The Manic World Tour

NB: This post is probably more for me than it is for you but it was a really significant experience so I wanted to record it. I hope you read it (or some of it – I know it’s very long) and I hope you like what you read. I promise there’s mental health and Autism content coming.

Last week, I was lucky enough to see Halsey not once but twice. I booked a ticket for London and then, as a very late celebration for my 25th birthday (as I explained in this post), me and my Mum decided to take a little trip to Dublin to see her again for a second date. She’s an incredible performer and her shows are amazing and as I’ve said in previous posts: “I often get overwhelmed mid show and so seeing [a show] multiple times allows me to get the full experience – and why would you not want to see a show you love more than once [if you can afford to], especially if it’s only on for a limited time?” Plus, she’s recently said that she’s not going to tour for an indefinite period of time so suddenly, seeing her that extra time became extra important.

The first show was in London at The O2. I couldn’t get a disability ticket so I had to get a regular ticket and because everyone was standing up to dance and jump, I had to stand up to see, which was not good for my fatigue and pain. I’m still not used to ‘being disabled’ and so I’m still ‘toughing it out’ and usually regretting it later. I leaned against my chair but it didn’t help much. I wish I could be in the standing section and stand at the front, hold her hand when she comes down to the  crowd, but just looking at all of those people packed together made my throat and chest tighten with anxiety.

We were on the side so the screens were difficult to see, blocked by the lighting rig and whatever else they have up there, which I was a bit disappointed by because Halsey always has such beautiful images on the screens behind her. I could still see them but I just couldn’t take any photos, which I love doing so that I remember all the details.

I wanted to list some of the moments I want to hold onto:

  • The first song was ‘Nightmare’ and everyone shouted the lyrics, ‘I’m tired and angry but somebody should be,’ which felt pretty appropriate for International Women’s Day. The shouting filled the arena and it was kind of amazing.
  • She had the blue black eye, like she has on the album cover. She’s done several variations over the tour so I was intrigued to see which one she’d do for the shows I was going to.

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  • She has everyone jump during the choruses of ‘Castle’ (another song I think is particularly relevant to IWD, since it includes lyrics like, ‘There’s an old man sitting on the throne that’s saying I should probably keep my pretty mouth shut,’) and she usually stops the track at the end of the first chorus to tell the crowd that they can do better but this time, she said it was, “the best of the whole fucking tour.”
  • Everyone sang along so loudly to ‘You Should Be Sad.’
  • She finally paused to speak to the crowd and everyone was really ready: “I’ve been looking forward to playing this show for a very long time. I mean, I’ve been looking forward to playing this show since the first time that I ever played a show in London. And as luck would have it, I somehow ended up here on International Women’s Day. And I don’t know what’s gotten into me but it’s like all that rage and that excitement and that ambition and that fire… I’m feeling electric tonight, I gotta be honest with you guys. If you are a woman, young or old, in this crowd tonight, I’m looking at you. I’m looking at you for that sheer unbridled lightning energy that’s gonna get me through this fucking show. And I know you’re capable of it because I’ve met women from London.” That caused a lot of cheering. “I wrote a song about one. She had quite the attitude. But we’ll get back to that in a little bit. There’s a lot we’re gonna do tonight. We’re gonna laugh, we’re gonna cry, we’re gonna get angry, we’re gonna get happy, we’re gonna get to know each other a little bit, alright? So I guess now feels like the right time to formally welcome you to The Manic World Tour!”
  • The set for ‘Haunting’ (I did not expect her to play that one) was incredible. It looked like some kind of diner with fluorescent lit windows and someone could be seen walking back and forth through them. It was very eerie.
  • The platforms (that also tipped so that they could be stairs) were so cool and a really unique piece for a concert. I’ve never seen a set like it.

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  • The colours on screen for ‘Forever … (is a long time)’ were so beautiful and there was also all of this brain imagery, like something from medical scans, and they were oddly beautiful. But I couldn’t take any pictures or videos of it because of the stage structures in the way.
  • Her vocals were even more incredible than the last time I saw her and I noticed it especially at the end of ‘Colors’ and in ‘Bad At Love.’
  • “Wow. I can’t believe I’m performing here right now. It’s so funny… I keep forgetting… I forget, like, every fifteen seconds and then I look up and I look up some more and I look up some more and then I look up some more and I’m like, ‘Oh, shit. That is a lot of people.'” She talked a bit about why she’s decided not to tour for a while: “I announced pretty recently that I was going to be taking a break from touring after this tour. And that might seem pretty strange because I look like I’m having fun up here, right? Right?! Well, that’s because I am. ‘Cause my favourite place in the world is being on stage. The thing is I pride myself on being able to make mistakes and then write about them so that you don’t have to make ’em: you can just learn the lesson through listening to the song. I know. It’s a hard job. You guys have watched me make a lot of mistakes. You’ve watched me date a lot of people. In fact, you guys have watched me go on so many dates, you’ve watched me go on dates I don’t even remember going on. But I read the articles about them and think, ‘Oh, that must be nice. Maybe I’ll go on a real date with them.’ You guys have watched me say the wrong thing at the wrong time, make friends with the wrong people, be in the wrong place… You have watched me do all of it. And I write songs about it so that you can learn from those things but I started noticing something. I started noticing that you guys are growing up right in front of my eyes. All these familiar faces I talk about, that I see on Twitter, on Instagram, on Tumblr, in the crowds… Some of you guys, I met you or I saw you or I liked your tweet from the first time when you were sixteen years old and now you’re twenty two. I have watched so many of you getting married, go to university, get your braces off… and I started realising that I can’t do my job anymore because you guys are growing up faster than I am. So I can’t write those songs for you anymore to help you out in your times of need so I decided that it’s my turn to do some growing up so that I can write you better music when I come back. Because truth be told, as much as fun as I’ve had watching you guys grow up, I wanna grow up with you.”
  • She joined her band, playing ‘3am’ on the electric guitar, and the crowd sang along so loudly. It’s such a catchy song.

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  • She had everyone hold up their phone lights during ‘Finally // beautiful stranger,’ which is always one of my favourite moments in a show. I always wonder what it would be like to see an arena of people do that for me (I’ve had a room-ful and that was pretty fucking special so an arena must be amazing). And there were these beautiful, moving colours on the screen behind her, like the northern lights. I loved it and I’m really sad I couldn’t take photos of it.

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  • She introduced her band and asked them what they were going to do on the break from touring and it was nice to see the relationships between them.
  • She performed an acoustic, gentle version of ‘100 Letters’ compared to the version that was full of power and self empowerment on the hopeless fountain kingdom Tour. Not that this version wasn’t empowering, just in a different way. The song itself is empowering but this performance was softer and more delicate, letting the lyrics speak for themselves.

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  • She performed ‘Is There Somewhere’ next, which is one of my favourite songs of hers. She said that it was the first song she released and it became a fan favourite so she promised to sing it on every tour. She climbed down into the crowd as she always does, which makes the fans at the front so happy (I just wish she’d move around a bit so that the same fans don’t get that same opportunity over and over because they know where she’s going to be; that  way other fans could have that opportunity). And she herself also looked so happy, which made me really happy. I just wish I could be down there.

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  • She does these crazy mic flips and I’m always worried she’ll drop it or it’ll go flying across the stage. It looks freaking cool though.
  • She had these beautiful starry backgrounds, like a night sky, for Graveyard that morphed into flowers that then caught fire after the bridge along with flames and sparks on stage. Aesthetically, I think it was my favourite performance of the night.
  • “Oh, London, you are a fucking treat.”
  • The last song of the main set was ‘929,’ which is probably my favourite song off the album but it usually makes me cry because of the lyric, “And I remember this girl with pink hair in Detroit, what she told me: she said, ‘Ashley, you gotta promise us that you won’t die ’cause we need you,’ and honestly, I think that she lied,” but for the live performance she changed the lyrics to “honestly, I think she was right.” I almost lost it right then because I was filled with so many emotions.
  • The butterfly outfit was beautiful.

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  • She left the stage and for the encore, she returned to perform ‘Ashley,’ ‘Experiment On Me,’ and then she played ‘Gasoline.’ And as usual, she turned the mic to the crowd to scream the lyric, “do you call yourself a fucking hurricane like me.” There’s something so empowering about that moment. And then, at the end, she repeated it over and over again with the crowd shouting along. It was new and empowering and special. And on the screen behind her, the word Manic appeared. It was gorgeous.

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 – From @u1123ae’s Twitter.

  • “Yeah, this is the best show I’ve ever played. I wanna tell you something really special: not only is this the best show that I’ve ever played in my life but it’s also completely sold out. Thank you for giving me, not only my dream show at The O2 but a sold out dream show at The O2. London, thank you for my dream.” She talked about how her family were there and how much she loves us, but if there’s anyone who loves us more than her, it’s her family because we gave her a second chance at life. “I promise you that I will not take this opportunity for granted because without you, this is a world without me.” It was a very emotional speech and listening to it again (I videoed it on my phone) made me cry and cry and cry.
  • There’s something so special about the way she talks to the crowd. She’ll shout to pump up the crowd but then she’ll just talk, about the songs and about herself, like she’s talking only to you. And afterwards, it feels like the show is a secret between just you and her. I actually wanted to get out really quickly afterwards because I wanted to keep that secret safe, because I didn’t want anyone to find out about it. It’s  silly, I know.
  • She ended the show with ‘Without Me’ and it was amazing. Everyone was singing so loudly, so aware that it was the last song, like they were trying to enjoy every second left of the show. It was magical.

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  • “Thank you so much! It’s being the greatest night of my life! I love you from the bottom of my heart!”

This is what I was tweeting afterwards, my feelings just bursting out of me…

And this tweet made me laugh:

And the next morning, once I’d gone through my photos and my emotions had settled a little bit, I posted on Instagram…

After standing for the whole show, my legs were very sore. I had several muscle cramps in my calves (and this went on for a couple of days) but one particularly bad one that lasted for about five minutes. Eventually it passed, which was a huge relief, but I had serious pain in that leg for days, so bad that I limped when I walked.

Now, as I said earlier, if you read my last post you’ll know that me and my Mum decided to go to Dublin, to see Halsey, as a very late 25th birthday celebration. So I went into uni on the morning of the Tuesday, went to my lecture, saw my friends briefly, and then headed for the airport.

We basically had to go straight to the arena, which is a beautiful space. The disabled seats are right at the back, which is fine because it’s not a huge room, but we were on the side of the room so, again, the screens were blocked by the stage equipment, lighting rig, etc, which was frustrating. I’m focussing on how grateful I am to have gotten to see the show twice, but it does feel like you miss part of the show when you can’t see the beautiful art that she’s created to be a part of each song. Having said that, I was really grateful to be sitting down, which was such a relief after the O2 show and the pain in my leg.

The show was amazing, just as expected. Halsey is always amazing. But even in a highly choreographed show, she still manages to make each show feel different and special.

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  • During ‘Castle,’ she did what she normally does: “Stop the track. What the fuck was that? I said, what the fuck was that? Okay. Okay, okay, okay. Look. I know you guys better than that… Are you guys gonna let London do a better job than you? I mean, fuck, even Norway did a better job… Let’s try that one more time.” The screaming just got louder and louder as she talked.
  • And then, a few songs later, she said: “I’m starting to rethink all that stuff I said back there. You guys are actually shaping up to be a pretty fucking amazing crowd. And plus, I gotta be honest with you: there’s a whole fucking lot of you squeezed in down there on that floor.”

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  • At one point, everyone started chanting ‘Halsey! Halsey! Halsey!’ and she got all cute and embarrassed: “You guys are just too fucking sweet.” She said she never knows what to say or do when a crowd starts doing that.
  • Again, she explained why she’s not touring for a while, saying something very similar to what she said in London.
  • The arena lighting up for ‘Finally // beautiful stranger’ was beautiful: “You see, this is a love song and when you sing a love song in a big arena like this one, everyone has to take out their lights. Don’t you know the rules?”

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This is what the colours behind her looked like during ‘Finally // beautiful stranger.’ 

  • After ‘Finally // beautiful stranger’: “Everybody thinks that a love song is the easiest one to write, right? Because… okay, like, you write a love song and it’s like, oh, it’s so trite and cliché and easy to write a love song. Anyone can write a bullshit love song. Fuck all the love songs on the radio… That’s bullshit. A love song is really fucking hard to write and I’ll tell you why. Writing a love song means you are opening yourself up to the world and telling them, ‘I was foolish and stupid enough to open up my heart and let someone in.’ It says to the world, ‘I might look like I have my shit together’ – personally I don’t, but maybe other artists do – ‘I might look like I have my shit together but I am a big dumbass who opened up my heart for somebody to walk right into.’ But that’s okay because you’re supposed to do that. You’re supposed to open up your heart and let people walk right inside and just trash the living room that is your heart, just fuck up the carpet, flip over the couch, break a lamp… because that’s how you learn. That’s how you get better at loving the next person, but I’ll tell you what… writing that song, I would rather stand on this stage butt-naked in front of you guys than write another love song like that. But that’s not a problem because if I ever do, I promise I’m going to keep my clothes on, I think. And I hope that I do because, you know, you guys have really spoiled me in a way. You have shown me a love that is so unconditional, I don’t think I could ever recreate it with another person. You’ve spoiled me.”
  • She actually stood somewhere else for ‘Is There Somewhere,’ after my internal commentary on how moving around would give different fans the opportunity to hold her hand and have that moment. God, I wished I was down there, wished I was able to be down there. Oh, and the guitar solo in the background was to die for; it was gorgeous.

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  • She’s so free with her body but so confident in it, in the way it moves. It’s like she has complete faith that every muscle will do exactly what she expects and intends it to do. I wish I could be like that; I wish I could feel like that.

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  • Introducing ‘Clementine’: “I wrote a lot of those songs when I was nineteen years old and I’m twenty five now. And some of the songs on Badlands… But most of them, I wrote before I had ever done a headline tour so I had no idea what it was like to have an audience of my own. So I wrote Badlands so that you could listen to it in your bedroom, not so that you could listen to it at a concert. Then I started to play shows, and I started touring, and I started getting in the studio and thinking, ‘what do I want to sing with them?'”
  • If you haven’t heard it, there are parts on the recording of ‘Clementine’ where you can hear a double track of her shouting the lyrics behind her singing the lyrics and the crowd shouted those shouted parts so loudly, louder than London. It was strangely powerful and I wish I’d gotten a video of it.
  • For ‘Graveyard,’ she asked – if it felt safe – for people in the standing area to get on each other’s shoulders because it’s an outside in the summer song and so many people did it, so many more than at The O2. And everyone was singing so, so loudly.

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  • In ‘929,’ she was singing the lyric, “And I remember this girl with purple hair down in Dublin, she told me… She said, ‘Ashley, you gotta promise us that you won’t die because we need you and honestly, I think…” and then she stopped because the crowd was singing so loudly: “she was right.” I almost dropped my phone. I almost cried.
  • The crowd screamed, “do you call yourself a fucking hurricane like me,” maybe even louder than in London, although that might be because the room is smaller with a lower ceiling. But it was epic and she did the same thing at the end, repeating it over and over with the crowd shouting along. It was awesome.

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  • Introducing ‘Without Me’: “We’re into encore time, motherfucker.” That made me laugh. “I’ll keep it quick. I know I haven’t shut the fuck up this whole show but I’ve got six years worth of talking I wanna do. I’ve got six years worth of stuff that I wanted to say to you guys that I had to pack into one show so… I’m gonna use my time wisely and I’m gonna tell you that a lot of you guys get to read all of the super bad shit about me because that’s what people like to write about. They like to write about all the dark moments in my life. They like writing about the shit that I’ve been through or the dark times that I’ve faced. For whatever reason, that’s what people like to write about and it used to really bother me, but now I’m kind of okay with it because… because all of those things did happen to me and some things even happened that, you know, the media, the press, whoever, they don’t know about. And some of this stuff has happened in the last couple of years while I’ve been Halsey. You know, I’ve kept it to myself at certain times but every time shit gets terrible, I always have you.” There was major cheering. “And every single artist who’s ever played a concert in the history of time gets on stage and says to the crowd, ‘I would be nothing without you,’ right? And sometimes I really believe that but, you know what? Sometimes I fucking don’t. And I think to myself, ‘You would probably be okay actually. Maybe you wouldn’t be as happy or as, you know, successful but you’d get a job, get married, do whatever, but there are so many times where I have been so, so unsure. So unsure. And you guys have made me absolutely positive. So basically this is a really long-winded way of saying thank you because without you, this would be a world without me.” That last sentence still got to me, even though I’d already heard it in London.
  • This is what the background looked like during part of the song, although it started off more like a ribbon:

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It was incredible, another incredible show, and I’m so grateful to have been there. It was an amazing birthday present. Getting back to the hotel was a struggle and my emotions felt very mixed up and messy. For over an hour, I just didn’t feel anything. I think I was just struggling with it all being over, with the idea of not having them to look forward to. Eventually that settled and real feelings started to bloom again but they were still confusing, like a lump of different coloured pieces of play dough stuck together. Impossible to separate and really identify.

The next day, when I got home and had a bit more control over my emotions, I posted to Instagram…

And now I’m home and the European Tour is over. The adrenaline crash was pretty brutal, the physical pain from London was bad, and I was exhausted after a wild three (actually four) days but it was so worth it. Halsey – Ashley – and her music mean so much to me and I’m so, so grateful for this experience.

A Very Late 25th Birthday Post

Last year, I wrote a post around my birthday about adding some rules to the celebration, mainly to make the experience more enjoyable and more memorable: do something you wouldn’t normally do and buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy. For my twenty fourth birthday, I ran my dog’s hydrotherapy session and bought myself a typewriter. It was really special so I thought I’d do it again this year… I’m just very late. Last September, my mental health was awful and I’d just started my Masters so my birthday wasn’t the first thing on my mind. A lot of the celebrations got delayed; I only got one of my birthday presents a couple of weeks ago. But that doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that it matters, that it feels special.

So here are the results of the rules for my 25th birthday…

Rule #1: Do something you wouldn’t normally do.

On Sunday 8th March, I saw Halsey at the O2 Arena and she was absolutely incredible, as I knew she would be. Back when I booked the tickets, I knew I would want to see her again. As I’ve said before, “I often get overwhelmed mid show and so seeing [a show] multiple times allows me to get the full experience – and why would you not want to see a show you love more than once [if you can afford to], especially if it’s only on for a limited time?” So after booking the London tickets, I talked to my Mum about seeing Halsey again, despite the fact that the closest possible show was in Dublin. We’d talked about taking a short trip – a few days somewhere – to celebrate my 25th birthday and up until now, I haven’t been able to think of somewhere I wanted to go (we’d thought about a few extra days in America but it clashes with university stuff this year) or do until now. So we planned our little trip to Dublin, trying to miss as little uni time as possible. And I’m really glad we did because she, Halsey, has since said that she plans not to tour for an indefinite period of time after this. So taking this extra opportunity to see her before that  happens became very important to me.

As I said, she was incredible in London – it was probably one of the best shows I’ve ever seen – but I want to focus on the Dublin show (on the 10th March), as that was my birthday trip. And besides, the London show being special doesn’t make the Dublin show less special. It was just special in different ways.

The arena wasn’t hugely well organised and the disabled area didn’t have a great view – Halsey has such beautiful images on the screens behind her that it was frustrating to have a significant section of it blocked by the lighting rig, etc. So it wasn’t ideal but being able to sit and still see is always such a relief. After the London show where I couldn’t get a disabled ticket and ended up having to stand to see (I’m still not used to being ‘disabled’ or ‘partially disabled’ – I’m not sure what the right term is for someone with Autism, mental health problems, chronic pain, and chronic fatigue is – so I do keep trying to tough it out, which often turns out to be a bad idea). That caused terrible leg pain that’s ongoing. So sitting down for the show was a huge, huge relief, even if we weren’t in a great position.

The show was amazing. Halsey is an incredible performer and some of the highlights for me were ‘Castle,’ ‘Forever… (Is A Long Time),’ ‘3am,’ ‘100 Letters (Acoustic),’ ‘Is There Somewhere,’ ‘Graveyard,’ ‘929,’ ‘Ashley,’ and ‘Gasoline.’ I could list all of them really because each performance was so powerful and so full of passion and electric energy. The vocals, the band, the backgrounds, the platforms hanging from the ceiling… they were all SO GOOD. She gives everything to every song, to every aspect of the show. And as much as I love all of that, the part I love the most is the way she talks to the crowd. It’s so honest and sincere and special and somehow she makes it feel like the concert is a secret between you and her. I don’t know how she does it. But I’m in awe.

It was a really special birthday present and I’m really grateful. We had barely any time in Dublin but the point of going was the concert and the concert was amazing. Halsey and her music are so special to me and her shows are so special to me but this show – these two shows – have been the most special. Turning twenty five was really scary and stressful for me and so, to celebrate that milestone – and celebrate coping with it – with someone who actually shares the same birthday as me… well, that was extra special.

Rule #2: Buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy.

I was browsing through a vintage jewellery shop recently, just looking really, because I’d seen some jewellery in the window that might work for a music video. I didn’t find anything for the video but I found this ring that I just fell in love with (and another similar one that I also loved). It’s not a colour I’d normally choose and it was a bit expensive when I’m about to go on several trips but I took a couple of weeks to think about it and even went back several times to look at it. But eventually I decided that I really, truly loved this one so I decided to buy it.

It’s a little bit big and probably needs to be resized slightly but I’ve been wearing it around the house ever since because I’m just in love with it. It’s beautiful. I can’t wait to wear it out during the day. I’m so happy with it and my choice to buy it.

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So it was a very late birthday celebration – almost six months late – but they were really good celebrations. I just wasn’t ready or capable at the time. I like to think that they showed up when I was ready. So maybe I’m ready to be twenty five now. Or maybe not. But I sure as hell celebrated it.

2019 in Review

I don’t even know how to sum up this year.

If I’m honest, most of it’s blurry. The first half of it anyway. I was still trying medication after medication so I was kind of living in a haze. It’s scary to look back at a time not that long ago, search for memories and not be able to find them, find the details. Or worse, not even know what memories to look for. I hate it and it’s scary and I try not to think about it. Thank god for photos though. Looking back through my photos helped me to remember and I’m grateful for that. 

I got to go to the opening night of Waitress The Musical and to my complete surprise, Sara Bareilles was there, both to introduce the show and to bid us all goodnight. The show was amazing: I loved the music, I loved the characters, I loved the story, and the meaning in the story. And seeing Sara Bareilles in person for the first time since 2014 was extra special.

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I also got up stupid early to see her do a surprise set in St Pancras station. Apart from the fact that she has an incredible singing voice and is a great performer, even just sitting at a piano, there’s something magical about seeing a person you admire so much in real life. And my Mum was a trooper, running after her team (my medication meant I could barely stand up for the whole performance) and making sure she got my letter. So that was a good morning, even if I felt very unwell for the rest of the day (I’d overstretched, given the meds I was taking).

We had a nerve-wracking few weeks where our dog, Lucky, was incredibly unwell. I saw it happen: his head just tilted to the side and he stood there, looking so… wrong. I was convinced he was having a stroke. Plus his eyes were moving back and forth really quickly; I couldn’t imagine how he could even see. Despite a trip to the emergency vet then and there, we didn’t find out until the next day that he had Geriatric Vestibular Disease, which is basically vertigo. He was really, really sick. He wouldn’t eat and that’s really the sign that a labrador is sick. Mum was feeding him pieces of boiled chicken by hand just to keep him going. They gave him a morphine patch but that just made him sicker so they eventually removed it. It took a long time but eventually he was back to his old self. It’s not the same: he has a permanent head tilt, his balance is terrible, he can have trouble walking. But he seems to be happy and he’s certainly loved. So we’re getting through. Day by day, we’re getting through.

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I was fortunate enough to go to Nashville again, which was amazing, even though I was really, really struggling on my medication. I was depressed, overwhelmingly anxious, and my hands felt thick and clumsy, making playing guitar a real ordeal. As wonderful as it was to be in Nashville, I felt very guilty for not being as happy as I felt I should be.

Having said that, I had some really great experiences while I was there. I got to go back to my favourite places, see two Song Suffragettes shows (which are always such special experiences for me), and hang out with my friends who I only get to see once a year. I didn’t get to see everyone but I had a lovely time with the people I saw. I even got to see the awesome Caylan Hays play a show and hear all of her new songs. That was really, really special.

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Tin Pan South was amazing as usual, although I had to make some tough decisions over which shows to go to. They were all amazing though. My favourite was Nick Wayne, Hannah Ellis, Josh Kerr, and Natalie Hemby. Natalie is another person I hugely admire and she actually knows who I am now, which I’m honoured by. We got to have a proper conversation, which was one of my favourite moments of the trip. And I’d love to write with her one day: that’s a bucket list write.

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I also got to see Kelly Clarkson (who I’ve always, ALWAYS wanted to see live) in concert and Kelsea Ballerini was the opener, which was awesome because I love her. It was an amazing concert and I loved every second of it.

It was an amazing trip but I hope that next year I’ll be in a better place, a place where I can enjoy it properly and effortlessly. I think that’s gonna be one of my goals for 2020.

Here at home I also got to see some amazing concerts. My favourites were Maren Morris (I saw her twice but the second time was front row at the Royal Albert Hall, which was the most surreal, amazing experience) and Ingrid Andress, who had the whole crowd singing despite only having released a few singles. It was amazing. And she remembered me and we talked about writing together when I’m next in Nashville, although I’m now not sure it’s going to happen. But it was amazing to know that she was up for it. Hopefully one day.

I also saw Halsey in a super small venue and she was fantastic. We had trouble with the accessibility, which caused me a lot of anxiety, but the show was incredible. She’s an amazing, amazing performer. I love her. But I feel very out of place at her concerts, which is hard.

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I, with Richard Sanderson (Richard Marc on social media), spent most of the year working on my first EP. It was such a learning curve but I loved it, for the most part. It took an exceptional amount of work and I have to give so much credit to Richard and to Josh Fielden who mixed the songs because part way through, I tumbled into a really deep depression, accompanied with the worst anxiety I think I’ve ever experienced. It took a long time for me to get back to a place where I could work on it. It’s part of my musical story so I’m really glad it’s coming out, even if I still have a lot of anxiety about it. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know the story of the first single and you’ll know more about the rest of the songs soon.

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I spent several months in a deep, deep depression, the worst I’ve ever experienced. I basically lay on the sofa and thought about dying. It was awful. I don’t really know what else to say about it. It was just still, but with a mess of agonising turmoil underneath.

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Then, in the middle of the summer, one of my cats had kittens, despite the vet telling us in her vet check the week before that she absolutely wasn’t pregnant. We came home from dinner and Mouse was waiting for us. She took me upstairs to my room, curled up in one of the cat beds, and over the next few hours, she had a couple of tiny, adorable kittens. She got distressed every time I tried to leave so I stayed through the whole thing (and saw some pretty disgusting stuff that I never needed to see).

Having the kittens in my life has done wonders for my anxiety. Watching them grow and play and explore was so calming and mindful for me. And now that they’re older, all five cats play as a family. They’re a pride. It’s gorgeous. I don’t know what the future holds but having them in my life has been one of the most, if not the most, positive thing this year. I’m really, really grateful for them. Having said that, everyone’s spayed now so there won’t be any more surprises, which is probably – definitely – a good thing, as adorable as kittens are. The stress is just too much.

Somewhere in the middle of the holidays of kittens, I started taking Phenelzine again, which was a really difficult decision. I’m still struggling with the side effects but I am better than I was. I still have moments of depression but it’s not constant and I’m managing the anxiety with other medications. And best of all, I can write songs again. That is the best possible outcome.

September loomed and I spent time with the Disability Coordinator at my uni, something they had never had before. I actually felt hopeful about having someone who understood me. And then, she became extremely unreliable and that resulted in one of the worst meltdowns I’ve ever had – in the middle of Victoria Station. That triggered a period of multiple meltdowns a day, which turned the weeks into a blur. It was awful. I started my Masters Degree in Songwriting in one of the worst states I’ve ever been in.

Despite being part time, the Masters took up every day of the week, working on songs and trying to research while battling my OCD, which had suddenly spiked. I had no time off, no time to breathe. I felt like I was failing at everything. I think I’ve gotten better at managing it (and it’s going to be a focus in therapy when we start again in the new year) and I managed some research and I wrote some songs I’m really proud of. I enjoyed the course and classes but balancing everything with Autism and mental health problems was a nightmare. I’m going to write a post about the course in more detail but it still needed to be included in this post.

Oh, and somewhere in there, I turned twenty five. My Mum bought me twenty five yellow roses.

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The first single of the EP came out a few weeks into the course and it was a complete surreal – if incredibly stressful – experience. I had no idea what to expect, especially since I’m an independent artist, but for what was really a first, first single (considering ‘Invisible’ had no marketing and so on), I think it did pretty well. It got added to several playlists on Spotify and had radio play, local and BBC Introducing. That’s been amazing and I’m excited to see where the next one goes.

And now I’m finishing the year with basically no Christmas break because I’m working on the assessments for my course everyday. They’re causing me so much stress I feel like I can’t breathe. I’m also terrified of the fireworks tonight (another story I’ve talked about before) and don’t know what I’m going to do to avoid them because I have work to do and they cause awful meltdowns. So, all in all, not the best way to end the year. I’m cautiously optimistic about 2020.

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“2019 has been an incredibly difficult year. I feel broken. I feel like I was shattered into a thousand pieces and then put back together wrong. And if I’m honest I don’t know what to do about it. But there were good moments too and I’m so grateful for those. 2020, please be kind.” (x)

Don’t You Lose Your Halo

The last few months have been particularly difficult, anxiety and depression wise. I came of my anti depressants and one of my anti anxiety medications with the intention of starting a new medication but starting that new medication has been a real struggle. This new low brought on by the withdrawal and the lack of meds has been possibly the worst I’ve ever felt. I’m aware that it’s affecting my thinking and my decision making but right now, the starting of a new medication just feels impossible. Just the thought of it triggers an autistic meltdown. So it’s safe to say I’m struggling.

BUT the last week has been better for exactly one reason: I got to see Maren Morris in concert! In fact, I got to see her twice! So that’s what I want to write about: seeing her and how concerts are something that can really help me when I’m feeling very low. There’s something about the energy that just lifts me, makes my body feel lighter and that’s so very valuable when I’m in this place.

My first show of the tour was Bristol. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, if possible, I like to go to multiple shows of a tour because I get overwhelmed so easily. Seeing the show more than once allows me to really experience and enjoy all of it. Concerts are pretty much the only thing I spend money on so I’ve been very fortunate in this endeavour.

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The show was incredible. I’d been feeling very, very depressed in the days leading up to the show and didn’t even want to go – it felt like it was wrong to want such a simple ‘fix’ to my low mood and like seeing such an amazing songwriter would hurt too much given that I haven’t been able to write a song in months (if not longer) – but as soon as Maren Morris took the stage, I started to feel lighter. It felt easier to breathe. She’s an incredible songwriter and performer and her voice is out of this world: I remember once describing it as sounding like a gorgeous sunset. Hearing the new songs was like hearing them for the first time and hearing the old ones was like a wave of nostalgia: they remind me of my degree, of my first trip to Nashville, of writing songs in my best friend’s living room, of a younger, less troubled version of myself.

The song that really got me was ‘A Song For Everything.’ This is what I wrote in my diary after the show:

“Given how emotional and tearful I was, I was crying by the first chorus. It just lifts my soul and makes me feel lighter, like I’m going to be okay, like I need to dedicate my life to writing a song like that and so I have to be alive to do it. I was breathless by the time the song finished.”

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“I don’t often cry at concerts (it usually happens when I hear the songs again for the first time after the show) but this one just got me. My depression is the worst it’s ever been but tonight… helped. I could write a book about the emotions of the last few days but I’m so tired that even this is a struggle. @marenmorris, thank you for being there exactly when I needed you to be. Thank you for reminding me that there’s a song for everything and that maybe one of them could be written by me, but that I need to be here to write it. #girltheworldtour

I had a day to recover before my next show, in London. At the freaking Royal Albert Hall. This is probably my favourite venue I’ve ever been to and it’s my ultimate dream to sing there one day. One can hope. And work hard. Anyway.

The day of the show, I cried all day. I was miserable, deeply, deeply miserable. I was on the edge of a meltdown all day but somehow I was holding it back because I knew if I had a meltdown, I wouldn’t be able to go to the show. Me and Richard (my best friend and writing partner) had bought the VIP packages, which meant we would get to meet Maren before the show and I couldn’t miss that. But even though I was looking forward to it, I was paralysed with anxiety. I didn’t know what to say or do and the fear of wasting the opportunity was so great that I couldn’t think. I couldn’t think my way through the problem and that was almost the worst part.

I cried all the way to London (listening to ‘A Song For Everything’ on repeat) and I only really managed to get myself together when I arrived at Victoria station. Holding onto that song helped somehow. I got to the Royal Albert Hall, met Richard, and we (all the VIP package holders) were all taken in for the pre-show Q&A and meet and greet. It went okay. I’m not gonna lie, I was actually shaking. It wasn’t specifically because I was anxious about meeting her – I’d met her on the previous tour and she’s absolutely lovely – it was more that I was worried about it going wrong, that I’d waste the experience by saying something embarrassing or meaningless. Looking back at it now, it went okay. It could’ve been worse, it could’ve been better. Maren was very sweet but I didn’t feel able to be as honest as I would’ve liked to be, for multiple reasons.

When the doors opened, we went to find our seats and discovered that we were FRONT AND CENTRE. At the Royal Albert Hall. For Maren Morris. I think that was when I first started to feel more excited than anything else – anxious, depressed, lost (“The depression was receding – just out of reach – and it felt easier to smile, even if it was a little slow and stiff.”). And all of that completely fell away when the show started.

It was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to. Maren is one of the best performers I’ve ever seen, her vocals are unmatched, and I love her songwriting more than I can properly express. The upbeat songs were so much fun and the slower songs were quiet moments filled with emotion. It might sound like any other concert (any good concert) but the energy was bigger and bolder and brighter than any other concert I’ve been to. I lost my voice long before the show was over but that didn’t stop me from singing along. And as I said in my diary, “I’m always self conscious dancing but sometimes, if all the stars align, the constant tension in my body releases and I can just move as my mood dictates. It’s not very elegant but it is fun.” She even had special surprises planned: performing ‘Seeing Blind’ with Niall Horan and bringing a string quartet (an all female string quartet!) on stage for several songs. The whole thing was magical. I never wanted it to end. But unfortunately it had to, although she closed the show with style: an amazing performance of ‘The Middle.’ Me and Richard have spent so many car journeys and writing sessions and just hours of our lives singing that song; singing it with Maren Morris from the front row of the Royal Albert Hall may be one of my favourite memories of all time.

Another snippet from my diary: “The performance was incredible and hearing everyone sing along just made my heart soar. It was all gone and I felt alive and light and happy. I was tired and achy but it was amazing.”

Getting home was hard. I had a huge adrenaline crash and all the negative emotions returned and that, combined with several unpleasant incidents on the train, had me in tears before I was even halfway home. I also struggle physically after concerts: my whole body hurts and that was starting to set in so yeah, getting home was a struggle. But I made it and my Mum was kind enough to prepare macaroni and cheese and ice cream (not together), which did help a bit. My brain wasn’t really ready to go to bed but a migraine was setting in (another side effect of concerts) so I didn’t have a choice.

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“Yesterday was a very difficult day. The depression was bad; I shook, I screamed, I cried (probably seven or eight times). It was miserable. But in the evening, I got to see @marenmorris at the @royalalberthall and my god, it was like it was built for her voice. What a special artist in such a special venue. Somehow, me and @richardmarcmusic ended up with front and centre seats and the whole show was just incredible. Every second was fun, every second was amazing. I wish it could’ve gone on forever. The tears returned on the train and I cried most of the way home but I am so, so grateful to have been there, so, so grateful to have had that escape for a few hours. I will treasure those memories.”

Recovering from these concerts has been an experience. Over a week later and my back is still bothering me. But it’s an improvement: the day after the London show, I could barely walk and it took days for the limping to fade. But I’m doing better. Surprisingly, the post concert low hasn’t been too bad. Mainly, I just miss being at the show, in the show. I physically miss it. My body misses it. But I’m doing okay. These concerts have given me a lift I desperately needed and will keep me going while I take my next steps, whatever they end up being. For that, I’m incredibly grateful.

2018 in Review

This year has been a struggle. Almost eighteen months ago, I made the decision to change my medication and that has basically been my life ever since. Lots of pills and doctors appointments but mostly dealing with the side effects, everything from nausea to shaking to a complete inability to think clearly. I don’t think I realised what a huge undertaking it was going to be but it’s not exactly surprising: you’re throwing all the chemicals in your brain and body out of whack. I tried Venlafaxine, Lithium, and Lamotrigine; I weaned myself off Venlafaxine, tried Amitriptyline, and now I’m taking Pregabalin and Clomipramine. This is the most promising combination so far and I’ve actually had a few really good days so I’m cautiously optimistic. But it’s been a long, hard road, sometimes so difficult that I wasn’t sure I’d survive it. And I don’t really feel able to acknowledge the good bits without paying tribute to the really tough things I had to go through and so got through.

The first of The Big Difficult Things was moving house. God, that was a struggle. Having thought that I’d found some sort of peace around it, when it came to the day, I was absolutely devastated. There were a lot of tears – from all of us. That house was my home for fifteen years – home to the greatest triumphs and tragedies of my life – and so, to some extent, it will always be my home. I think I could probably walk into my old bedroom twenty years from now and fall right back into that old rhythm.

I’m still learning the rhythms of the new house. There are days where it feels normal and then others where I hate it so much I could scream. Most of the time, it still feels like someone else’s house. Someone else’s house with all our stuff in. But every day is a step in the right direction. We’re filling all the empty space with memories, slowly but surely.

I’ve been writing a lot about Claire Wineland of late but I couldn’t write about this year and not mention her. Her death was another of The Big Difficult Things of this year. I stumbled across her YouTube channel late last year and have been following her on social media ever since. She was – and still is – a big inspiration for me and her death hit me really hard. It just makes no sense to me and never will and I’m still struggling to cope with that.

And through all of this, depression has been my constant, oppressive companion. While I had experienced depression before, this was a whole new kind of prison. The lows were lower than I’d ever experienced and there were several pretty scary moments. And as well as affecting my mood, my depression made it almost impossible to write songs. I’ve had many discussions about writer’s block over the years and I’ve always thought that there are things that can make writing difficult and so you have to figure out what’s causing the block and address it. In my case, it feels like depression suppresses the creative part of my brain: I don’t get random sparks of inspiration, I can’t solve problems creatively, and any active creativity – like songwriting – is like pulling teeth. It feels like writing songs requires a certain level of functioning that I’m just not capable of reaching while depressed. I want to write more about this – about depression and writer’s block – but that’s for another post.

Having said all of that, there have been good days, as well as good experiences on bad days.

By far the best part of this year has been the time spent with my friends and family, whether that be online or in the physical world, in Nashville, London, or Brighton. Or anywhere in between. These people have kept me going through the hardest period of my life so far and I’m so ridiculously grateful to them for that.

I got to travel a little bit this year, which was amazing. I managed to get back to Nashville where I had the most intense ten days possibly of my life. I got to see some lovely people, write songs (or try to), listen to some of the best songwriters in the world, and play a Song Suffragettes show. Even though I was incredibly anxious about it, that may very well have been the best day of my year.

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I also travelled to Iceland for the first time and saw so many beautiful things, including a 60m waterfall, the Diamond Beach, and the Northern Lights. The natural scenery in Iceland took my breath away time and again. It felt like the first breath you take after being underwater. Of course, there was a lot of anxiety during the trip but it helped me in a way that only the magnificence of nature is able to.

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There have been more wonderful live music events than I can count: Paramore, Kelsea Ballerini, Sugarland, Kacey Musgraves, Natalie Hemby (and all of Tin Pan South in Nashville), Frank Turner, Betsy Lane, The Shires, Sinead Burgess, The Brummies, Halsey, Kina Grannis, Aislin Evans, Maren Morris, and of course, Taylor Swift. Despite the anxieties around concerts, these are the places where I feel most alive and so, throughout this difficult period, I’ve always tried to ensure that there was another concert to look forward to.

And despite my musical struggles this year, I’ve actually played a few gigs and played shows that I am so proud to have been a part of. I got to play with WRTW again and it was even more fun than the first time (if that’s possible). I played Autism’s Got Talent in London, which was such a great opportunity. I played for Brighton Soup and Disability Pride in Brighton, two amazing organisations that I can’t praise enough. I also played Summer Fest in Worthing, my first show with my awesome friend, Richard Sanderson. And of course, I got to play a Song Suffragettes show when I was in Nashville.

I’ve also managed to do a handful to Autism research studies, as well as giving blood. I’ve been feeling so useless so I tried to contribute as best I could during this time where I’ve felt incapable of contributing anything at all.

Another big part of this year was getting used to the kittens: my cat had two kittens in February and me and my Mum just fell in love with them so we ended up keeping them. I love them dearly but it has been a major adjustment and a real struggle, especially with the daily battle that is depression. So this has been both a good and a bad thing. I want to write more about this whole experience because there were – and still are – a lot of complicated emotions involved. But above it all, we have Lucky and Lucy and the kittens and I love them more than life itself.

So, that’s it: 2018. It has been a hard, hard year, and one I’m very happy to leave behind but I’m cautiously optimistic about the next few months and the next year. I’ve felt better in the last couple of weeks than I have all year and I’m hopeful that this is characteristic of what’s to come.

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“2018, the year of living, fighting, but ultimately, surviving depression. There was a lot of gold in the grey but I’m so ready to move on to 2019.” (x)

Grateful 2018

Last year, I posted on Christmas Eve about the things I was grateful for (here) and I really liked it as a practice. Since we don’t have Thanksgiving in the UK, there’s no holiday directly related to being thankful and I think it’s important to make time to think and feel these things. And I always feel overwhelmed by how lucky I am at Christmas so this seems like a good time to do it, to do this post.

My family – I am endlessly grateful to my family. They have loved and supported me through some really difficult times this year and even though that’s what family should do, I’m so, so grateful to them for doing that. I don’t take them for granted. A particular shout out to my Mum for going above and beyond. She’s my hero.

My friends – I am also endlessly grateful to my friends. I haven’t seen as much of them as I would’ve liked this year but I’ve been doing my best to stay in touch. They mean so much to me and I hope they know that. Again, a particular shout out to Richard because he has been incredible this year, supporting me as a friend and a writing partner. I’m more grateful than I can say.

My therapist – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am so grateful for my therapist. My depression has been brutal this year and there were more than a few moments where I had no idea how I was going to survive (I say that like it’s over and I’m not sure whether it’s over or not). I absolutely wouldn’t have made it through that without her.

Song Suffragettes – If you don’t know what Song Suffragettes is, prepare to have your musical life changed. It’s an organisation in Nashville that focuses on boosting the up and coming female songwriting talent and they have weekly shows showcasing these awesome women. I was lucky enough to join them on my last trip to Nashville and it was definitely the best day of my year (and one of the best in my life). Everyone involved is so lovely and they are doing such important work. Check them out on Twitter here.

Claire Wineland – I’ve written about Claire quite a bit (here, herehere, and here if you’re interested) but she’s been on my mind a lot. I miss her – her presence in my life – more than I know what to do with but I am so grateful to have had her at all. That doesn’t make me okay with what happened (not at all) but I am grateful. She was an incredible human being and she’s still helping people even though she’s no longer here.

Flowers – This is a simple one but having beautiful, colourful flowers around improves my mood and improves my day. In a year that’s felt very dark and colourless, having flowers in the house has made a noticeable difference to my day-to-day life.

My bullet journal – Having somewhere to organise my thoughts and my life has been so helpful. Up until now I’ve never had a system that really worked for me so this is a big deal. I’ve written more about it here.

Lauren Kaech – I discovered Lauren on YouTube earlier this year and I have found her videos and her attitude really inspiring. I talked about her in my post about social media favourites and she makes videos about her experience of living with an eating disorder. And while that’s not an experience I can directly relate to, there are aspects that I can. She talks about facing the things that scare you, the realities of happiness, and a whole host of recovery related topics that apply to anxiety and depression as well as eating disorders. I’m so grateful to have had this in my life this year and at my very worst (in the very worst of my depression), looking forward to her videos got me through the day and kept me going.

Swimming – I’ve written a whole post about this (here) but I wanted to include it here because I’m so, so grateful for it. Almost every morning, I get up and go to the pool and do something that makes sense. Even if the rest of the day doesn’t, that does. I’m also really proud of myself for keeping this up for six months, especially given how bad my depression has been.

Taylor Swift – Miss Swift was on my grateful list last year and the reasons are all still relevant. But this year, I got to see her live (twice!) and that experience was so much fun in the middle of a really dark place. I felt all that weight lift for a couple of hours and that is a big deal. I’m also really grateful to her for voicing her political opinions (breaking her career long silence on the subject) and encouraging young people to vote. In the twenty four hours after she made her Instagram post on the subject, 65,000 people registered to vote, which is just incredible. It made me really proud to be a fan. I don’t think I can say more than, as always, I am grateful for Taylor Swift.

So there you have it. I could write more – there are so many things to be grateful for – but I’ll stop there. I’m wishing you all a safe, happy, and healthy Christmas and I’ll see you in the next post.

The Last Few Weeks…

I’m not quite sure how to describe the last few weeks. Intense, maybe. There’s been a lot going on and I’ve done things and felt things that I’ve wanted to write about but couldn’t figure out how. So I’m writing this, with the good, the bad, and the weird of the last few weeks.

So first, I got to take part in a research study for the Centre for Research in Autism and Education at University College London. I’ve written about my experience with research studies before (here) so I won’t ramble on but I love doing them. It often feels like Autism takes opportunities away from me but this allows me to do something I’d never expected and that’s really exciting. I got to put the EEG cap back on and have my brain waves monitored while I did some computer tasks. It was investigating perceptual capacity in Autism (which I’ve written more about here) and it was really fun, like a Windows computer game from the nineties. And apart from trying to get the saline gel out of my hair, it was a really great experience.

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I also went and gave blood for the first time. That was very exciting! I’ve wanted to give blood for years but up until now I haven’t been well enough or I was on medication that disqualified me. So getting to do it was really exciting and a really cool experience. Everyone was really lovely and I’ve since had a text telling me where my donated blood has gone. So the whole thing was really special and I will definitely do it again.

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Despite these cool and inspiring experiences, my mental health has been pretty bad: I reached a new low with my depression. I feel like I’m always saying that the current period of depression is the worst it’s ever been but for me, there are real differences: new thought patterns, new emotional states, new lines, new fears. Each period of depression has a different colour. Anyway. It’s been really bad and really hard and I’ve had some desperate moments.

Medication wise, it’s been a rollercoaster. As per usual. I got myself all but off the Amitriptyline a while ago but I just wasn’t ready to try another medication straight away. It’s a tough process and I just needed some time to feel steady, even if that was steadily bad. Maybe not the most logical decision I’ve made but it made sense to me at the time. And ultimately it doesn’t matter now. I’ve started the Clomipramine, which is what everyone wanted me to do. Finding the right medication and the right dosage can be pretty gruelling and I just needed to be in the right mental headspace. I’m not sure how I feel about the Clomipramine but it’s still early days.

And on this last Monday, I went to see Maren Morris play an amazing, intimate show at OMEARA in London. The staff were great about making it accessible and I was let in without having to queue and there was a chair reserved for me – I really, really miss the days where I could stand for hours without a problem. And the show was fantastic. Maren is one of my all time favourite artists/songwriters and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to.

“When this wonderful world gets heavy and I need to find my escape… yeah, I guess that’s my church.” // @marenmorris was a complete dream tonight. Beautiful, beautiful songs, singing, and stories. My little songwriter soul is so happy. (x)

It might be blurry but I love this photo of me and @richardmarcmusic after the @marenmorris show tonight. We had SUCH a good time. We’re constantly listening to her music, whether we’re in a songwriting session or just chilling out and playing Mariokart. So we were two happy beans tonight. (x)

And now it’s December. Most of my family have birthdays in December and January and of course there’s Christmas and New Year. So that’s a lot of fun things but it also means a lot of high emotion and stress. It’s a tricky time. I’ve found Christmas difficult for the last few years so I’m going to have to be careful to manage my physical and mental health throughout this period. I’m going back to the post I wrote last year about managing Christmas with anxiety and Autism – if that sounds like it might be helpful, you can find it here.