Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 – #KindnessMatters

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Originally, this year’s theme was going to be sleep but with the impact of the pandemic on the world’s mental health, the Mental Health Foundation changed the theme to kindness:

“We think it could be the most important week we’ve hosted, not least because our own research shows that protecting our mental health is going to be central to us coping with and recovering from the coronavirus pandemic – with the psychological and social impacts likely to outlast the physical symptoms of the virus.”

Their website offers some really powerful insight into the importance of kindness:

“We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. Wisdom from every culture across history recognises that kindness is something that all human beings need to experience and practise to be fully alive.”

We all know about Captain Tom Moore’s incredible fundraiser and Dolly Parton’s massive donation towards researching a cure, as well as other wealthy and/or famous people giving money to various charities that support all kinds of people struggling during this time. These are all amazing acts of kindness but the foundation are encouraging people to share acts of kindness they’ve experienced so I thought I’d list some of mine:

  • My street’s WhatsApp group – As many streets or communities do, my street has a WhatsApp group and the generosity displayed in it is really heartwarming. People are offering the use of various equipment, like ladders or gardening tools; people are offering to help those less able than themselves; people are giving things away for free, like packets of seeds, cooking ingredients, unwanted furniture, art that they’ve made, and so on. The sense of community has grown so much since the lockdown and that’s really nice to see.
  • My neighbour helping us to rescue my cat – When one of the kittens went missing, the WhatsApp group helped locate her (which has caused her to become somewhat of a local celebrity) and the owner of the garden with the tree she was stuck in was so lovely about letting us in to retrieve her (we were social distancing, of course). When I tried to get her and couldn’t, my amazing neighbour climbed all the way to the top of the ladder, got his shirt off while perched up there, and used it to drag her off the branch she was clinging too. He handed her straight over to me for a cuddle but asked for a quick cuddle with her himself to apologise for squishing her a bit while getting her down. He told my Mum later that he’s actually terrified of heights but didn’t even think about it while helping us. That actually made me cry. I’m so, so grateful to him – especially with a fear of heights – for getting Sooty down because even with us standing below her, she seemed absolutely paralysed and unable to get down.
  • The generosity of my neighbours – The family next door to us (the father was the guy who rescued Sooty) are just so lovely and have an allotment that they work super hard at. Whenever they bring vegetables back, they give us some and they often share cake or other gorgeous food that they’ve made. They’re honestly some of the most generous people I’ve ever met and I feel so lucky to have them as neighbours.
  • The trumpet player on my street – There’s a guy who lives in the street who has offered, via the WhatsApp group, to come and play ‘Happy Birthday’ on his trumpet for anyone who has a birthday while we’re in lockdown. It’s kind of bizarre but then the world is truly bizarre right now and it’s a lovely, special gesture for a birthday that could otherwise feel very un-special.
  • The handful of people helping my Granny – There are several people who have been helping my Mum’s Mum with her shopping and computer and series of electrical problems, as well as checking in with her (safely) to make sure she’s doing okay, and I’m so grateful. We speak frequently but we’re too far away to be helpful in the practical sense so I’m really thankful for the people making her life easier and safer.
  • The support of my module leader and tutor during the assessment period – This was a while back but still in the lockdown period so I think it counts. I found this assessment really stressful and difficult, whether that’s because I’m still not used to the Masters standard of essay writing or my mental health I don’t know, but my tutor, Dan – who is also the leader of this module – was so helpful. He helped me with sourcing material and gave me really useful feedback. The Masters course is the first time in education where, as an autistic person, I’ve felt truly, 100% supported in my learning, rather than being made to feel like a hindrance, a hitch in the otherwise smoothly running classes. This means so much to me, more than I can possibly articulate. While no autistic person should ever be made to feel this way, it still happens far too often so to have tutors be so accommodating (in such a non-judgemental way) has meant the world to me and made the course possible.
  • Kalie Shorr playing a song I’d requested during one of her livestreams – I said this multiple times but Kalie is one of my favourite musicians, Nashvillians, and people. I wouldn’t call us friends but we’ve met several times during my trips to the US and gotten on well (maybe one day we will be friends – that would be really nice). Since the lockdown began, she’s been playing a lot of livestreams, which has been really cool, and during one of those livestreams, she played a song that I’d requested. It’s an unreleased song, one that she posted a snippet of on her Instagram stories ages ago but I fell in love with it and had been desperate to hear more. So the fact that she actually played it meant a lot to me. And by some good fortune, that livestream took place when I was having a really hard week and it really lifted my spirits so I’m really grateful to Kalie for that.
  • My friend sending me a Sara Bareilles CD – I’m not sure now whether this was just before the lockdown or just after the lockdown started (anyone else having major issues with judging the passing of time?), but a friend of mine was passing on some CDs, knew how much I love Sara Bareilles, and sent me a copy of Little Voice. As I have the money, I’m slowly collecting my favourite albums on CD or even vinyl, so I really appreciated him gifting it to me.

Another one of the focuses of this week is to think about how to build a kinder future. I can’t explain it any better than they do so, again, I’m gonna post what they’ve said:

“We have a once in a generation opportunity not only during but also following this pandemic for a reset and re-think about what kind of society we want to emerge from this crisis.

Our own reports and others such as Sir Michael Marmot’s 10 years On report reveal how inequality is rising in our society and its harmful effects on our health. Life expectancy is falling for the poorest for the first time in 100 years. As child poverty rises, children and young people in the poorest parts of our country are two to three times  more likely to experience poor mental health than those in the richest. After the 2008 credit crunch it was the most vulnerable in our communities who experienced the severest consequences of austerity, with devastating effects on their mental and physical health. This not the hallmark of a kind society. We must not make the same mistakes after this pandemic. 

Applied kindness could have a transformative impact on our schools, places of work, communities and families. As the former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said, now is a time to put values above valuations. We must seize this time to shape a society that tips the balance in favour of good mental health, for all of us, but especially for those who are most vulnerable.”

I have to hope that the kindness I’ve been seeing, the general community focussed behaviour and mindset will only continue after the lockdown ends, even though our lives will be busier, with work and school and so on. We’ll go back to our normal lives but that normal doesn’t have to be the same as the old normal. Hopefully we can build a new normal, one that’s kinder, more connected, more neighbourly, and more flexible, because of this experience with the pandemic and the lockdown. How beautiful would it be if we could create something so good out of such a difficult, distressing time? It won’t, of course, bring back the people who’ve died but perhaps it could be a tribute to all those who have suffered during this time. Maybe it’s naïve but I have to have hope.

I couldn’t make this post without acknowledging the incredible courage and strength and… kindness isn’t a big enough word by far… of the all the NHS staff, care workers, key workers, teachers (fuck the Daily Mail), and all those working unimaginably hard to protect us, keep us safe and healthy and moving forward despite everything going on. We can’t thank them enough. We’ll probably never be able to thank them enough. Someday, somehow, I’ll figure out a way to say  a proper thank you, a way to give back and help people in their honour.

But coming back to Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation are, as I said, encouraging people to share the acts of kindness they’ve experienced or witnessed, using the hashtags, #KindnessMatters and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek on social media. You can find out more and access further resources through their website. And to quote them once more:

“No act of kindness is ever wasted.”

Web

Mass Observation – A Day in the Life of UK Lockdown

On the 12th of May every year, the Mass Observation Archive asks people to keep a diary for a day in order to capture the everyday lives of people all over the UK. This year, 2020, is the 10th anniversary but we are also living in the midst of a global pandemic, making this year a unique one, to say the least.

I’m a dedicated diary writer and have been for years so this is the ideal project for me. I love the idea of so many people’s experiences in one place, the idea of collecting as many versions of one day as possible and trying to build the fullest picture of it. So I was very excited to take part in this day, even if I’ve recently been floored by one of the most awful periods of depression I’ve ever experienced.

Some important things to know before reading this: I am autistic, struggle with depression, anxiety, OCD, and Borderline Personality Disorder. All of the symptoms get worse under stress. I’m halfway through a Masters Degree in Songwriting. I’m really struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic (particularly when it comes to my anxiety, with the fear that my loved ones will get sick), self isolating with my Mum, separated from my three other parents, my brother and my friends.


I slept badly, waking up at eight with my alarm. I’ve been trying to keep to my pre-lockdown routines and on a normal day, I would’ve gotten up and got to work on something but I had a throbbing headache, probably due to the restless night. So I buried my head under my duvet and tried to hide from the light coming in through my curtains.

Being a part time Masters student means I have an empty semester from yesterday until the end of September and I had all of these plans: practice the songwriting skills I’ve learned this year, establish a recording space at home, and get back to swimming, to name a few. But then the pandemic happened and we went into lockdown and all of my plans went out the window. I’m terrified all the time. Everything feels pointless. I can’t focus on anything. And my creativity – my ability to write songs – feels completely blocked. I’m stuck in this frozen state and I just feel like I can’t breathe. I feel like screaming and crying and hyperventilating but I feel like if I start, I’ll never stop. But even distracting myself is hard. I just can’t make myself care about a TV show or whatever. It all feels too big, like there isn’t enough space in my brain for anything other than this howling fear. And this has only been made worse by the government’s most recent, incredibly unclear statement about easing the lockdown. The idea that the government think this is acceptable when hundreds of people are still dying every day makes me sick with fear. I didn’t vote for them but I at least thought they cared about the people they were governing.

The only thing that I’ve found actually helpful in distracting myself is reading fanfiction. It’s something I’ve found effective as a relaxation technique over the last year, dealing with my wildly fluctuating mental health, starting my Masters, and this pandemic. It’s easier than reading a book because I’m already familiar with the worlds and the characters, which is a relief when I’m constantly exhausted by all this fear. Escaping into a comforting world is just that… comforting. So I spent several hours doing that, reading through old favourites from my teenage years when I first discovered fanfiction. It just gave me a break from everything. As much as possible, anyway.

Eventually though I got up and went downstairs. I thought that maybe working on one of my anxieties would help my overall level of anxiety so me and Mum went out into the garden to do some filming for a music video. My original idea is now impossible with the lockdown, which has been very upsetting because I was really looking forward to it, so I’m having to come up with something new, something that’s been difficult and frustrating because the original idea felt so perfect. I’m not super happy with the current back up plan but I need something. So me and Mum spent several hours filming [I’m omitting some bits here because I don’t want to give away the video if this is what we end up using]. I have absolutely no energy at the moment so I was completely exhausted by the end of it, even though I don’t feel like I actually did that much. I ended up falling asleep in the comfy chair in the kitchen, sleeping for a couple of hours.

I woke up, stiff and uncomfortable and just as anxious. Apparently trying to work through an anxiety didn’t help. Maybe I didn’t solve that anxiety, maybe all of this is just too big.

I had a shower and then settled on the sofa in the living room. There are so many things that I could be doing with my time but I just don’t have the motivation, the emotional energy. I just can’t see the point – what does any of it matter when hundreds of people are dying everyday, when people are losing loved ones, drowning in unbearable grief? It’s in moments of quiet that these thoughts overwhelm me and I feel my throat start to close up.

I dived back into fanfiction until dinner snuck up on me. Me and Mum ate in front of a Lucifer rewatch – for some reason, it was the only show that didn’t make me want to scream. We watched until we were both falling asleep, until the cats were crawling all over us for their pre-bedtime snack (otherwise they do their level best to wake us up at five in the morning). So we fed them and headed for bed.

It’s hard to admit – maybe because I’m twenty five and feel I should be stronger than this – but I haven’t been able to sleep without my Mum with me for weeks now, possibly longer. All of my mental health stuff is worse at night, particularly my anxiety. It just builds and builds until I’m in a panic attack or worse, a full autistic meltdown. Having my Mum with me, feeling her heartbeat and hearing her breathe, makes things just okay enough to fall asleep, although sometimes it takes a sleeping pill too.


If you’ve been keeping a diary or still want to jot down some thoughts about yesterday, I really encourage you to do so and send it to the archive. The page is here, in case you’d like to submit or learn more about this and their other projects.

Living in Lockdown

When I’m not spiralling into an anxiety-induced meltdown over the pandemic, the resulting quarantine, and (particularly) the thought of a loved one getting sick, I can look at living in lockdown in a somewhat detached, practical sense (something that has taken over a month to be able to do). Intellectually speaking, we’re living in unprecedented times, experiencing something that our parents are experiencing with us for the first time – something that very rarely occurs. There are very few people alive who have witnessed the last pandemic of this scale: the Spanish Influenza in 1918. So this is a big deal, one that will be written about in history books and studied in the future – from political, sociological, and psychological points of view to name just a few. I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently and I can’t help thinking how often history is told from the point of view of the powerful and how terribly, appallingly wrong that is, especially given the number of mistakes being made by the people in power during this period (I’m speaking from the UK but I think we’re all aware of the mistakes being made by other governments, especially that of the US). So, if we want that to change, we have to write it ourselves, write our own experiences of living in lockdown, both for the history books but also for our own sake, so that we don’t forget what this experience has been like and how our lives have been changed by it. And as true as it is that we’re all in the same position – all in lockdown with limited access to our families and friends, the world outside, and our ‘normal lives’ – each of us will be experiencing this differently so I think the more experiences written about the better. So here I am, writing about mine, both for the reasons I’ve already listed but also to keep from drowning in it all, in the anxiety and the fear and the attempt to keep going as if this isn’t a traumatic experience.

I was aware of the Coronavirus before it even moved out of China but it felt like such a horror movie scenario and caused me such anxiety that I worked really hard not to think about it too much. It seemed unlikely that it would get all the way to the UK so I focussed on the anxieties in front of me and got on with my life. Besides, surely the government would be prepared should it reach us, given how much warning they had. I didn’t vote for this government nor do I trust them but I assumed that their egocentric motivations would have them preparing the country as best they could, for themselves if not for their people.

But then the virus started to move from country to country and more and more people in the UK began to take the idea that it might reach us seriously. I battled with my anxiety around it, trying to act responsibly without thinking so hard about it that it sent me into anxiety induced meltdowns. To an extent, I felt fairly unafraid of getting the virus as a young, physically healthy person but having said that, I was very aware that I was in regular contact with immunocompromised people and I was terrified of getting it and passing it on to them. So I was careful to wash my hands, use hand sanitiser, and avoid busy areas and travel times where possible. My anxiety had already been high before the virus made the news so it was a daily battle, as it often is.

Then everything seemed to happen at once. One day I was making plans with a friend for later in the week and the next she was on a plane back to her home country because of the travel ban. I didn’t even get to say a proper goodbye (that’s my little bit of self-pity done because I know, without a doubt, that she made the right choice and I absolutely support her decision). Before that week of classes began, our course came together (electronically) and decided that we didn’t feel it was safe for us or others if we were travelling to and from uni, etc, so suddenly my weekly routine was gone, my education disrupted, and my friends were all going home, again without any of us actually getting to say goodbye to each other. I know we can all talk via social media and video calls and that this isn’t forever but depending how long this goes on, we may never come together as a course again and that is an idea I find really difficult to get my head around emotionally.

I think it was the next week that we went into official lockdown. My university pulled out all the stops to support us and within days, our classes had been moved online but prerecorded lectures and a forum aren’t the easiest ways to have discussions and a sudden lack of access to the library and facilities wasn’t an easy adjustment. I found the online classes difficult. Don’t get me wrong – I really appreciate how hard they worked to keep our education up to date and as normal as possible – but it’s not the way I learn best. It’s just a personal thing. It also made working on the assessment essay much more challenging. Fortunately, I had a tutor who was incredibly supportive and with his help (and my Mum’s), I managed to get it in with good time, despite the added stress and the impact that had.

The essay, despite the anxiety it caused me, was actually a good distraction. As soon as it was done and submitted, I really started to feel the effects of being in lockdown. After all, up until then, I was pretty much doing what I would’ve been doing anyway: spending all my time on my assignment. But with that done, it all started to sink in.

The most obvious struggle is that I miss and worry about my family. I have four parents, only one of which I’m living with, and the others are all on their own; my brother is living by himself in London; my Mum’s Mum is also living by herself, a significant distance from any of us, even if we were allowed to visit each other (I’m thinking more in the case of an emergency where we would obviously keep our distance from each other and be very careful); and I have multiple family members categorised as vulnerable. So I have a lot of people to worry about and worry about them I do. The constant anxiety is exhausting. And as grateful as I am for video calls, it’s just not the same. I miss BEING with them. I desperately miss HUGGING them. I try not to dwell on it – or stress about how much longer we’ll be separated – because that is only more damaging to my mental health but it’s hard. It’s really hard.

On a similar note, I also really miss my friends. We have video calls, regular calls, texting, social media, movie dates on platforms like Netflix Party, and so on but again, it’s not the same. It’s not the same as hanging out with them, or hugging them, or going on coffee dates, or having writing sessions. As I’ve already said, I’m trying not to think about how long it could be before I see them again. We’ll manage, thanks to the technology we have,  but it will be really wonderful to see them again.

The other thing that I’m really struggling with right now is my mental health.  For those of you who know me or have followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that, amongst other things, I struggle daily with anxiety and depression. These are the particular problems that have only gotten worse since the appearance of Covid-19 and the lockdown.

  • Anxiety is my constant companion, although fortunately I have my ’emergency’ medication (to be taken as needed) for when it gets really bad, like I-can’t-breathe bad. My anxiety rises to that level at some point most days and the medication has kept it about as manageable as I think I’m going to get in the current circumstances. But my anxiety isn’t constantly that overwhelming (at least not anymore) and I’m wary of going through the medication too fast so most of the time, I’m just left with this relentless pulsing under my skin that leaves me restless and unable to think as clearly as usual.
  • My depression has been really bad too. Some days are a complete write off from the beginning, where all I can do is stare at the TV. Most of the time though, my mood is better but more precarious. I feel like I’m walking a tightrope: one little knock and I’m going to plunge straight into the darkness. It feels like I have to constantly watch my step, be hyper aware of any possible threat to my mental health, otherwise I’ll fall and who knows how long it would take to build myself back up again, given the uncertain, scary times we’re living in. Maintaining my mental health in this period is like trying to build a house of cards of shifting sands. It’s practically impossible.
  • Since the lockdown started, I’ve had serious difficulty concentrating. On anything. Getting my university assignment done took more force of will than I knew I had and while I knew that I’d need some recovery time after that and after finishing an intense semester, weeks later my ability to focus hasn’t returned. I’ve had phases where I’ve struggled to focus (likely caused by my fluctuating mental health and trying different medications) but it’s never been this bad. I can’t read a book, I can’t watch anything, I can’t do anything without my concentration drifting. Everything takes ten times longer to finish and ten times as much energy, if not more.
  • Most distressingly for me is that my creative brain is completely dead. Out of power. It just feels empty and I have no ideas. I’ve suffered extended periods of writer’s block before and usually experience it to a degree along with the exhaustion of finishing a difficult semester and stressful assessment period but it’s scary to feel that it’s still not working, even after several weeks have passed. I’ve tried all my strategies for writing and all my strategies for writer’s block but nothing is working. It feels like my brain is broken and that’s really, really upsetting.

I’ve still been having therapy, but via Zoom instead of in person. In theory, it shouldn’t be that different but somehow it is. I’d never really considered how important it is to have a space to work through all the hard stuff and then be able to walk away from it, which you just can’t do when you’re having therapy in your living room. Plus, Zoom calls are exhausting – here’s a good article about that – which only adds to how exhausting therapy can be. Then, when it comes to the content of a session, it all feels a bit frozen: it’s hard to tackle difficult emotions when we’re in the middle of different difficult emotions. And when I’m just about coping, feeling so fragile, I don’t want to trigger something and make life even more emotionally difficult for myself than it is already. So the whole thing is really tricky and confusing. Having sessions is definitely better than not having them but it’s not straightforward. It’s not as easy as I thought it would be when we made the plan just before lockdown.

And just to add to that, I’ve been struggling with sleepiness as a side effect of my medication for months but that’s gotten a lot worse since self isolating (perhaps from the increased anxiety – I don’t know). I’m exhausted by the smallest things and I seem to need so much more sleep. And that hasn’t been helped by a sudden, intense bout of hay fever, which has bestowed upon me the additional symptoms of an itchy, blocked nose and sore, itchy eyes. It’s been so bad that even having the windows open makes it dramatically worse so going outside definitely hasn’t been an option (I can’t take antihistamines because of my other medication). So I can’t even go in the garden, making me feel all the more trapped. Inhaling steam helps but only for short periods of time. The recent rain has been a blessing, giving me several days of relief. I’m cautiously hopeful that it’s started to settle – I’ve managed a couple of trips into the garden without incident – but I don’t want to speak too soon.

And lastly, for now at least, I’m really struggling with how uncertain everything is, uncertainty having always been something that causes me anxiety. We don’t know when the lockdown will end, we don’t know when we’ll be safe again, we don’t know when we’re going to see our friends and family again. I don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of my university course. And so on and so on and so on. So on top of the ongoing fear, there’s nothing solid to hold onto. Many of my summer plans have become impossible or at least difficult, while some have been cancelled outright, which has obviously been very upsetting and left me without anything to look forward to or anchor me. I feel very lost. I’m sure that’s true for a lot of people at the moment. I try to focus on each day as it comes but it’s hard. We’re all so used to looking and planning ahead.

One more thing… I found this on Twitter the other day and wanted to share it:

I found it really helpful to have various explanations as to why I’m struggling, to know that my brain isn’t actually broken. Of course, knowing this stuff doesn’t actually fix the problems but being able to take a breath and reassure myself that there is a reason and that it won’t last forever has been helpful.

I hope you’re all safe and coping the best you can. And if you’re in the UK and they do loosen the lockdown this coming week, please continue to be careful. I hate being in lockdown but I’m absolutely terrified of what will happen if the government relax the rules, of how many more people will get sick and die. I’m scared out of my mind that someone I love will catch it. I can only speak for myself but I’m sure I’m not the only one with such fears. So please, please be careful. For all of us.

The Second Semester of My Masters

So, that’s it. I’ve finished the second semester of my Masters Degree. That’s a very weird thought. I kind of can’t believe I made it. But I did. And I wanted to write about it, like I wrote about the first semester because all of this is weird and wonderful and difficult and part of the journey.

This semester, the module I studied was called Musicology (“the scholarly analysis and research-based study of music”) and my classes were split into two different blocks. The first was a series of lectures, each based around a different artist/songwriter and a specific element of their career, like David Bowie and identity, Prince and authenticity, and Max Martin and his use of melodic math (not all of them were men – these are just the ones that are coming to mind as I write this). I’d expected it to be based more around elements affecting music and it’s creation and consumption, like the history of certain genres, feminism, the constant evolution of technology and social media, rather than specific artists but maybe that was a misinterpretation on my part or simply a different approach that could’ve been taken. I don’t know. It was interesting and I learned a lot but a lot of the reading was very academic which I struggled with, given that I’m having  some trouble with what you’d probably call my cognitive processing. Having said that, we had a great tutor who is really passionate about the module, which made it so much more enjoyable and engaging than a lecture heavy module could’ve been.

The group was larger than I was used to but there were a lot of familiar faces, including my two closest friends on the course. That was definitely a positive, both because I love them and because it helped me to adjust to all the changes. But it was also nice to meet some new people and get to know better the ones that I sort of knew and wanted to know better. So that was really nice, even if it took me a while to adjust to the new group dynamic. I’ve made some good friends from that class, even though it was cut short by the lockdown (I’ll get onto that in a bit).

The second block of classes were practical classes where we discussed in further depth the techniques we’d covered in the lecture class (the technical skills and application) and then we’d go away and write a song based on those techniques. Some of the briefs were really inspiring but on the whole, I found the whole exercise frustrating and a bit of a waste of time. We’d just spent a whole semester working on our creative process and tackling our blocks and weak areas and suddenly we had no time to work on them any further because we were focussing on and trying out other people’s techniques. I just feel like I was finally making progress, particularly in my musical ability (I’ve always struggled when it comes to experimenting with different chords and chord progressions), and suddenly that progress was being curbed dramatically, making it really hard to invest myself in the songs I was writing for this class.

The assessment for this module was a single four thousand word essay on anything related to songwriting. Most people choose a songwriter and then focussed on some aspect of their songwriting or the impact of their songwriting in a certain area, like feminism or the genre they were part of, for example. I really didn’t want to go through the overwhelming stress I went through at the end of the last semester due to lack of clarity around the assignments so I spoke to my Module Leader (who was also my tutor and a tutor I’ve known since my BA) really early in the semester so that I could be as prepared as possible and when I presented the potential subjects I had in mind, he gave me some really good advice: choose the one you’ll learn most from. So I decided to investigate Taylor Swift’s use of imagery and how that links to the authenticity in her songwriting, specifically in her song, ‘All Too Well.’ I thought that would benefit my songwriting the most, since those are elements that are important in my writing and therefore knowing more about them could only strengthen my use of them. So, alongside my classes, I slowly started to gather research about those topics.

I was still researching (I readily admit with the help of my Mum because I found myself struggling so much with the academic language and with my cognitive functioning) when the Coronavirus reached the UK. Classes continued but as a course (there aren’t a huge number of us and we have a group chat on WhatsApp where we’re in constant contact with each other) we discussed the situation and came to the collective conclusion  that we didn’t feel safe travelling to and from uni, as well as being in the busy setting of a university. Our representatives contacted the senior staff and not long after, our classes were moved online. I think it was a week or so after that that the lockdown was announced.

Initially, not much changed for me, apart from the fact that I was no longer commuting to London for my classes. I attended the online classes, did my work, and researched for my essay. Determined not to go through a last week of panic writing, I got to writing as soon as I had enough material and added as I learned more. My tutor was fantastic in recommending sources when I got really stuck (there’s not as much research on imagery and authenticity in song lyrics as you’d think) and giving me some excellent feedback when I finished my first draft, still with plenty of time before the deadline. He’s been amazing throughout the whole module and I’m really grateful. I, again with my Mum’s help, went through the feedback and did the best we could to improve and strengthen the essay before submitting it just under a week before the deadline. So no last minute panicking. I think I did the best I could under the circumstances. But it wasn’t a solo effort. They’re my ideas and my words but I would NOT have been able to do it without my Mum’s support, and gentle pushing on the days where it just felt too hard. I couldn’t have gotten through the researching, the writing, or the editing without her. It is a better piece of work because of her help and I’m so incredibly grateful, both for her help on this assignment and throughout this module but also for her in general, for the ways she has supported me otherwise: helped me manage and protect my mental health, organised my life for me when it took all I had just to stumble through the days, for making sure I ate, even and probably especially on days when I didn’t want to. I’m so lucky to have her and I’m aware of that every minute of every day.

It’s been a weird semester. In a lot of ways it was smoother than the first, both because I was getting the hang of my routine as a Masters student but also because my mental health was more stable, if not necessarily better. I had some great, cherished times with my friends but then they were all suddenly ripped away without proper goodbyes by the lockdown (thank god for video calls). I got to do some really fun cowrites, which were then suddenly stalled for the same reason. They can be rearranged and done by FaceTime or Zoom but it’s not the same: I find it much harder to be creative WITH someone when we’re not actually in the same room (plus the lag time makes singing or playing together a real challenge). I’ll make it work because I love cowriting and I love the people I’m writing with but I do find it harder. I was also really enjoying the lectures and discussions we had in class and online classes just aren’t the same. So what was mostly a pretty positive semester was cut off in its prime and I do grieve the way things could’ve been.

I’m done now. The full-timers have another semester but I’m free until the end of September ish. I’ve completed the first year of my Masters Degree. That’s a very strange sentence to write out. There were many, many moments where I was sure I’d have to defer, despite the fact that the thought made me feel physically ill. But I made it. It was somewhat anti-climactic, given that we’re all in lockdown: I uploaded my assignment, clicked a button, and that was it. Year One done. I don’t think I could sum it – or the emotions I’ve experienced – up if I tried, not without writing a PhD length post. It’s been good and difficult and inspiring and more stressful than I could’ve possibly imagined. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve met some wonderful people. I guess I’ll leave it at that.

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Two Years In

As of today, we have been living in the ‘new house’ for two years. So it’s not exactly new. But after living somewhere for fifteen years, two years feels like nothing. In fifteen years, I became a person, my own person. Then I blinked and two years went by. It’s not even comparable.

There were so, so many good memories in the ‘old’ house: the late night games me and my brother would play where we made nests out of our bedding, bringing Lucky home at eight weeks old, listening to the same Annie Lennox CD every year as we decorated the Christmas tree, evenings watching TV as a family, my Dad telling us made up Harry Potter stories until we fell asleep, waking up to Snubby curled up on the pillow next to me even if it meant a mouthful of fur, big dinners with family and friends, bringing Lucy home, things as simple as coming home to the living room windows open and Wimbledon on the television. There are more good memories than I can count.

There were also bad memories, like my Mum crying after her Dad died, coming home after being bullied at school, watching my brother come home after being bullied at school, the early meltdowns, Lucky getting sick, having my heart broken for the first time, being told my cat was terminally ill, taking her to the vet that last time and coming home without her… finding out that my Dad had died. They aren’t memories I want to spend time with but they are moments that made me who I am and so I need them safe. And those walls kept them safe for years. But memories aren’t like possessions. You can’t pack them into a box when you leave a place. So what if you reach your new house and they haven’t travelled with you? At least not with the same clarity, in the same condition, that they were in where you previously lived? What if small details have been left behind?

“So what is it that makes us mourn the loss of a structure? It’s not the great architecture, or the way the light pours in through the windows in the morning. It’s the loss of the vessel that held our memories. It’s almost as if leaving a home rich in such a lived-in history causes our memories to spill out everywhere, and we feel like we’ve spun out of orbit, scrambling to collect them… But we have to remember that we have lost the vessel, not the memories. We just have to build a new place to hold them.” – Kelli Kehler on Design Sponge (x)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been walking around, looking at the house and trying to figure out how I feel about it, how I feel about the fact that it’s been two years since we left the place that I’d always considered home. I’d never thought far enough ahead to consider anywhere else home. This is where I live now – I know that – but when I think of home, it’s the old house. But that’s not home anymore either because it’s got other people in it who will have changed things – who will be filling it with their own memories – so I’m not sure where ‘home’ is. In a way, I feel kind of homeless. It doesn’t help that even though we’ve been here two years, we haven’t had much time to do anything to make it ours. Not really.

It’s a grieving process. And it’s one that hasn’t been properly dealt with because there’s been so much going on: medication changes, going back to university, challenges with my mental health. To say it’s been hard is a pretty huge understatement. It’s been one of the hardest things to happen in my life.

But I guess there’s a reason we call it a grieving process. Because it is a process. Our feelings change day to day. We move forward, we move back. Our emotions heighten, they settle, and then they heighten again. It’s ever changing. So rather than sum up the last two years, I’m trying just to think about now and when I think about now, this is what comes to mind: most days, it’s okay or it’s at least not something I think about. But there are still days where I hate it, where it feels like I’m walking around wearing someone else’s skin.

I’ve read various articles about moving out of your childhood home and adjusting to a new house and something that came up a lot was finding things you like about your new surroundings and where you find things you don’t like, try to figure out why and what you can do about it.

So here are some examples…

What do I love about it?

  • The living room feels like a safe bubble, where I can shut out the world when I need to. I especially like it since we hung fairy lights around the room. Plus it’s where the cats spend most of their time.
  • I like the white curtains in my room and the living room. I’d only ever had dark coloured curtains so I thought I’d hate them when we moved in but I actually really like them. As a person who’s sensitive to light, it’s really nice to be able to block out the bright light but still have natural light in the room.
  • I love the fireplace. It’s beautiful and fires in the winter is something that me and my Mum look forward to all year.
  • I love the big, glass double doors that lead out into the garden, which has a deck, a eucalyptus tree, and yellow roses. It’s the perfect garden.

What don’t I love and how can I change those things?

  • I don’t love my room. It’s not MY room; it’s just a room I sleep in. I don’t hate it – I like the colour and the curtains and the bed – but I don’t love it. I want to go through my clothes and get rid of things that don’t feel like me, put some pictures up, and generally just make the space ‘feel’ right. But, to a degree, I think that’s something I’ll only know when I feel it.
  • I want a space to make music – even if it’s tiny – where I can put my laptop, microphone, MIDI keyboard, and so on. I just want my own little space, not something I have to reassemble every time I want to record something.
  • Both me and Mum really dislike the bathroom. We don’t dwell on it but not a week goes by that one of us doesn’t curse one element of it or another. The floorboards are super squeaky, the flooring is ugly, it’s cramped, and it’s just impractically planned out. It’s the only room we’ve always wanted to completely re-do. We’d started the planning process but obviously that’s on hold while we’re in lockdown.
  • The house is still a bit bare, a bit impersonal. It still doesn’t quite feel like ours. I couldn’t figure out why until recently, when I looked around and realised that we still haven’t put up more than a couple of pictures. So me and Mum have pledged to put more personal touches around the house, as well as put up more pictures and photos. Given the lockdown, this is one of the few ‘decorating’ things we can do without leaving the house.

Me and Mum have been talking about this, about this feeling, for quite a while. But with my Masters, I haven’t had the time or the energy to do much about it. And Mum’s been working and helping me manage everything. But my second semester is ending and we’re stuck in lockdown so we’re planning to carve out some time to get more comfortable here – or get me more comfortable, at least, as the one more sensitive to this issue. We won’t be going out to get paint or new tiles or anything like that given the current situation but since we’re both stuck in the house with some extra free time, we thought we’d start with the things we can do while in lockdown, like putting up pictures. We also have a scale drawing of my room and cut outs of my furniture and have been moving them around to try and create a set up that is both practical and feels right to me, enough at least to try out.

So we’ll see how it goes. Nothing’s going to change overnight, but then what does? One step at a time, hopefully this house will feel more like home.

Tips for moving out of your childhood home. (x)

My Favourite Albums of the 2010s

(NOTE: I’ve lost track of how long we’ve been in lockdown but it feels like forever and I’m BORED. And my boredom – combined with my passion for music (and writing/talking about it) – has culminated in this post. It’s a very, very long post so no worries, I won’t be offended if you don’t read all of it, or even read it at all. This was just a bit of a passion project that once I started, I couldn’t put down.)

This is ultimately a blog where I write about living with mental health problems and Autism but music is such a big part of my life that, now my creative brain is coming back to life (a round of applause for Phenelzine), some music content was always going to appear. And I was scrolling through my iTunes (or whatever it’s called now) when it occurred to me that while I write about the important songs of each year, I’ve never talked about albums. And as we’ve entered the new decade, I thought I’d write about some of the most significant albums for me over this last decade, the decade where music really became my life.

It was a really difficult job but I’ve narrowed it down to fifteen (I’m deliberately leaving out singles and EPs because otherwise we’d be here forever). This isn’t necessarily the order in which I discovered them but there’s no way to tell that so I’ve just organised them by release date…


Love Hangover by Alyssa Bernal (2011)

I’d been following Alyssa Bernal on YouTube, after discovering her ‘I’m Yours’ cover. She has such a gorgeous voice and when she covers songs, it doesn’t feel like she’s deliberately trying to make the song her own; they just sound new and fresh and like her own songs simply because she’s singing them. She’d posted a few original songs and those were the ones I always longed for (as much as I loved her covers) and so I was ecstatic when she was signed and announced that she was releasing an album. She toured with Lifehouse (she vlogged the experience – the first one is here) and it was so cool to hear the songs and see her find her confidence on stage. But then the album didn’t come, and didn’t come, and didn’t come (for reasons outside her control). It was so frustrating because she was so good; she deserved to have the songs she’d recorded out in the world. But somehow she got it released independently and while I was sad that some of the songs she’d previously posted on YouTube weren’t on it, I loved it and played it constantly. And now, almost ten years later, it holds such nostalgia for me. My favourites then and now are ‘Stay’ (I love the lyric , “Stay if I get lost along the way and I start fighting windmills, trying to make sense of everything that don’t make sense”), ‘Raincloud Grey,’ and I’m so, so glad that ‘Hey Love’ made it onto the album. I’m pretty sure that that song was the song that got me into songwriting: the lyrics especially just changed something for me, like when you read a book or see a movie and it feels like the whole world has changed. It’s a beautiful, beautiful song.


RED by Taylor Swift (2012)

This was simultaneously a hard call and an easy one. I love all of Taylor’s albums from the 2010s (shout out to Speak Now, RED, 1989, reputation, and Lover) but RED has got to be one of my favourite albums of all time. It was the first Taylor album I was there for from the livestream announcement (I became a fan sometime during 2011) and so it was all new and exciting to me. I remember being up at 2am, jamming to ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ when it was first released. It’s hard to choose favourites; it’s more a case of which songs do I love more than I love others. I love ‘State of Grace,’ because it was the opening number of The Red Tour, the first time I ever saw Taylor live. The moment during State of Grace, when the curtain dropped, was amazing and is a moment I want to remember forever. The song also became very important to me in a different way when a relationship in my family broke up. The lyric ‘we fall in love ’til it hurts or bleeds or fades in time’ was the only thing that explained all the emotion I felt over it. I love ‘Red’ because the lyric writing is so clever despite having such a simple concept. Me and my best friend used to play it on guitar over and over again and it was so much fun. I love ‘Treacherous’ and I always play it when I’m in the car at night. The bridge is so beautiful and the lyrics throughout the song are so emotive. I love ‘I Knew You Were Trouble,’ and I especially loved it after seeing it on TV when she sang it at the Brit Awards, the chaotic-ness of it, especially as it speeds up towards the end. ‘All Too Well’ will forever be one of my absolute favourite songs, as well as being one of my favourite Taylor songs. It’s so beautiful. The story is told so well, the detail is hypnotic, and the emotions are so strong and perfectly presented. I felt every moment of it. And to hear it live on The Red Tour was so special. I could talk about this song forever, how it’s another essential for any car journey, my favourite lyrics, the production, etc, etc. I really could. I’m actually writing an essay about it for my Masters at the moment. I love it so much. And ‘so casually cruel in the name of being honest’ has to be one of my favourite lyrics ever. I could talk about that one lyric forever. I love ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ because it always reminds me of that first night, the first time I heard it on the live stream. And I love singing along to it at full volume in the car. I love ‘The Last Time,’ and how the two voices sound together, how it really sounds like a conversation. I think it’s one of the saddest songs on the album. I love ‘Holy Ground’ and how joyful and almost triumphant it feels and sounds. I was so glad to hear her feel so good about a past relationship, even if it had ended badly. I loved the performance on the tour and whenever I listen to this song, I always feel a surge of hope that, eventually, everything will be okay. I love ‘Begin Again.’ I remember when it first came out: I was in college early and I was sitting in a stairwell with my eyes closed, just letting the lyrics sink in. A lot of the lyrics really resonated with me so I think it’ll always be one of the important ones for me. And I love ‘The Moment I Knew.’ Whenever I need to cry and let my emotions out, this is the song I turn on. It always breaks my heart how sad Taylor sounds. I think it’s so simple and beautiful – the imagery is just so vivid – although I can’t listen to it all that often because it makes me so sad. So… my list of favourites is basically the tracklist. I just love all the changing emotion and detail and imagery in the lyrics, the catchy – both subtle and obvious – melodies, the experimentation in the production, and so on and so on and so on. I love everything about it. And that was such a tumultuous period in my life that there are so many emotions and memories attached to it. And as I said, it was also the first time I saw Taylor live so the RED album and The RED Tour (I went to several tour dates and for one of them, I somehow ended up in the second row and I can confirm that Taylor’s hair is made of magic) are really special to me.


Same Trailer Different Park by Kacey Musgraves (2013)

It was really hard to choose between this first album and her third album, Golden Hour, but I think that, because this one introduced me to Kacey Musgraves, that just put it over the top (but still, a major shout out to Golden Hour). It was this album that had me falling in love with Kacey’s songwriting and it was one of the albums that got me into country music. I heard her play ‘Merry Go Round’ on Jools Holland, I think, and she was playing Shepherd’s Bush Empire the next night so I bought a ticket and played the album on repeat so that I’d know the songs and could sing along. My immediate favourites were ‘Silver Lining’ (such an amazing opener), ‘Merry Go Round,’ ‘Blowin’ Smoke’ (I especially love the production on this one), ‘Back On The Map’ (and the guitar solo in the live performance is just gorgeous), ‘Keep It To Yourself’ (I think this is my ultimate favourite  – the loneliness, in the lyrics and the production, just gets me every time), ‘Stupid,’ ‘Follow Your Arrow’ (I love how enthusiastic the crowd gets every time she plays this song), and ‘It Is What It Is.’ So basically the whole album. I love how gentle her voice is, her attention to detail, the different stories and emotions on the album, and how those emotions seem to effortlessly spill from the lyrics. It’s a beautiful, beautiful album.


Native by OneRepublic (2013)

I can’t remember now how I came across this album and OneRepublic in general but I loved this album from the moment I listened to it. Ryan Tedder is an incredible writer and I love the production: I love the anthemic quality to the whole album. I want to be able to write songs like this one day. My favourites tend to change every time I listen to it but my top five have remained roughly the same: ‘Something I Need,’ ‘I Lived,’ ‘Feel Again,’ ‘What You Wanted,’ and ‘Preacher.’ They all give me such a lift; they give me this feeling of being able to breathe again after being underwater for too long. I think ‘Something I Need’ will always be my favourite OneRepublic song, not only because it’s a great song (Ryan Tedder’s described it as their ‘pub or last call song’ and it really sounds like one) but because it was a favourite song that me and my best friend in sixth form shared. It reminds me of her, of that time in my life, of summer, grassy fields, and driving with the windows down. The two of us actually got to go to the Teenage Cancer Trust show with OneRepublic shown in the video below and it was incredible. I only wish I’d taken more photos and video but at least I have this. Ryan Tedder is an amazing performer and has such a captivating stage presence. And when they did ‘Something I Need,’ he put everything into it. It was one of the best moments, everyone singing and shouting along as Ryan Tedder leapt around the stage, having just as good a time it seemed as we all were. That unity that you get at concerts, during songs like that… that’s just pure magic. In my opinion, at least. Whenever I listen to this song and this album, it reminds me of the lift that show gave me.


Don’t Look Down by Skylar Grey (2013)

I discovered Skylar Grey after she released her single, ‘Invisible,’ (which completely coincidentally was the name of my first single, something I completely didn’t realise until I started writing this) and just fell in love with her, her lyric writing in particular. I loved her solo version of ‘Love The Way You Lie’ as well so I was so excited when she released her album. My favourites even now are ‘Wear Me Out,’ ‘Religion’ (I love the simplicity in the lyric), ‘Clear Blue Sky’ (I loved this one so much that I learnt it on guitar and posted it on YouTube when I did YouTube covers and it was one of the most popular videos I ever posted), and ‘Tower (Don’t Look Down),’ which I think is my ultimate favourite off the album, although it’s really hard to choose. She has a gorgeous voice, the production is always interesting but fitting to the song, her melodies are so slick, and I just love the way she writes lyrics. They weren’t like anything I’d ever heard. She just depicts all of these different emotions so viscerally, with so few words, which takes such skill. And some of them are so achingly vulnerable, like in ‘Tower (Don’t Look Down)’: ‘I always knew that you would follow your big dreams, what I didn’t know is that your dreams never did include me.’ That breaks my heart every time I hear it. I think it’s one of my favourite lyrics on the  whole album. It’s lyric writing like that that’s been a big influence on my writing. Someone actually asked me in class a while back if I’d heard of her because the song I’d just played sounded like one of hers and that was such a huge compliment to me. She’s one of those songwriters that just makes me want to get better, be the best writer I can possible be and then some. Like all of the songwriters included in this list really.


Brave Enough: Live at the Variety Playhouse by Sara Bareilles (2013)

This was a really difficult choice. I have to give a shout out to her other albums of the decade, Kaleidoscope Heart, The Blessed Unrest, What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress, and Amidst The Chaos because I dearly love them all but there’s something so special about this one, about how it’s just Sara and her piano. I also love that it allows for a selection of songs from all of her albums. So maybe this is a little bit of a cheat but I have just said I love all of her albums of the last decade so I think it’s okay. I love the different production style of each album but as I said, I love how this one shows off Sara’s incredible range of skills: singing, piano, and guitar playing. It also lays bare her songwriting ability, letting the lyrics and melody truly shine. I love the revitalised version of ‘Love On The Rocks’ (it has some incredible lyrics in it), mashed up with ‘Bennie and the Jets.’ I love the unassuming but nevertheless empowering version of ‘Uncharted’ (probably my favourite song of hers, along with ‘She Used To Be Mine’). I love her cover of ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.’ I love the vulnerability of ‘Manhattan.’ I’ve always loved ‘Let The Rain’ but the eagerness of the crowd’s participation and Sara’s interaction with them is so funny and warm that I laugh every time I listen to it. I love ‘I Just Want You’ and how this is the only version of it, because she always wanted it to be a live song, since it’s about her connection with her audience (as I believe she once said). I love the updated version of ‘Come Round Soon,’ which begins with this incredible, laid back coolness that moves effortlessly into sheer power and ferocity. I love the nostalgia of ‘Once Upon Another Time’ and how you could hear a pin drop throughout the whole song, when it’s her voice alone and then when she brings in the harmonium (it’s an incredible performance). She displays her absolutely incredible vocals on ‘Brave’ and ‘Gravity,’ both such special songs. I could go on and on. It’s a beautiful album. Sara is one of my favourite artists as a whole but her lyric writing blows me away every time – the detail, the imagery, the emotion, all in such a short space of time with so few words – and I only hope I can write a song as good as some of hers one day.


Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me! (2014)

I was introduced to Against Me! by one of my best friends and my brother, who were both really into them. They made me a playlist of their favourites and gave it to me to listen to. I’ve never really listened to punk rock before so it was all very new to me and a bit of an adjustment having only really listened to pop, country, and singersongwriter stuff but by about the third song, I was a huge fan. I loved most of the songs they’d given me, especially those from the then current album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. My favourites were and still are: ‘True Trans Soul Rebel,’  which always reminds me of one of my best friends who is one of the best, most incredible people I love; ‘FUCKMYLIFE666,’ which the three of us would scream along to in the car, the idea of being in tune abandoned  in the face of sheer passion for the song; ‘Dead Friend,’ the story of which must’ve been hard to write about and so I always feel honoured to have had it shared with me; ‘Two Coffins,’ which is incredibly sweet despite the morbid sounding title; and ‘Paralytic States,’ a song that I feel deeply connected to, although I’m not ready to talk about why. I just love Laura Jane Grace’s writing: her lyrics are brutal but honest and empowering in their honesty, even when the songs aren’t emotionally empowering, if that makes sense. The stories told in the songs are also ones that I’m not used to hearing, including being transgender (obviously), the death of a friend, suicide, and more. These are all stories that I can relate to in some way and so it’s incredibly validating to have the music you’re listening to acknowledge these very real things, rather than simply stories of falling in love (not that there’s anything wrong with those songs in themselves). And the production on the album is just gorgeous; I particularly love the electric guitar sounds and am always trying to sneak similar ones into my own music, even though the genres are very different. Anyway, it’s an amazing album. And then we were lucky enough to see the band play when they came to London, which was amazing, one of the most amazing concerts I’ve ever been to. The crowd was so alive and invested and exhilarated; and screaming – literally screaming (our voices were all an octave lower and raspy the next day) – the lyrics together with fifteen hundred other people who were as passionate about the songs as we were was just incredible. So the album also holds some very special memories for me – I still get very emotional when I listen to it – as well as being lyrically and musically a big favourite of mine.


Brave by The Shires (2015)

I can’t remember what made me download The Shires’ debut single, ‘Nashville Grey Skies,’ but I guess something about it just spoke to me. I do remember listening to in the car on the way to a gig and then serendipitously running into Ben Earle (one half of the duo, in case you haven’t heard of them) at the bar. He was lovely and we talked about music and songwriting and generally got on really well. And then the album was out and I was at their first ever album signing. I love pretty much every song on the album – it felt like a unique little gem of an album in an ocean of music – but my particular favourites were and are ‘Tonight’ (always a high point at their shows), ‘Brave,’ ‘All Over Again,’ ‘State Lines’ (the imagery in this song is just ridiculously good), and ‘Made in England’ (a song I’m so, so glad made the album – I actually think they should’ve named the album after it – because so much country music references traditional American imagery and I just loved and still love having a country song full of English imagery and stories). But I think ‘Nashville Grey Skies’ will always be my favourite song of theirs, of all of their songs. It holds so many beautiful memories that it will always be so special. It’s also something I desperately wish for: a Nashville in the UK. And I’ve followed them ever since. They’ve recently released their fourth album, which is really, really good. I just love the blend of their voices, their melodies, and the imagery in their songs. I love all of their albums (shout out to My Universe, Accidentally on Purpose, and now Good Years, although that was released in this new decade) but there’s something really special about this  first one, maybe because it was the first and because it started such a journey.


Badlands by Halsey (2015)

I think the first Halsey song I ever heard was ‘Colors’ and I instantly fell in love, with her lyric writing, her voice, and with the production. It was like she was the artist I’d been looking for, filling a gap in the music I’d been listening to. I listened to the Badlands album over and over again until I knew every word. I love how it’s a concept album and still experiences that she’s lived, ‘the Badlands’ a dystopian place (wherein the stories turned to songs take place) representing her mental state – I definitely related to the themes of mental illness and distress. I love the detail and emotion and imagery in her lyrics; they’re so real and vivid. I also love the attention to detail in every song, right down to specific sounds and backing vocals. Again, I basically love every song on the album but I do have my ultimate favourites. I love ‘Castle’ and how empowering it is. It’s an incredible opener, especially for a debut album, and the production only adds to that power. I love ‘Hold Me Down’ because it was one of the early songs I heard and so it’s intrinsic to Halsey in my mind (the VEVO version she did of it is incredible) and I’m so fascinated by it: it’s so dark, with so many layers and so much imagery. I love the emotion and the lyrics in ‘Roman Holiday,’ especially “’cause I remember when my father put his fist through the wall that separated the dining room.” There’s so much in that lyric that’s never addressed and I love how she does that: layer and layer and layer her stories with moments that aren’t always explained but are somehow absolutely vital to the song as a whole. As I said, ‘Colors’ got me into Halsey and I just love how detailed the story is and how she uses the colour metaphor but without it getting obnoxious or boring. And the bridge will always be gorgeous, always classic Halsey: “You were red and you liked me because I was blue, but you touched me and suddenly I was a lilac sky and you decided purple just wasn’t for you.” What fucking fantastic imagery. It’s a story all on its own. I don’t know if I can explain why I love ‘Gasoline’ so much but something about it just connects to something inside me and that’s really special. ‘Control’ is really important to me; I’d always listen to it before I had to do something scary because it made me feel brave and fierce and invincible. I still use the same strategy sometimes. And I love the lift ‘Young God’ gives you when you listen to it. I also loved what she did with Johnny Cash’s ‘I Walk The Line.’ The production is gorgeous and the way it builds is so satisfying.

I got to see Halsey live for the first time on The Badlands Tour in 2016 and she was incredible. It was basically just her onstage, her band (or tour musicians, I’m not sure if they were her official band) and she was absolutely captivating. The musicians were amazing and the backgrounds were stunning, something that has been a running theme throughout her career. It was an awesome show. So that makes this album extra special for me.

I actually got to meet her afterwards. I waited in the cold for hours and hours (it turns out she almost didn’t come out and we weren’t allowed to do autographs, only pictures, because she’d twisted her ankle on stage so everything was done at super speed) but she did eventually insist and hopped out to meet the few remaining people. She was so sweet and just delighted by each person who’d waited, which was a bit of a shock after seeing this fierce, defiant force of nature on stage. I was so excited to meet her but then, as it got closer and closer to my turn, my anxiety took over and in the end, I just couldn’t say what I wanted to say (I desperately wished I’d kept the letter I’d handed in for her). When the anxiety subsided, I was so frustrated with myself and I still am to this day because as she gets more and more famous, she plays bigger and bigger venues and the chances of meeting her again get slimmer and slimmer. I’ve left letters but I have no idea whether she ever got them.


Wildfire by Rachel Platten (2016)

I first heard ‘Fight Song’ when I was in a period of a deep depression and it was the only thing that made me feel better. I listened to it over and over and eventually managed to get up and shower for the first time in several days. It helped and I still go back to it on bad days when I need to get up and face the world. The album came out and while ‘Fight Song’ remained and remains my favourite, I fell in love with ‘Stand By You’ (it’s so uplifting and joyful) ‘Better Place’ (I love the lyric, “and the colours are golden and bright again”), ‘You Don’t Know My Heart’ (the rhythms in the chorus melody are so cool), and ‘Astronauts’ (I particularly love the first verse and the energy in the chorus is just so fun). She’s got an incredible voice and the melodies in particular are just stunning. And then, not long after it came out, her record label ran a competition for a handful of people to meet her before her first London show and somehow, I won a spot. I actually started crying in the car when I found out because day by day, ‘Fight Song’ and all of the songs on this album were pulling me out of my depression and suddenly I had the opportunity to thank Rachel for that.

Meeting her is a treasured memory and she was so, so lovely. She listened intently and hugged me over and over again, saying how glad she was that the song had been able to do that for me. And while she was meeting the rest of the group, I talked to a couple of people that I’m still friends with today and see at concerts.

I was right at the front for the show and it was so much fun. She’s such a great performer and she was just smiling so big the whole time; you could tell she was just having the best time. I haven’t had the opportunity to see her live since then but that almost makes the show all the more special: it was so small and already special because it was her first UK show. Hopefully I’ll get to see her again at some point.


Hero by Maren Morris (2016)

I’ll admit that it took me a while to get into Maren Morris but then I saw her live at Country2Country in 2017 and it just clicked – her voice just soared through the arena and I just got the songs in a way that I hadn’t up until then – and from then on I was obsessed with this album. Me and my best friend and writing partner, Richard, (who’s also a huge Maren Morris fan) would listen to it before every writing session, during our breaks (while we played Mariokart), in the car… All the time. We were (and still are to an extent) complete songwriting nerds about it, discussing in depth the lyrics, the melodies, and the production, and how unique they all are. Major shout out to GIRL because I love that album too but this one holds a special place in my heart, maybe because it’s the album that introduced me to Maren Morris, to her gorgeous voice and her incredible songwriting. I also saw her live on the accompanying tour with Richard (second row at Shepherd’s Bush Empire – it was an epic show) and also met her for the first time at the tour meet and greet (I was anxious and shy and felt like I only made an awkward impression, rather than the positive, personal, and maybe even memorable one I’d hoped to make). So, yeah, the album holds a lot of special memories for me. I love pretty much all of the songs but I do have my absolute favourites. The melodies in ‘Sugar’ are so gorgeous and catchy, and the imagery is really  unique: “Just a little bit is all it takes, like a Coca-Cola on Christmas Day.” The sass in ‘Rich’ is just so great and it’s always so much fun at her shows. I don’t even know how to describe ‘My Church.’ It feels spiritual, like a hymn, but in a real way and it reminds me of Nashville and the atmosphere there and feeling so alive. ’80s Mercedes’ is a masterclass in imagery and the production is just so rich and gorgeous. I love the honesty and vulnerability in ‘I Wish I Was.’ So many people talk about how women always paint themselves as victims  in their songs (which is total bullshit) but there’s something so real and admirable about the way she honestly takes responsibility for her part in the breakdown of the relationship and how as much as she wishes she was right for the other person, she’s just not. I especially love the line, “so go on, hate me if you have to, I still care about you.” I loved ‘Second Wind’ when Kelly Clarkson released it but there’s something particularly special about it in Maren’s voice. It’s so empowering and uplifting; it’s one of my favourite songs for when I need a pick me up.  But I think that ‘Once’ is my ultimate favourite. Apart from the incredible vocals, I love the emotion in the song: the resignation, the pain, the nostalgia, the unresolved love. The lyric, “don’t forget that you loved me once,” just breaks my heart every time. It’s a stunning collection of songs.


Isn’t It Strange? by Lauren Aquilina (2016)

Lauren Aquilina is another artist I initially discovered on YouTube and she was just so like me (I mean, we even have the same name) that I immediately related to her. I loved all three of her EPs: Fools (my favourite song was ‘Wonder’), Sinners (my favourite song was ‘Irrelevant’), and Liars (my favourite song and maybe favourite song of hers overall is ‘Square One’). I loved all three of those EPs so I wasn’t surprised when I loved her album, ‘Isn’t It Strange?’ I loved the lyrics, the melodies, the arrangements, the production, the sounds she used… The whole thing is just beautiful. When I first listened to it, I remember thinking that it sounds like it could’ve been written all in one night about the same person because it flows together so perfectly, sonically and thematically. And I loved that she included ‘Fools,’ a nod to her beginnings. My favourite songs were and still are ‘How Would You Like It?’ (I love how quiet, how simply this one is arranged – it allows the emotion the lyrics and emotions to have so much more impact), ‘Hurt Any Less’ (I love everything about this one: the production, the melodies, the fact that the choruses are in half time – I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone do that – the structure of the bridge section, the imagery, the lyrics in the second verse, the lyrics in general – I think my favourite lyric has to be, “this was never love, it was chaos,”), ‘Thinking About’ (I love how there’s one piano note that continues throughout the whole song, like the memory of the person you’re trying not to think about, and I think the lyric, “but all I’m thinking about is not thinking about you,” is so clever in its simplicity, and even more clever when the next verse starts with “I’m thinking about you and…”), and ‘Ocean’ (it feels, to me at least, that the production perfectly reflects the emotion and the vibe of the song and the lightness of it, combined with the freedom in the final lyric of ‘well, I know that one day it’s an ocean I’ll be,” makes it the perfect album closer). If my first album is this good, I’ll be one happy girl.


Puxico by Natalie Hemby (2017)

I remember actually squealing when I heard the news that Natalie was releasing her own album. I’d seen her perform at Tin Pan South a couple of times (I think) by then and she’s such an amazing songwriter and singer. She taps into detail so beautifully and brings out the emotion in a way that seems effortless. The songs link so well and it almost feels like you’re walking through the little town in Missouri the album is named after. The imagery is so vivid but with a kind of hazy nostalgia. And her voice has this gorgeous, almost raspy tone that only adds to that nostalgia. As good as I think the whole album is, it’s the second half that really stands out for me. I love the steady conviction in ‘Worn,’ that all the important things in life are just that. And I love the last couple of lines, “the finish of a wedding band, you and I, together we stand, worn.” I love the almost fragile detail in ‘This Town Still Talks About You.’ ‘I’ll Remember How You Loved Me’ has the most tender, gentle chorus. ‘Return,’ in my opinion, feels like the high point that the album has been building to, with some particularly gorgeous guitar parts in the middle and vocals that are just so emotional. It’s the perfect closer. I’d love to know how she wrote the album, whether she had all the concepts and then worked on the songs until they were perfect or whether she wrote a handful of the songs and then worked the rest around those or something completely different. I’m fascinated by the songwriting processes of all of these writers – I read as much as I can find in interviews and so on – and would love to know more about how they practice and improve their craft.


Unapologetically by Kelsea Ballerini (2017)

It feels very strange to be talking about Kelsea’s last album when she’s just released a new album but that is the oddity of life. Anyway. I first got into Kelsea Ballerini at the Tin Pan South festival on my first trip to Nashville in 2016. I’d heard some of her music but not had time to sit down and really listen to her album. Hearing her perform live and hearing her talk about songwriting, I just fell in love, with her lyrics and her melodies and her voice (I actually got to meet her afterwards but I was so jet lagged that I look somewhat zombie-like in the photo). I liked the first album (I did love ‘XO, ‘Square Pegs,’ and ‘Stilettos’) but it wasn’t until I heard ‘Legends’ that I felt like a true Kelsea fan. It just sounded like she was really solid in her musical and lyrical comfort zone and therefore producing great songs, but also like she was more comfortable exploring new things too. I can honestly say that I love every track on the album, although I didn’t love them all straight away. But within a few months, yeah, I loved every single song. But if I had to choose my favourites, I think they would be ‘Graveyard’ (the melodies are to die for), ‘Miss Me More’ (I love how empowering it is), ‘Get Over Yourself’ (I love the imagery and, again, the melodies are awesome and so freaking catchy), ‘Roses’ (the chorus lyrics are SO good), ‘Machine Heart’ (I love the way the chorus lifts and the power that movement has), ‘Unapologetically’ (I love  how unapologetically – pun actually not intended – romantic it is and the production is stunning), and ‘Legends’ (I think this is my ultimate favourite on the album because it’s so lyrically rich and emotional; I think it’s the perfect closer for an album called Unapologetically). The songwriting is incredible (she’s a big inspiration when it comes to lyric writing – although I’m not sure I’ll ever manage to get as many words into a song as she can) and the production is just so rich and gorgeous. I saw her perform a few of times during the ‘era’ of that album and she was fantastic each time. (The new album is fucking great too.)


Open Book by Kalie Shorr (2019)

I was so excited for Kalie to release a full length album (I adored the preceding EP, Awake) and it tied with Taylor Swift’s Lover for my favourite album of 2019 (which I’d also been super excited about). It’s such a special album, filled with razor sharp wit, painful honesty, captivating imagery, and gorgeous guitar parts. The sound is just so Kalie, which makes complete sense if you read her social media bios (which only recently changed to ‘I’m an open book’): Country singer still recovering from her emo phase. She’s easily one of my favourite songwriters – I particularly love her lyric writing, her honesty, her refusal to shy away from subjects and emotions that most people might avoid and her ability to express them so accurately and beautifully – and I’m obsessed with every track on the album. ‘Too Much To Say’ is the perfect album opener, the chorus ending with, ‘I’ve got too much to say and I’ll tell it all to you.’ You’ve been warned. ‘Escape’ is breathtakingly vulnerable, exposing problems her family have faced along with her own, with a lonely electric guitar for a backdrop. ‘Messy’ is one of my absolute favourites: revealing the isolation of a disintegrating relationship through simple but visceral imagery. The internal rhyming in this one is just amazing too. ‘The One’ may be my absolute favourite, with stunning lyrics, visually and emotionally complex, with production that is somehow equally emotional to match. It follows the ups and downs of an imperfect relationship that ultimately ends in crushing disappointment and I cried the first time I heard it, and multiple times afterwards. ‘F U Forever’ is a delightfully upbeat and sassy song, throwing shade at every possible opportunity, but dig a little deeper and you can see the traumatic relationship underneath. Ultimately though, it’s a triumph – a ‘fuck you’ in no uncertain terms, leaving no twisted detail unexposed. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is a letter to the next girl, a warning, dressed up in literary metaphor (a technique that reoccurs throughout the album). It has so many layers and hidden details that I’m still sorting through them months later; it feels like a concept album in one song. And just as we’re starting to find some peace, we’re hit with ‘The World Keeps Spinning,’ a tribute to her sister who died suddenly and tragically at the beginning of 2019. I can’t help but sob helplessly every time I listen to this one because I relate to it so strongly: the moment everything changes forever, the painful, unexpected details of loss, the cruelty of everyday life continuing as normal, all described so simply – not one word is superfluous – but so perfectly. In my experience at least. It’s Taylor Swift level storytelling. ‘Big Houses’ gives us an intimate glimpse into a relationship with her mother and her childhood, capturing and balancing the memories, both positive and negative, the good of her relationship with her mother and the implied difficulties they faced together. It’s nostalgic but not in a way that whitewashes the past; it’s real and uncompromising but it still sounds gentle, perhaps an ode to childhood when the hard edges were a little softer. ‘Gatsby’ (another literary reference) is a witty, self-deprecating song that describes the mask she wore to cope with the difficult emotions she was dealing with but also takes a hard look at the part she was playing in her potential downward spiral. It’s catchy as hell and the production is extremely congruent (one of my uni lecturers favourite terms) but as with ‘F U Forever,’ look beneath the surface and there’s a whole lot more going on. That’s something I love about Kalie’s songs: there’s a whole lot more in them than you hear in the first listen. ‘Thank God You’re A Man’ is perhaps the song I connected to least on the album but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it and its place on the album. I’ve always been particularly impressed with how the production feels all consuming, matching the concept of the song, of being consumed by another person. I love ‘Vices’ and how effortlessly it describes how easy it is to get sucked into bad habits, especially when you’re dealing with a lot. Lyrically, I think this song is incredible and its honesty and vulnerability gets somewhat overlooked in the face of songs like ‘The World Keeps Spinning’ and ‘Escape.’ ‘Lullaby’ is another of my favourites from this album: the lyrics are beautiful, the imagery is stunning, but it’s the emotions conveyed that really stand out for me, the combination of strength, surety, delicacy, and vulnerability. Ultimately I think the first line of the chorus sums up the whole song – lyrics, melody, and production – perfectly: “This is the sound of letting it go.” The album could’ve easily ended there but there’s one last song that feels both like a triumphant ending and the first steps of a new chapter. ‘Angry Butterfly’ might be the most emotionally compelling song on the album. It’s the culmination of the origin story that is Open Book, a brutally honest assessment of what she’s gone through and where she’s headed now, casting off the past but acknowledging how it’s changed her. This is her story, this is who she  is now, and she’s not ashamed of any of it. This review kind of got away from me but oh well, it’s written now and I’m proud of it. As I’ve already said, Kalie is one of my favourite writers and I’m so inspired by her, by her lyric writing and guitar playing in particular (it’s a pipe dream of mine to write with her one day). This album is incredibly special to me and I think always will be, coming into my life just when I needed it. Having said that, I can’t wait to see where Kalie goes next.

If you want to see me ramble about my favourite lyrics of each track, you can find the Twitter thread here.


So I hope you enjoyed this somewhat all over the place review of my favourite albums of the 2010s and that you maybe found a few new albums to listen to. My current soundtrack still includes tracks from these albums but I also have a handful of brand new albums to listen to, including Manic by Halsey, Good Years by The Shires, kelsea by Kelsea Ballerini, and Lady Like by Ingrid Andress, all of which I highly, highly recommend.

Living with Autism During a Pandemic

I know that everyone is talking about this right now and I’d rather not because it makes me so anxious but there are a couple of things I want to say and then hopefully this blog can go back to being a Coronavirus free zone. I know it’s scary for a lot of people and there’s a lot of information and advice being thrown in your face so I just want to document my experience so far and write about the things that are helping me to minimise my anxiety.

I think the first thing to say is that I hate change, as I know many autistic people do. I especially hate sudden change because it gives me no time to process what’s going on, which causes me a lot of anxiety. It also messes with my emotions, leaving me feeling unsettled and sick and empty and twisted up. I can’t really explain it properly; it’s such a specific feeling.

The first big thing to happen was Tin Pan South, the festival we were going to Nashville for, was cancelled, which meant we had to decide whether or not still to go as it could be more expensive to cancel our flights. But as the news from other countries got more serious, we decided that we didn’t want to go and get stuck there so we had to make the difficult decision to cancel. I was gutted. I am gutted (we were supposed to be flying out today). I was so looking forward to the trip and to the festival that, not only was the change stressful, it was very distressing too. And then, of course, there was the stress of getting the money back. With the travel ban, we have since managed to get everything refunded or in credit but it was incredibly stressful, in addition to all the stress coming from the news about the virus. I have family who would be in serious danger if they caught it so, even though I’m in much less danger, I was  terrified of unknowingly transmitting the virus to them. I still am so we’ve all been self isolating apart from essential trips like picking up extra medication and so on.

And then, suddenly, everything started happening. All of the concerts I was going to got cancelled, which isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things but they are the bright spots in my life that get me through when I’m in a bad place, which I arguably am right now. So that’s been difficult, especially the suddenness, as I mentioned earlier. Then one of my best friends was suddenly on a plane home, which was very upsetting (although, of course, I understand and support her in wanting to be with her family); one minute we were making plans for the next day and the next she was messaging me from the plane. That change has been hard and I’ve cried a lot about it. Plus, just as I’ve  started to get into the groove of going to therapy again, we’re having to switch to video sessions, which I thought I was fine with but turns out I’m struggling with. And then there’s just all the not knowing what’s going to happen or how long this is going to last. So there’s been a lot of change really fast.

I actually feel quite traumatised by all the changes. Stuff like this always messes with my head and with my emotions and I end up feeling like it’s causing brain damage, like parts of my brain are being permanently warped and will never recover.

The week after all of these changes happened (most of them happened over the weekend and into the Monday), I wasn’t going to go to uni. Many of my friends and classmates weren’t going, having gone back to their families abroad and within the UK, and I just couldn’t bear to be there and see it without them all with so little time to adjust. I just felt so unsettled and restless and anxious. I don’t think I’d’ve been able to concentrate if I’d been there.

My course discussed it through our WhatsApp group (we’re a small course) and ended up emailing our programme leaders to say that we didn’t feel safe and that we didn’t feel it was responsible for us all to be there, to travel in on public transport, and so on. Very few people went to the classes and I think it was later that day that it was announced that the course would be moving to online classes. I’m yet to see how smoothly that goes. They’re not moving our assessment deadlines, which many people are very upset about, something I definitely understand. There are a lot of reasons to feel an extension is necessary. My mind changes from hour to hour; I don’t know whether I’d want an extension. Yes, there’s massive anxiety affecting my life that makes it hard to work but at the same time, we don’t know how long it’s going to go on for and I’d rather just get the assessment over, if that makes sense. I don’t know. I don’t know what I want.

Me and my Mum – my household – are self isolating, apart from necessary trips out (getting the necessary supplies to stay in, getting supplies for the cats, getting what we need to allow us to work from home, and so on – making it possible to self isolate for as long as we need to). It’s weird: I usually spend days at a time inside but suddenly I’m really claustrophobic and restless and anxious and it’s been less than a week. I don’t know where that’s coming from. Maybe I’m just so full of anxiety that everything is making me anxious.

So, having said that, I wanted to list for you a few of the things I’m doing to try and minimise my anxiety:

  • Keep a routine – I’m not talking about being really ambitious. If you’re like me and you struggle with Autism and/or mental health problems, diving into a really ambitious schedule just means I end up crashing and burning and then feeling terrible. So when I say ‘keep a routine,’ I’m talking about the little things. I’m talking about getting up at a reasonable time, showering, remembering to eat, getting fresh air (even if it’s only opening the windows and getting out into the garden, if you have one)… Things like that. Yes, it’s motivating to be productive so if that feels possible, go for it, but it’s also important to be gentle with ourselves during a time of such great stress.
  • Keep to a regular sleep schedule – With nowhere to go (if you’re self isolating), it’s easy to just stay in bed, get up late, and then end up going to sleep at four in the morning. It’s really, really easy. But I’m trying to go to bed at my normal time and get up early, like I do everyday. It’s much better for my mood than if I stay in bed for hours. A regular sleep schedule is actually proven to reduce stress, help you to avoid getting sick, help you think more clearly, and a multitude of other things, all useful at a time like this.
  • Stay on top of my medication – This is a fairly obvious one but if you take medication, make sure you’re stocked up and that you take it diligently. I take a regular antidepressant, a regular anti-anxiety, and then I have an anti-anxiety to take as needed. And, as you can imagine, I’m needing it a lot right now. So I’m constantly listening to my body so that I’m aware of when I need to take it as early as possible, so that I avoid the unnecessary anxiety. Of course, there’s huge anxiety going around but there’s also anxiety that we don’t need to feel and if we can avoid it, then I’m all for that.
  • Start and end the day with something calming – I’m dealing with a lot of anxiety (as we all are) so I find it helpful to start and end the day with something that relaxes me. For me, this is usually writing my diary because it empties some of the stuff out of my brain and helps me feel like I’m not trying to hold onto so much. It’s all safe, but I don’t have to actively hold it in my head. So letting some it go is like being able to breathe deeply again.
  • If the news is too much for you, ask someone in your support system to keep you up to date on the important announcements – My anxiety has always been triggered by the news and it’s even worse now so my Mum listens to it, filters out all the noise and fear and things I don’t need to know and gives me the important, relevant information. This has been so helpful since there’s been so much confusion and misinformation and fear mongering. If this isn’t possible for you, check your national news once a day and then try not to look at it again. Because there isn’t as much information as there is news time, there’s a lot of speculation and opinion and it doesn’t do any good to get sucked into that spiral if you’re already really struggling with anxiety.
  • If you have to work or study, try to do it in manageable chunks (which will be specific to you) – As I’ve already mentioned, I still have an assessment deadline. I still have an essay due. So, even though I’m really struggling to focus because of all the anxiety (which means it’s taking so much longer than it normally would), I’m trying to work on it everyday so that it doesn’t pile up and so I don’t end up overloaded and overwhelmed (it hasn’t helped that I’ve had multiple problems with my laptop in the last few weeks). It’s hard, especially since it’s now much more difficult to get help with it, but hopefully the slow and steady approach works.
  • Indulge in simple things that improve your mood – This is not a trick question. If there’s something simple that makes you feel better, let it make you feel better. Some of the things that boost my mood (even temporarily) are having the fairy lights on, burning my favourite candle, spending time with my cats, watching my favourite movies and TV shows… You’re allowed to feel good, to try and feel okay even in the face of this big, scary thing and if something really simple does the job, then go for it.

If there was ever a time for looking after yourself mentally (and obviously physically), it’s now. I hope some of these tips are helpful and let me know if there’s anything that you find helpful in stressful times such as these. As I said at the beginning, hopefully this blog can go back to being a Coronavirus free zone after this post because I know it’s triggering for a lot of people, myself included. But if I find any helpful resources for getting through this, I’ll definitely share them because I figure we could all use all the help we can get.