next blog post before setting up our Zoom meeting. We’re working on multiple projects at the moment and we’d planned to work on some of my stuff that day. There was one song we’ve been working on for a couple of sessions now but while I liked the sound of the production, it just didn’t feel like it was the right mood for the song. So I made the slightly terrifying suggestion of starting over and coming at it from a different angle. That’s what we ended up doing, using different reference tracks and instrumentation. It sounded so much better by the time we called it a day.

We also spent a bit of time working on a second song, creating the basic shape of the track and deciding what sort of instrumentation fitted the mood of the song. So it was a very productive session, a very productive four hours.

We hung up and I stretched out on the sofa, exhausted. I love writing sessions, whether they’re focussed more on the song itself or the production, but I do find them tiring and especially so when we’re working over Zoom. It’s just that bit harder to translate your ideas to the other person when the time lag complicates your communication or you can’t point to something on their screen and so on. I’m grateful that we can have our sessions at all but I do find them harder than face-to-face sessions and greatly look forward to it being safe to have those again.

I spent the afternoon and evening working on various blog posts with the TV on in the background. It was nice and gentle but I was still being productive, which definitely helps with my mental health and in turn, my ability to manage this period of time in general. Then I did some catching up with my diary before getting ready for bed.

I was just finishing up when I got a text from Richard with an MP3 attached, the song we’d spent most of our session working on. After our initial struggle with it, I was amazed by how good it sounded, how perfectly the new production fitted with the song. I went to bed, excited and proud of what we’d achieved.


TUESDAY

Me and Mum got up early and headed for the nearby woods for a dog walk with one of our friends. She’s just recently gotten a rescue puppy (who is utterly gorgeous) and as well as seeing each other and catching up, she wanted some advice from us as (previous) dog owners. I had been really looking forward to it but I was also anxious about going out (a constant anxiety still) and then I almost had a meltdown, triggered by difficulties with managing my mask and my glasses. I don’t know if any of you fellow glasses wearers have struggled with this but my glasses rest right where the wire of the mask is and I constantly battle with keeping them both functional and at least somewhat comfortable. I’ve since bought a mask that doesn’t have a wire as my glasses keep the top in place but for this particular walk, I ended up doing a lot of it without my glasses, which (had everything been normal, wouldn’t have bothered me all that much) just added another layer of stress because I really had to focus on where I was putting my feet – I’m so short sighted that even the ground is very blurry without my glasses.

I hate sounding so negative over what was a really lovely walk – it was just an unexpectedly difficult start. It was wonderful to see this friend again and it was so nice to have some dog time, especially puppy play and cuddles. I’ve missed our dog so much since we said goodbye to him in January but I doubt any of us will be ready for another dog for a good while so this was a nice compromise. My anxieties aside, it was a very pleasant way to start the day, although I was a bit knackered afterwards. Exercise is an area that’s really suffered for me throughout lockdown so I think it was a bit of shock to the system.

We came home and I ended up having a pretty quiet day. I mainly worked on catching up with my diary – my Moby Dick – and spending time with my Mum. We’re usually pretty independent during the day and then come together in the evenings but that evening I had a movie date with a group of friends.

At seven, we started our video call and ended up spending an hour catching up and just chatting, which was really lovely. It’s been a long time since our last date for various reasons so there was a lot to catch up on and I think we’d all just missed each other’s company. Speaking for myself, I know that I’d really missed them and was just delighted to see their faces again.

Eventually we stopped rambling and got into the movie. We’ve been binging the Studio Ghibli films and this time, we watched Laputa: Castle in the Sky. I absolutely loved it. I loved the story and it was just so beautiful – I mean, they’re all beautifully animated but this one seemed particularly stunning. It’s definitely at the top of my list of Studio Ghibli films. We talked about it a bit afterwards and while we’d had differing opinions on the last film (Kiki’s Delivery Service), we all really enjoyed this one.

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When we said goodbye and hung up, it was getting pretty late so I started getting ready to go to bed. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it already but over the last couple of months, I’ve been struggling with really bad pain in my arms, from shoulder to finger tips. That night, my right arm and shoulder were really, really hurting and even though my Mum gave me a massage, it was still really bad and made it difficult to get to sleep.


WEDNESDAY

I slept really badly because my shoulder was so painful. Every time I rolled over and put my weight on it, I woke up and had to readjust my position and then get back to sleep again. It wasn’t a restful night and I really struggled to wake up. As soon as my brain was fully awake, I felt the anxiety kick in; I just felt so overwhelmed by how much I feel like I have to get done before university starts, in whatever form that takes.

The pain in my shoulder only got worse as I used my arm so my Mum worked out a schedule of painkillers to keep the pain at a minimum and keep me using it so I wouldn’t seize up or start compensating with the other shoulder. It’s been a problem for a while but since it’s only getting worse, we decided to call my GP the next morning and try to get a Zoom appointment.

I did some admin for the upcoming release of my new single, ‘Back To Life,’ and then settled in to work on my photo albums. After finally finishing the organisation of my photo library, I’d selected the photos I wanted for my physical photo albums (which were about eighteen months out of date) and sent them off to be printed. They’d arrived that morning and so I went through them, slowly getting them in chronological order. It took all afternoon and I still had to put them into the albums but it was very exciting to be so close to finishing such a mammoth job.

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Early evening, I did some more admin work, replying to some emails, and listening to some songs a friend had sent me to give feedback on. I’d left it a bit late in the day to do the whole lot but I managed to do an initial listen to all of them to get the overall vibe and an in-depth listen of a couple, making detailed notes of my thoughts and suggestions. So it was a productive evening.

Then me and Mum had dinner in front of The Mentalist, which we’ve been rewatching for a couple of weeks now. I love the show but I particularly love its second life, with the FBI team rather than the CBI team. *Spoiler Alert* We’d reached the episode where Vega dies, where they attend her funeral, and Jane and Lisbon discuss the future of their relationship when they work such dangerous jobs. It’s a heartbreaking episode and even though we’ve both seen it multiple times before, we both sat there with tears streaming down our faces. What can I say, I get attached to fictional characters. Like, very attached.

It had been pretty hot all day so it took me a while to get to sleep. I don’t do well in the heat so I was dreading the predicted heatwave.


THURSDAY

One of my cats, Lucy (or Queen Lucy as we often call her due to her being the cat we’ve had the longest and therefore the cat that rules the house), woke me up at four, yowling loudly as she played with a toy. At almost any other time of day, it would’ve been very cute but at four am, not so much. It took me ages to get back to sleep.

I got up at nine and finished listening to the songs I’d started working through the night before. I wrote down all my feedback for the remaining songs and then listened to them all again to see if any new thoughts came to me. I also included questions about various lyrics and production choices, challenging the meanings and choices so that everything would be really tight and cohesive. I was deliberately picky, as my friend had asked me to be (sorry, I’m being deliberately vague about who it is because I don’t want to announce anyone’s project before they have). As good friends, they trust my critique, rather than feeling like I’m being critical; we’ve worked together a lot so we trust each other to just want the song to be the best song possible.

That done, I spent a couple of hours catching up with my diary (I’m just so behind at the moment) and then had my therapy session at four. We spent most of the hour just catching up on the week and talking about how I’d managed the challenges and the difficulties that had come up. With the pandemic, we’re doing A LOT of distress tolerance. I do wish we could move forward and work on some of my long standing issues but from past experience, I know that when you start to unravel some of those things, you often feel worse before you feel better and I just don’t think I can handle that right now. I’m just about managing to cope day to day and I really don’t want to make things worse for myself when I’ve worked so hard to even get to this point with the pandemic going on.

I FaceTimed with one of my parents while my Mum had the Zoom appointment with the doctor. I still struggle with talking to doctors, I’m still figuring out how to do Zoom meetings with new or less than well known people, and I struggle with communication in general. So me and Mum talked about everything we wanted the doctor to know and then she did the call. She was on the computer for a long time but when she came back, she did have some good news although a large chunk of the plan does involve waiting, which I’m not super thrilled about. But my doctor has adjusted the medication plan a bit (she’ll prescribe me something stronger if it continues to get worse but for now, we’re sticking with over the counter stuff to avoid extra side effects) and referred me to occupational rheumatology where they’ll probably fit me for support braces or refer me on to physiotherapy or both. But that’s unlikely to happen for a while. So pain medication, massage, and trying to build or improve habits that at the very least don’t make the pain worse. I’m limited exercise wise by not being able to swim but we’ve set up a rough badminton court in the garden to allow for some gentle exercise, especially for my arms and shoulders.

Me and Mum had an early dinner with The Mentalist. *Spoiler Alert* We’d finally reached the final episode where Jane and Lisbon get married and it’s so lovely to see them all so happy, especially Jane, after going through so much sadness and struggle. I wasn’t convinced by their relationship at first but then I fell in love with it and watching the wedding scene usually results with me grinning like an idiot or actually crying at how sweet it is.

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I was just thinking about going to bed when Richard texted me to remind me that we were announcing the release of ‘Back To Life‘ the next day, which had somehow completely slipped my mind. I swear, the pandemic has completely messed with my head – life pre-pandemic feels a bit like a dream and the way we did things feels kind of hazy. So suddenly I was in a panic about what to say when I announced the release of the song, especially one with the title ‘Back To Life’ during a pandemic (something that’s been bothering me for a long time). So I ended up spending more than an hour (at least) figuring out how to say what I wanted to say and how to say it in the best way possible.

I finally got to bed around midnight but it was so hot that, even after I discarded my duvet, it still took me a long time to get to sleep.


FRIDAY

Lucy was gracious enough to let me sleep until five this time before waking me up, chasing a toy around my room, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep as hard as I tried. It was very frustrating.

When Mum got up, we had breakfast and rewatched *Spoiler Alert* the wedding scene in the final episode of The Mentalist, grinning like the sappy idiots we are. No regrets. It was a nice, positive way to start the day, watching characters you love get their happily ever after.

I spent the morning working on my blog post about JK Rowling’s recent transphobic comments and how complicated it is to reconcile a childhood hero with the problematic person they are in the present. I’m absolutely not condoning what she’s said or making excuses for her – if you’ve read the post, you’ll know that I refuse to support her while she makes such insensitive, harmful statements – but I also wanted to comment on some of the other connected issues. While her transphobia is without question the most important issue here, there are multiple points within the overall problem, like how her prejudices may have bled into the books and how difficult it is to make sense of these two different versions of her. I wanted to explore as many of these thoughts as possible.

It was so hot by the middle of the day that I felt like I was melting; I didn’t want any part of my body to touch any other part. It was horrible. Thank god for the fan I bought a few years back. I was reluctant because it was pretty expensive but having had several unbearably hot summers in a row, it’s been amazing; I would’ve been unable to function without it. I’ve only just been functional with it.

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Early afternoon, I had a Zoom session with Richard and we mapped out a more detailed plan for releasing all the content around ‘Back To Life‘ before working on some of his music. We’ve always been a well matched pair because while his strengths are more musical, mine are more lyrical and so we’ve always been able to support each other really well. That’s one of the things that’s always felt really special about our working relationship.

Eventually I got too tired to do much good, so we scheduled another session and I had a rest, doing some blog writing with the TV on in the background.

In the evening, one of my parents – who, I guess, is in our bubble – came over and, while I don’t think you have to social distance if you’re in a bubble, we had dinner and hung out, still keeping a certain level of distance. The three of us are continuing to remain pretty isolated but it still feels sensible to stay somewhat distanced for the most part.

At seven o’clock, my alarm went off and I posted my announcement on my social media accounts…

That done, I felt able to be more present and enjoy the evening and although I was really tired, it was really nice to hang out with my parents. With times such as they are, I never take those moments for granted, especially since I’m not able to see all of my parents yet, together or apart. We don’t have to DO anything in particular; it’s just so nice to be together and talk face to face. It’s still so ingrained in me to greet people with a hug or squeeze their hand that I have to actively struggle against those automatic motions but it doesn’t make me want to burst into tears anymore. I’m just really looking forward to being able to do it again.

When she left, me and Mum settled down with Rizzoli and Isles, another show we haven’t watched in years, and I did some blog post writing. I absolutely agree with the philosophy that our productiveness isn’t tied to our worth as people – I wouldn’t debate that for a second – but I’ve also discovered that being productive plays a massive part in managing my mental health, even if it’s as simple as watching a movie that I’ve wanted to watch for a while but not gotten around to doing so. I guess it just depends on your definition of being productive – I don’t necessarily equate it with ‘producing’ something; it’s just doing something that I intended to do. If I intend to have a quiet and restful day and I do, then I have been productive.


SATURDAY

I woke up far too early, which was annoying because I was still tired and sleepy but I definitely enjoyed the cool and the quiet. It’s my favourite time of day – before the world wakes up and starts rushing around, making so much noise – and we were due for another really hot day so I relished the cool air.

I had as quick a scroll through my social media as I could manage, having not been on it for a couple of days (apart from posting about ‘Back To Life‘). As I’ve said previously – during this time – it’s been better for my mental health to stay away from social media but then I do miss seeing what my friends and family are up to. So I’m trying to find a balance and for the most part, I think I’m doing okay.

That done, I settled into the living room and got to work, putting Friends on low for background noise. I posted my blog post about exam results and then spent the rest of the morning working on other blog posts.

By the middle of the day, I was really struggling to do anything because it was just so hot. I felt like I was melting and my brain seemed to be functioning very slowly, not unlike my laptop, which was definitely overheating with the fan whirring loudly. So I decided to take a break and work on something that required much less movement and brain power: slotting my newly organised photos into my albums. I also used the time to watch a film from my To Watch list – one of my New Year goals was to consume more new content rather than just familiar favourites and the lockdown has a good time to do that. It’s been good for me in other areas too. I’ve been challenging my songwriting skills and trying to write from the perspectives of different characters instead of just from my own life experiences and finding new characters and stories that inspire me has made it a really enjoyable practice.

I ended up watching Fantasy Island (mainly because I love Maggie Q), where a group of people arrive on a tropical island after winning a competition, their prize being to have their greatest fantasy fulfilled. I’d seen quite a few negative reviews of it but personally, I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t life changing but it was interesting and the twists and turns were cool. It was good entertainment and made for a mentally restful afternoon.

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In the evening, me and my Mum had dinner together with a couple of episodes of Rizzoli and Isles and I spent a couple of hours working on blog posts. As usual, I put off going to bed, partly because my room was so hot. Again, thank god for my fan.


SUNDAY

I slept long and deep, a welcome experience after months of restless sleep at best. I did have some strange dreams, but not disturbing ones. One included a storm cloud on fire, which was incredibly beautiful – much better than some of my previous dreams. I didn’t get up until almost ten but then I dived into the day, intent on being as productive as possible.

I finished my previous week-in-the-life post and then had a music lesson with one of my parents. We worked on the chords for two of the songs I’m working on and then had a long conversation about reharmonisation and how that works. I learnt about that during my BA by only briefly and that was several years ago so, with the Musical Language module coming up, I definitely needed a refresher. We might need to go over it again just to give me a quick reminder but I feel like I’m pretty solid on the basic principles. So that was good to do.

By the time we finished, it was so hot that I didn’t want to move. I lay on the sofa and watched the second series of Liar. It had been airing when we went into lockdown and it just slipped my mind; it only came back to me a month or so later and by that time, it was gone from ITV On Demand. I’d resigned myself to never knowing how it ended but then it popped up on Virgin On Demand. So I watched that through the heat of the day. It wasn’t the best show ever – I felt like there were quite a few inconsistencies and plot holes – but I was glad to see how it ended. Plus I used the time to continue adding the captions to the photos in my albums. So, considering the heat, I feel like I was pretty productive. Oh, and I also posted the first teaser for ‘Back To Life‘ on my social media.

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5 days.

A post shared by Lauren Alex Hooper (@laurenalexhooper) on

We ended up eating dinner outside on the deck in the cool darkness and then we went inside to watch Rizzoli and Isles with some much appreciated ice cream. I kept working on the photo album captions, making it to March 2020. I was almost giddy with glee at being so close to the finish line.

That giddiness shot through the roof when I checked Instagram to see how the teaser was being received and saw that Desmond Child (writer of Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ and Ricky Martin’s ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ to name just two of his more famous songs) had liked it. I have no idea how he found it but it all but short-circuited my brain. I mean, he’s in the Songwriters Hall of Fame! So that was very, very cool.

This is the screenshot I sent to Richard…

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It took me a long time to come down from that high so I didn’t get to bed until midnight. I’m really not doing well with this whole go-to-bed-early plan.


I’m always hesitant to say stuff like this – probably because of a leftover childhood superstition that I’ll jinx things – but I do feel like I’m coping better mentally, that I’ve found a way of managing things day to day. I mean, I’m still not able to read or focus on anything involving big chunks of new information for extended periods of time but generally, I feel like I’ve found a routine that’s working for me. I’m still really struggling emotionally but I don’t think that’s really going to change until it truly starts to feel safe again. The fear and anxiety is just a constant presence in my life that I try to manage, to varying degrees of success.

A(nother) Week In My Life (In Lockdown)

It hasn’t been that long since my last week-in-my-life post but life is so different week to week at the moment that I thought I’d do another one once I started to see how the week was turning out. I thought, if anything, it would be interesting to be able to look back and see how different different periods of time could be during this pandemic and the subsequent lockdown.

The week in this post started on Monday 20th July and ended on Sunday 26th July.


MONDAY

I got up around eight, determined to be productive: do admin, send emails, work on blog posts, and so on. But I quickly discovered that the internet was down for the whole street and so I had to adjust my plans. I went back to my photo library and managed to finish sorting out my photo library: I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this but when I loaded my photo library onto my new laptop, there were multiple duplicates of every single photo and the only way to be sure that I was getting rid of all of them (and not losing any of the originals) was to go through it manually. It took about two weeks of dedicated work but that morning, I finally finished deleting the duplicates, cutting the library down from 85,000 to 30,000 – no wonder Photos was running so slowly… I wasn’t quite done: I had to finish organising the remaining original photos into albums but it was real progress and that was very satisfying.

Since I was filming the music video for my next single, ‘Back To Life,’ the next day, I’d recoloured my hair a couple of days earlier (it had grown out A LOT) but since my usual dye had been discontinued, I’d had to guess at a new one and I wasn’t super happy with it so with my Mum’s help, we dyed it again, using a much redder dye than the previous one. It still wasn’t quite what I wanted but it was better than before.

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I spent the afternoon working on (and finishing!) my next blog post, My Lockdown Favourites, and then, in the evening, I tried on the outfits and jewellery for the video, just to make sure that everything matched and was comfortable enough to move freely in. I avoid weighing myself because of my struggles with food – I don’t believe I have an eating disorder but I have gone through phases of disordered eating so I’m careful to avoid things that trigger that, like keeping a frequent eye on my weight – but I don’t think I’ve gained much, if any, weight during lockdown. My weight fluctuates within a certain range and I’m currently wearing the bigger size of jeans but that did happen pre-lockdown times. So I was relieved that everything was comfortable and that I don’t need to spend money on new clothes.

I was happy with the two different looks and as comfortable with our safety plan as I could be, given that I find just going out incredibly stressful, but I still felt very anxious about making the video. We were shooting early to avoid as many people as possible, would be masked (apart from me when I was on camera), and would be socially distanced, but I was still anxious about being out, about acting relaxed and happy for the upbeat song while feeling so anxious, as well as all the normal anxieties about making music videos and being filmed. So it’s safe to say I was struggling. But if we didn’t shoot the video, we couldn’t move forward with the EP, and I would continue to carry all of that anxiety.

In an attempt to relax a bit before bed, I caught up with one of my parents over FaceTime and watched an episode of The Mentalist with Mum. Then we went to bed early, given that we had to get up pretty early for the video shoot. I don’t know how I’ve managed to come up with three music videos (four shoots in total), all that have involved getting up at vaguely ridiculous hours.


TUESDAY

My alarm was due to go off at six but I woke up at five thirty. That was positively luxurious compared to Richard’s ‘call time,’ since he’d had to leave his house before five (he was catching the first train from London – we’d talked about this a lot before we even started planning but he said he felt safe doing it, otherwise we wouldn’t have gone forward with the filming). But that extra time was good: it gave me some time to settle myself and collect my thoughts.

When my alarm went off, I got up and got showered, made up, and dressed in the first outfit I’d be wearing. I had a bit of breakfast and it was all going really well when, of course, I discovered a problem: a white residue had appeared on the frames of my glasses. It’s happened before but Mum had managed to get rid of it using a general household cleaner but nothing seemed to be working this time. We were supposed to be picking Richard up from the train station but I couldn’t do the video with my glasses looking the way they did (it was really noticeable and would look horrible) and I was rapidly spiralling into a meltdown, which I really couldn’t afford to have if we were going to film the video. In the end, Mum had to go and get Richard while I desperately tried to clean them, using anything and everything I could think of. A combination of googling and just experimenting later, I discovered that a thorough scrubbing with toothpaste was the answer. So, just in case you ever find yourself with the same problem…

PRO TIP: If your glasses develop a white residue on the frames, a good scrubbing with toothpaste will make them look as good as new.

I was just finishing when Mum and Richard got back and we headed straight out to the beach. I’d expected it to be pretty quiet, given that it was eight in the morning and a section of the beach a good distance from Brighton, but it was actually quite busy: there was an almost constant flow of people, most of whom weren’t wearing masks. This only added to my stress, in terms of safety and in terms of filming.

I don’t want to give too much away since this post will go up before the video is released. But we shot footage in three different locations (which included a somewhat awkward outfit change) and got everything we needed. I’d been worried about singing and making eye contact with the camera, something I’ve never done before, but that turned out to be much easier than before. It was hard work though, especially considering I’ve been inside for the last several months and my high level of anxiety. But we got it done and I’m cautiously optimistic about it as a finished video.

Here’s what I posted on Instagram afterwards…

Braved my anxieties to work on something special with the lovely @sandersonphoto today 🌊 (x)

After so much physical exertion (for the last year or so, even standing for extended periods of time can make me feel lightheaded and dizzy), it was a struggle to get back to the car. My whole body hurt, particularly my hip and knee joints and my steps got shorter and shorter. It felt like there was broken glass between the bones at each joint. It was horrible.

Eventually we made it back to the car and then home. We sat socially distanced in the garden for some lunch and then, as I watched Richard attempt to reconnect with the cats, I ended up falling asleep in my chair, completely exhausted by the emotion, the anxiety, and the physical activity. Fortunately Richard understands that this does happen – it’s happened before. I didn’t sleep for long and then we had a good catch up before dropping him back at the station around four. We were both really wiped from the early starts and the shoot.

Home again, I flopped down on the sofa and caught up with my other three parents who were all eager to hear how it had gone. Then me and Mum watched a couple of episodes of The Mentalist, had dinner, and went to bed early.


WEDNESDAY

It was a really tough day because I was in a lot of pain after the shoot the day before. My whole body hurt, every single time I moved, every time I even shifted my weight. It was hideous. No one has managed to explain why I experience this level of pain after ‘normal’ levels of activity and our investigation has been stalled by the pandemic. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to find out, or at least find some solid ways of managing it so that I don’t feel so limited (I think the lack of exercise – swimming is the only form of exercise that I can do without pain – hasn’t helped).

I’d planned to have a very gentle day anyway, knowing I’d be tired, so I settled in to watch Absentia Season 3. I knew from watching the first two seasons that I would get so absorbed that I wouldn’t want to stop until I finished it so I dedicated the day to binging the whole thing. I’m finding this to be a really good form of escapism at the moment, especially because I don’t have the concentration to do anything but watch it. Anyway, it was really good and I really, really enjoyed it. Having only started it a month or so ago, it’s already one of my favourite shows. I think the first season is my favourite but I’ve loved all of them and I love Emily Byrne (played by Stana Katic). She’s such an interesting character with such a complex history that I could just watch endless episodes of her. It’s definitely a show that I’ll watch over and over again.

This is the trailer for Season 1 even though I was watching Season 3 – I just don’t want to spoil the show for anyone.

I was so overwhelmed when I finished it that all I could really do was sit and absorb it. But eventually my brain started working again and I had a quick scroll through social media (I haven’t been spending much time on it recently but I do try to check in every now and then so that I’m update to date with what and how my friends are doing) before doing a bit of work, despite my dedication to a day of relaxation. A Dutch journalism student had reached out to me, asking if he could interview me as a new artist dealing with the pandemic. I’d been happy to help and he’d sent me a series of questions that I’d been thinking about so I pulled them up and wrote out my answers before sending the document back to him.

I FaceTimed with one of my parents (it’s hilarious – we talk more now than we did pre-pandemic even though we’re currently doing less and therefore have less to talk about, leading to some pretty bizarre conversations) and then me and Mum had dinner with The Mentalist. And after taking some time to digest, she gave me a massage (I think I’ve mentioned previously that she used to be a massage therapist) to help with all the pain I was in. It wasn’t exactly comfortable but I think it helped in the long run.

Lying on the carpet post massage, I was so relaxed that it was very hard to get up. I didn’t end up going to bed until around eleven.


THURSDAY

Despite the less than early night, I woke up at six and couldn’t go back to sleep. I was still tired but I enjoyed the cool and quiet of the early morning. It’s the time of day when I feel most calm, I think.

I stayed curled up in bed but I got to work, answering all of my outstanding messages (and there were A LOT of them). Over the last month or so, I’ve found that taking a couple of days away from social media can be really good for my mental health but then almost all of my socialisation with my friends is through social media so I’ve been working at finding a comfortable and healthy balance. The messages do pile up every now and then though so I’m not there yet. But I’m trying.

That done (and it felt like a real achievement considering how many messages there were), I got up and went downstairs to feed the cats. I was still in pain but it was mainly just in my joints and where the body bends, rather than absolutely everywhere like it had been the day before. So that was progress.

I spent the morning updating my bullet journal and working on various blog posts with Friends on the TV with volume turned down low (background noise helps me work and it seems to be the only thing that doesn’t distract me). I was just getting on with that when I got a handful of notifications from Taylor Swift’s social media accounts, announcing that she was releasing a new album at midnight (or 5am for me in the UK).

My brain basically short-circuited. It was such a shock – a good one, yes – but a shock nonetheless. I was incredibly excited but I also had this weird mix of adrenaline and anxiety rushing through my system; I think the only way I can describe it is that it’s like when my plans suddenly get derailed and I’m left scrambling to try and figure out what the new plan is. It’s not a comfortable feeling. Having said that, I don’t want to come across as negative because I was genuinely immensely excited but sudden changes are a lot to handle when you’re autistic so I was dealing with a lot of overwhelming emotions.

Given this news, my concentration was shot for the rest of the day. Usually, we have a lot longer to wait between announcement and release so the anticipation builds over months but this time, it felt like it was all compressed into less than a day. It took hours to get back into a headspace that wasn’t just ‘OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! TAYLOR SWIFT IS RELEASING A NEW ALBUM AND WE’LL HAVE IT IN LESS THAN TWENTY FOUR HOURS!’ and even then, the thought would leap up out of nowhere and smack me in the face, derailing my thought process. So it wasn’t the most productive day ever.

I spent (or tried to at least) the rest of the day trying to catch up with my diary so that I could immediately write down my thoughts on the new album the next day. I didn’t quite make it but I got close enough that I would still be writing about it on its release day.

Something that I started doing with the ‘Red’ album was predicting which songs I would like based on the titles. Obviously that’s not much to go on and there’s no logic to it really but it’s a fun exercise. My guesses for ‘folklore’ were ‘the last great american dynasty,’ ‘exile’ (I mean, a collaboration with Bon Iver?!), ‘my tears ricochet,’ ‘seven,’ ‘august,’ ‘this is me trying,’ and ‘epiphany.’ So I wrote those down, set multiple alarms to wake me up for my traditional 5am first listen, and went to bed early.


FRIDAY

My alarm went off at 4.45am and I flipped through various apps on my phone, just trying to wake myself up for the 5am release. But when the time came around, the album wasn’t available on iTunes. Fortunately lyric videos for each song had been uploaded to YouTube so I watched those according to the track listing. It’s always really important to me to listen to a new album in order because that’s a creative decision the artist made when they put it together. I often continue to listen to albums like that (unless I’m in a specific mood and need the validation that songs of a similar emotion provide).

As I listened, I noted down my thoughts about each track. I love how our relationships to songs change over time and as we discover all the layers within them so I always find it really interesting to look back and see what my original thoughts were for comparison. I don’t know if anyone cares but I’m going to stick them in here because I love the album and loved it from the first listen.

  1. the 1 – I instantly loved the nostalgic feel, created by the warm and gentle production. It had gorgeous lyrics with beautiful imagery and the melody felt easy and natural; I was singing along by the end of my first listen. It was instantly a favourite.
  2. cardigan – This one felt darker and a little more jaded with slightly more chaotic production. But it still had a warmth to it; it reminded me of a fire on a winter evening. The lyrics were detailed with more beautiful imagery.
  3. the last great american dynasty – This one has such an expansive, detailed story and I just loved the idea of this truly shameless woman but I didn’t personally connect to the song until it flipped and the story turned personal and then I was grinning like an idiot. The production felt very fitting with the story being told and again, the detail (and wide vocabulary) made for a great song.
  4. exile feat. Bon Iver – This is the collaboration I never knew to hope for. Bon Iver has a gorgeous voice and I just loved the two opposite sides, telling their story both in concert and over each other in a way that only intensified an already incredibly emotive song. It was an instant favourite and had me sobbing on the first listen. The lyrics were absolutely stunning and while I loved pretty much all of them, I really loved the first and final lines of the main chorus. There was just something about it that hit me square in the chest.
  5. my tears ricochet – The vocals in this one were particularly gorgeous and the lyrics were gorgeous and rich, kind of reminding me of velvet and stately rooms. The story is a mystery but beautifully detailed and I’m looking forward to listening over and over again until I understand it better. (I have to add that as soon as someone pointed out that it was, or at the very least could be, about the betrayal of Borchetta and sale of her masters, I fell in love it, with the metaphor and the emotion.)
  6. mirrorball – I instantly loved the guitar sound and I just loved the lyrics, how fragile they were but still so full of hope for love. It had some really beautiful lyrics and somehow, the whole song – lyrics, melody, and production – sounded just like a mirrorball.
  7. seven – I found this one a bit hard to follow but it had real character and some beautiful lyrics. I also really loved the relationship between the characters in the song.
  8. august – This one just sounded like a hazy summer day to me and the story was just so clear. The production was full and glorious and again, I loved the relationship between the two characters and the obvious complexity of their relationship, even though we don’t know who they really are or if they’re real at all.
  9. this is me trying – I was instantly struck by the production: thick and stunning and emotional. And I loved the reverb on the vocal and how it added to the emotion of the song. It was a favourite straight away, with gorgeous lyrics and imagery, and it was so honest and vulnerable in its simplicity. I just wanted to close my eyes and live in it. I found the rhythm of the bridge a little bit jarring but I’m sure I’ll get used to that with more listening. It seemed more real than some of the others. I’m not sure why but some of them just seemed more real.
  10. illicit affairs – It took me a while to get into this one – I found the verses lyrically beautifully but the rhythms tripped me up a little – but I loved the stripped back-ness of it. I loved the chorus lyrics and I adored the bridge: the pain and the fury in it were just so real, so brutally honest and vulnerable.
  11. invisible string – I thought this one told a really lovely story with both tongue-in-cheek lyrics and beautifully sincere ones. But I didn’t like something about the production of the vocal, something that made it a little uncomfortable to listen to.
  12. mad woman – Definitely the biggest oh-my-god of the album. I kind of wanted it to be a huge, relentless wall of sound but I think the calm, beautifully honed steel approach is probably more effective, given the subject matter (another take on Borchetta, Braun, and the sale of her masters). I loved it and loved her refusal to be shamed for being angry. The lyrics were truly awesome and I loved how she went straight for the jugular, all in in an incredibly gratifying demolition.
  13. epiphany – I found this one hard to listen to because the emotions were so raw but it was beautifully written, a stunning tribute to the people described and their stories. I cried from the first verse until long after the song finished.
  14. betty – I thought this big, busy story was told really well but I didn’t really connect with the characters. I just ended up getting distracted wondering who the characters were, who the songs were about. The production also wasn’t really a style I love but the key change did make me smile. And hearing her sing, ‘would you tell me to go fuck myself’ made me laugh, even though she’s singing in character.
  15. peace – This is, I think, one of the most beautiful, vulnerable, honest love songs I’ve ever heard. It reminds me of wedding vows, of all of the promises she’s willing to make but then asking him if they’re enough to outweigh the hard times. She lays everything bare and I think that’s part of what makes the song so special. The production is also simply gorgeous (even though I would’ve loved a big, glittering bridge but I get that that’s not how this genre or style seems to work). It was another real favourite and I was a puddle of tears by the end.
  16. hoax – This one feels intricately connected to ‘peace’ somehow: a darker but still painfully honest, vulnerable love song. Having said that, I could be completely wrong. I don’t feel like I fully understand it with just one listen because there are just so many lyrics and metaphors and emotions to unpack but I’m looking forward to listening to it over and over again and sharing theories with other fans until I understand it better. But back to the song, the beautiful lyrics are only accentuated by the simple production. It ends the album on a very complex note, which isn’t something she traditionally does.

I’m really looking forward to hearing ‘the lakes’ and seeing how that fits into the album and I’m just really excited to listen to the album over and over and over again, until I know every little detail. Again, because I love it so much (and because I’m a Songwriting Nerd), I’ll probably make a whole post about it at some point once I’ve listened to it more and have a better understanding of the stories. If that’s not your thing then I absolutely won’t be offended if you skip that post.

I bought some merch (the international shipping is atrocious but I’m trying not to beat myself up since I’ve barely spent any money since lockdown began) and spent the morning on Tumblr, reading people’s reactions and theories and analyses of the new songs. This is always one of my favourite parts of a new Taylor album, everyone coming together to peel back all of the layers in each of the songs. It reminds me of this Daisy Johnson quote from Agents of Shield (my favourite TV show): “Usually one person doesn’t have the solution, but a hundred people with one percent of the solution? That will get it done. I think that’s beautiful… pieces solving a puzzle.”

Early afternoon, I had a Zoom session with my therapist. We talked through the week since my last session, discussing the difficulties and how I’d dealt with them. She also let me ramble about Taylor Swift for a little bit because she knows how much I love her and how important her music is to me, both as a person and as a songwriter. For the most part though, we talked about how much I have and still am struggling with the different reactions people have had and are having to the pandemic and lockdown. I’ve never been able to get my head around the way some people have managed to be super motivated and productive during this time while I feel like I can’t move past the fact that we’re in a pandemic, that tens of thousands of people have died, hundreds of thousands of people are mourning, and so on. It’s like this giant roadblock that I just cannot navigate around. Yes, I’ve been able to do bits and pieces here and there but this is always in the middle of my brain, making it impossible to be much more than minimally functional. I don’t think a person is bad or wrong for being able to compartmentalise or manage however they are managing; I just don’t understand how someone actually does it. Usually I can understand how someone might approach a situation differently even if I can’t actually do it myself but right now, I can’t. I wish I did; I wish I knew how to not feel constantly overwhelmed by distress and grief and fear.

By the time we finished, I was really starting to flag; the early start, the emotions of ‘folklore,’ and the difficult discussions in therapy. I was TIRED; I was struggling not to fall asleep on the sofa. I lay there for a while, just processing everything, and when Mum came upstairs to check on me, we ended up watching The Mentalist together while I did some diary writing. My emotions were all over the place and I just needed some gentle time.

Dinner and another episode later, me and Mum got in the car and went for a drive. I always introduce her to new albums on long drives and it’s a tradition we both really love (something we haven’t done since before we went into lockdown). We didn’t have anywhere to drive to so we just decided to drive up to a particular junction on the motorway and back, listening to the album beginning to end. For some reason, it feels like an album that sounds best in the dark, hence why we’d waited until the evening. It was really fun and we both really enjoyed it. Mum’s initial favourites were ‘illicit affairs,’ ‘this is me trying,’ and ‘mad woman.’ After a day of listening to it, my top three were ‘this is me trying,’ ‘mirrorball,’ and ‘exile.’ But I really, really love a lot of them. It’s mostly a case of which ones do I love more or less and which ones do I connect to more or less.

There was a diversion due to roadworks so we ended up getting home pretty late. We were sorting out the cats and getting ready for bed when we came to a decision on something we’ve been discussing for a while: we decided to buy the one thing I wanted for my birthday, a Gretsch hollow body electric guitar. I’ve wanted one for months and it was going to be my birthday present but me and Mum had discussed it and decided to buy it a couple of months early so that I can make the most of it before university starts again in early October (my birthday is at the very end of September). I want to improve my skills and also just play for fun as much as possible before I have to start factoring in university work, in whatever form that takes. We’ve been talking about it for a while now but that evening, we decided to finally stop talking about it and actually do it. It was very exciting and would be arriving in just a few days (the picture below is from when it arrived).

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SATURDAY

I woke up feeling tired and unsettled and anxious and it just got stronger and stronger throughout the day. I just felt really overwhelmed by all the things I feel I still need to do before uni starts again, which ironically and frustratingly made it harder to get anything done.

It was a rainy day so the cats spent a lot of time indoors with us, which was a comfort. They’re usually busy playing in the garden so it was nice to have them around. They were all pretty affectionate but Sooty was especially snuggly and I gratefully accepted every invitation to cuddle.

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I posted my weekly blog post, My Lockdown Favourites, and then spent most of the day catching up with my diary. It’s so easy to get behind and that causes me such anxiety. I also spent a bit of time at the piano and continued messing around with a couple of song ideas I’ve been working on recently. I’ve been experimenting with writing from the point of view of fictional and historical characters over lockdown and although I find it much harder than writing about my personal experiences, it’s a fun challenge and one that I think is improving my songwriting skills, as well as resulting in some interesting songs. So, all in all, it was an okay day.

In the evening, one of my parents came over for dinner in the garden. We’d also planned to watch Hamilton together but given how stressed and anxious I’d been, we decided to postpone that until next time so that I’d actually be able to enjoy it. I’ve really been looking forward to seeing it so I was grateful for the flexibility; I wanted to be able to really get stuck in and engage with it and I just didn’t feel able to that day. Still, it was really nice to see her in really life and hang out together.

When she left, me and Mum watched a couple of episodes of The Mentalist while I did some diary writing and then we went to bed, far too late as usual. Sleeping badly has got me all twisted up about going to bed so I dread it and put it off and usually end up sleeping worse because of it. It’s a habit I’m trying to break but so far I haven’t done very well. It’s just so easy to get sucked into trying to finish whatever I’m doing.


SUNDAY

I slept restlessly (as is my new normal) and woke up feeling tired and low. But I dragged myself up and me and Mum fed the cats – it really is a two person job with five very eager cats. They’re so cute though and watching them practically inhale their food and then skip out into the garden to play is a good way to start the day.

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Mum headed out straight away and drove to our gym since she hasn’t been able to get anyone on the phone. Because of my Chronic Fatigue and the ongoing problems with my joints, weight bearing exercise can be really painful so swimming is really the only serious exercise I can do. I’m really concerned that gyms are opening too early but as they are, I at least wanted to know what the safety precautions are and what my options might be. Our gym has a therapy pool that was always empty first thing in the morning so we would use that but when she returned, she reported that the therapy pool wasn’t an option because they didn’t have enough life guards yet. And when it came to their safety precautions, I just didn’t feel like it was worth the risk. But we’re going to keep talking to them and try to work out an arrangement as a disabled member. So it’s not the end of the road but it was very disappointing and didn’t help my mood.

I was supposed to have a music lesson (via Zoom) but my anxiety was even worse than the day before so, in the end, I cancelled it. Fortunately my teacher is one of my parents and so she understands that if I say I can’t do something, I really can’t. I’d really tried to motivate myself and push through my anxiety but I just felt like I was going to start crying at any moment. It was just too much.

So I curled up on the sofa with the TV on low and continued catching up with my diary. I always get behind when Taylor Swift releases an album because I end up writing so much about it – the lyrics, what I like and what I’d do differently, the production, my overall thoughts – and sticking in interesting analyses from Tumblr. I’m always amazed at how quickly some people are able to analyse a song and see all the layers while I’m still overwhelmed by the amount of layers and all the emotions the songs evoke.

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I also did a bit more work organising my photo library but I hadn’t got very far before I was interrupted (very pleasantly) by one of my parents dropping in to say hello. She hadn’t planned on staying long but then we got talking about ‘folklore.’ She’s a huge music nerd so she’s always interested to know what I’m listening to. I played her a couple of the songs and that turned into a full album listening party, which was really fun, although I’m always a little anxious about playing her music that’s special to me because she can have really strong opinions. But she was really into it (she particularly liked ‘mad woman’) and asked me to share it with her so she could listen to it some more. So that was very cool.

I ended the day having dinner and watching The Mentalist with Mum (we are both complete saps when it comes to the Jane and Lisbon relationship in the final season) while I continued writing my diary.


So that’s another week of my lockdown experience. I feel like, aside from unexpected difficulties with my mental health or an autistic meltdown, I’m finding a groove where I’m as productive and comfortable as I can be. It’s far from what I would’ve wished for during this period (apart from the new Taylor Swift album) but I’m cautiously optimistic that I’m managing a bit better, in the sense that I’m better at taking things day by day.

So I hope this was interesting to read, interesting to see someone else’s experience and maybe escape your own life for a bit. I hope you’re all doing well, staying safe and coping the best you can.