The Last Few Weeks…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nashville Playlist

So, as you guys know, I’ve been in Nashville and I just got back on Thursday. I’m working on a post all about the trip – partly because I just really want to write about it and partly because I think there is some stuff in there that could be useful to others – but that’s taking a while so, in the mean time, here is a little list of songs that I listened to while I was away, one for each day. Since I was there for the Tin Pan South songwriting festival, many of these songs haven’t been released yet or were performed by the original writers rather than the person that usually performs them. So, for the songwriters out there, I hope this will be interesting. Also bear in mind that, especially while the festival was going on, I was hearing between twenty and fifty songs a night so a lot of thinking went into these choices…


SUNDAY – ‘Love Is A Wild Thing’ by Kacey Musgraves (Written by Kacey Musgraves, Ian Fitchuk, and Daniel Tashian)

I hadn’t had a chance to listen to Kacey’s new album until I got on the plane and I just fell in love with it. She’d performed this one at Country2Country and I was so excited to hear it again. It did not disappoint and it’s one of my favourites of the album.

Even if you lose it, it will find you

There’s no way to stop it so don’t try to

Running like a river, trying to find the ocean

Flowers in the concrete

Climbing over fences, blooming in the shadows

Places that you can’t see

Coming through the melody when the night bird sings

Love is a wild thing


MONDAY – ‘Give It All Back’ by Jordyn Shellhart

I first heard Jordyn at a Song Suffragettes show (an organisation aimed at showcasing new female songwriters in country music) and I instantly fell in love with this song, with it’s energy, with it’s golden hope. You know when you’re listening to a song and it feels like your lungs are expanding, your head tilts up, and your whole body gets lighter? Yeah, I had that with this song. And then I was lucky enough to hear it in a Tin Pan South round later in the week.

If we got all we ever wanted

But it cost us all we ever had

Pinkie swear, baby, let’s shake on it

If it comes to that,

We’ll give it all back


TUESDAY – ‘Fight Like A Girl’ by Kalie Shorr (Written by Kalie Shorr, Lena Stone, and Hailey Steele)

This song has been out for a few years now but hearing it live is just another thing altogether and, of course, Kalie performed it when I saw her play at Song Suffragettes. I sort of forget how much I love it and then it just smacks me in the face and leaves me breathless. It’s such an anthem and I particularly love the lines about her Mum because I feel exactly the same way.

I’m little but I’m loud

Just wanna make my mama proud

And you can tell without a doubt that I’m her daughter

She raised me to believe

That I can be anything

So when you push me, I’ll just push back harder


WEDNESDAY – ‘Rainbow’ by Kacey Musgraves (Written by Kacey Musgraves, Natalie Hemby, and Shane McAnally)

I freaking love this song and have loved it since Kacey started performing it way back when. I was really disappointed when it wasn’t on her second album and absolutely ecstatic when it was on her third. And then Natalie Hemby performed it at Tin Pan South and I loved it even more, especially when she talked about the writing of it: it’s about how hard it is to recover from a traumatic experience or period in your life and how, even once you’ve come through it, it can be hard to recognise that. I really relate to that.

‘Cause the sky has finally opened, the rain and wind stopped blowin’

But you’re stuck out in the same old storm again

Hold tight to your umbrella, oh darlin’, I’m just tryin’ to tell you

That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head


THURSDAY – ‘Doin’ Fine’ by Lauren Alaina (Written by Lauren Alaina, Emily Shackelton, and Busbee)

This was a hard pick (honorary mention to ‘Between Me and a Bar’ by Alyssa Micaela because it’s freaking awesome and was a very, very close second to this song) but I connected to this song so strongly that it had to be this one. Emily Shackelton performed it during a Tin Pan South round and I fell in love with it straight away. This is my kind of anthem: not rainbows or confetti or fairy tales, but the moment when you realise you just might be okay after a really long struggle.

I’m doing fine enough to know that everyone’s a little broken

Fine enough to learn that hearts are best when they’re wide open

I still got fear inside of me

I’m not okay but I’m gonna be

Alright

For the first time in a long time I’m doing fine

I’m doing fine


FRIDAY – ‘History’ by Abby Anderson

Again, this one was a really, really difficult choice. Shout out to Ingrid Andress because all of her songs were amazing, especially ‘Ladylike.’ But, like the last one, I related to this song so powerfully that I had to talk about it here. As far as I can tell, she only wrote it recently so I’m not sure if it’s available anywhere yet or even if it will be. I really hope it will. It’s the song I’ve been trying to write my whole life.

It may be something that nobody sees

Something that we carry that will always be

If our paths don’t cross and we never speak

And the world moves on, believe you’ll be

A part of me, part of me

‘Cause we have history, history


SATURDAY – ‘First Last Name’ by Madison Kozak

I’ll stop saying this now but this was another one that I really struggled to narrow down. I was absolutely sure that I would choose a Nikita Karmen song because I was absolutely blown away by her in the first round (seriously, go and check her out) but then I heard this song and I couldn’t not write about it. Songs about fathers speak to me on a very specific level and this one just made me cry because it made me think about what our relationship might’ve been like. It’s a beautiful song.

He’s the son of a salesman

Short glass old fashioned

‘How’s your car been running, baby?

Call your mama when you get home safely.’

My hall of fame

He’s never missed a game

My first last name


SUNDAY – ‘Delicate’ by Taylor Swift (Written by Taylor Swift, Max Martin, and Shellback)

I listened to this song a lot on Sunday because I was performing at the Song Suffragettes round the next night and at the end of each show, the girls perform a surprise cover to finish. I was out of my mind excited to play that show so I listened to it on repeat to make sure I really knew it. Anyone who knows me knows that I love Taylor Swift. It wasn’t one of my favourites on the new album but the experience of learning it and performing it in that setting has made me absolutely love it.

Third floor on the west side, me and you

Handsome, you’re a mansion with a view

Do the girls back home touch you like I do?

Long night with you hands up in my hair

Echoes of your footsteps on the stairs

Stay here, honey, I don’t wanna share


MONDAY – ‘Brand New Heart’ by Lucy Scholl

I first heard this song last year when I saw Lucy perform at a Song Suffragettes round and I instantly fell in love with it. The chorus just spoke to me so clearly. I think it’s much better than the ‘I’m grateful you broke my heart because it made me a better person’ songs because, while it acknowledges the other person’s part, it’s about how she made that new heart, that new person. She hadn’t planned to play it at the round we were both performing in but I asked and she very kindly obliged.

Never thought I’d be so proud of these scars

Showin’ ‘em off like they’re a work of art

I took all the pieces that you broke apart

And I made a brand, brand new heart


TUESDAY – ‘Let Me Be’ by Savannah Keyes

Savannah played this song during the Song Suffragettes round and it’s been on my mind ever since. She talked about how she’d been out with friends and how they’d seen a shirt in a shop window, which had the words ‘eat less’ emblazoned on it. That example of how much pressure is put on girls inspired this song, which I just loved, as did my Mum. It was very powerful.

Let me be daring

Let me be kind and caring

A dreamer with a flower in her hair and

Let me be young and free

Let me be sweeter

Let me be an innocence keeper

A follow-my-heart believer

Let me be seventeen

Let me be


WEDNESDAY – ‘Oh What A World’ by Kacey Musgraves (Written by Kacey Musgraves, Ian Fitchuk, and Daniel Tashian)

And in a strange full circle of sorts, I ended up listening to Kacey Musgraves on the flight home. After the ten days I’d just had, ‘Oh What A World’ feels like a pretty appropriate closing track.

Oh, what a world, I don’t wanna leave

All kinds of magic all around us, it’s hard to believe

Thank God it’s not too good to be true

Oh, what a world, and then there is you

Snapshot #1: Country2Country Festival as an Autistic Person

So, while this isn’t specifically a post about mental health, it is about how my mental health affects my life and the things that I want to do so I think it’s still relevant and maybe useful to someone else. There still aren’t a huge amount of resources for people with Autism and music festivals aren’t a naturally autism friendly situation: they’re loud and busy and overwhelming. The obvious advice is to avoid the conditions that cause you distress but when you love music and live music, it’s not that simple. This thing that I love is also a great stress. So it has to be about balance. Am I having a good time? Is this taking more than it’s giving?

So, let’s begin. For those of you who don’t know, Country2Country is a country music festival in London, Glasgow, and Dublin. In London, it’s three days at the O2 Arena with little stages throughout the complex and a big arena show in the evenings. I love country music and I love the country music community in the UK so there are a lot of positive moments but a lot of stressful ones too. I thought I’d write out a little overview of the festival, the good points and the bad, and how the whole thing fitted into the picture of my mental health and experience of Autism.

The biggest consideration for events like these is my lack of energy, especially with my recently increased struggles with fatigue. Standing is a huge part of any festival and for me, standing for extended periods of time (and by that I mean more than a few minutes) results in shaking, dizziness, and overwhelming nausea. Not to mention the disproportional levels of fatigue that build and build until I physically can’t stand up anymore. Most of the shows are standing, especially the ones during the day. And like any concert, there’s the expectation that you stand, as if standing means you care more than someone who’s sitting. My fatigue has been so bad lately that I only went to shows where I knew I could sit down and even then, I really struggled. I had to really pick and choose what I could go to and that came down to an upsettingly short list. But I was determined to enjoy what I could manage.

My 2018 C2C experience began on the Thursday night with a Songwriters’ Circle where a group of songwriters take turns playing songs they’ve written (that have often been released by other artists) and sharing stories about writing them. I love these events: they’re usually pretty laid back and very inspiring. It is one of my favourite things to hear songs as they were originally written and to hear how they turned from nothing into something. I was almost at the back but I was just so happy to be there. The line up was Brett James, Luke Combs, Nicolle Galyon, Kip Moore, and Natalie Hemby who is one of my all time favourite songwriters so I was very excited and they did not disappoint. They played old favourites as well as new songs but I think everyone agreed that Natalie’s performance of her song, ‘Jealous,’ recorded by Labyrinth, completely stole the show. Although I must also give an honourable mention both to Nicolle’s performance of ‘Consequences,’ recorded by Camila Cabello, and Luke Combs’ new songs. And to round off the night in the most perfect fashion, I managed to hang out with Natalie for a few minutes after the show and she was even lovelier than I remembered. So with that as a first night, the standard was set pretty high!

My excitement was so high that I did crash afterwards. I was completely overwhelmed by nausea twice on my way home, to the point where I had to sit on the ground and just breathe until it faded. This is one of the side effects of my most recent medication (for depression) and it’s one of the worst I’ve experienced but once it passed, I was okay. The emotional energy I get from live music and from being inspired and from talking to these wonderful people is unlike anything else. I could live off that night for days, even weeks, and that’s without the rest of C2C. It’s like feeding a dying fire; I come back to life.

Having had to go back home to Brighton, Day 1 of C2C began with travelling into London. My first event of the day was a very exciting one: an exclusive listen to The Shires’ upcoming album. I’d applied for a ticket and not gotten one but one of my friends in the UK Country community offered me their plus one. I can’t put into words how much that meant to me. I’ve been listening to The Shires since their first single came out and I actually went to one of the events they held when releasing their first album. I’ve already said it but I absolutely adore the UK Country community: I’ve met so many wonderful people (and now great friends) while queuing for gigs or while waiting in meet and greet lines and it is just the kindest, most generous group of people. For this event in particular, I saw so many people offering their tickets to people they knew desperately wanted to go and I was so touched to witness that. Personally, I had three people offer me a ticket because they all knew how much I wanted to be there. How amazing is that?! You’ll get no spoilers from me but it was better than I’d hoped it would be and I felt honoured to be there. Ben and Crissie are such lovely people and it has been so special to watch their journey up to this point. I’m honestly so excited to listen to all of these new songs over and over when the album comes out.

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We weren’t allowed to use our phones in the session so, for the purposes of this blog post, I took a photo of The Shires appearing in the official highlights video.

I genuinely loved hanging out with everyone and catching up afterwards but it wasn’t long before I started to struggle. I powered through for a while but when my legs started to shake, I had to call it and headed back to where I was staying, although I did have to sit in North Greenwich station for a while because the shaking and dizziness got so bad. I would love to be able to wander around and spend the day listening to artist after artist but it’s just too much for me: my lack of energy, the constant high level of noise, and the overwhelming amount of people. With the latter two, it’s like my brain becomes overloaded and that can trigger a meltdown. I haven’t written about meltdowns very much so far on this blog (although I mentioned them here – a more in depth post is on the list, I promise!) but one way to explain it would be to imagine tapping on glass that has a crack in it. While one knock doesn’t do much damage, they build up and eventually it shatters. That’s how incoming sensory information feels to me. When I reach overload, I experience extreme anxiety and that can lead to crying, screaming, self harming, etc. Obviously that’s not something I ever want to experience in public, with people that I don’t know, where I don’t feel completely safe, so I have to be aware of how close to that point I am and retreat to a safe place when everything starts to feel too much. I went back to where I was staying and had a couple of hours of quiet time before heading back to the O2 for the arena show.

Kelsea Ballerini was my priority with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s headline set coming in second; I would have to assess my capabilities throughout the night. Getting into the O2 Arena always stresses me out: there could be a problem with the ticket, they might not let me take my bag in, the metal detector could go off and they’d want to pat me down… All of those things cause me a lot of anxiety before going into a concert but fortunately everything went smoothly this time (having said that, that anxiety still takes a lot out of me, even when the things I’m worried about don’t come to pass). It always surprises me that people can’t seem to tell how anxious I am because to me, it’s everything. It’s all I can think about. But as I said, it was simple, so that anxiety didn’t turn into anything else.

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“Can I be Kelsea Ballerini when I grow up? What a fab show. I loved every second of it. I may have cried a little bit because I want to write songs and sing them too and I want it so badly but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We are made to love things and I love music unapologetically.” (x)

Kelsea Ballerini was fantastic. I’ve now seen her three times in the last year and she’s such a great performer. I got completely lost in it and that was wonderful, even if I did cry a bit because I want that to be me so badly – that’s not something I can ever really separate myself from. But I had a really awesome time, and I actually managed to lose myself in the music and not feel so self-conscious about enjoying myself. Normally, I can barely move for feeling so exposed to everyone’s opinions. So that was really fun. Also, we all need someone to look at us the way Kelsea looks at her audiences…

By the end of her set, I was feeling very shaky and since I wanted to be well enough for Sugarland the next night (I’ve been waiting eight years to see them live!), I decided to go home. That was derailed a bit by some stuff going on with a friend that didn’t exactly help my anxiety and by the time I got home, I was completely exhausted. As is normal after days and evenings of high emotions, it took me a long time to get to sleep but then I slept so deeply that when I woke up, I was so disorientated that a week could’ve passed. Apparently the previous two days had tired me out more than I’d thought because I slept for most of the day and only really managed to get up in time for the arena shows. I was pretty shaky and anxious but having some of my family with me definitely helped.

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Sugarland were freaking awesome. One of my parents played me a few Sugarland songs about eight years ago and ever since, I’ve absolutely loved their voices, their songs, and their energy. If I’m jamming out in the car, it’s most likely to a Sugarland song. So we were both super excited when they announced that they were getting back together and even more so when they were on the line up for C2C. We sang and danced (while sitting down) through the whole thing and it was so, so fun. It couldn’t have been better. I mean, there were more songs I wanted to hear but I do understand that they couldn’t just keep playing until they’d performed their entire repertoire. Mostly… Anyway, I was and am a very happy bean for having finally seen them live. It was a dream come true.

“I didn’t think I could love Sugarland any more than I already did but after last night, I absolutely do. The show was incredible and after waiting eight years, it was a dream come true. Apologies to the people behind me for all the crazy dancing and dramatic singalong.” (x)

The headline act of the night was Kacey Musgraves who I have loved since her first album. When I bought my tickets, I decided that I wanted to see her more than anyone on the Sunday so I decided to push myself to stay for her and then not go the next day. I was okay with that trade off and it was worth it. I’d sort of forgotten how much I love her and her writing style and it was so great to hear both my old favourites and some new songs from the upcoming album. I struggled a bit with the graphics on the screens; they made me a bit dizzy and gave me a headache. But it was a great show and I can’t wait for her to come back to the UK in October. I was worried about being in the underground with masses of people so we left a little bit early and had a relatively easy journey home.

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“Kacey Musgraves is a princess. I’m loving the new songs.” (x)

It was a good weekend, if a tiring one. I spent the next day in bed, tired and achy and a bit overly emotional, but that’s not an unexpected consequence of an event like this. It takes a lot out of me, on lots of different levels. Because of all the thinking and restricting and careful planning, it wasn’t too bad but I wish it were easier. I wish I didn’t struggle so much and I wish my abilities and my needs weren’t so incompatible with the way the world typically works. Being out in the world is stressful and overwhelming and most places don’t come with a built in quiet room to hide out in while I recharge. It doesn’t help that I find it really difficult to ask for support. I feel like I’m failing for succumbing to these problems and that I should be strong enough to power through, which I think comes from being diagnosed so late: I’ve spent my life thinking this way and it’s not an easy habit to break.

I hope that this has been helpful, or at the very least gives an insight into what it can be like to go to a festival such as Country2Country when you have Autism, when you struggle with your mental health. The positive moments are unrivalled but the difficulties are freaking difficult.