Posted on February 9, 2021
It’s been just over a year without our beloved Lucky. I’ve thought about this post for a long time, about whether to post it a year after he was put to sleep but I decided that I’d rather post on his birthday. As of today, he would’ve been seventeen years old. We had to have him put to sleep roughly a week before his sixteenth birthday, a long life for a Labrador, especially one with several long-term health problems. I wish he was still with us but he was ready to go. I’ve heard people say that before and thought I knew what it meant, but I only truly understood it the night we had to make that choice. He was just ready, even if we weren’t.
I still miss him. I still miss him greatly, as I know the rest of my family does. He was one of those dogs that even dog-ambivalent and dog-disliking people fell in love with. He was so sweet and gentle and obliging. And he just loved everybody he met; you couldn’t help but fall in love with him in return. He became a bit of a legend within our circle of family, friends, acquaintances, and further; there are connections in our lives that are entirely a result of Lucky inviting himself, and therefore us, into their lives.
There’s so much I miss about him, so much I think about when I think of him. It hurts but it also makes me smile because he always, always made me smile. He was a dog of simple pleasures. Affection, food, a good walk, and a good snooze was all he needed in life. But he certainly had his quirks (just like the rest of the family). As a puppy, he ate everything he could get a hold of, from bananas to the radio remote; he once turned the gas oven on in an attempt to reach a cake on the sideboard – that could’ve ended disastrously… He loved meeting new people but always seemed somewhat confused about what he was supposed to do when he met other dogs. He spent a lot of time sleeping on his back with his legs in the air. He got upset and left the room when people on TV got emotional, let alone people in real life.
Some days, it still doesn’t feel entirely real. I’ll still look for him when I pass ‘his’ spots and expect to see him there. I’ll still tiptoe when I get up at night to make sure I don’t disturb him. I still expect him to greet me at the front door when I get home. And then it hits me all over again. There’s a hole where he should be and I feel it every day.
But as much as I miss him, I am – in a way – grateful that he hasn’t had to cope with the pandemic. He obviously wouldn’t have understood the pandemic itself but he was so sensitive and he definitely would have sensed our anxiety – certainly my almost constant panic. It would’ve been so distressing for him; I would’ve hated for him to go through that. And given his age and all of his health issues, chances are that we might’ve had to have him put to sleep during one of the lockdowns and the only thing worse than having him put to sleep would’ve been having to do so without being allowed to be there with him. That would’ve been unbearable. So, as awful as it was, I know that it could’ve been worse. That doesn’t make me miss him any less but it does give me a sense of… something… that I don’t think I could’ve had otherwise.
So, here we are, just over a year without our lovely Lucky. It’s hard and it hurts but I wouldn’t have given up that time with Lucky for anything. And to be the ultimate cheeseball, he might’ve been called ‘Lucky,’ but we were definitely the lucky ones.
Posted on December 31, 2020
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 ‘Invisible‘ music 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…
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.
“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)
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Posted on December 24, 2020
As per tradition, here I am posting a list of things I’m grateful for on Christmas Eve. This year has obviously been very different to previous years and I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all had days where we’ve felt scared and angry and probably every negative emotion under the sun, making it difficult to feel grateful, but then it’s also reminded us of how many things we do have to be grateful for. There are many more things that could go on this list, but I’ll try to keep it as concise as I can. Otherwise, we’ll probably be here until next Christmas.
Family – I could not be more grateful for my family. I love them so much. So, so much. They do so much for me and all I want to do is make them proud. But this year, I’m especially grateful for their health and grateful to them for their care and caution during this time, for how sensible everybody has been despite how much we all want to be together. It’s been so hard not seeing so many of my extended (and even close) family members face to face for such a long time and I’m truly and deeply looking forward to seeing them all (and hugging the crap out of them) when it’s safe enough to do so.
Mum – Oh my god, my Mum. I love her so much. She is just incredible. This hellscape of a year has been so hard for me (as it has been for so many but in my case, it hammers right on my biggest autistic difficulties: uncertainty and anxiety) but she’d been completely solid throughout, always there for me when I needed her. She’s made this so much easier on me than it could’ve been and I’m so grateful for that. She’s handled everything with such grace; I’m truly in awe. I only hope that one day I will be as strong and capable as her. I’m probably going to have some separation issues whenever the world starts to function in a way that we’re more used to (I mean, we’ve been together almost 24/7 since March when I was usually in London a couple of days a week and she was in and out all day, out for full days, or even away for several days, etc so I’m very used to having her around and she’s become a bit of a touchstone when it comes to my anxiety) but I’m not going to think about that yet. It seems there’ll be plenty of time before that’s going to happen.
Friends – I am so grateful for my friends; I always am but I’m especially grateful this year. I have moments of being terrible at staying in contact and periods of being better (something that’s largely dependent on my mental health) but considering everything this year, I don’t think I’ve done too badly. I’ve been talking to and spending time with different friends in different ways: calling, messaging, video-chatting, watching movies together, a few socially distanced meet ups, etc. I’m really happy we’ve been able to stay in touch even if I do desperately miss spending time with them. They’ve been a real tether to ‘normal’ life and I’m more grateful for that than I can say. This year has also taught me (both as a result of the pandemic and not) what I need in my friendships (not that that’s all that matters but if neither of you are getting what you need most of the time, how are you supposed to make a friendship work?) and I really value that. It doesn’t automatically change anything but I think that knowing what is good for me in a friendship and what isn’t is really important and will only be helpful in the long run.
(There are a handful of people I wish I could include in this collage but don’t have pictures with, from this year anyway.)
Richard – I mean, where do I start? Generally, I’m of the opinion that the universe is completely random but something awesome happened that day six and a half years ago when I sat down next to him on our first day at university. I had no idea that I was meeting one of my best friends, most trusted collaborator, and creative partner. The Honest EP never would’ve happened without him. We worked on every aspect together and I can’t wait for whatever our next project turns out to be. This year has obviously been about as different as we could’ve ever imagined but he’s gone through every high and low with me and I couldn’t be more grateful. I’m so glad that we’ve been able to continue releasing the Honest EP and that we’ve been able to write together despite the pandemic, even if writing remotely isn’t as fun as writing face to face. I’ve missed just hanging out with him, with our friends, and actually doing things that don’t require a screen but I’m so grateful for what we’ve had and what we’ve been able to do despite the difficult circumstances. I don’t feel like I’m saying all of this as eloquently as I’d like to but what I’m trying to say is that I’m beyond grateful for Richard. I don’t know how I got so lucky with such an amazing friend.
All of the years I had with Lucky – January feels a bit like a lifetime ago; I can’t believe it’s only been eleven months since we said goodbye to our precious Lucky. It was one of the most painful experiences of my life but he was ready. I know people say that but you only had to look at him to know that it was the truth. But despite the pain and sadness of that twenty four hours (and obviously since), we had an amazing almost sixteen years with him. From meeting him when he was a few days old, to bringing him home, to teaching him to sit, to the hours we spent playing with him, to sneaking him onto the sofa with me when no one was home, to various people ‘sneaking’ him onto the sofa whenever everyone was in the room, to running around on the beach together, to watch him throw himself into hydrotherapy with such enthusiasm, to lying on the rug in front of the fire together… every second with him was a wonderful gift that I will forever be grateful for.
And while I will always wish to have had more time with him, I’m glad that he didn’t have to manage the pandemic and all the stress surrounding it. He was such a sensitive dog, especially in his old age, and I think it would’ve been really distressing for him. Saying goodbye to him was devastating enough as it was; I know that having him put down during lockdown would’ve been so much worse, especially as it’s likely that we wouldn’t have all been able to be there with him.
My cats – The family of cats have been a bit of a lifesaver to be honest. Early on in the pandemic, their complete obliviousness to the chaos in the world was very calming: they just continued with their lives and there was something very soothing about that. And just throughout the pandemic, the cuteness and silliness and playfulness have been a wonderful distraction or comfort on the more difficult days. On the whole, they’ve all become very snuggly with only me and my Mum around (they absolutely freaked out when they saw a new person for the first time in months) and now, nine months into the pandemic, I rarely go a day without having had at least two cats draped over me at some point. It’s all very cute and very much appreciated. I’m also really, really grateful for their health. I’m always aware of that but with Lucy having a health scare that resulted in two surgeries earlier in the year, I feel particularly grateful that all five of them are well and healthy.
FaceTime, Zoom, Netflix Party, etc – I’m so grateful for the platforms that existed and have come to exist to help us connect with our friends and family (and continue with university) during this time. Yes, I’m sick of only seeing people via screens and I’m even more sick of my eyes always ending up on my own face and, as an autistic person, communicating feels ten times harder but I’m still so glad that we have them so that we can see and talk to and spend time with our friends and family. It’s not enough but it’s better than nothing and I’ll gratefully accept whatever way of connecting I can get.
TV and Film Streaming Services, eg. Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc – Having access to so much media to consume was a great way to escape everything at the beginning of the pandemic and throughout the first UK lockdown. I discovered some really awesome TV shows and movies (about which I’m going to post later this week). It was escapism, but it also kept my brain creative (filling it with stories and characters and ideas) even if I wasn’t able to express it for a long time. And now that I’m writing again, I have so many ideas and stories to tell.
Fanfiction – I mentioned Fanfiction in my Lockdown Favourites post and it’s definitely been one of the things that has helped me throughout the pandemic and lockdowns, especially early on when I was just paralyzed with anxiety. I’ve really struggled with reading during the pandemic; I just haven’t been able to concentrate enough to get into a novel, like there isn’t enough space in my brain for new characters, new worlds, and new storylines. But reading stories set in familiar worlds with characters that I love (Stargate SG-1, Sanctuary, Harry Potter, etc) feels much easier and really comforting, especially when my mental health is shaky. I’ve always found it to be a good form of relaxation and escapism; maybe one day I’ll post my absolute favourites because they’re just so good, so well written and quite possibly better than the originals. I do want to give a particular shout out to Annerb who has been my staple writer this year; I discovered her through her Stargate SG-1 stories and then fell in love with her Harry Potter epic, The Changeling, where Ginny is sorted into Slytherin. I’ve reread that particular story so many times. It’s absolutely incredible: she’s filled out the world of Harry Potter so beautifully, creating real depth to the different houses and characters, both canon and original. I mean, I could talk about it forever. It’s so freaking good.
My piano – My piano and I have been good friends this year, especially since the pandemic began. Between the nerve pain in my left hand that’s made guitar playing all but impossible and the soothing lower octaves of the piano, I spent more time at my piano this year than I probably ever have before. Between the calming sound and the concentration blocking out my anxiety, it’s been one of my favourite things to do. I’ve played so many songs and written quite a few too and it’s another of the things that have kept me going through the pandemic.
The music that got me through this year – I mentioned several songs in my 2020 in Songs post but those were my absolute favourite songs of the year. There were so many more songs and so many more albums that inspired me and encouraged me and helped me to cope with all of my emotions this year and I’m so grateful to every artist that gave me that gift. I’m going to write about a couple specifically but I also want to mention Sara Bareilles (both for seeing her in Waitress several times and for her new music), Halsey, Kelsea Ballerini, and Maren Morris for their various contributions throughout the year that made things just a little easier. I hope I’m not forgetting anyone but if I discover that I have, I’ll come back and add them.
Kalie Shorr – I am so grateful that I walked into that Tin Pan South/Song Suffragettes show in 2016 and saw Kalie play. There were so many shows I could’ve gone to and yet, somehow I ended up at that one and it has had such a big impact on my life. I mean, I wouldn’t have gotten to play at a Song Suffragettes show if I hadn’t gone to that show. But my point here is that I heard Kalie’s music for the first time that night and since then, she’s released the Slingshot EP, the Awake EP, her debut album, Open Book, and Open Book: Unabridged, a reissue of the album with four additional songs. Her artistry and songwriting got better with every project but each one still holds a special place in my heart. I love her music and I learn so much from her as a songwriter. She is one of my biggest musical inspirations and I hope that, at some point, I will develop as distinctive a voice as a songwriter and artist as Kalie has. So I guess that’s why I’m grateful for her in general but I’m also especially grateful for all she’s been doing this year. Throughout the pandemic, she’s done so many livestreams on various platforms, which has been really awesome. We’ve gotten interesting and funny stories, acoustic songs, previously unheard songs… it’s been great. And while I’m obviously still enjoying them, they were particularly important to me during the early days of the pandemic when my mental health was really bad; they really helped me keep going. She’s also been part of various other musical projects, puts out a podcast, is consistently hilarious on Twitter, and released the previously mentioned Open Book: Unabridged. I’d hoped to see her this year on my trip to Nashville but then said trip was cancelled by the pandemic. I’ve met her a handful of times and she’s so lovely. I wish I lived in Nashville; then at least there’d be a chance of us being friends and writing together. I’d love that. I admit that my insecurities do sometimes get the better of me and I struggle with, I guess, comparison anxiety (how well she’s doing vs. how I’m doing) just because I want to have a career in music so badly and have so many fears over why it won’t happen, but I’m still endlessly grateful for her and everything she does. Her music has changed my life for the better in so many ways and I appreciate that more than I can say.
Taylor Swift – Despite remaining largely out of sight during the pandemic, Taylor had a massive year and by extension of that, a massive impact on my year. Her documentary, Miss Americana, came out in January, of course, which was incredible; it felt like a great honour to be let into her life like that, especially during the moments that were really difficult and personal. She also released the City of Lover Concert on Disney+, which was really cool (although it was sad that her pre-Lover songs couldn’t be included); I’d so desperately wanted to go (especially since it was so close, considering that Taylor’s a US artist) but it was just too big a risk with my health and my finances as they were. So I’m really grateful that I got to see it in some form. Even though we got folklore and evermore out of the lockdown, I still want to mention the cancellation of Lover Fest. Even though it wasn’t unexpected, I was absolutely gutted; that and my Nashville trip were the top two most painful cancellations of the pandemic. I was so looking forward to it – the times I’ve seen Taylor live have been some of the bright spots over the last five or so really difficult years – and to have that ripped away was really hard (in a parallel year that I’ve daydreamed up, it still happened and it was glorious). But then we got folklore, folklore: the long pond studio sessions on Disney+, AND evermore, all in the space of about six months. I don’t know about anyone else but my head is still spinning. folklore and evermore are both incredible albums (I’m currently writing blog posts about them because I love them so much) with so many amazing songs that I’ve completely fallen in love with. They’ve also been hugely inspiring for me as a songwriter, which the long pond studio sessions only added to when Taylor talked about the songs from folklore and the processes behind the writing of them. She has just been a very inspirational figure for me this year (she always is but, again, this year has been a real example of that): as a songwriter and general creative person, handling the ongoing situation around her Masters with so much grace, speaking out during the US election and giving the Democrats her song, ‘Only The Young,’ to use in their campaign, being a really good example around safety during the pandemic… I’m so grateful for all she does, for how inspiring she is, for how much she CARES. I’m grateful to have her to look up to. I’m still hoping that I’ll get the opportunity to tell her that one day.
Agents of Shield – I was gutted to hear that this year’s season was going to be the last but damn, do they know how to go out with a bang. I wasn’t convinced about the time travelling element at first but I ended up really getting into it and I loved how, even though they stopped the Chronicoms each time, time still changed and they ended up in a drastically different present. Every episode was really, really good and a few of them were standouts of the entire show (7×09 – I’m just saying…). I loved the stories, I loved the development of the characters, and I loved the ending. It was perfect. I was sobbing throughout the last few episodes because it was so powerful and emotional. Daisy Johnson is my hero. I will love her forever. I will love this show forever. I’m so grateful to have discovered it, to have had it in my life, and to move forward with everything the show gave me. There may be no new episodes but that doesn’t mean it’s over; the impact it had on so many people will never be over.
The new swimming pool we found – Late in the summer, we found a swimming pool that was really strict about their safety guidelines and having not felt safe at my previous pool, I was so appreciative of that and so excited to get to swim again. It wasn’t as often as I would’ve liked but anything was better than nothing after months of not having access to a pool or not feeling like it was safe to be at a pool. It just felt so great to get proper exercise and really use my muscles again after not being able to since before the pandemic. I love this pool, especially when they turn the main lights off and the room is just lit by the underwater lights; it’s so soothing and just a really good atmosphere to exercise in. I always feel so good afterwards.
The benefits I receive – I am so unbelievably grateful for the benefits I get, more grateful than I can truly express. As a disabled person who struggles physically and mentally, I’m constantly worrying about money because my health is so unreliable and therefore steady work or a steady work flow can be really difficult or even, at times, impossible. So the financial support has been amazing and so important for my mental health, especially during this year of constant uncertainty.
The (medical) progress I’ve made despite the pandemic – Despite everything moving slowly due the pandemic (my rheumatology referral, for example, took about nine months), we’ve learned a lot about my body and my brain this year and we’re in the process of exploring the options, the avenues we have to choose from. I made medication changes, we chased more options for helping my CFS, was tested for a Vitamin D deficiency and given a high dose supplement to bring my levels up again, I was diagnosed with hypermobility, I finally had the rheumatology appointment and have been referred on to a handful of different departments. I’ve had a MRI, I’m due to have an ECG, and will hopefully start hydrotherapy as soon as it’s available, although I’ve already started doing the basic exercises I was given. And we’ll see what the other departments say. Oh, and I have another mental health evaluation coming up soon, which may give me some more information so, despite everything, we have made progress and progress that is hopefully leading to more progress. As hard as it can be day-to-day, I’m really pleased about that.
The result of the US Election – I mean, this one is pretty obvious. I was so terrified that Trump was going to get in and it was so scary to have no say or way to help. The days of waiting for the final result were agonizing and when I found out that Biden had won, I actually cried. No, he’s not perfect but he’s far, far better than Trump and I’m so grateful, in this regard at least, to finally have some hope rather than fear and horror and frustration.
My tutors – Of the two semesters I had this year, all of my tutors have been so, so good. And not just in the ‘being good teachers’ sense (you’d hope that was a given at Masters level) but they’ve all been so fantastic about working WITH me to make sure the classes and workload and assessments were as manageable as possible for me with my difficulties. They’ve been so open and supportive and they’ve made the semesters so much much easier; I mean, the work was still hard (but then it’s a Masters Degree so the work is supposed to be hard) but there wasn’t that unnecessary stress that there has been before. I’m still anxious about my grades but that’s practically a personality trait. Anyway, they’ve been absolutely wonderful and I so appreciate it.
The experience of the Honest EP – The first track of the EP, ‘Bad Night,’ came out in 2019 but the other four came out this year, including accompanying music videos and additional content like remixes and behind the scenes for the songs and videos. Making and releasing and promoting all of that was often really stressful but so much of it was really fun too. The beginning of the year was really fun: releasing ‘Clarity‘ and see it do better than ‘Bad Night,’ doing several really fun gigs with really lovely people (there was a really awesome moment where everyone was waving their phones with the flashlights on and another where everyone got really into the song, dancing and even singing along despite it being the song’s first outing), playing my university’s songwriters’ circle, a weird and wonderful studio day… and then the pandemic hit. My mental health took a real dive but things kept moving. I released a remix of ‘Clarity’ with an accompanying music video, which was definitely a new experience. Then I released ‘Sounds Like Hope‘ along with the gorgeous music video animated by Lois de Silva. I saw myself on TV when the music video for my debut single, ‘Invisible,’ was played as part of Brighton’s virtual Disability Pride Festival. Richard and I managed to film and edit the music video for ‘Back To Life‘ (during a period when it was safe to do so – we were very careful about that) in time for the planned release of the song. Even though shooting that video was super stressful, I was still able to have fun: it’s such an upbeat song that it was really fun to prance around to and even though the sea was freezing and the pebbles were painful to stand on, messing around in the shallows was actually kind of joyful. So the song and video came out and then, at the end of October, the fifth and final track, ‘Honest,’ came out, which was really exciting. It did really well and Richard and I celebrated the day with a dance party and a shot (I can’t speak for Richard but I’m a lightweight). It was a really fun day. We put together a music video for it, using clips from this whole bizarre journey; it felt very fitting for a song called ‘Honest.’ And as of this moment, the EP has surpassed 35,000 streams on Spotify, which I’m both really proud of and really grateful for, grateful to everyone who took the time to listen to these little songs that I wrote. There have been so many beautiful moments during this journey and it’s not even over yet; there’s still more to do and more to come. It’s been incredibly stressful but I’ve never felt so strongly that I’m in the right place as when I’ve been working on this project and performing these songs. I’m so grateful to and for all of the wonderful people who’ve worked on this project with and supported me through it, especially Richard and Mum. I couldn’t’ve done this without them. I’ve learned so much and gained more than I could’ve imagined (not financially unfortunately but in so many other ways). This project has changed my life and I’m beyond grateful.
The ‘little’ things – There were just a handful of things that I wanted to mention that there wasn’t really enough to say about for each of them to have their own bullet point but I didn’t want to leave out: my neighbour rescuing my cat when she got stuck up a tree even though he later told us he was afraid of heights; my brother doing a gorgeous job on creating a brand new leg for one of the china horses I got from my Dad (we think it got broken when we moved house); my therapist; the new cat tree and how adorable it is when all of the cats curl up on it at once; Tin Pan South still going ahead, if virtually rather than physically; the concerts I got to go to pre-pandemic; being able to dye my hair at home… I’m sure there are more but these are the ones that are coming to mind as I write this. Again, if I remember any others, I’ll come back and add them to the list.
So there you have it. This ended up a whole lot longer than I meant it to be but I think I am just really grateful. This year has been horrible in so many ways but it’s just made it really clear to me how good the good things are. And, as always, there have been some unexpected surprises along the way, things I never could’ve seen coming. I’m sure there are more things I could add but I’m gonna stop and go and do my Christmas wrapping. I hope you all have the best Christmas possible under these weird, hard circumstances. I hope you feel the things you need to feel and do things that make you feel good. Life is hard right now and no one should have to pretend otherwise. So I hope you’re looking after yourselves and I’m sending you big, virtual hugs.
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Hi! I’m Lauren Alex Hooper. Welcome to my little blog! I write about living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD (Inattentive Type), and Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), as well as several mental health issues.
I’m a singer-songwriter (it’s my biggest special interest and I have both a BA and MA in songwriting) so I’ll probably write a bit about that too.
My first single, ‘Invisible,’ is on all platforms, with all proceeds going to Young Minds.
My debut EP, Honest, is available on all platforms, with a limited physical run at Resident Music in Brighton.
I’m currently working on an album about my experiences as an autistic woman.