A Week In My Life (March 2021)

I love a good week-in-my-life post and I try to do one every semester or so, since that does tend to shake my life up. Now, the semester is coming to a close and the assessments are in sight so I’m busy with uni work, with cowrites, and with health stuff. There’s a lot to juggle right now.

The week in this post begins on Monday 15th March and ends on Sunday 21st March 2021. I’d thought I’d have this up on the blog earlier than this but when I was writing it, I wasn’t thinking about the timing and then there was Autism Awareness Week to post for. But here we are, just a bit later than planned.


MONDAY

I struggled to wake up with my alarm. My sleep isn’t great at the moment and my alarms really aren’t doing their job. Most of the time I’m sleeping through them completely, which isn’t exactly ideal.

For a moment, I forgot that it had been the Grammys the night before and then suddenly it came rushing back. I went online and found out who won what. I’m sad Ingrid Andress didn’t win any of the three she was nominated for, but I am glad that The Highwomen (Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, and Maren Morris) won Best Country Song, although Maren Morris won’t get a Grammy since she wasn’t a writer on the song. And then there’s Taylor Swift. I’m so, so happy that she won Album of the Year for folklore. I think she deserved more than just the one award – I mean, how did she not win Best Pop Duo/Group Performance with ‘exile featuring bon iver’?! – but I do also think it’s a good thing when there’s no one person that walks away with five or six, meaning more artists/songwriters/producers/etc are being recognised for their work (I’m not saying the Grammys are fair – we know they’re problematic – but this is one aspect that makes them fairer).

I’m so happy for her, especially after everything she’s had to deal with with her masters and still working through the fall out of everything that happened/came to a head in 2016. And I know I’m biased but it’s pretty widely acknowledged what a big deal folklore was (and is); it was absolutely the album of 2020.

I was so busy catching up with the Grammys news that I was late for my online Occupational Therapy session. Fortunately my OT therapist understands my passion for music so she didn’t mind. We ran through my exercises and she wants me to do them for a little bit longer before moving on to a new set of exercises. Having fallen down the stairs at the weekend, she warned me to take things gently – to take a bit longer if that felt safer and more comfortable – and said that an injury, even to an unconnected area, could cause a general flare up of pain. So hurray for that. Everything hurt from the fall but I figured that that was due to the actual impact (well, multiple impacts) rather than anything chronic pain related. I haven’t been dealing with this – chronic pain – long enough to be able to predict stuff like flare ups. So we’ll just have to see things go.

And then we were done. The sessions are always exhausting, even if I’m not being asked to do much. So, before I could fall asleep on the sofa (it would not be the first time), I got up and recorded the new vocals for the song I was presenting in class the next day, ‘Last One Standing.’ I really love this song so I was really nervous to hear people’s feedback; I really wanted them to like it.

I finished that and, as predicted, I fell asleep on the sofa for a couple of hours.

I had a gentle rest of the day, doing various admin tasks before starting The One on Netflix. I was craving something new. I got into it really quickly, which was great – exactly what I wanted. I only stopped when 9pm rolled around and it was time for Unforgotten, a show my whole family has loved since it began airing. We all just love Nicola Walker and I particularly love her as Cassie Stuart. Having said that, I’m struggling with this series. I think the case they’re working is super interesting – maybe the most interesting one they’ve tackled – but with Cassie feeling so trapped and angry, it’s not as enjoyable as it has been in the past so I really that hope they’re heading towards a solution that brings some of her warmth back. (It’s safe to say that I wrote this before we saw the series finale.)


TUESDAY

I was really stressing before class (we’re heading towards the assessment and I always get so anxious that I’m not doing enough) and somewhat frantically messaging with my friend. She suggested we have a a quick video chat before the class started and that really helped to ground me. Then we signed into our class.

We didn’t have our normal (awesome) tutor but we had another awesome tutor; I’ve had her as a tutor a handful of times since I first started at ICMP, on the BA, and she’s really great. Throw in the fact that we were presenting our ekphrasis songs (songs that were responses to other pieces of art, like visual art, films, etc) and it was a really interesting and thought provoking session. The brief had really stretched people and the songs were all so exciting and so different in the best possible way. I loved all of them.

I was last and VERY nervous because I was (and am) so attached to my song. Fortunately though, everyone really liked it and had some really great responses, some really interesting thoughts, and some good things to think about in the redrafting process. I was so happy with the positive response that I finished the class feeling like I was glowing. My first ‘glowy moment’ of the year – that’s what I used to call the really awesome moments. It’s been a really long time since I’ve felt like I had a reason to use the phrase.

I meant to have a nap between classes – that always makes it easier to concentrate in the second class, which is, after all, three hours long – but I accidentally ended up binge-watching The One. It’s so compelling and so thought-provoking, in so many different ways.

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The seminar was on authenticity but having studied authenticity in song lyrics pretty extensively for my Musicology essay, it was all pretty familiar. So while it wasn’t too intellectually taxing, I was tired and it was hard to stay focussed. I didn’t mind three hour classes when I was actually in them but I do find three hour classes on Zoom a struggle.

When the class was over, I curled up on the sofa and finished The One; the last episode was just one mind-blowing revelation after another. It was so good. I found Rebecca a particularly fascinating character; there was so much to unravel. Both Hannah Ware (Rebecca Webb) and Zoë Tapper (Kate Saunders) deliver incredible performances and there’s so much potential for another series. Me and my friend, Luce, (who was an episode behind me) freaked out together when she finished it about an hour later.

I’m always exhausted on a Tuesday, even if I do manage a nap, and I was falling asleep on the sofa around ten. So I dragged myself up and headed for bed. That’s pretty early for me these days. I’ve been trying to get to bed earlier so that wasn’t the worst thing in the world.


WEDNESDAY

I slept really badly but I didn’t sleep in. I was still in pain so I couldn’t get back to sleep anyway and at some point during the pandemic, I started feeling guilty if I slept in (this is super unhealthy, I know – I’m working on it in therapy) so I got up, had a shower and breakfast, and got to work. I did some uni stuff and then wrote down my thoughts to collect myself before a meeting with my course leader.

The meeting was about the final module of the Masters, which is called the Major Repertoire Project where we can research and create a body of work about anything we want. I know what I want to centre my project around (I’ll share soon but I want to get the current module done first) but you can take various approaches to the research and I wanted to talk to my course leader about that. We had a really in depth discussion and she gave me some really good ideas to think about. So I’ve got a lot to figure out but I’m really excited to get into it.

As good as the meeting was, I was really tired afterwards. I got comfortable and tried my best to concentrate on blog post writing. It took hours but eventually I managed to finish my blog post on being diagnosed with ADHD. At least I had a pretty good view while I worked.

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Mid afternoon, I was supposed to have a phone call appointment with a neurologist. And I did, except they called two hours late, it wasn’t the person it was supposed to be, and then they basically spent twenty five minutes trying to convince my Mum and I that any tests they do as a department would probably be a waste of time and likely wouldn’t show anything. And that was it. The call ended and I just felt confused and upset. Isn’t the point of a doctor to help you, rather than convince you that trying to find an answer to your problems is a waste of everyone’s time? I mean, I was referred to the neurologist by my GP because she thought this was worth investigating. And then I finally get to see said neurologist after rescheduling and it felt like they were fobbing me off from the moment the call started. So, that was… yeah.

I was all over the place and Mum did her best to distract me. She’d seen bits of The One (although I’d managed to prevent her from seeing anything too spoiler-y) but she wanted to see the whole show so we started it again; she was hooked straight away, just like I was. As we watched, I started doing some basic research based on the Major Rep Project seeds that my course leader had planted in my brain; I didn’t get very far but it was definitely interesting and a good distraction from real life.

And then I went to bed, completely exhausted. It was barely ten thirty.


THURSDAY

I struggled up with my early alarm but all of my careful planning for the day had fallen apart before ten am. I’d had two cowrites booked for the day but then one of them needed rearranging so I suddenly had to try and rearrange the whole day. I was majorly stressing that I was going to have to cancel on somebody but fortunately I was able to rework everything so that I could work with both people.

I had a shower and breakfast before finishing the lyrics to a song I’d been working on and speaking to Richard about the plans for the acoustic videos (the ones I’ve been releasing over the last few weeks). Then I worked on blog post stuff until it was time for my first cowrite. My friend, Anna, and I worked on a really cool song that she’d brought a draft of to the sessions and we were both so proud of it when finished. It has some really great metaphors and imagery and we tightened up this awesome outro that she’d proposed. I feel like we created something really special and that felt so good.

When we hung up, I had an hour to eat a really late lunch (and watch some more of The One with my Mum) before my second writing session, this time with my friend, Dan. He didn’t have a draft like Anna but we’d been messaging about what to write about: he’d sent me some themes, I proposed some more concrete ideas, and then he chose one that resonated for us to work on.

We decided to call it quits after a couple of hours and although we hadn’t finished the song we’d started, I feel like we’d made a really solid start on a really interesting song. I really liked what we’d come up with and Dan seemed to feel good about it too.

I feel like my writing has improved so much over the last few months and it felt particularly strong that day. I just felt like everything I was coming out with was good, not necessarily right for the song of the moment but still good. And that felt kind of amazing. Obviously not every day or every session is like that but every now and then it happens and it’s so, so satisfying; it gives you such a motivation boost. And remembering days like that one are really helpful on the days when it feels like everything you write is complete crap. So it was a good day, despite the stressful start, and I felt really positive about my writing and my friendships and my creative relationships and my course. It was a good day.

I was exhausted and starving by the time we finished but in a good way, in the way where you’ve worked really hard and you need to replenish, in the satisfying way. Mum and I finished The One with dinner and she was as blown away as I’d been. It was fun to have someone to talk about it and dissect it with; there are so many interesting and thought-provoking ideas in there.

Even though it was already late, I couldn’t help doing some more research into some of the ideas my course leader had suggested before forcibly reminding myself that that was not the time to be getting into complicated academic research, that I needed to disconnect and go to bed.


FRIDAY

For the first time in a really long time, I slept super deeply and actually woke up feeling somewhat human and not a zombie.

After a quick shower and breakfast, my Mum and I headed down to the GP surgery for another set of blood tests. I’ve completely forgotten what they’re for or who requested them with so many people involved right now but apparently they might give us more insight into my fatigue. The nurse was lovely and the whole thing was super quick and efficient.

Back home, I did some work for uni and typed up my notes from my meeting with my course leader, including some of the resources I’d started to find the night before. I wanted to get it all down before I started to forget things. This project feels so huge right now – I’m sure it will start to feel more manageable and achievable once I’m actually working on it and not just thinking about it in broad strokes – so I don’t know what I’m going to need to remember at this point.

I worked up until my therapy session, which are still online at this point. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: in person is better and, personally, I find it more helpful but I’m grateful to still have access to therapy at all so I’m not complaining. Since I’ve been in a better place, we talked about that and what’s contributed to that. I told her about my first glowy moment – the first one in so long – and she was so excited so we enthused about that together. But we also talked about how difficult I’ve been finding it to start on the assessment work; maybe it’s my anxiety around assessments, maybe it’s the untreated ADHD, maybe it’s a combination of both. It’s also just irritating to have to focus on the paperwork side of things when I just want to keep writing madly.

It was an okay session. Between all of the pandemic stuff and having sessions online, I find it hard to get into things deeply enough to really move forward. So mostly it’s been about coping, which is necessary but also really frustrating. It’s felt like a year of treading water when I’m just so desperate to make some progress, of any kind.

I spent the afternoon doing various admin, like emails and so on, and more uni work. And then, early evening, I uploaded the first of the acoustic session videos. Working with Sunburst Sessions (back in February 2020), we’d made a video for each track of the Honest EP but I obviously hadn’t finished releasing the EP at that point, hence why they’re only coming out now. I’m going in order of the EP tracklist so the first one up was ‘Bad Night.’

The video up and shared to all of my social media and WhatsApp groups etc, I had a long catch up on FaceTime with one of my parents before having dinner with my Mum. It was pretty late by that point and we were both tired so we watched a couple of episodes of Episodes (it’s one of our comfort shows – it’s not emotionally heavy and both Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan are brilliant).

I’m still sore from falling down the stairs so Mum gave me a massage (I’m so freaking lucky to have a massage therapist for a mother) and then we both headed to bed.


SATURDAY

I was awake on and off throughout the night and I was wide awake between four and six am. Ugh. And then, of course, I fell into a really deep sleep that was a really struggle to wake up from. And because I’d slept later than usual – later than I usually start taking my current daily painkillers – I was in so much pain that I could barely move. I had to eat and wait for them to kick in before I could manage a shower. So… not the best start to the morning.

When I finally made it to the living room, Mum and I did the Census and then I logged into the blog and posted my International Day of Happiness post.

I spent the rest of the morning working through the feedback I’d received on my songs from this semester, which made the task of choosing songs for the assessment portfolio much more straightforward: I don’t think any of the songs I’ve presented are bad but there were some obvious standouts, all of which were actually in line with my gut instinct about what to submit. I just needed to work on them, based on the feedback, and then pull the paperwork together: the various drafts, the feedback, my notes, etc.

Early afternoon I had a writing session with my friend, Phill, but we ended up deciding that we’d gotten as far as we could online and so we’re gonna continue working on the song when we can meet up in person. We’re just having trouble with the lag time. I’m happy to do that and although that was the writing session effectively over, we stayed on the video call and just had a really fun and chilled out chat, which was really nice. Because socialising has to be so organised now, I’ve definitely found myself having fewer spontaneous and casual chats with people and I’ve missed that. So it was a really nice few hours.

After we hung up, I had some chill time. I was having a quick scroll through Instagram when I saw that Natalie Hemby, a songwriter I really admire, had posted about Travis Meadows, another songwriter I really admire, and how he’s been through A LOT recently…

I love Travis Meadows and his music so I went straight to the gofundme page. The video he’d made the week before, sharing for himself what had happened, was incredibly moving. I donated what I could and shared the fundraiser on all of my socials. (The fundraiser has since met its goal but is still open – I’m sure the hospital bills, past and ongoing, are much more than the original goal set.)

One of my parents came over for a bubble dinner and we watched Lucifer together and then I watched my friend Luce‘s online show. She played some great covers and acoustic versions of the songs she’s already released but she also played some new songs and they were incredible. They were so powerful. I can’t wait for everyone to hear what she’s working on because it’s truly amazing.

When her show finished, I had a couple of FaceTime calls with various family members and then went to bed. It was still really early – not even ten thirty – but I was exhausted.


SUNDAY

I didn’t wake up until half nine and when I opened my eyes, I found three of the five cats watching me. Clearly it was long past breakfast time and they were impatiently waiting for me to deliver. So I dragged myself up, fed the clamouring masses (this is sarcasm just in case you couldn’t tell – I adore them), and had a shower, before settling in the living room.

I ate breakfast in front of the Netflix short Creating The Queen’s Gambit. I loved it, loved seeing how the whole thing came together, from the really obvious creative choices (like Beth’s hair and the sets) to the tiniest of details (like the interactions between the characters); it just made me want to watch the show again but I just don’t have the time right now. I would want to pay attention to all of those details and right now I have too much to do; the TV is pretty much just there for background noise at the moment.

I spent the morning working on my notes for my assessment portfolio. I was due to have a cowrite in the afternoon but then that got rescheduled to the next day. But I made use of the time: I spent several hours working on a research proposal for a Musicology conference. I’d absolutely love to present at this conference, so much so that it’s probably making me super perfectionistic about it. So I’m trying – I really am – to dial that back so that I can actually write the damn proposal. Because if I don’t write the proposal, I definitely don’t get to present at the conference.

After a few hours on that, I went back to my portfolio notes. It wasn’t a particularly interesting day but it was busy. I got a lot done.

Then, in the evening, I had another bubble dinner: pizza, Lucifer, and catching up. It was really nice. I couldn’t totally relax – I did a bit more uni work and some writing for various blog posts – but I had a really good evening. And then I went to bed early, completely knackered.


So it was a super busy week. But that’s not exactly new. I’ve been battling all semester with the danger of burning myself out before the assessment. I know that I really need to manage myself better. It’s just that sometimes my enthusiasm gets the better of me, especially when it comes to music things.

As I post this, classes have ended and the assessment deadline is coming up so I really need to concentrate on that. I just wish concentrating was easier. The practical work I don’t seem to have a problem with but the analysis – an essay that’s not really an essay – has me banging my head against my desk. It’s such a simple, straightforward task and yet I’m finding it so difficult. And on that note, I’m going to post this and go and work on it. Because there’s a hundred and one more things to do after I do that.

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.

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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)