2020 in Review

What the fuck was this year? I don’t even know. To think I ended 2019 with the phrase: ‘2020, please be kind.‘ I really don’t know how to write about this year. Time has become a bit of a nebulous concept and after a lot of thought, the only way I could divide up this year was by separating it into three ‘chapters’: pre-pandemic, lockdown-into-summer, and semester three of my Masters. It’s a bit of a weird system but then, is there anything about this year that hasn’t been weird?

So, here we go. This is my review of 2020, a year I’m sure none of us will ever forget.


PRE-PANDEMIC

The beginning of the year, the two and a half-ish months before the pandemic became less about ‘wash your hands’ and more ‘we’re going into national lockdown’ (in the UK anyway), feel impossibly long ago and kind of frighteningly busy. Looking back through my photos, it’s so odd to think that that version of me – of all those people in the pictures – had no idea what was coming. And now we’re entirely different people. I mean, I know I’m a completely different person because of the last nine months. I’m only speaking for myself but I imagine that a lot of people can relate to that feeling. I look at photos of myself from January, February, March and I almost don’t recognise myself…

Anyway, on with the review.

I wrote up January at the time because it was such a busy, emotional month. I had a frantic Christmas break, preparing for my January assessments (due to a misunderstanding about the assessment, a lot of my research wasn’t helpful and so I had to redo it so I got almost no free time during that holiday). That was incredibly stressful, as was the presentation, and I was beyond exhausted afterwards. And between the second single of the Honest EP, ‘Clarity,’ coming out and the very distressing DSA assessment in the following week, I didn’t really get any rest between the first and second semesters. And to top it off, I was pretty upset about the grade I received and by the time I felt coherent enough to appeal it, the deadline had passed. But in hindsight, it was the first grade of the Masters with a very new approach to working and grading so it’s probably not that surprising, especially as an autistic student.

The new module I was studying, Musicology (“the scholarly analysis and research-based study of music”), was really interesting and for the most part, the lectures were really engaging, something that was definitely aided by how passionate my tutor was about the subject. I’ve known him since my BA and he’s so knowledgeable; he’s a really great teacher and he’s a big part of why I did so well in the module. Not that my tutor in the first module wasn’t great – she’s truly awesome and so inspiring and I learned so much from her – but I learned a lot about how the Masters worked in that first semester that I was able to put into practice for the second semester, making it easier on my mental health and helping me to work more effectively, which did result in a much better grade. I found the songwriting classes less inspiring but since I was challenging myself with FAWM (February Album Writing Month) for a big part of the module, that wasn’t too big an issue.

I got to spend some really good time with my friends, both in and out of uni. A couple of them came down from London to visit me, which was really nice. Others I spent time with at uni or around London. I also had lots of writing sessions with people, which was really, really fun. I love my uni friends so much – I love my non-uni friends as well, of course, but during the semester, I rarely get to see them because I’m so busy – and there are a solid handful of people I’ve met during my time at BA and MA that I know I’ll be friends with for a really long time. I feel like I learned a lot about friendship this year, as I mentioned in my grateful post, and I just feel so lucky to have met these people; they are so wonderful and I’ve found it really hard to be separated from them for so long. I’m so looking forward to seeing them again and being able to spend time with them in real life whenever that will be.

(I haven’t got photos with all of my friends from this year and I do like to use photos from the year I’m writing about but don’t worry, you’re most certainly not forgotten.)

As well as writing A LOT, I was releasing music and got to play several really, really fun shows but I want to keep the music stuff together so I’ll come back to those.

One sadness of that time was that my favourite place to eat in Brighton closed, first temporarily and then permanently. That was very sad and I know a lot of people were upset by it. They made amazing Belgian fries with loads of homemade sauces and drinks – that I LOVE – that I’ve only ever had when I’ve travelled to and around the Netherlands where I have family. And the staff were absolutely lovely and it was always such an enjoyable experience; I always took friends there when they visited Brighton. So that was a shock. With everything going on this year, I probably wouldn’t have been able to go (and I’m not sure it would’ve survived as an independent business) but I have missed it. It was a true Brighton gem for the time it existed.

I think it’s safe to say that the biggest part of January, the pre-pandemic part of the year, and possibly the whole year, was having to let go of our beloved Lucky, our nearly sixteen year old black Labrador who we’d first met at three days old. He was very old (most Labradors live to between ten and twelve) and had developed some very difficult health problems in the last year or so of his life. We got home one night and he didn’t get up. He didn’t lift his head. He didn’t wag his tail. He was just done. It was heartbreaking and one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever been a part of but the next morning we took him to the vet and they put him to sleep. It was awful and I still miss him everyday, even though I know it was the right thing to do. He couldn’t have been more loved, by us, by everyone he met. He was a bit of a legend. I still wish him back but, again, as I said in my Grateful post, I’m glad that he hasn’t had to live through the pandemic, the sensitive soul that he was; it would’ve been very stressful for him. And the idea that we might’ve had to have him put down during one of the lockdowns where we couldn’t be with him is unbearable, so I do take some comfort from that timing. Still, the house feels empty without him.

Life was fundamentally different after that but we kept going, day by day, and there were good moments. I got to see my course mates put on an awesome show at a local venue, Song Suffragettes announced that they were coming to the UK on tour (I’m pretty sure I dug into my savings to get a ticket for every show…), and my Mum and I celebrated Lucky’s sixteenth birthday, even though he was no longer with us. I’d been planning it and so we just decided to celebrate for ourselves. I think that, in the future, we will think of him or go on a specific walk or something to remember him, even if we don’t actually ‘celebrate’ his birthday. The date will just be an excuse to dedicate some time to thinking about him and all the years we had together.

As well as dedicating the month of February to FAWM, I also took on the #30dayfeb Challenge For Tommy’s, organised by my university tutor/friend/mentor/super inspiring person, Sophie Daniels, under her artist project name, Liberty’s Mother, to raise awareness about baby loss and money for baby loss focussed charities. The challenge involved doing something everyday for thirty days that was positive for your wellbeing; I saw a lot of people doing yoga, for example. I chose origami and made a different piece everyday. These were some of my favourites:

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I was lucky enough to see several shows and concerts before everything closed down. That’s something I’ve really missed this year as they’re sort of THE thing that I spend my money on and go out to. I was going to see The Shires, Alanis Morissette, OneRepublic, The Phantom of the Opera, Hamilton, the Song Suffragettes UK Tour, Taylor Swift at Hyde Park, and Tin Pan South in Nashville – those last three cancellations in particular hit me the hardest. I’d been so looking forward to them so I was really, really upset when they were postponed and then eventually cancelled.

However, I did manage to see Halsey twice on The Manic World Tour, which was incredible. I love her, I love this album (it was one of my favourite albums of the year), and the show was just mind-blowing. It was awesome to see her get to play at The O2 Arena (her biggest headline show to date, I believe), especially on International Women’s Day. She’s an amazing performing but I also love how she speaks to the crowd; it feels like she’s speaking just to you. I wanted to run out of the arena ahead of all the crowds so that that illusion wouldn’t be broken. Both shows, but especially that show in London, felt very special.

I also got to see Sara Bareilles in Waitress The Musical several times. I’ve seen several actresses (all amazing) play Jenna but there was something really special about seeing Sara play her, as the person who’d written so many beautiful songs coming from her perspective as a character. It took a minute to stop seeing Sara as Sara and start seeing her as Jenna but once I’d gotten my head around that, I was just enthralled. She was fantastic and so special; I loved the show all the more for seeing her in the lead role. I was lucky enough to go a handful of times and of those, on several special occasions (sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident): I saw Sara’s first show, I saw the one year anniversary of Waitress in London show, and I saw Sara’s final show, which also turned out to be Waitress’ final London show. So while I knew that show was special, I didn’t realise quite how special it was until much later. I tried my best to meet Sara (one day, I hope…) but for most of the shows, Sara was either out of the building before we could line up or we were hustled away pretty quickly. I did see her on the last night – she walked up and down the queue of people waiting and waved to everyone – but she didn’t stop to talk or take pictures or accept gifts because of the growing concern about COVID-19. That show was actually the last thing I did before we went into lockdown, not that I knew it at the time.

Everything changed very quickly. One day I was talking to my friend about plans we had later in the week and the next, she was on the plane home before the borders closed. I made the decision to start self isolating but before I would’ve had to go back to uni (or, having come to this decision, contact them about it), the classes were moved online.

LOCKDOWN-INTO-SUMMER

The UK officially went into national lockdown on the 24th March. I’d already been self isolating for eleven days, as had my Mum, apart from necessary trips out (food shopping and business related stuff that had to be done in person). I had two weeks of online classes plus my assessment essay, which I was already working on. It’s strange: at the time, I wasn’t really aware of the outside world because I was a hundred percent focussed on my essay (and it was probably the most difficult, research heavy essay I’ve ever had to write). Maybe I was channeling all of my anxiety into that so that I didn’t have to engage with my paralysing anxiety about the pandemic. But then the essay was done and submitted and it all came flooding in.

Between the inevitable post semester and assessment period crash and the pandemic anxiety hitting me full force, I just went to pieces. I was either having meltdowns or staring blankly at old tv shows, too overwhelmed by fear to function. That went on for weeks and to be honest, it’s kind of a blur. I think I was in some sort of checked out, survival mode haze. I just could not cope. In hindsight (and in the few moments of coherent thought I had at the time) I was and am so grateful that I had that summer semester off. Many of my friends on the Masters were having to work on their final projects during one of the toughest periods of our lives (and created incredible work in spite of it) and I just could not have done it. My mental health was in tatters. Even now that I’m in a better, more stable place, I still feel deeply traumatised by the events of the last nine months: by the constant fear and paralysing anxiety, by the sheer overwhelming grief that so many people have experienced and are experiencing, by the confusion and frustration and outright horror at how the government – the people we depend on to lead us and take charge during extreme situations – have behaved. I mean, how do you cope with completely losing faith in your country’s leaders? Who are you supposed to turn to? Anyway. That could easily turn into a rant and that’s not what this post is about.

I’m not really sure when I started to come out of that because it was such a gradual process. But slowly, with LOTS of ups and downs, I started to feel more able to engage – if only with the people directly around me and the things that I enjoyed doing. Thank god for the cats (and Mum – I’ve talked about how grateful I am for her in my Grateful post – but we both agree that the cats were a lifesaver during the lockdown). They’ve been so good for my mental health this year. It’s so mindful to watch them; you can’t help but feel calmer, watching them play or snuggle and so on. Especially without Lucky, their cuteness and cuddles have been vital and the ridiculous playful moments have made me laugh even when it felt impossible. I’m so, so glad to have had them around during this time and they certainly seem to enjoy our constant presence at home; a day rarely goes by without one cat or another draping themselves over me. As I said, they’ve been a lifesaver. I don’t know how I would’ve made it through without them.

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I had online therapy sessions but I struggled with them and often ended up cancelling at the last minute because they just felt too overwhelming. All I could think about was the pandemic and my fears around it; I didn’t want to dig into that even more and it felt impossible to talk about anything else. So my sessions were fairly sporadic throughout the lockdown and most of the year really. I think, in hindsight, therapy just felt too big, too overwhelming to be helpful while all of my emotions felt so incredibly heightened and raw. I was just focussing on getting from one day to the next. The cats were a big help; I started escaping into the worlds of new films and TV shows, like Absentia and Away; and I lived for the livestreams that a handful of people were doing in place of live shows. My favourites were Kalie Shorr’s, both because I love her and because she did so many of them. She did interviews with both interesting and entertaining questions, played covers, and played her own songs, released and unreleased. I’m so grateful to Kalie for doing all of that; they really helped me keep going, helped me get through the darkest of my pandemic-induced depression.

As I said, towards the end of the first UK lockdown, I became a bit more functional, although it was like balancing on a tightrope: one little knock and I was plunging back into overwhelming anxiety and depression. And it happened a lot. But I also had better, more productive moments. I managed to write a couple of songs (which is pretty monumental what with my mental health being so bad); I had writing and production sessions with Richard; I started gentle music theory lessons in preparation for the upcoming semester with one of my parents (she’s a music teacher); I spent a lot of time playing piano (I started experiencing awful nerve pain in my left hand – as well as in my back and leg – during the first lockdown so playing guitar was basically impossible); and I stayed up until almost six am to watch Ingrid Andress’ first livestream show and chat with her in a meet and greet session afterwards. So I was doing just about okay. Probably the biggest help was that all of my family (and most of my friends) were being exceedingly careful around going out: fortunately able to work at home, they only went out for essential trips, like food shopping and picking up medication, etc. I’m so grateful to them for that. So beyond grateful.

The lockdown began to loosen and more and more people were out, which I found terrifying. The silence outside had been weird at first but suddenly every little sound turned me into an anxious mess. Hearing people converse outside the shop we live above, for example, caused so many panic attacks (for fear that those people were spreading the virus). It was awful. For most of the summer, I kept the windows and curtains closed, enclosing myself in my own protective little bubble. It was the only way I could find to protect my mental health. With the gyms opening, I was desperate to swim again (as I’ve previously mentioned, it’s the only exercise I can do) – both for my physical and mental health – but I just didn’t feel safe at my usual pool. Their precautions just didn’t feel tight enough. On the plus side, after various COVID tests, I finally got to see my brother for the first time in months – longer than I think we’ve ever gone without seeing each other. We were still careful but it was so, so wonderful to see him.

Meanwhile, music stuff (mostly to do with the Honest EP) was still happening. Again, I want to keep most of this together (I’ll probably put it all in one paragraph towards the end) but I think this particular day is important beyond the musical context. I’d spent a lot of time worrying about the music video for ‘Back To Life,’ the next single due to be released at the time because my original idea wasn’t going to be possible during the pandemic, even with the lockdown restrictions having been loosened. Richard and I spent a long time discussing it and eventually came up with a plan…

The filming of the video was a big deal for me. I found it very difficult and very stressful being out for so long (even though our planning meant that, of the videos we shot for the EP, this one took the least time) and just being near people caused me a lot of anxiety, even down on the beach at the water’s edge. We were incredibly careful and I did manage to enjoy it to a certain extent but I’m grateful not to have to do another music video under such conditions. It took everything out of me; I spent the next three days on the sofa, barely able to move from the exhaustion. I have no idea how I managed to look so relaxed and even happy in the video. But, as I said, I’ll talk more about it when I talk about the whole EP process this year.

The rest of the summer was pretty gentle. I was trying really hard to improve and manage my mental health. It still wasn’t great but I was coping better than I had been earlier in the pandemic. So I spent a lot of time doing things that have proven to be good for my mental health: I listened to the Taylor Swift’s new album, folklore, on repeat; I played a lot of piano; I wrote songs when I could; I had video calls and online movie nights with my friends; I kept writing for the blog. I took part in research projects involving Autism Spectrum Disorder, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Depression, and Anxiety; helping out with these always gives me a mental and emotional boost because it feels like some good is coming out of my difficulties, even if they don’t improve my experience directly. I also watched the final season of Agents of Shield, my favourite TV show ever. That was a very emotional experience because the show, and the character of Daisy Johnson, have been a really important part of my life over the last few years and the emotional processing of stuff from my childhood.

And I continued to work on my music theory as the module was based on these concepts and I wanted to be as prepared as possible but I found the idea of going back to university very stressful. I really didn’t want to defer so I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do in terms of the new semester, what I felt safe doing. I’d originally thought that I’d much rather defer than do online or blended classes but now that the semester was almost upon me, I felt a lot less sure. After a lot of thought and discussion with my family and course mates, I decided to go back as an online student. It wasn’t ideal because of the lack of social interaction and how much harder it made cowriting sessions but I didn’t feel safe commuting to London to be in a building full of people from all over for just two hours a week. It just felt like too much anxiety for not enough reward. Online seemed like the most productive way forward. But even with that choice made, the process of going back to university, getting clear information, the correct timetable, etc, was incredibly stressful, causing meltdown after meltdown after meltdown. I really wasn’t at all sure whether I was going to be able manage university classes during a pandemic.

SEMESTER THREE OF MY MASTERS

The beginning of the semester was a bit rocky as the university tried to make blended classes (the online and onsite groups combined as one using Microsoft Teams) but in the end, it was simply easier and a more productive use of the time to split the onsite and online groups. My groups were great and everyone was really supportive and encouraging, tutors and students alike. Plus it was fun to work regularly with Richard again. The work was hard and the songwriting briefs difficult since musical language isn’t my strong point but after really positive meetings with both of my tutors, I never felt like I couldn’t ask for help or miss a brief if I needed to. As long as we was experimenting with our music – with the use of melody, harmony, arrangement, etc – and turned in the assessment work, everyone was pretty relaxed about what we were working on.

Despite a pretty heavy workload, I managed to get up to quite a lot during the semester. I celebrated my 26th birthday with the family I could and had a couple of socially distanced meet ups with friends; it was simple and quiet but I’m not really into big celebrations anyway. It would’ve been nice to see more of my family though.

I saw a lot of really awesome live-streamed shows, including Ingrid Andress at The Bluebird Cafe, various shows throughout the virtual Country Music Week and Nashville’s Tin Pan South Festival (I’m so grateful that we didn’t lose out on them entirely because of the pandemic), Halsey’s poetry book release day livestream, Maren Morris’ livestream concert, and Kalie Shorr’s charity StageIt show. But my personal highlights were Sugarland’s livestream show, Kalie’s ‘Unabridged For The First Time’ show (even though technical difficulties meant I missed bits of it), several of the Tin Pan South shows, and Tim Minchin’s ‘Apart Together’ livestream show.

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I also attended several webinars and conferences about ASD and mental health, as well as actually speaking at one. That was a really special experience, being invited to speak on a panel and share my experience about being autistic. I felt like I was really able to use my experience to help other people and several of the attendees confirmed how useful my contributions had been. So that felt like a really significant moment.

Even though I was still on the course, many of my friends did the Masters in one year rather than two. They had a virtual graduation ceremony, which I attended in support. They all created such incredible work and under such difficult circumstances; I’m so proud of them and can’t wait to see what they go on to do. Some of them have already released really cool and interesting work and I know that many more are working on really cool projects. We had a celebratory drink via video call afterwards, which was good fun. I hadn’t seen a lot of them since March so I really enjoyed that.

I finally found somewhere to swim that actually felt safe, or as safe as possible: they had really strict safety measures. So I finally got to swim again and it was awesome. Each session gave me such a mental boost and it felt so good to exercise and really stretch my muscles again. I couldn’t get there as often as I would’ve liked (they spread the bookings out to keep the numbers low) but it was absolutely wonderful to be going again. It was erratic, especially with the second lockdown and most of the country now in Tier 4, but I enjoyed every second of it while I had it and I will again when the pool reopens.

The swimming was also good for the nerve pain in my back and leg. A few months earlier, I’d been diagnosed with hypermobility (very common with autistic individuals) and referred for hydrotherapy, which I’m unlikely to get for a while, but the swimming and basic exercises I’d been given did help. Or they seemed to anyway. I’ve also been referred to Rheumatology, Occupational Therapy, Pain Management, and had an MRI just to rule out anything unrelated to being hypermobile. It’s been a very slow process but I feel like we are starting to make progress, which feels really good.

The US Election was obviously a massive deal and not just in the US. I’m really glad that it fell during my reading week because there’s no way I would’ve been able to concentrate on classes. I’m honestly surprised by how much work I got done that week, given how much time I spent checking the news outlets for updates. In the end, it was Richard who texted me that the result was in. I shrieked, I laughed, and then I cried. I was so relieved.

Apart from swimming, the second lockdown didn’t change much for me. I was spending most of my time at my laptop, working on uni stuff. I had to turn in a portfolio of songs and an essay on the 4th January and, determined to get an actual break this year (unlike last year), I worked super hard: I wanted to have all of the work done before Christmas. So the end of the semester was intense and suddenly it was the last week, the session with Richard, and then the Christmas holidays. I worked every day from the end of the semester to Christmas Eve but I did manage to get all of the work done, which I was very proud of.

Christmas was weird. We obviously couldn’t see our larger family but then we couldn’t even see my brother because London went into Tier 4 (and then we went into Tier 4 on Boxing Day). I’d been prepared for a very different Christmas but it didn’t really emotionally hit me until a few days before and then I found it pretty difficult. We tried to embrace the difference: we decorated our tree with origami creations rather than our usual decorations; we structured our day differently… we kept it as different as we could so that the forced differences (like the lack of my brother) didn’t stick out so much. But we still managed to have a good day, I think. My brother and his partner had made a really great quiz, which we all had so much fun doing. That was definitely the high point for me. We were all together, laughing our heads off, and that felt really good.

I also just want to throw in here that there were some really great albums released in the fourth quarter of the year, which definitely boosted my spirits and inspired me a lot. There was Taylor Swift’s folklore: long pond studio sessions, which was both incredible and a fascinating look into the stories and emotions explored throughout the album; Kalie Shorr released the deluxe version of Open Book, Open Book: Unabridged, which included four new tracks, all of them as stunning as the original album tracks, if not even better – ugh, can you tell I love this album? And then, as if folklore wasn’t a big enough surprise, Taylor Swift released a second surprise album, evermore, which was another amazing album. The three of these, plus Manic by Halsey, were the musical highlights of my year. I love them all and I learned so much from them as a songwriter.

We’ve had a quiet few days up to new year, which is good. It’s been nice to have a bit more space to breathe, if that makes sense; there’s a bit less pressure in my life at the moment. Having said that, being in Tier 4 with a spike in COVID cases, has caused my anxiety to rise again.

And that’s the year…

So it’s time to talk about the music. With more content coming, I don’t want to go into too much detail; I kind of want to save the real round up for when everything is done, but I do want to do a quick review of my musical year because I think this is the first year where I’ve really felt like a professional singersongwriter. Of the five tracks on the Honest EP, all but one were released this year (the first single, ‘Bad Night,’ came out late last year). The second single, ‘Clarity,’ came out in early January with an accompanying music video; it did even better than ‘Bad Night’ and was even selected as BBC Sussex & BBC Surrey’s BBC Introducing Track of the Day. That was very cool!

I got to play a handful of gigs, all of which were so much fun. I headlined one of Indigo Eve’s nights, where people both waved their phone lights to a song and sang along to another. It was one of best gigs I’ve done and one of the best nights of the year. I played as part of my university’s songwriters’ circles, which is probably my favourite uni event; it was particularly special because it was the LGBTQ+ History Month special. That meant a lot to me and it was a great round. All of the performers were fantastic and the atmosphere was so positive. Looking back at my Instagram post about the show, I said, “I’m just on a joy train!” That was very accurate; it was a wonderful night. I was also invited to perform in the foyer of The Brighton Dome for their Access Open Day event; it was so much fun and I was giddy about the fact that I was performing there again when it was the first place I publicly performed. And before the lockdown started, I even managed a day in the studio, recording a fun project with some friends.

Everything slowed down when lockdown began but with a lot of help from Richard, we did eventually get the EP cycle moving again, starting with the release of ‘Clarity (Academic Remix)‘. A month or so later, the third single of the EP, ‘Sounds Like Hope,’ came out, followed by a music video beautifully animated by the lovely Lois de Silva. This one didn’t do as well as the previous two but it was a much slower, less radio friendly song so that wasn’t surprising. Having said that, it got some of the highest praise of the EP so although it didn’t reach as many people as the others, it seemed to really resonate with the people who did hear it.

The summer was a very exciting time, in terms of the EP. I got to ‘perform’ in the virtual Disability Pride Brighton Festival: they played the ‘Invisiblemusic video and it was streamed online and on TV! That was very cool: seeing myself on the television for the first time! Then, as I described earlier, Richard and I planned and filmed the music video for ‘Back To Life.’ I was very anxious about putting this one out, given its upbeat sound and title during the pandemic. But in the end, I decided that to leave it out would be to release an incomplete body of work, as the song is an important part of the EP. So I announced it with this message: “Given the difficult and often distressing times we’re currently experiencing, I seriously considered delaying the release of new music, especially as we reach the more upbeat songs on the EP. But I didn’t want to leave the story half told. This song represents the upward turn after a painful chapter of my mental health and it feels important to include because while there are brutal lows, there are also wondrous highs. They’re all important and all part of the journey.” (x) I released the song in August, hoping that people would understand that the title was metaphorical, rather than literal. It didn’t do quite as well as the others had but given everything, I wasn’t surprised. It may have done better in a world without the pandemic but then we’ll never know, will we? Richard edited the video – with my feedback at various stages – and despite it not being what I’d originally imagined, I absolutely loved it. I’m really proud of it, especially given the circumstances and stress under which it was made.

And then, in October, I released the fifth and final single of the Honest EP, the title track, ‘Honest.’ It’s my favourite song on the EP and putting the last of our budget into promoting it, it did really, really well – the best of the EP. I’m so proud of it: the song means so much to me. It felt fitting to have the music video show some of the weird and wonderful ‘behind the scenes’ of this EP process…

As I said, the project isn’t over yet so I don’t want to write anything that sounds like too much of a conclusion but I’ve learned so much from it, from this year. I’ve learned a lot, dealt with enough stress that it’s probably taken years off my life, and never been so proud of anything I’ve done. I can’t wait to share the rest in 2021…

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This blog post spiralled into something much bigger than I thought it would. But then, given that ‘normal life’ sort of evaporated around us and everything was constantly changing, maybe it’s not that surprising. I guess, there were a lot of things I felt I couldn’t leave to assumption so I included them just to be sure. Hopefully it’s made sense and got you thinking (or not thinking) about your experience of this year. It’s weird, isn’t it: we’ve all gone through this massive, world-encompassing event together and yet our years will look quite different. It reminds me of a quote I saw on social media (that I will have to paraphrase, unable as I am now to find it): “We’re all on the same sea but we’re all in different boats.” So, yes, we all experienced a global pandemic but our personal situations created a spectrum of experiences, with either end looking nothing alike. But I think we can all say that we’ll always remember this year. I know I will.

Although I spent a lot of the year feeling very negative, feeling depressed or anxious or frustrated or angry, I’m actually finishing the year feeling overwhelmed by gratitude. Yes, I’m anxious about being in Tier 4 and the rising COVID numbers – I think it would be ignorant not to be – but I’m just so grateful for all the positive moments and experiences that I’ve had this year. And, of course, the people in my life. I could not have gotten through this year without them.

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I don’t even know how to fully sum up this last year. If I thought 2019 was difficult, 2020 was on a whole new level of emotional chaos. I’ve been in survival mode for most of it, just trying to wade through waters that kept rising and rising, and every time I thought I’d found my balance, another strong wave appeared to knock me down. It’s easily been the hardest year of my life and one I know I won’t ever forget. But as painful and terrifying and exhausting as this year has been, there have been some amazing moments too: pre-pandemic gigs, releasing my EP, the contact with my friends and family, time with my cats, the awesome music, movies, and TV shows I’ve discovered this year, the chances to swim… So despite all the negative emotions I’ve experienced this year (and continue to experience), I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the good in my life. // There’s a blog post with all my ramblings via the link in my bio 💜” (x)

Things I Did In Lockdown

Given how stressful I was finding the pandemic and the lockdown, I thought it might be helpful to keep a list of what I’d done (achieved, managed, spent time on – whichever word is most appropriate), whether it took a huge amount of effort or was simply something I’d wanted to do, just to remind myself that I was still doing things, that I was still capable of being productive during such a difficult time. Some of them are silly, some of them important, and some of them are just interesting. And I thought posting it would be a good record of sorts when it comes to looking back at this time.

I don’t consider us to be out of lockdown by posting this. It’s just that now I’m starting a new year at university – the second of my Masters Degree – so my life is going to change. I’m doing all of my classes online, rather than going in for half of the classes as is the current norm at uni; I’d be commuting and the risks still feel too high for just two hours a week. So in terms of leaving the house, not much is changing. But it’s a moment of transition in my life and so it seemed like a natural stopping point for this post. I may continue it as a series, depending on how things play out going forward but for now, this is what I did while in lockdown, from 13th March to 20th September 2020…


  • Watched the entirety of Grey’s Anatomy.
  • Bought a Kalimba.
  • Went down a YouTube rabbit hole of Otomatone covers…

This one and this one are my favourites.

  • Did the Enneagram test.
  • Tried (unsuccessfully) to teach one of my cats to play fetch.
  • Watched all of the Harry Potter films one after the other (more than once…).
  • Continued therapy via Zoom.
  • Released and promoted the ‘Clarity (Academic Remix)‘.
  • Released and promoted the ‘Clarity (Academic Remix)’ Music Video.

  • Wrote a 4000 word, fully researched and referenced essay about authenticity and imagery in ‘All Too Well’ by Taylor Swift for my Masters Degree.
  • Finished the first year of my Masters Degree.
  • Rescued one of my cats (the youngest) when she went missing, stuck up a tree for maybe twenty four hours, with the help of some kind neighbours (all of us masked and socially distanced).
  • Rewatched many of my favourite films and TV shows, including…

Films: Hot Fuzz, The Martian, Miss Congeniality, etc.

TV Shows: Episodes, Lucifer, and Nikita, etc.

  • Wrote and posted fifty three blog posts.
  • Watched Season 15 of Criminal Minds, finishing the show after following it for ten years.
  • Read a lot of Fanfiction…

This is something I did a lot of as a teenager but reverted to during my Masters as a form of stress relief: escaping into another world, a familiar and safe world. My most impressive achievements were reading all of the Ros Myers (Spooks) Fanfiction I could find and reading The Changeling and it’s three sequels (a Harry Potter alternate universe where Ginny is sorted into Slytherin, which totals nearly 600,000 words). Of course, there were more one off stories; these are just my greatest hits.

  • Had multiple movie dates with friends and family.
  • Had multiple Studio Ghibli movie dates with one group of friends.
  • Multiple collaborations via video calling: working on my songs, working with new people, critiquing the songs of friends, and so on.
  • Caught up with Law & Order: SVU.
  • Received a grade I was really happy with for my Musicology essay on Taylor Swift’s song, ‘All Too Well.’
  • Released and promoted ‘Sounds Like Hope.’
  • Rewatched all ten seasons of Friends (multiple times – although mostly as background noise).
  • Played the piano a lot, learning the songs of others and writing my own.
  • Watched all of Little Fires Everywhere in one day.
  • Released and promoted the music video for ‘Sounds Like Hope.’
  • Bought a new cat tree for the cats (they’d practically destroyed the old one), one with beds for all five of them and eventually we caught them all in it at once.

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  • Had multiple panic attacks and meltdowns, some really severe.
  • Watched all of Absentia Season 1 in one day.

  • Watched multiple new films including What Happened To Monday, Isn’t It Romantic, Ocean’s 8, Studio Ghibli’s Castle In The Sky, Fantasy Island, The Half Of It, Official Secrets, The Accountant, and more.
  • Watched multiple new TV shows, including Little Fires Everywhere, Absentia, Broadchurch, Agents of Shield Season 7, The Fix, Lucifer Season 5 (Part 1), Away, and more.
  • Started watching Castle.
  • Made multiple banana breads (and other things, like chocolate chip cookies, but that’s less uncommon).
  • Signed petitions and made donations to various causes in the Black Lives Matter movement and collected a list of resources to educate myself more when I don’t feel so incredibly mentally and emotionally fragile (short pieces, like some of the infographics on Instagram have been really good and digestible but I’ve been struggling to absorb large amounts of new information due to my general mental state, which has included frequent meltdowns and panic attacks, all affecting my concentration and memory).
  • Filled six diaries.
  • Watched many of my favourite movies from childhood, including The Emperor’s New Groove, A Bug’s Life, and all of the Wallace and Gromit shorts and movies.
  • Sorted through my clothes.
  • Sorted through and reorganised my DVDs.
  • Spent A LOT of time with my cats.

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  • Made a significant dent in sorting through all of my possessions.
  • Sorted through my jewellery.
  • Worked on my music theory knowledge during a series of piano lessons.
  • Weaned myself off Pregabalin.
  • Gathered up loads of stuff to donate to charity shops when they reopen/are able to accept donations.
  • Cleared out my box of electronics, technology, cables, etc, only keeping the things I actually use and need.
  • Cleared my eight USB sticks.
  • Celebrated the kittens’ first birthday.

  • Received my new laptop (plus other helpful equipment) from DSA, the process of which has been going on for months, only to find that it wasn’t the right laptop.
  • Watched multiple online/streamed concerts, including ICMP Songwriters’ Circles, Kalie Shorr, Savannah Keyes, Song Suffragettes, Ingrid Andress, and more.

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  • Signed up as a volunteer for the DecodeME research study into CFS/ME.
  • Attended Ingrid Andress’ first livestream show with a meet and greet afterwards, which started at 2am and resulted in me staying up until 5am.
  • Watched all of Absentia Season 2 in one day.
  • Took part in multiple research studies looking at how the pandemic and subsequent lockdown are affecting mental health in general, specific mental health conditions, and Autism. I also participated in studies about experiences with therapy and about living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
  • Received and set up the new laptop from DSA.
  • Loaded up my old Photos library onto the new laptop, only to find three (or more, sometimes up to seven) copies of basically every photo so I started going through and deleting the duplicates (getting the wheel of doom approximately every five seconds). Got down from 85,000 to just under 30,000 and then organised them all into albums, which took about three weeks. It was a mammoth job but it was incredibly satisfying to finish.
  • I applied to be part of the Disability Pride 2020 Livestream, got a place, and saw myself on TV!
  • Managed to go out for a haircut.
  • Planned the ‘Back To Life’ music video, having had to scrap the original plan due to travel restrictions and anxiety.
  • Dyed my hair orange.
  • Dyed my hair red when the orange wasn’t the right colour.
  • Filmed the ‘Back To Life’ music video on the beach with Richard.
  • Watched all of Absentia Season 3 in one day.
  • Was interviewed by a Dutch journalism student about being a new artist during a pandemic.
  • Obsessively listened to and analysed Taylor Swift’s beautiful new album, folklore.
  • Bought a Gretsch electric guitar (for my birthday but early so that I can make use of the time I have before uni starts, in whatever way it starts).
  • Tried to go to the gym but didn’t feel it was safe.
  • Finally saw Hamilton via Disney+.
  • Met up with a friend for a dog walk, meeting her gorgeous new puppy for the first time.
  • After experiencing serious and ongoing pain in both shoulders down to fingers, I had a Zoom appointment with my GP who referred me to an occupational rheumatologist (which would apparently take two to three weeks). And since any medication stronger than Ibuprofen and Paracetamol will cause side effects similar to those of my anti-depressants, she’s reluctant to prescribe anything stronger unless absolutely necessary.
  • Finished Liar Series 2.
  • Updated my photo albums, after getting eighteen months behind.
  • Got up to date with Agents of Shield Season 7 so that I could watch and celebrate the finale of the season and the show itself with the show’s cast, crew, and fandom on social media.
  • Watched the Perseid meteor shower and saw a handful of ‘proper’ shooting stars.
  • Suffered severe electric shock like pain in my lower legs, requiring more doctors appointments. The information was added to my rheumatology referral and I started taking stronger painkillers.
  • Watched Hamilton with some of my family who’d seen it live and loved it but not seen the film.
  • Watched the finale of Agents of Shield, not just of Season 7 but of the whole show, and cried my eyes out, although sometimes I was laughing at the same time. I loved it and thought it was a really beautiful end to such a fantastic show. I’ll miss it more than I can say but I’m so grateful to have had it, to have had Daisy Johnson, and I’ll always carry with me what it’s meant to me.

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  • Released and promoted ‘Back To Life.’
  • Did an interview with Vents Magazine.
  • Went on several dog walks with my friend and her puppy.
  • Contributed to #DaisyJohnsonAppreciationWeek2020 and #QuakeWeek on social media, posting edits on Tumblr and Twitter.
  • Did an interview with Middle Tennessee Music.
  • Filmed the Behind The Video for the ‘Back To Life’ music video.
  • Went through my clothes a second time (sorting through my possessions, especially when I have an emotion connection to them gives me decision fatigue and I stop being able to make objective decisions – there was a lot to go through the first time).
  • Did an interview with Zap Bang Magazine.
  • Made the decision to do the next semester of my Masters Degree 100% online.
  • Bought Bon Iver tickets for November 2021 – here’s hoping it’ll be possible to go!
  • Put together the ‘Back To Life’ music video with Richard.
  • Released and promoted the ‘Back To Life’ Music Video

  • Kept a two week photo diary for the CFS/ME research study.
  • Finally captured the motivation to start learning the Kalimba only to find out there was a problem with the one I’d bought so I have to sort that out before I can really start learning to play it.
  • Went through a traumatic few weeks worried that there was something seriously wrong with one of my cats but after multiple vet visits and lots of tests, she’s been given a clean bill of health.
  • Attended the (online) Induction event for the new year at university.
  • Acted as a guinea pig for one of my tutors as he fine-tuned a couple of things for the upcoming online classes.
  • Was given a signed copy of folklore by Taylor Swift as an early birthday present.
  • Signed up for a home recording course.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to look back on this time positively (from a personal perspective – in the wider sense, it’s clearly been catastrophic) but there have been moments and experiences that I am grateful to have had. As I’ve said, I don’t consider lockdown to be over so this post may become a series but with my Masters to focus on, I will have significantly less time to dedicate to bigger projects like organising my photos or sorting through my possessions. So lockdown continues; I’m just entering the next chapter.

The Empty Semester of My Masters – The Other Side

Back in June, I made a post about what had been my plans for the empty semester of my Masters and how I’d adjusted those plans according to the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. I was still hopeful that I could get a lot done in the time before my next semester started but the pandemic had a massive effect on my mental health and therefore my productivity so it took me a long time to gather myself enough to do anything even vaguely productive. So while, in pre-pandemic times, this list of completed goals probably would’ve felt disappointing, I’m trying to shed those expectations and be proud of what I’ve achieved considering the current circumstances.


MANAGED TO DO:

  • Sort through my clothes – I actually did this twice because I know that I get decision fatigue and end up keeping things that I don’t want because that’s the easier option. So I did a second sort through, reducing my wardrobe further. There’s still more than I’d like to get rid of but I feel like I made a serious dent in what felt like a pretty overwhelming situation.
  • Watched some of the things on my To Watch list – For a while, I only felt able to watch familiar things because it didn’t feel like there was the space in my brain for new stories or characters but eventually a few things started to catch my eye and it turned into a really good method of escaping all my anxiety about the current situation. I’ve also been watching quite different things, which has been fun. Plus, it’s a great source of inspiration while not much is happening in my personal life.
  • Improve my piano skills – I’ve spent a lot of time playing piano during this unstructured time and not only has it been really fun, I have actually improved. For a long time, I couldn’t hear or see any improvement but recently, I’ve been able to do things or pick up things much quicker and much more easily and that’s really exciting, even if there is still so much more to learn. To be fair, it’s not like that isn’t a universal fact.
  • Music Theory lessons – These didn’t even up happening the way I thought they would but I’ve spent some solid time working on my theory in the hope that it will make the upcoming Musical Language module less stressful and more fun.
  • Shot a music video – Despite the current circumstances, somehow Richard Sanderson and I managed to come up with a safe way to make a music video for ‘Back To Life‘ (from concept, to planning, to execution). It was actually fun, despite the high levels of anxiety I was experiencing. I hadn’t thought we’d be able to do it but somehow we did and I’m really proud of the result.
  • Get caught up with my photo albums – Despite the death of my computer, setting up a new one, reorganising my entire photo library, setting up the albums on the computer, and choosing photos for the eighteen months I was behind by, I somehow managed to get my photo albums up to date. It was a massive job, a much bigger one than I’d anticipated, so to have done it feels like a really big achievement, especially given how long I’ve been wanting to do it.
  • Start coming up with ideas for my Masters final project – As I said in the original post, the project isn’t for several months still but I wanted time to find a concept I could really engage with. I’ve jotted down a list of potential ideas (which I do have to find as it’s apparently wandered off…) and spoken to one of my tutors about it. He was really enthusiastic about the ones I mentioned so I feel like I’m off to a good start.
  • See a meteor shower – Me and my Mum drove out of the city and lay in a field to watch the Perseids meteor shower in August. It wasn’t the best meteor shower I’ve ever seen but we saw a handful of fairly decent shooting stars and it was a really clear night so just looking up at all the stars was a beautiful, pretty profound experience.
  • Catch up with my friends – Obviously when I set this goal, I’d imagined hanging out at people’s houses, movies nights, going to the beach, and so on. But then the pandemic happened (or more specifically, began…) and none of that was possible. Considering the amount of anxiety I’ve been dealing with, I think I’ve done an okay job of staying in touch with my friends, doing video calls and Netflix parties. Since the restrictions have eased a bit, I’ve seen a couple of friends too (socially distanced, of course), which has been really nice since I do find the constant communicating via screens exhausting.
  • Write new songs/work on old songs – I haven’t been as productive as I would’ve liked to be during this period but then my creativity is always negatively affected when I’m struggling with my mental health. But I’m trying to remember that I’ve done the best I can. At no point did I give up (beyond taking a break to avoid unnecessary distress) and when I couldn’t directly write songs, I worked on surrounding areas, like production or chord progressions and so on.
  • Have as many cowriting sessions as possible – I’d planned to do as many cowrites as possible, with as many people as possible, and while writing sessions have been possible via platforms like Zoom, I must admit I find it much more difficult to be creative and collaborative when I’m not in the same room as my cowriter. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible and I’m pleased with what I have managed to do but doing it this way has meant that I haven’t done nearly as many sessions as I’d hoped, especially as I have found Zoom sessions with less than familiar people harder to do than spending time with less than familiar people. If that makes sense.

IN PROCESS:

  • Catch up with my diary – I’d really hoped to have caught up with the diary I was behind on and then aborted when lockdown began, wanting to document this surreal experience in real time. I’ve been trying to catch up alongside everything else but I’m still behind and with everything going on at the moment, I’m behind in the current diary too. So when I start university again, I’m going to be trying to write three diaries at once, which feels very stressful. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about that but I’m going to have to figure it out because, if I haven’t said it before, OCD’s a bitch.
  • Update my songwriting book – Initially I made quite a lot of progress, writing up a decent amount of my more recent songs, but then I realised that I’d somehow left out a significant number of songs. That was very frustrating. And since then, I haven’t been quite sure what to do. I hate the idea of having them out of order but I’m also reluctant to add to my workload by making the decision
  • Sort out my bedroom – I’ve made a lot of progress over the last several months and it looks and feels so much better but I’ve been waiting for a couple of sets of shelves to arrive to help me better organise all the ‘loose ends’ of my stuff, if that makes sense. There’s just still a lot of bits and pieces around that don’t have their own space. I think that, once that happens and once all those things are a bit more organised, I’ll feel like most of the work is done. I’m looking forward to that.
  • Create my studio space – Again, I’ve made a start. I don’t have all the equipment I’d ideally want. For example, I wish I had some better speakers. But I’ve set up the equipment I do have, although it’s still a bit trial and error when it comes to the most effective set up. I’m still not super confident when it comes to all of this but I’m learning all the time. So we’re getting there, step by step.

COULDN’T DO:

  • Mental Health Awareness assemblies – Obviously these didn’t happen as the schools were closed when Mental Health Awareness Week was happening.
  • See Waitress The Musical again – This wasn’t possible as the show’s run closed during lockdown. I think it’s so sad that they didn’t get the finish. The show closed after Sara Bareilles’ last show so she and Gavin Creel (who played the male lead) had their closure but I’m sure Lucie Jones and David Hunter were really looking forward to coming back. Plus the rest of the cast must’ve been sad to see the show end with so little warning. They’d earned the chance to celebrate the incredible show they put on and the amazing run they had and it’s heartbreaking that they haven’t been able to do that.
  • Concerts – Concerts are only continuing to be rescheduled and even though some socially distanced shows are happening, I’m not at all convinced that it’s safe yet. I miss them so much but I can’t imagine feeling safe in that sort of environment for a really long time.
  • London gigs – Again, I’ve had a couple of booked gigs rescheduled multiple times but then it’s so hard to make concrete plans when we have no idea what the even near future holds. So I’m just trying to take things as they come, make responsible decisions, and not worry too much.
  • Get back to swimming regularly – Obviously for a long time the gyms were closed. When they opened up again, I went to see what their precautions were like but I really didn’t feel safe. The gym have been great about trying to make it easier for me to access their facilities as a disabled person but I’m still not completely convinced. We’re continuing to try to make swimming a possibility and maybe now that so many people are back in school, there will be more periods with less people. We’ll keep trying. I really miss it.
  • Improve my guitar skills – As I’ve already said, it took a long time for me to manage anything beyond staring at the TV in a perpetual state of panic and then, just as I started to feel capable of doing things, I developed awful pain in my arms, from my shoulders to my fingertips. Sometimes it was sharp, shooting pains, sometimes it was a deep ache, and sometimes I’d wake up to find my fingers completely numb. That’s been going on for most of this ‘semester,’ although it has started to improve recently. I still have a specialist doctors appointment at some point to assess the problem so hopefully I’ll be back to playing guitar soon.
  • Read some books from my To Read List – My ongoing anxiety has done a number on my concentration, particularly when it comes to reading. I’ll try to read a book, only to realise that I’ve read several pages and have no memory of what they said. I miss it and I am worried about what will happen when I get back to uni work but that’s the situation as it is at the moment. I’m talking to my Psychiatrist about it at my next appointment.
  • EP Gig – Since my timeline for the Honest EP has been pretty flexible, I wasn’t sure when the last single would be released and when therefore when we’d have the gig to celebrate the EP’s completion. As it’s turned out, the final single isn’t out yet so that’s not something I would’ve had to worry about, even if we had been able to put on events.
  • Start learning the Kalimba – Just as I’d managed to wrestle my motivation towards the Kalimba, I discovered that there was a problem with the one I’d bought and so won’t be able to start learning it before university starts again but I do still really want to learn. So I’m just going to have to reschedule that to a later date.

DIDN’T MANAGE TO DO:

  • Create a space to make YouTube content – This wasn’t hugely high on my list of priorities so it doesn’t surprise me that it’s one of the things to fall by the wayside. Plus, I haven’t completely finished the practical elements of my room so I think it’s something I can pursue without too much difficulty once that’s done.
  • Take some classes on Skillshare – I’ve struggled with my concentration throughout lockdown but most especially when trying to do things that involve absorbing new material so I didn’t manage to do much extra curricular learning. I managed a few TED Talks and read articles but I haven’t managed any in depth study like taking classes on Skillshare.

So, as I said at the beginning of the post, I’ve been trying to realign my expectations as to what has been possible during this time, based on the lockdown restrictions and my fluctuating mental state. With everything so uncertain, it was impossible to know what I’d achieve. Looking at this list now, I’m proud of myself. For the most part. And in the moments when I feel frustrated or disappointed, I acknowledge those feelings, let them have their space, and then try and let them go. I don’t always succeed but I try. Because, given everything going on, I think what I managed to do – especially looking back at how I was (or wasn’t) functioning at the beginning of lockdown – is something to be proud of. And when I can’t feel proud, I practice proud.

Now, on to the next semester.