2021 in Review

I’m not really sure how to sum up this year. It has been one of extremes, to say the least: anxiety, joy, stress, excitement, depression… And, at this point, I feel a bit like I’ve run out of capacity. For anything. So this was a hard post to write and it wasn’t helped by the dichotomy between most of the year and the last few months; I’ve found it very hard to look at each part without the other colouring it in some way.


The biggest part of my year was most definitely the final two modules of my Masters, which turned out to be my two favourite modules of the course, The Writer’s Voice and Major Repertoire Project. Having written about these already, I don’t want to repeat myself but I do want to look at them in the context of the year. From January to September, I wrote furiously and with such joy. There was anxiety and depression and stress – they were all in there – but it felt like all of that writing balanced the scales. I wrote so many songs that I love, that I’m so proud of, and that I can’t wait to release. While I did release new music this year – The Honest EP (Sunburst Sessions) – they weren’t new songs and I’m so excited to share new songs. I have lots of plans that I’m really excited about and despite the chaos of the last few months, I have been working on my next project. I’m very excited to share it in the new year.

I’m very proud of myself for completing the Masters, especially given that I did most of it during the pandemic, and I’m so proud of my final project; it is the best thing I’ve ever done and I can’t wait to get it out into the world. I poured everything I had into that project so getting such a high grade and then the Outstanding Student Award at Graduation felt really good. I feel weird talking about it but I am really proud of that achievement and the recognition of how hard I worked means a lot to me. Because of an administrative screw up, I’m not sure when my graduation will be official, when I’ll get my certificate – something that caused a lot of distress – but practically, it’s done.

My health, both physical and mental, hasn’t been in great shape this year. The chronic pain was really bad, the fatigue not much better, and the ongoing migraines are pretty miserable. My mental health was fairly stable and actually not too bad for the most part, until the last few months of the year. Then it got really bad. In order to try medication for my ADHD, I had to come off Phenelzine – the only medication that’s ever helped me – and then start Xaggitin. That went extremely badly. My depression all but overwhelmed me; it was the worst my mental health has ever been. I’ve stopped taking the Xaggitin and I’m taking Bupropion now and it’s different but I’m not sure if it’s any better though.

I’ve felt very alone this year, in regards to tackling and managing all of this. I came out of every appointment feeling angry, distressed, dismissed, or invalidated (and often multiple of these in various combinations). I haven’t felt safe with any of them; I didn’t feel like my existence even registered with them. So I’m finding all of that very hard and each new appointment is preceded by extreme anxiety, a kind of anxiety I’ve rarely experienced. It’s a bit like a fight or flight response. I’ve never had a great relationship with the medical profession but I’ve felt particularly let down this year. I have finally managed to get back to therapy (although this was before the newest variant threw a wrench in all of our plans) but it’s been a long time and a lot of stuff has happened; I feel like I’m having to learn how to do it all over again.

It’s also been a hard year, family wise. I haven’t been able to see one of my parents – in real life – since before the pandemic (for medical reasons) and that has been so hard. We talk on FaceTime and stuff and that’s good but I still miss her so much. And then, of course, my Granny died in September, just as I was finishing my Masters. At that point, I think, my brain just couldn’t take anymore; I don’t think I’ve processed any of it, to be honest. To a certain extent, I feel frozen, like I stopped while everything around me kept going. It’s not the first time I’ve felt like this but that doesn’t make it any easier. I’m sure all of those feelings will make their presence felt in the new year. But as hard as all of that is, I’m so grateful for the friends and family around me; I’m not sure where I’d be without them.

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“What a surreal year. I don’t even know how to sum it up really. Everything I felt, I felt in extremes: stress, anxiety, depression, joy, excitement. I wrote songs that I’m so proud of, I hugged friends I hadn’t seen in months, I completed a Masters degree that I loved. I struggled with even more health issues, I was almost overwhelmed by the worst depression I’ve ever experienced, and I’m learning to live in a world that doesn’t have my Granny in it. The high points were so high and the low points were so low and I’m honestly exhausted right now. This year has been more than I know how to handle and I’m still kind of drowning but I’m also still here.” (x)


This end of year post isn’t quite the same as what I’ve done in previous years but it’s been a weird year and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m experiencing some form of burnout. I have a few plans but honestly, I have no idea what the next period of my life looks like and that’s scary. I hate how my life goes on hold whenever I change medications and I feel more than a bit lost right now. All I can do is wait and see and after all these years, there’s very little I hate more.

Grateful 2021

I found this post incredibly hard to write, which was very unexpected because, when I started putting down ideas for this post a few months ago, my thoughts just poured out of me. I was overwhelmed by how grateful I felt but now, while I can say I’m grateful, that all of that feeling is still there, for all of these things, my feelings don’t feel quite as accessible as they did before. I’m assuming the medication change is behind it somehow. So this post isn’t quite what I imagined it would be but it still felt important to try, even if I couldn’t get it ‘perfect.’ Done is better than good, as the saying goes. So some of these are shorter than they have been in the past, shorter than I’d like them to be, but the meaning is there. I hope that makes sense.


My family – I’m not sure if there’s anything I can say about my family that I haven’t said before but they are just the best. I love them more than I could ever put into words. It’s been so, so hard to be separated from so many of them for so long but I am grateful that everyone has been so careful over the last year. It’s been a really scary time and it’s just made me even more grateful for them than I was already.

Mum – Again, I’m not sure if there’s anything new I can say but my Mum is just so incredible and I’m grateful for her and everything she does every single day. This year has been so difficult for so many different reasons but there hasn’t been a moment that she hasn’t been there for me, regardless of what was going on for her. I don’t know how she does it but she’s my hero and I don’t know what I’d do without her.

My Granny – While my feelings about my Granny’s death are still an absolute mess, the one thing I do know is that I’m so grateful for her: for the time I had with her, for what I learned from her, for the memories I will always hold close. I am so proud to be her granddaughter and I just hope that she would be proud of me, wherever I go from here.

My friends – Between the lockdown, managing my Masters, and my health, this has been a really weird year in terms of spending time with my friends. But whether that was in person, on the phone, or over Zoom/Microsoft Teams/FaceTime, all of the time I did get to spend with my friends this year has been so special and I wouldn’t trade a second of it.

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As always, there are more people and photos than I could fit in this little montage. I love you all. 

Seeing people in real life and HUGGING – What more can I say? The opportunities to see my loved ones in real life and getting to hug them for the first time in months have meant so much to me.

The technology that’s allowed me to stay in contact with people – While I have been able to see more people and see them more often this year than last, I’ve still been very dependent on technology to stay in touch with friends and family. Between FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams, I’ve been able to talk to family and friends, complete my Masters, write songs, continue with the puzzle that is my health, and so on. I am so grateful that all of these things have been able to continue through the chaos of the last year; I don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d had to stop.

The cats – Ah, the family of cats. They are such a source of joy in my life: their cuteness, their playfulness, their cuddliness, their obliviousness to the world going on around them… They make every day better. They always bring me comfort and calm and they always make me smile. The timing of the pandemic has meant that I’ve gotten to spend so much time with them while they’re all still so young, especially the youngest generation, and that’s forged a really strong bond. They mean the world to me and I’m grateful for them every single day.

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Writing songs and creating music – I’ve written so many songs this year that I’m so proud of, that I love so much. I’ve written with so many people and I’m so excited to put together my next project. It’s kind of hard right now (because the medication is messing with me so much) but when I’m writing songs, everything is good. I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing; it’s the best feeling. I’m so grateful to have had such a good year and I really hope that all of this medication stuff will be sorted soon so I can get back to writing.

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My Masters – Looking back at September 2019, I really had no idea what the Masters would be like but I’m so, so glad I did it, even if most of it ended up being done in a pandemic. I met some incredible people and wrote a lot of songs I’m really proud of. The two modules I did this year were my two favourite modules of the whole course, The Writer’s Voice and the Major Repertoire Project. The latter was amazing and so much fun; it gave me the opportunity to really explore and experiment with my writing and I’m so proud of the work I did. I’m also really grateful because, for the first time ever, I had neurodivergent support. It made such a difference and I know I wouldn’t have done as well – or explored as widely – as I did if not for that support. I got so much out of the course and as excited as I am for what comes next, I’m really sad that it’s over.

Getting to gig again – I have missed gigging so much and so, getting to perform again was so, so much fun. It’s such a unique form of joy. As I said in my birthday post, “Performing songs that I’ve written about things that matter to me… it’s when I’m doing that that I feel most comfortable in my own skin, most in sync with the world around me. It’s the best feeling.” It was a bit awkward to start with, like the muscle memory didn’t kick in straight away, but then it all came back and I just had the best time. I’m definitely looking forward to doing more, COVID dependent of course.

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Performing at The Hard Rock Cafe on Park Lane and at Piccadilly Circus in September (x) (x)

My new diagnoses – While I don’t feel great about having hEDS and ADHD, I am grateful to know about them so that I can start to figure out how to manage them. My attempts so far haven’t been hugely successful (and in some instances, pretty unpleasant) and that has been distressing but I have to hope that things will get better at some point, that I’ll find something that works, that it won’t be like this forever.

The cool opportunities I’ve had (despite the pandemic) – While the pandemic has disrupted a lot, I still managed to do some cool things, aside from my Masters of course. I got to release the Honest EP on CD with a run at the awesome local independent music shop, Resident – something I’ve always wanted to do. And playing live again, at the Hard Rock Cafe no less, was very exciting. But I think the most exciting thing and the thing that I’m most proud of is presenting my first academic paper at a conference. And to make it even more perfect, it was the first Taylor Swift Musicology conference and I got to write and present a paper exploring a particular songwriting technique that I find really interesting. I loved writing it and I loved being a part of the conference and I may or may not be thinking about what I could write for next year.

Weekend swims – About a year ago, we found a pool that essentially does quiet evening swimming sessions. The lights are dimmed and they only have a certain amount of spaces so it’s always quiet (and feels about as safe as is possible in current times). These things make it about as Autism friendly as possible and we’ve been going as often as possible, swimming being something I’ve always loved and the least painful form of exercise right now. I’m still trying to find somewhere that feels as safe and as calm to swim during the week as these nights are only on weekends but I’m so glad to have it at all.

The exciting things coming in 2022 – Next year is already filling up with so many cool things: plans to release new music, new creative projects, some long awaited concerts, getting back to Nashville and all of the amazing things that that entails… If the pandemic taught us nothing else, it’s that we have no idea what may be just around the corner but even with all of this uncertainty, I don’t want to give up being excited about things. Yes, they may not happen but that’s a pretty miserable way to look at the future. So I’m going to stay excited about things. Or try to, at least.


I’m in a weird place emotionally at the moment, swinging between feeling completely overwhelmed and not feeling anything, so I’m not sure whether this flows or not. But hey, I tried. And I am grateful – so, so grateful – even if I can’t quite seem to access it all of the time.

The Pros and Cons of Winter

I love every season but by the end of it, I’m always ready for the next one. But, as a neurodivergent person with multiple physical and mental health conditions, different seasons present both different excitements and different challenges. With winter around the corner, I thought I’d share some of the good things and some of the difficult things, along with how I’m learning to cope with the difficult things. This list is, of course, specific to me and my location so it’s not going to match everyone’s experience but hopefully they’ll be something useful to you in here, even if your experience of the season isn’t the same as mine.


PROS:

  • The sensory experience – I think winter is my favourite season as a sensory experience. I love the crispness of the air; I love looking at all of the beautiful lights and pretty Christmas decorations; I love the smells associated with winter and Christmas (in my house, at least), like satsumas, the meals we generally only have in winter, the super sweet smells of sugary puddings and sweets, Christmas trees, and so on; the sight, sound, smell, and warmth of a fire. There are, of course, downsides, like busy shops and blaring Christmas carols but, over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding those things.
  • Fires in the evening – My Mum and I both love having a fire to end the day, like a little treat for ourselves. As I said above, I love the sensory experience and we both find it a really good destresser. One of our favourite things about this house is the gorgeous fireplace and every year, we both get really excited about having fires again.
  • Potential for snow – I love snow. It makes me so happy: watching it fall, standing in it as it falls, how beautiful it looks first thing before anyone has disturbed it, the way it crunches when you walk through it, watching the cats try to make sense of it, and so on. And because we get it so rarely, it’s always special. No, it’s not guaranteed but I still enjoy being excited about the possibility.
  • Christmas – I struggled with Christmas in my late teens and early twenties, which I think was largely to do with how much I was struggling with my mental health and ASD. But as I’ve gained a greater understanding of the long-term issues I deal with and talked about them with my family, Christmas has become much more relaxed and enjoyable. They’ve been fantastic at working with me so that I can do the parts that I really enjoy and not do the parts that I struggle with. It’s become such a better holiday since then. I see friends and family (COVID depending, obviously), spend warm and relaxed evenings with my favourite people, get a Christmas tree and decorate it with the decorations my family have been collecting for years, not feel guilty (or at least feel less guilty) about doing things I don’t usually feel like I have time for (like reading books or watching movies all day), exchange presents, and so on. We’ve found a way to make it a really special, enjoyable time.
  • The cats spend more time inside – With the colder weather, my cats (whose presence I find very soothing) spend most of the day inside when, in the summer, they spend almost all of their time outside. So having them around more is lovely. They’re usually in the living room with me, curled up on the cat tree or sprawled across the furniture, or, even better, snuggled up with me on the sofa. They’re gorgeous and it’s one of my favourite things about winter.

CONS:

  • The cold – I hate being cold. You can usually find me in a big jumper or wrapped in a blanket. I’m often cold in the summer so it’s even harder to stay warm in the winter. I’m super grateful for the heating, the fire, my electric blanket, and so on.
  • Managing temperature – I really struggle with temperature regulation. I get hot or cold really quickly but then it can take hours to return to normal (and then it can suddenly jump to the other extreme). And going from really cold outside to really warm inside can just make that even more tricky. Layering helps but only to a certain extent. I have been doing some research and there are brands that make clothes to help with this so I really want to investigate these as I can afford it. (x)
  • Different fabrics – Clothes for cold weather can cause sensory difficulties. They can be bulky, heavy, itchy, and so on, as well as making me feel claustrophobic and trapped in my own clothes, which can cause a lot of anxiety. As I said above, I tend to do a lot of layering with the clothes I’m comfortable in but that isn’t a fix all. I’m still looking for a coat that doesn’t stress me out and I really hate wearing gloves. But I’m still trying to find the best option.
  • Ice – I might love snow but the amount of ice around in winter can be pretty perilous. And between my less than perfect balance and my chronic pain making me somewhat unstable, I do worry that every step could disappear underneath me and land me on cold, hard pavements with painful consequences. Given how bad my pain has been recently, a fall could be very painful and that pain could linger for quite a while.
  • More difficult to meet friends – Especially with COVID in the mix, I find it much harder to meet up and hang out with my friends in the colder months. It’s so much easier (and cheaper) when we can hang out in a park or on the beach or something like that, plus it feels safer considering the times we’re currently living in. But finding somewhere to hang out inside poses certain challenges, like COVID anxiety, meeting everyone’s dietary needs, the costs of hanging out in a cafe for example for an extended period, and so on. It’s just that bit more complicated and harder to organise and I find that plans often get pushed back again and again. So I often end up seeing my friends less in winter which makes me sad.
  • Feeling sealed inside – In an attempt to keep the heat in and save money on the heating, we keep the windows and doors closed as much as we can. And while that does the job we’re trying to do, the side effect is that I often feel a bit claustrophobic, like I’m sealed into my house with only the same air circulating (obviously this isn’t scientifically true or I would’ve suffocated long ago). And that feeling really stresses me out. Mum has taken to leaving the windows cracked open at night to get some fresh air in, which does help, but the feeling does still start to creep in by the end of the day. So I’m still working on that.
  • Less light, more darkness – While I like how cozy the house feels when it gets dark early, I do sometimes find it stressful; it feels like the day is actually shorter and I have less time to get done everything I need to do. Plus, autistic individuals are often low in Vitamin D so with fewer daylight hours than usual, that can become a bigger problem. I’m already low in Vitamin D so I take a supplement prescribed by my doctor to avoid a serious deficiency that could cause health problems.

I don’t know if this is helpful but when I sat down to do some research for this post – to see what other autistic/neurodivergent individuals find good and difficult about winter – I couldn’t find anything for autistic adults. Everything I found was directed at parents helping their children to adjust to the change in season but that doesn’t just go away as we grow up, although the challenges might change. So, since I couldn’t find a single post or article relating to adults, I felt it was all the more important to write something on the subject. So I hope this has been helpful in some way. Let me know what you would include on your list or how you manage the seasonal change!