2021 in Review

I’m not really sure how to sum up this year. It has been one of extremes, to say the least: anxiety, joy, stress, excitement, depression… And, at this point, I feel a bit like I’ve run out of capacity. For anything. So this was a hard post to write and it wasn’t helped by the dichotomy between most of the year and the last few months; I’ve found it very hard to look at each part without the other colouring it in some way.


The biggest part of my year was most definitely the final two modules of my Masters, which turned out to be my two favourite modules of the course, The Writer’s Voice and Major Repertoire Project. Having written about these already, I don’t want to repeat myself but I do want to look at them in the context of the year. From January to September, I wrote furiously and with such joy. There was anxiety and depression and stress – they were all in there – but it felt like all of that writing balanced the scales. I wrote so many songs that I love, that I’m so proud of, and that I can’t wait to release. While I did release new music this year – The Honest EP (Sunburst Sessions) – they weren’t new songs and I’m so excited to share new songs. I have lots of plans that I’m really excited about and despite the chaos of the last few months, I have been working on my next project. I’m very excited to share it in the new year.

I’m very proud of myself for completing the Masters, especially given that I did most of it during the pandemic, and I’m so proud of my final project; it is the best thing I’ve ever done and I can’t wait to get it out into the world. I poured everything I had into that project so getting such a high grade and then the Outstanding Student Award at Graduation felt really good. I feel weird talking about it but I am really proud of that achievement and the recognition of how hard I worked means a lot to me. Because of an administrative screw up, I’m not sure when my graduation will be official, when I’ll get my certificate – something that caused a lot of distress – but practically, it’s done.

My health, both physical and mental, hasn’t been in great shape this year. The chronic pain was really bad, the fatigue not much better, and the ongoing migraines are pretty miserable. My mental health was fairly stable and actually not too bad for the most part, until the last few months of the year. Then it got really bad. In order to try medication for my ADHD, I had to come off Phenelzine – the only medication that’s ever helped me – and then start Xaggitin. That went extremely badly. My depression all but overwhelmed me; it was the worst my mental health has ever been. I’ve stopped taking the Xaggitin and I’m taking Bupropion now and it’s different but I’m not sure if it’s any better though.

I’ve felt very alone this year, in regards to tackling and managing all of this. I came out of every appointment feeling angry, distressed, dismissed, or invalidated (and often multiple of these in various combinations). I haven’t felt safe with any of them; I didn’t feel like my existence even registered with them. So I’m finding all of that very hard and each new appointment is preceded by extreme anxiety, a kind of anxiety I’ve rarely experienced. It’s a bit like a fight or flight response. I’ve never had a great relationship with the medical profession but I’ve felt particularly let down this year. I have finally managed to get back to therapy (although this was before the newest variant threw a wrench in all of our plans) but it’s been a long time and a lot of stuff has happened; I feel like I’m having to learn how to do it all over again.

It’s also been a hard year, family wise. I haven’t been able to see one of my parents – in real life – since before the pandemic (for medical reasons) and that has been so hard. We talk on FaceTime and stuff and that’s good but I still miss her so much. And then, of course, my Granny died in September, just as I was finishing my Masters. At that point, I think, my brain just couldn’t take anymore; I don’t think I’ve processed any of it, to be honest. To a certain extent, I feel frozen, like I stopped while everything around me kept going. It’s not the first time I’ve felt like this but that doesn’t make it any easier. I’m sure all of those feelings will make their presence felt in the new year. But as hard as all of that is, I’m so grateful for the friends and family around me; I’m not sure where I’d be without them.

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“What a surreal year. I don’t even know how to sum it up really. Everything I felt, I felt in extremes: stress, anxiety, depression, joy, excitement. I wrote songs that I’m so proud of, I hugged friends I hadn’t seen in months, I completed a Masters degree that I loved. I struggled with even more health issues, I was almost overwhelmed by the worst depression I’ve ever experienced, and I’m learning to live in a world that doesn’t have my Granny in it. The high points were so high and the low points were so low and I’m honestly exhausted right now. This year has been more than I know how to handle and I’m still kind of drowning but I’m also still here.” (x)


This end of year post isn’t quite the same as what I’ve done in previous years but it’s been a weird year and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m experiencing some form of burnout. I have a few plans but honestly, I have no idea what the next period of my life looks like and that’s scary. I hate how my life goes on hold whenever I change medications and I feel more than a bit lost right now. All I can do is wait and see and after all these years, there’s very little I hate more.

Farewell Phenelzine 2.0 (The 2021 Edition)

The decision to change my medication has been a long time coming. I was diagnosed with ADHD back in January but, for various reasons, I haven’t been able to take any medication for it up to this point. As I said in this post, my specialist wouldn’t allow me to take any of the classic, stimulant medications for ADHD while I was still taking my current antidepressant, Phenelzine. So, in order to take anything for my ADHD (other than the less common medications that would only make me even drowsier than I am currently), I would have to come off the Phenelzine and either try a different antidepressant or try going without one. That all felt too much to manage while I was doing my Masters – it feels like a lot to manage now – but now that the Masters as is over and I’m already in a period of transition, it felt like it was time to come off the Phenelzine. The side effects were going to throw a wrench in several plans but that was going to be the case regardless of when I decided to do it and I hated the feeling of having it hanging over me. I know I need to do it but a big part of me really didn’t want to (and is still sceptical to a certain degree): over the last ten years, I’ve found it all but impossible to write songs during the periods when I wasn’t taking Phenelzine so it’s not surprising that it’s not exactly an easy decision. But if I want to get out of this limbo state, then I need to try.

So, beginning the 18th November, I started to reduce the dosage of the Phenelzine. For two weeks, I took half my normal dose and then I went another two weeks without anything in my system, giving my body the time to filter out any traces of the Phenelzine (known as the wash out period) and ensuring that way any new drug I take won’t result in a negative interaction. As always, it’s important to point out that this is a plan I’ve worked out with my psychiatrist and my ADHD specialist and is specifically tailored to me. If you’re making any changes around any medication you’re taking, please consult your doctor first.


REDUCTION PERIOD

WEEK 1 (Monday 18th October – Sunday 24th October)

For most of the week, I felt fine, which surprised me: usually, if I miss a dose of Phenelzine, I get hit with a headache pretty quickly but for some reason, that didn’t happen this time. I was tired and a bit more emotional than usual but nothing that out of the ordinary, nothing that couldn’t just happen anyway. I think those first four days lulled me into a false sense of security.

It hit me on the Friday. I felt weak and shaky and had a really unpleasant headache. And that turned into feeling absolutely awful over the weekend: I had debilitating migraines; I felt nauseous, shaky, and lightheaded; I thought I might faint every time I stood up. I also developed an annoying cough and, after multiple COVID tests, I had to assume it was part of the withdrawal and not COVID related (thank goodness – I don’t think I could’ve coped with that as well and I’m glad my family didn’t either).

WEEK 2 (Monday 25th October – Sunday 31st October)

The cough and the migraines continued into the middle of the week and then, fortunately, they started to let up. My sleep schedule was utterly screwed up: I was struggling to get to sleep and not drifting off until between two and five am and then, because I was so exhausted, I was sleeping in to the middle of the afternoon. And as hard as I tried, I couldn’t correct the schedule. I also had really weird, really vivid dreams that took me a while to drag myself out of and separate dream from reality. I did have a sudden, deep dip in mood where I felt really awful and discouraged about the various things I’m currently working on, which was scary: my big fear about coming off the Phenelzine has been returning to that really depressed place I was in before so to feel it happening was horrible. But fortunately it didn’t last and I’ve tried to just stay away from things that trigger those kind of feelings, for the duration of this changeover at least.

By Sunday, things had started to improve and I was feeling a bit more human. Having said that, I was not looking forward to the rollercoaster that the next two weeks were likely to be.

WASH OUT PERIOD

WEEK 1 (Monday 1st November – Sunday 7th November)

The beginning of the week was okay with just minor headaches and some nausea, both of which were pretty ignorable. And apart from sleeping really deeply and the continuation of the weird, vivid dreams, I felt okay. But by the end of the week, I was feeling very tired and just generally unwell again. The cough had faded but it picked up again and then, on Sunday, the nausea was back in full force.

WEEK 2 (Monday 8th November – Sunday 14th November)

This was a very big week. Unfortunately. It was a really bad time to be coming off a medication but, as I said, it’s almost always a bad time. There’s always something happening so I just had to get it over with. But this week held both my graduation from university (I had a great time but physically, I did spend the day counting down to the next dose of painkillers and – on several occasions – actively focussed on not throwing up) and my Granny’s Celebration of Life service (thankfully, by that point, I was feeling a bit better and was able to just focus on the day without too much distraction). Given those two huge things, I spent a lot of the week dealing with a lot of physical exhaustion and pain.

The cough was ongoing and I had migraines for most of the week, although they did lessen in intensity by the end of the week. I was nauseous, shaky, and overly emotional but, again, that had mostly passed by the weekend. On the Sunday, I was a bit weak and nauseous but I felt a lot more human than earlier in the week.


So, four weeks later, I’m finally starting medication for my ADHD. I’m excited but I’m also nervous; I haven’t had many good experiences with medications and it’s taken a lot of trial and error to find the only one that’s helped so far. So it’s a bit scary to be starting over with a whole new category of medications but I’m trying to stay… cautiously optimistic. I’ve started Xaggitin XL and now, I guess, I just have to wait and see.

Now That I’ve Finished My Masters…

After two years of being utterly focussed on my Masters, it’s definitely weird not having something specific to work on, having no deadlines to meet, and so on. It’s strange but also a welcome relief: between working on the module of the moment and dealing with whatever the pandemic threw up, plus my health stuff, it’s been an exhausting time. While I’m excited to start working on the next project, whatever that may be, I do need a break first – to rest, recover, and recharge my body and brain – and there’ve been a handful of things I’ve been looking forward to doing for when I finally reached this point.


These are some of the things I’ve held on to when I really felt the exhaustion or my motivation dipped:

  • Gentle days – I’ve spent the last couple of months at least working relentlessly on my final project; unless there was a very good reason, I probably spent at least seven hours a day working on various elements of it. I really pushed myself. Unfortunately, my prime working time seems to start around 7pm; that’s when I seem to really get on a roll and sometimes that meant I’d be working until after midnight (those were the really long days), which completely screwed up my sleep schedule. But even if I didn’t get to sleep until 4am, I’d still force myself up as early as I physically could in order to get back to work – my sleep schedule is going to need some serious overhauling. Now that I don’t need to do that, I’m looking forward to having some gentler days. I’m still happiest doing things but it will be nice to do them at a more laidback pace, for a while anyway. I might even sleep in occasionally!
  • See more friends and family – I’ve been so buried in this project that I really haven’t seen many of my friends or family, not properly, for ages. I’ve started catching up with people, both over FaceTime and in real life, which has been so, so lovely but there are still too many people that I haven’t seen in far too long. So I’m looking forward to that.
  • Read new books – Given that my difficulties with concentration make reading somewhat of a struggle anyway, I could barely manage the reading for my Masters, let alone anything for fun (not that I had much time for that). But I’ve got a list as long as my arm of books I want to read so I’m looking forward to getting into a couple of those. I think I’m gonna start with The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green.
  • Watch new TV shows and movies – While working on this final project, especially over the last couple of months, I’ve really only watched familiar things, using them as background noise – something that, most of the time, aids my concentration. I’m now thoroughly bored with all of them and, just like with the books, I have a great list of new things I want to watch, like Black Widow and Girls5eva.
  • Swim more – Obviously this isn’t an immediate goal: I’ll have to build up my swimming in accordance with how my hEDS is affecting me. But I am looking forward to doing a bit more here and there and slowly building up. While doing the Masters, I was always aware of how much energy it required, balancing that against the energy I needed to keep working at the necessary pace. So it will be nice to push myself a bit and not worry about whether I’ll need a rest day afterwards, at least until I get into whatever the next project.
  • Work on a new project – I have a lot of ideas in the works but they all depend on a bunch of different factors so, as of this moment, I don’t know which one will be my main focus (because, of course, I’ll still be working on the others) but hopefully it won’t be long until I do know and can get started. I’m really terrible at not doing things; I love having a project to work on.
  • Release new music – Whatever project I launch into next, I want to keep releasing music. It’s been a while since I released anything new (the acoustic EP was a different kind of release, in my head at least) and I’m dying to put more music out. The Masters was just too big and took up too much of my brain. So, now that that’s done, I’m so excited to start putting stuff out again. I have multiple ideas for bigger bodies of work but those will take time so I’m thinking of releasing a few singles while I pull that next body of work together. There are always songs that I love but that don’t really fit into the concept of an EP or album project so it will be really fun to give them a life out in the world. So, stay tuned! (That pun was accidental, I swear.)
  • Finish my album – During my final project, I started writing an album that I’m really excited about. I feel really good about it but there’s still a lot of work to do if I want it to be as good as I think it could be. With the Masters imposed deadlines now out of the way, I can go back to the songs and work on each one more slowly, using everything I learned throughout the process of the project (something that the earlier songs didn’t have the advantage of). I think this album could really be something and I want to give it all the time and attention it needs to achieve that potential.
  • Get back to writing on here – I’ve really missed blog writing while I’ve been working and I’ve had to actively restrain myself from writing blog posts when I should’ve been working so I’m very excited to be back and writing here. My brain is bursting with ideas and I’m struggling to figure out how to fit them all in, which, all in all, isn’t a bad problem to have.

There are also things that I’m less excited to do but they are important and I’ve been putting them off, either because they took too much time and energy away from working or because I was worried about how engaging with them would break what felt like the very fragile hold I had on my concentration, like it would be impossible to concentrate on my project again if I stopped, even for a little bit.

So things like continuing my Pain Clinic appointments, getting the prescription for my glasses updated (my current pair are at least four years out of date or whatever the phrase is – it must be doing a number on my eyesight and it’s probably not unrelated to all of my headaches), figure out what’s going on with my therapy situation, make a definitive decision about my medication, and try again to tackle my Trichotillomania. None of these will be fun or easy but hopefully they’ll all improve my life in the long run so they are worth doing.


So there’s my list. I love a good list. I find that they help me organise my thoughts – my often very restless, whirlwind thoughts. It’s been a tough few months but I’m looking forward to diving into all of these things.